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If it be asked how it happens that children universally adopt the principle of selfishness, unless their nature is sinful. I answer, that they adopt this principle of self gratification or selfishness; because they possess human nature, and come into being under the peculiar circumstances in which all the children of Adam are born since the fall: but not because human nature is itself sinful. The cause of their becoming sinners, is to be found in their nature's being what it is, and surrounded by the peculiar circumstances of temptation to which they are exposed in a world of sinners.
All the constitutional appetites and inclinations of body and mind, are in themselves innocent; but when strongly excited are a powerful temptation to prohibited indulgence. To these constitutional appetites or inclinations, so many appeals of temptation are made, as universally to lead human beings to sin. Adam was created in the perfection of manhood, certainly not with a sinful nature, and yet, an appeal to his innocent constitutional appetites led him into sin. If adult Adam, without a sinful nature, and after a season of obedience and perfect holiness, was led to change his mind by an appeal to his innocent constitutional inclinations; how can the fact that infants, possessing the same nature with Adam and surrounded by circumstances of still greater temptation, universally fall into sin, prove that their nature is itself sinful? Is such an inference called for? Is it legitimate? What, holy and adult Adam, is led, by an appeal to his innocent constitution to adopt the principle of selfishness, and no suspicion is, or can be entertained, that he had a sinful nature; but if little children under circumstances of temptation aggravated by the fall are led into sin, we are to believe that their nature is sinful! This is wonderful philosophy; and what heightens the absurdity is, that in order to admit the sinfulness of nature, we must believe sin to consist in the substance of the constitution, instead of voluntary action; which is a thing impossible.
And that which stamps the inference of a sinful nature with peculiar guilt is, that in making it we reject God's own declaration that "sin is a transgression of the law," and adopt a definition which is a perfectly absurd.
3rd. From the view of depravity presented in these discussions, it is easy to see in what sense sin is natural to sinners; and what has led mankind to ascribe the outbreakings of sin to their nature; as if their nature was itself sinful.
All experience shows, that from the laws of our constitution we are influenced in our conduct directly or indirectly by the supreme preference of our minds. In other words, when we desire a thing supremely, it is natural to us to pursue this object of desire; we may have desires for an object which we do not pursue. But it is a contradiction to say that we do not pursue the object of supreme desire. Supreme desire is nothing else than a supreme or controlling choice, and as certain as the will controls the actions; so certainly, and so naturally, shall we pursue that object which we supremely desire. The fact therefore, that sinners adopt the principle of supreme selfishness, renders it certain and natural, while their selfishness continues to be predominant, that they will sin, and only sin, and this is in strict accordance with, or rather the result of the laws of their mental constitution. While they maintain their supreme selfishness, obedience is impossible. This is the reason why "the carnal mind, or the minding of the flesh, is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be." No wonder therefore, that sinners, whose supreme preference is selfish, should find it very natural for them to sin, and extremely difficult to do anything else than sin. This being a fact of universal observation, has led mankind to ascribe the sins of men to their nature; and a great deal of fault has been found with nature itself; when the fact is, that sin is only an abuse of the powers of nature. Men have very extensively overlooked the fact; that a deep seated, but voluntary preference for sin, was the foundation and fountain and cause of all other sins. The only sense in which sin is natural to men is, that it is natural for mind to be influenced in its individual exercises by a supreme preference or choice of any object. It will therefore, always be natural for a sinner to sin, until he changes the supreme preference of his mind, and prefers the glory of God and the interests of his kingdom to his own separate and opposing interests.
4th. Here you can see what a change of heart is. Its nature, its necessity, and the obligation of the sinner immediately to change it. You can see also that the first act which the sinner will, or can perform, that can be acceptable to God, must be to change his heart, or the supreme controlling preference of his mind.
5th. Perhaps someone will object and say if infants are not born with a sinful nature, how then are they saved by grace? But I ask in return, if they are born with a sinful nature, how are they saved by grace? Does God create an infant a sinner, and then call it grace to save him from the sinfulness of a nature of his own creation? Absurd and blasphemous. What! represent the ever blessed God as either directly creating a sinful nature, or as establishing such an order of things that a nature in itself sinful would by physical necessity descend from Adam, and then call that grace by which the infant is saved! (not from its conduct, but from its nature!)
But let us look at this. Here are two systems; the onemaintains that infants have no moral character at all, until they have committed actual transgression. That their first moral actions are invariably sinful, but that previous to moral action they are neither sinful nor holy. That as they have no moral character they deserve neither praise nor blame; neither life nor death at the hand of God. God might annihilate them without injustice, or he may bestow upon them eternal life as a free and unearned gift.
