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our haste we had forgotten the weight of the rope. We had calculated the weight of my person, of the basket in which I rode, and of the tackling that was around the basket; but we had forgotten the weight of the rope that sank with me into the chasm. The three men at the summit were not strong enough to draw me back. I had to remain there until one of the party went five miles—two and a half out and two and a half back-to the nearest tree to get wood enough to make a lever and draw me up. When habit,” continues Mr. Cook, “ lowers a man into the jaws of the nature of things, it is common, but it is not scientific, to forget the weight of the rope. That weight is a fact in the universe, and the importance of not forgetting it is one of the most haughty and unanswerable teachings of science." 5
This is very good as an illustration, but we are not to mis. take it for an argument. To make it worth anything as an argument it must be shown that not only man but God hath forgotten the weight of the rope. " It is one of the most haughty and unanswerable teachings,” at least of religious science that there is a God in this universe, and that “ He made us, and not we ourselves." To make this illustration. good for anything as an argument, therefore, it must be shown that in giving us moral freedom whereby the letting of ourselves down into the abyss of sin became possible, God forgot the weight of the rope-- liabit; and that He cannot now find sufficient wood anywhere in the universe to make a moral lever strong enough to draw us out. As this is not done there is no argument in the illustration.
The argument in support of the position that habit may become so strong that it cannot be broken, he takes from the analogy of natural law. Mr. Cook argues that there is a penalty of natural law that is not remedial, and hence that anal. ogy teaches that there may be, yea, must be such a penalty to the moral law. There is a penalty, he says, that has a remedial tendency, and there is a penalty that has no remedial tendency. To illustrate and enforce this position he has the following:
5 Orthodoxy, p. 12.
“ Under the plıysical laws of gravitation a ship may careen to the right or left and only a remedial effect be produced The danger inay teach the crew seamanship; it makes men bold and wise. Thus the penalty of violating up to a certain point the physical law is remedial in its tendency. But let the ship careen beyond a certain line and it capsizes. If it be iron it remains at the bottom of the sea, and hundreds and hundreds of years of suffering of that penalty has no tendency to bring it back. Under the physical natural laws plainly there is such a thing as its being too late to mend.
So under the organic law your tree gashed at a certain point may throw forth its gums and even have greater strengtii, than before ; but gashed beyond the centre, cut through the organic law is so far violated that the tree falls ; and after a thousand years you do not expect to see the tree escape from the dominion of the law which is enforcing upon it penalty, do you? There is no tendency in that penalty toward remedial effects, none at all, and you know it.” Hence he concludes, “If there is such a thing as its being forever too late to mend, under the organic and physical natural law, probably, and more than probably, there is such a thing under the moral natural law." 6
Unfortunatelyfor this argument, if it proves anything it proves too much.
if the argument was for the annihilation of the wicked, this reasoning might have some weight. It it was held that sin absolutely killed the soul, utterly took away its existence, then perhaps this argument from the penalties of physical natural law might have some force. But this is not the case. Mr. Cook does not hold that sin kills the soul, but through the power of habit, that it eventually ties the soul to suchi a condition of sinfulness and conscious suffering that all the forces of the miverse camnot break it away.
Hence this argument proves too much. For if it proves anything it proves annihilation.
That ship down there in the bottom of the sea is not a ship. It is only so much wood and iron in the shape of a ship. A ship, properly speaking, is something that has life and can sail. Without these properties it ceases to be a ship, that is, it is a dead ship. Just so with the tree. That prostrate trunk
6 Transcendentalism, pp. 157-8.
not a tree. It is only so much wood. A tree is something that has life and can grow. Losing these properties it becomes a dead tree. It is no more a tree than a dead body is a man. Hence the penalty of the physical law in the case of the capsized ship and that of the organic law in the case of the felled tree, is death, not suffering existence, but absolute death. Consequently if the analogy holds good, the penalty of the moral law, when violated too long, is death, absolute annihilation. It kills the soul, destroys conscious existence. This argument of Mr. Cook, therefore, cuts up his own doctrine, root and branch. It makes endless sin impossible, because it kills the sinner. Hence it proves nothing to his purpose because it proves too much.
