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Once more, sin is always committed against and in despite of motives of infinitely greater weight than those which induce to sin. The very fact that his conscience condemns the sin is his own judgment on the question, proving that in his own view the motives to sin are infinitely contemptible when put in the scale to measure those against the sin in question. Every sinner knows that sin is a willful abuse of his own powers as a moral agent-of those noblest powers of his being in view of which he is especially said to be made in the image of God. Made like God with these exalted attributes, capable of determining his own voluntary activities intelligently if he will; in accordance with his reason and his conscience if he will; he yet in every act of sin abuses and degrades these powers, tramples down in the very dust the image of God enstamped on his being, and with the capacities of becoming an angel, makes himself a fool. Clothed with a dignity of nature akin to that of his Maker, he chooses to debase himself to the level of brutes and of devils. With a face naturally looking upwards; with an intelligence that grasps the great truths of God; with a reason that postulates and affirms the great necessary principles involved in his moral duties and relations; with capacities which fit him to sit on a nation's throne; he yet says -- Let me take this glorious image of God and debase it in the dust! Let me cast myself down, till there shall be no lower depth of degradation to which I can sink! Sin is in every instance a dishonoring of God. This every sinner must know. It casts off His authority, spurns His advice, maltreats His love. Truly does God Himself say, "A son honoreth his father and a servant his master; if then I be a father, where is mine honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear?"
What sinner ever supposed that God neglects to do anything He wisely can do to prevent sin? If this be not true, what is conscience but a lie and a delusion? Conscience always affirms that God is clear of all guilt in reference to sin, In every instance in which conscience condemns the sinner, it necessarily must, and actually does, fully acquit God.
These remarks will suffice to show that sin in every instance of its commission is utterly inexcusable.
We are next to notice some objections.
1. "If God is infinitely wise and good, why need we pray at all? If He will surely do the best possible thing always and all the good He can do, why need we pray?"
I answer. Because His infinite goodness and wisdom enjoin it upon us. Who could ask a better reason than this? If you believe in His infinite wisdom and goodness, and make this belief the basis of your objection, you will certainly, if honest, be satisfied with this answer.
But again I answer. It might be wise and good for Him to do many things if sought unto in prayer, which He could not wisely do, unasked. You can not, therefore, infer that prayer never changes the course which God voluntarily pursues.
2. Objecting again, you ask why we should pray to God to prevent sin, if He can not prevent it? If under the circumstances in which sin exists, God can not, as you hold, prevent sin, why go to Him and pray Him to prevent it?
I answer. We pray for the very purpose of changing the circumstances. This is our object. And prayer does change the circumstances. If we step forward and offer fervent, effectual prayer, this quite changes the state of the case. Look at Moses pleading with God to spare the nation after their great sin in the matter of the golden calf. God said to him, "Let me alone that I may destroy them, and I will make of thee a great nation." Nay, said Moses, for what will the Egyptians say? And what will all the nations say? They have long time said, The God of that people will not be able to get them through that vast wilderness; now therefore, what will thou do for Thy great name? "Yet now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written."
I answer. Because He saw that on the whole it was better to do so. He could prevent some sin in this race of moral agents; could overrule what He could not wisely prevent, to as to bring out from it a great deal of good, and so that in the long run, He saw it better, with all the results before Him, to create than to forbear; therefore, wisdom and love made it necessary that He should create. Having the power to create a race of moral beings -- having also power to convert and save a vast multitude of them, and power also to overrule the sin He should not prevent so that it should evolve immense good, how could He forbear to create as He did?
4. But if God can not prevent sin, will He not be unhappy?
No; He is entirely satisfied to do the best He can, and accept the results.
5. But some will say -- Is not this "limiting the Holy One of Israel?" No. It is no proper limitation of God's power to say that He can not do anything that is unwise. Nor do we limit His power when we say -- He can not move mind just as He moves a planet. That is no proper subject of power which is in its own nature absurd and impossible.
Yet these are the only directions in which we have spoken of any limitations to His power.
But you say, Could not God prevent sin by annihilating each moral agent the instant before he would sin? Doubtless He could; but we say if this were wise He would have done it. He has not done it, certainly not in all cases, and therefore it is not always wise.
But you say, Let Him give more of His Holy Spirit. I answer, He does give all He can wisely, under existing circumstances. To suppose He might give more than He does, circumstances being the same, is to impeach His wisdom or His goodness.
Some people seem greatly horrified at the idea of setting limits to God's power. Yet they make assumptions which inevitably impeach His wisdom and His goodness. Such persons need to consider that if we must choose between limiting His power on the one hand, or His wisdom and His love on the other, it is infinitely more honorable to Him to adopt the former alternative than the latter. To strike a blow at His moral attributes, is to annihilate His throne. And further, let it be also considered, as we have already suggested, that you do not in any offensive sense limit His power when you assume that He can not do things naturally impossible, and can not act unwisely.
Let these remarks suffice in the line of answer to objections I know that you who are students will say that this must be true. You are accustomed to notice the action of your own moral powers. You have a moral sense, and it has been in some good degree developed. You know it is utterly impossible that God should act unwisely. You know He must act benevolently, always doing the best thing He can do. He has given you a nature which affirms, postulates, intuits these truths. Else there could be no conscience. The presence and action of a conscience implies that these great truths respecting the moral nature of God are indisputably affirmed in your soul by your own moral nature.
I address you, therefore, as those who have a conscience. Suppose it were otherwise. Suppose all that we call conscience -- the entire moral side of your nature -- should suddenly drop out, and I should find myself speaking to a shoal of moral idiots -- beings utterly void of a conscience! How desolate the scene! But I am not speaking to such an audience. Therefore I am sure that you will understand and appreciate what I say.
1. We may see the only sense in which God could have purposed the existence of sin. It is simply negative. He purposed not to prevent it in any case where it does actually occur. He does not purpose to make moral agents sin; not, for example, Adam and Eve in the garden, or Judas in the matter of betraying Christ. All He purposed to do Himself was to leave them with only a certain amount of restraint -- as much as He could wisely impose; and then if they would sin, let them bear the responsibility. He left them to act freely and did not positively prevent their sinning. He never uses means to make men sin. He only forbears to use unwise means to prevent their sinning. Thus His agency in the existence of sin is only negative.
2. The existence of sin does not prove that it is the necessary means of the greatest good. Some of you are aware that this point has been often mooted in theological discussions.
I do not purpose now to go into it at length, but will only say that in all cases wherein men sin, they might obey God instead of sinning. Now the question here is -- If they were to obey rather than sin, would not a greater good accrue? We have these two reasons for the affirmative: (1), that by natural tendency, obedience promotes good and disobedience evil: and (2), that in all those cases, God earnestly and positively enjoins obedience. It is fair to presume that He would enjoin that which would secure the greatest good.