The other system maintains that infants have a sinful nature which they have inherited from Adam. The scriptures maintain that all who are ever saved of the human family, must be saved by grace; and those who maintain the system that the nature of infants is itself sinful, suppose that upon their system alone is it possible to ascribe the salvation of infants, who die before actual transgression to grace. But let us for a few moments examine these systems. Grace is evidently used in different senses in the Bible. It is sometimes synonymous with holiness. To grow in grace, is to grow in holiness. Its most common import seems to be that of unmerited favor. It is sometimes used in a wider sense, and includes the idea of mercy or forgiveness. Now, when infants die previous to actual transgression, it is impossible to ascribe their salvation to grace, in any other sense, than that of undeserved, or unearned favor. If they have never sinned, it is impossible that they should be saved by grace, if we include in the term grace, the idea of mercy or forgiveness. To assert that a child can be pardoned for having a sinful nature, is to talk ridiculous nonsense: and it is only in the sense of undeserved favor, excluding the idea of mercy or pardon, that an infant, dying before actual transgression, can be said to be saved by grace. In this sense, his salvation is by grace. He has never earned eternal life; he has never done anything, by which he has laid God under any obligation to save him, and God might, without any injustice, annihilate him. But if it please him for the sake of Christ, as I fully believe it does, to confer eternal life upon one whom he might without any injustice annihilate, it is conferring upon him infinite favor. But let us look at the other system for a moment. This denies that infants have a sinful nature, and rejects the monstrous dogma that God has created the nature sinful, and then pretends to save the infant from a nature of his own creation by grace, as if the infant deserved damnation for being what God made it. Those that hold this scheme insist that there is as much grace in the salvation of infants, upon their view of the subject, as upon the impossible dogma of a sinful nature. The fact is, that the very existence of the whole race of man, is a mere matter of grace; having reference to the atonement of Jesus Christ. Had it not been for the contemplated atonement, Adam and Eve would have been sent to hell at once, and never have had any posterity. The racecould never have existed. There never could have been any infants, or adults (Adam and Eve excepted,) had it not been for the grace of Christ in interposing in behalf of man by his atonement. it was doubtless in anticipation of this, and on account of it, that Adam and Eve were spared and the sentence of the law not instantly executed upon them. Now every infant owes its very existence to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and if it dies previous to actual transgression, it is just as absolutely indebted to Christ for eternal life, as if it had been the greatest sinner on earth. On neither of these schemes, does the grace which saves infants include the idea of pardon - but on both of them they are saved by grace, inasmuch as they owe their very existence to the atonement of Christ; and in both cases are delivered from circumstances under which it is certain had they lived to form a moral character, they would have sinned, and deserved eternal death. To think, therefore, of objecting to the view of depravity that I have given in these discourses, that it denies the grace of God in the salvation of infants, is either to misconceive, or willfully to misrepresent the sentiments that I have advocated. I desire to ask, and I wish that it may be answered, if it can be; wherein there is any more grace displayed in the salvation of infants, upon the one system than upon the other. Will it be said that if the nature of infants be sinful, grace must change their nature, and that there is this difference; that although in neither case does the infant need a pardon, yet in the one case his nature needs to be changed, and not in the other? But if his nature needs to be changed. I deny that this is an act of grace; if God has made his nature wrong and incapable of performing any but sinful actions, he is bound to change it. It is consummate trifling to call this grace - to cause a being to come into existence with a sinful or defective nature and then call it grace to alter this nature and make it as it should have been at first, is to trifle with serious things and talk deceitfully for God. 6th. Again. The hatred of sinners is cruel. It is as God says, "rendering hatred for his love." He is love, and this is the reason and the only reason why they hate him. Mark, it is not because they overlook the fact that he is infinitely benevolent. It is not merely in the face of this fact, that for other reasons they hate him; but it is because of this fact. It is literally and absolutely rendering hatred for his love. He is opposed to their injuring each other. He desires their happiness and is infinitely opposed to their making themselves miserable. He is infinitely more opposed to their doing any thing that will prove injurious to themselves, than an earthly parent was to that course of conduct in his beloved child, which he foresaw would ruin him. His heart yearns with infinitely more than parental tenderness. He expostulates with sinners and says, "O do not that abominable thing that I hate." "How shall I give thee up Ephriam? How shall I deliver thee Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? My heart is turned within me, and my repentings are kindled together."
He feels all the gushings of a father's tenderness, and all the opposition of a father to any course that will injure his offspring, and as children will sometimes hate, and revile their parents for opposing their wayward courses to destruction, so sinners hate God, more than they hate all other beings, because he is infinitely more opposed to their destroying their souls.
7th. The better God is, the more sinners hate him. The better he is, the more he is opposed to their selfishness: and the more he opposes their selfishness, while they remain selfish, the more they are provoked with him.
In my second discourse on depravity, I showed that men hate God supremely. The only reason is because his excellence is supreme excellence. His goodness is unmingled goodness, and therefore their hatred is unmingled enmity. If there were any defect in his character, men would not hate him so much. If God were not perfectly ,yea infinitely good, men might not be totally depraved, I mean, they might not be totally opposed to his character; but because his character has no blemish, therefore they sincerely, cordially, and perfectly hate him.
8th. Again. The more he tries to do them good, while they remain unrepentant, the more they will hate him. While they retain their selfishness, all his efforts to restrain it, to hedge them in, to prevent the accomplishment of their selfish desires; the more he interposes to tear away their idols; to wean them from the world, the more he embitters every cup of joy with which they attempt to satisfy themselves, the more means he uses to reclaim, and sanctify and save; if their selfishness remain unbroken, the more deeply and eternally will they hate him. 9th. This conduct in sinners is infinitely blame worthy and deserves eternal death. It is impossible to conceive of guilt more deep and damning than that of sinners under the Gospel. They sin under circumstances so peculiar, than their guilt is more aggravated than that of devils. Devils have broken the law and so have you sinners. But devils never rejected the Gospel. They have been guilty of rebellion and so have you. But they have never rejected the offer of pardon and spurned, as with their feet, the offer of eternal life through the atoning blood of the Son of God. If you sinners do not deserve eternal death, I cannot conceive that there is a devil in hell that deserves it. And yet, strange to tell, sinners often speak as if it were doubtful whether they deserve to be damned.
10th. It is easy to see from this subject, that saints and angels will be entirely satisfied with the justice of God in the damnation of sinners. They will never take delight in the misery of the damned, but in the display of justice, in the vindication of his insulted majesty and injured honor, in the respect which punishment will create for the law and character of God, they will have pleasure; they will see that the display of his justice is glorious, and will cry halleluia, while "the smoke of their torment shall ascend up for ever and ever."