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But let it be remembered, that virtuous opposition to sin is a characteristic of love to God and man or of benevolence. This opposition to sin cannot possibly coexist with any degree of sin in the heart. That is, this opposition cannot coexist with a sinful choice. The will cannot at the same time, be opposed to sin and commit sin. This is impossible, and the supposition involves a contradiction. Opposition to sin as a phenomenon of the intellect, or of the sensibility, may exist; in other words, the intellect may strongly disapprove of sin, and the sensibility may feel strongly opposed to certain forms of it, while at the same time, the will may cleave to self indulgence in other forms. This fact, no doubt, accounts for the common mistake, that we can, at the same time, exercise a virtuous opposition to sin, and still continue to commit it.
Many are, no doubt, laboring under this fatal delusion. They are conscious, not only of an intellectual disapproval of sin in certain forms, but also, at times, of strong feelings of opposition to it. And yet they are also conscious of continuing to commit it. They, therefore conclude, that they have a principle of holiness in them, and also a principle of sin, that they are partly holy and partly sinful at the same time. Their opposition of intellect and of feeling, they suppose to be a holy opposition, when, no doubt, it is just as common in hell, and even more so than it is on earth, for the reason that sin is more naked there than it generally is here.
But now the inquiry may arise, how is it that both the intellect and the sensibility are opposed to it, and yet that it is persevered in? What reason can the mind have for a sinful choice, when urged to it neither by the intellect nor the sensibility? The philosophy of this phenomenon needs explanation. Let us attend to it.
I am a moral agent. My intellect necessarily disapproves of sin. My sensibility is so correlated to my intellect, that it sympathizes with it, or is affected by its perceptions and its judgments. I contemplate sin. I necessarily disapprove of it, and condemn it. This affects my sensibility. I loathe and abhor it. I nevertheless commit it. Now how is this to be accounted for? The usual method is by ascribing it to a depravity in the will itself, a lapsed or corrupted state of the faculty, so that it perversely chooses sin for its own sake. Although disapproved by the intellect, and loathed by the sensibility, yet such, it is said, is the inherent depravity of the will, that it pertinaciously cleaves to sin nevertheless, and will continue to do so, until that faculty is renewed by the Holy Spirit, and a holy bias or inclination is impressed upon the will itself
But here is a gross mistake. In order to see the truth upon this subject, it is of indispensable importance to inquire what sin is. It is admitted on all hands, that selfishness is sin. Comparatively few seem to understand that selfishness is the whole of sin, and that every form of sin may be resolved into selfishness, just as every form of virtue may be resolved into benevolence. It is not my purpose now to show that selfishness is the whole of sin. It is sufficient for the present to take the admission, that selfishness is sin. But what is selfishness? It is the choice of self-gratification as an end. It is the preference of our own gratification to the highest good of universal being.
Self-gratification is the supreme end of selfishness. This choice is sinful. That is, the moral of this selfish choice is sin. Now, in no case, is or can sin be chosen for its own sake, or as an end. Whenever anything is chosen to gratify self, it is not chosen because the choice is sinful, but nevertheless it is sinful. It is not the sinfulness of the choice upon which the choice fixes, as an end, or for its own sake, but it is the gratification to be afforded by the thing chosen. For example, theft is sinful. But the will, in an act of theft, does not aim at and terminate on the sinfulness of theft, but upon the gain or gratification expected from the stolen object. Drunkenness is sinful, but the inebriate does not intend or choose the sinfulness for its own sake, or as an end. He does not choose strong drink because the choice is sinful, but nevertheless it is so. We choose the gratification, but not the sin, as an end. To choose the gratification as an end is sinful, but it is not the sin that is the object of choice. Our mother Eve ate the forbidden fruit. This eating was sinful. But the thing that she chose or intended, was not the sinfulness of eating, but the gratification expected from the fruit. It is not, it cannot in any case be true, that sin is chosen as an end, or for its own sake. Sin is only the quality of selfishness. Selfishness is the choice, not of sin as an end, or for its own sake, but of self-gratification; and this choice of self-gratification as an end is sinful. That is, the moral quality of the choice is sin. To say that sin is, or can be, chosen for its own sake, is untrue and absurd. It is the same as saying that a choice can terminate on an element, quality, or attribute, of itself; that the thing chosen is really an element of the choice itself.
But it is said, that sinners are sometimes conscious of choosing sin for its own sake, or because it is sin; that they possess such a malicious state of mind, that they love sin for its own sake; that they "roll sin as a sweet morsel under their tongue"; that "they eat up the sins of God's people as they eat bread"; (Psalms 14:4), that is, that they love their own sins and the sins of others, as they do their necessary food, and choose it for that reason, or just as they do their food; that they not only sin themselves with greediness, but also have pleasure in them that do the same. Now all this may be true, yet it does not at all disprove the position which I have taken, namely, that sin never is, and never can be chosen as an end, or for its own sake. Sin may be sought and loved as a means, but never as an end. The choice of food will illustrate this. Food is never chosen as an ultimate end; it never can be so chosen. It is always as a means. It is the gratification, or the utility of it, in some point of view, that constitutes the reason for choosing it. Gratification is always the end for which a selfish man eats. It may not be merely the present pleasure of eating which he alone or principally seeks. But, nevertheless, if a selfish man, he has his own gratification in view as an end. It may be that it is not so much a present, as a remote gratification he has in view. Thus he may choose food to give him health and strength to pursue some distant gratification, the acquisition of wealth, or something else that will gratify him.
It may happen that a sinner may get into a state of rebellion against God and the universe, of so frightful a character, that he shall take pleasure in willing, and in doing, and saying, things that are sinful, just because they are sinful and displeasing to God and to holy beings. But, even in this case, sin is not chosen as an end, but as a means of gratifying this malicious feeling. It is, after all, self-gratification that is chosen as an end, and not sin. Sin is the means, and self-gratification is the end.