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ARE THERE RADICALLY BAD MEN ?
By radically bad men I do not mean persons who are born of badness and unto badness, as if character were a thing of parentage or race. But, are there human beings in whom evil feelings, purposes, and habits so predominate that they mark and determine the character? And I use the popular phrase “bad men,” rather than the scriptural phrase “ the wicked,” because I think the former best represents the latter in its original and proper sense. But scriptural expressions are apt to be used in a technical and conventional sense; “ the righteous ” and “the wicked” may come to signify men who are such according to an arbitrary and false standard. This is a great evil, and it needs to be corrected by substituting for the technical phrases such homely but hearty Saxon words as scarcely need defining.
And by the question, Are there radically bad men ?- I do not mean to intimate that there are no traces of good nature even in the worst men. The real question will be, Is the “good in all,” upon which the Universalist so much relies, a genuine goodness, a real virtue, a moral principle? Is it an element so substantial, and a germ so vital, that it must, by a natural law of character, grow and develop into a prevailing goodness and a final salvation? If this question is answered in the negative, then the question remains, Will God, by methods higher than the native elements of character, secure in all men a final holiness and blessedness? This question will be considered in the closing chapter.
Here, at the outset, I should discard a host of rash and conventional judgments that are wont to be pronounced upon human character. Men are too often judged good or bad ac
cording to outward appearance. This is the way of men as compared with the judgment of Him who looketh upon the heart. Precisely this is meant by the “respect of persons which the Scriptures so much rebuke. Human nature, fallen desperately in love with happiness, is apt to think that those who are “ well off” must be good people, and that those who are badly off must be bad folks. This was the great mistake of Job's friends, and it has been made thousands of times since his day. God is no such “respecter of persons,” or of outward advantages; but in every nation he that feareth God and work. eth righteousness, in whatever condition, is accepted of him.
This principle cuts off all hasty condemnation of the heathen in the mass, as if they must inevitably perish. If they cherish true goodness and virtue, neither their ignorance nor their unscriptural methods of worship will exclude them from God's kingdom. But as ignorance is a very great evil, and the gospel is worth preaching to everybody, the question remains, Whether a heathen, with his false views of God, may not lose confidence in the supremacy of goodness, take the side of an evil divinity because the evil divinity is supposed to be the more powerful, and thus debauch the conscience and allow vice to become a settled policy and ruling principle of the character? How else shall we understand Paul's account, in which, after giving a long catalogue of heathen sins, le says: “ Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them?”
In judging of character I also throw out of account all considerations of natural temper or disposition, amiable or otherwise. The brutes, in their measure, may have these as well as
We are responsible, not for the nature we are born with, but for the use we make of native temper and capacity, in repressing the evil and cherishing the good. I also throw out of the account the manifold differences of education and custom, whereby the same act which expresses ill-feeling and hate in one man may express goodness and love in another
All this, I presume, is so well understood between him
self and my opponent, that it needs only to be named, and not argued.
The whole subject of human character is a vast one, and it is all involved in the question if there be radically bad men. I can only pretend to make a few points of the general argument; suggestions only, where demonstration - in a matter so prejudiced by manifold dispute — would require a volume.
1. The first point to be insisted on is the essential and responsible freedom of the human will. I believe - it is almost a proverb — that the common consciousness of man asserts his freedom. Without this there could be no merit, either good or ill. Without this, whatever right or wrong there might be in the nature of things, neither could exist in actions or in
There could be neither praise nor blame, there could be no character worthy of the name. Without freedom, the native dispositions and original feelings of men might be more complex than those of the brute, and more interesting for study; they might be more agreeable or disagreeable, more fortunate or unfortunate ; still they would be the inevitable result of forces within the man and of circumstances without him, for which he would be as blameless and as thankless as the revolutions of the windmill.