This is sufficient as an answer to this argument, but as we desire to take from it all possible force it may have in any mind, we observe that the position taken as to the penalty of these physical natural laws is false and as a man of science he is inexcusable who does not know it to be false. The position is that this penalty is a state or condition of permanency, that the dead ship and the dead tree are in a condition from which there is no escape. The effort is to prove that there is a penalty to the moral law that is irremediable; hence it is affirmed that there is a like penalty under the physical law, a penalty that is an irremediable condition.
But this is not so. The condition of the dead tree is not irremediable. On the contrary, we all know that the forces of nature begin at once to remedy its condition. They take the prostrate trunk in hand and convert it into materials for another tree. This is the “ resurrection " process that is continually going on in the vegetable world. The old dies and rises again into new forms of life and beauty. It is absurd, therefore, to say that the penalty of violating an organic law by cutting down a tree is a condition of permanency.
The same is true of the ship, only the changing forces operate more slowly, and their work is not so palpable to the senses. Judying from the mighty changes that this globe has undergone, what supreme folly to intimate that that ship down there in the bottom of the sea is in a condition of " final permanence.” The penalty of these physical laws, therefore, is not irremediable, but the exact opposite : hence, so far as this fact proves anything, it proves that the penalty of the moral law is not irremediable, but the exact opposite; that it is remediable, that it sets forth a condition in which great forces are at work to produce a change for the better. All this argument, therefore, in support of the position that there may be a punishment of sin that does not tend to reform the sinner, is seen to be groundless.
3. Scriptural Testimony. Under this head all that Mr. Cook has is the assumption that the Scriptures teach the possibility of eternal sin. He says, “ It is not my duty here to expound the Scriptures, but you will allow me to say, gentlemen, that “eternal sin’ is a Scriptural phrase. As all scholars know, we must read in the twenty-ninth verse of the third chapter of Mark, hamartematos, and not kriseos : " He who sinneth against the Holy Ghost is in danger of eternal sin.'";
The meaning of this is that the word rendered damnation in this passage ought to be changed for one that means sin, and instead of reading “eternal damnation,” as it does in the old version, it ought to read “eternal sin,” as it does in the new. This would make the passage teach that he who sins against the Holy Ghost is in danger of eternal sin — is in danger of continuing in sin for ever. His contumacy is so great that he has passed the line beyond which repentance and forgiveness are impossible.
It is a sufficient answer to this to say, that according to all the best criticisin of the present day, Christ neither said nor taught anything of the kind. In the first place, he did not teach that the sin against the Holy Ghost is absolutely unpardonable. All the weight his language will bear is that this sin was one exceedingly difficult to pardon, smce it indicated a very great degree of wilful blindness. Thus Grotius says, “ The meaning is, not that this sin shall remain unforgiven so
7 Ibid. p. 163.
long as God exists, but that all other sins and blasphemies may more readily be forgiven than the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.” Bishop Pearce says, “ This is a strong way of expressing how difficult a thing it was for such a sinner to obtain pardon.” 8 The Master did not say, then, that this was an “ eternal sin," or one that cannot be repented of, for any sin that can be forgiven can and must be repented of.
Again, the phrase "eternal sin ” is not a Scripture phrase, if you use that phrase in the sense of “ endless sin.” The word translated eternal does not mean endless. It simply means age-lasting, an indefinite period of time. "All the best scholarship ” of the present time is surely acknowledging this. It is too late in the day to hoid the word translated eternal to the exact meaning of eternity, or endless. Such “scholarship” is behind the age. Christ, therefore, did not say that “ he who sinneth against the Holy Ghost is in danger of eternal sin,” meaning thereby endless sin, but only that he is in danger of “ age-lasting " sin, or of continuing long in sin. Hence this Scripture testimony may be dismissed without further comment.
We have now passed in review all the arguments in favor of this doctrine of the final permanence of sin of which we have any knowledge, and we can but feel that they are very inconclusive. In our next we shall try to show that this doctrine is without foundation in either philosophy or religion.
Rev. Stephen Crane. 8 Page's Selections. p. 80.