But this practical consciousness of freedom — which excuses or condemns ourselves if it be real, and makes God an impostor if it be unreal — has been often denied for the sake of a theory. I believe it has often been denied by men troubled with a sense of guilt, of which they wished to be rid. Still more unfortunately has it been denied by divines, to save their views of a divine sovereignty and efficiency, or to save a false theory respecting God's foreknowledge. Supposing that God could foreknow only as a natural philosopher does, or as an astronomer predicts an eclipse, — by calculations of cause and effect
they have ignored all actions that could not be determined by such calculation. The same class of divines have also been prejudiced by a false theory of freedom ; one which divorced the will utterly from moral considerations, and reduced it to a sheer caprice. At an earlier date in the Reformation
the notion of free will was supposed to make man independent of the gratuitous help of God. This explains that remarkable book of Luther, On the Bondage of the Will (De Servo Arbitrio). The other causes culminated in the no less remarkable and more famous work of Edwards on the Freedom of the Will.
Those who have opposed the Calvinistic scheme have often said that Universalism is its legitimate fruit. I think, for the theoretic denial of free will I have just named, that this is true. The Calvinists, by a happy inconsistency, have maintained a deep sense of the evil and wickedness of sin. But when they had, by a method
“ More honored in the breach than in th' observance,"
made the Author of man's nature and surroundings responsible for all men's doings, it was natural that men should infer that God's fairness required the salvation of one as well as another. The principle, or rather the lack of principle, by which God elected one man, appeared equally good for the election of all
Hence we need not wonder that the Universalism of eighty years ago was offered as a “ Calvinism Improved ”. title given by Dr. Joseph Huntington to his Universalist book. Here another cause of Universalism is worthy of note. The Old-School doctrine of the nature of the Atonement made it a legal satisfaction for the sins of the saved. The New-School doctrine of the extent of the Atonement makes it sufficient for all men. Combine the two, and all are saved at a stroke of logic. Some of the Universalists have employed this logic, and the result of their reasoning abides, though the old and false view of the Atonement is discarded. But the Calvinistic views of the human will, I think, prevail now more among Universalists than among the Orthodox. I may have misjudged the literature of Universalism on this point, and if so I shall thankfully stand corrected. But such is my strong impression. Now I admit that the freedom of the human will, as uncon
trolled by any necessitating power of motives, makes the actions of men no more traceable by any philosophy of cause and effect. We shall then have what Dr. Bushnell calls the “supernatural” in the will itself. And when the will does not follow the motives or reasons which it ought to follow, there is a wild lawlessness that perplexes us, and threatens disorder and ruin, limited only by the power of the perverse free agency. But this lawlessness is precisely what I understand to be the essence of sin. Sin is the transgression of law; and sin is guilty, and not unfortunate merely, just because it is not compelled by motive, or passion, or any cause out of the free will itself. And this, too, is the mystery of sin. It is that for which there is no valid reason ; an act which the person knows to be equally wrong and imprudent, and so an act of un-reason ; an act admitting no excuse save those worthless pleas by which the selfish or malicious guilt was first palliated or instigated. Such are the excuses which the stammering tongue fails to utter when one is confronted with the conscience, suppressed for a while, but again accusing. And by this final verdict of the conscience the guilty man is rendered like him in the parable of the wedding garment - speechless.
This mystery of sin, which seems to be involved in the very idea of moral character, has been recognized by various eminent writers, ever since the time of Plato. I will quote but one, and that one probably a Universalist. I mean Neander, whose labors in Church History have such signal merit because he was not a mere compiler of facts, but a philosopher, profoundly versed in the causes of human action. He says: “ According to my conviction, the origin of evil can only be understood as a fact. a fact possible by virtue of the freedom belonging to a human being, but not to be otherwise deduced or explained. It lies in the idea of evil that it is an utterly inexplicable thing, and whoever would explain it nullifies the very idea of it. It is not the limits of our knowledge which make the origin of sin something inexplicable to us, but it follows from the essential nature of sin as an act of free will that it must remain to all eternity an inexplicable fact. It can