Page images
PDF
EPUB

to an interpretation of the two Articles relating to the first estate.

We have elsewhere dealt with the confessional or dogmatic aspects of the Article on Original Sin, and need not renew the argument here. We may, however, observe that in some form the subject of sin must of necessity enter into every complete doctrinal formulary. Indeed, it does enter as essential matter into every statement touching the doctrines of salvation. “And thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” It is to be thought upon as a matter of no small significance, and one not of accident but of a higher providential purpose, that these confessions, like the forms of Scripture, are recognized as different from what we had made them had we had the ordering. How would we fain fill out here and there what appear to be the lapses and silences of Scripture! Let us rather find in ourselves the grace of thankfulness that it is not ours to alter. I take it that an admission of apparent, or even actual, lack here and there in the Confession is not an utterly ill judgment of those parts. For one, I should suspect it if it provoked no such criticism. The particular point in question is the one of all others on which men must despair of satisfying themselves when they come to make written statements. As there is nothing more difficult of mastery than sin, so there is nothing in the life so little amenable to our human understandings. But although there is no study more beset by doctrinal and metaphysical intricacies than the one we are now entering upon, there is none more important.

ARTICLE VII.

OF ORIGINAL OR BIRTH SIN.

Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.

About this Article the wars of Methodism have been waged, and it is that one which of all others one might wish to see amended or verbally revised. But the more one concentrates study upon it, the more does it appear doubtful if emendation would be advantageous. It is a polemical tenet aimed at an ancient error; but it likewise maintains a healthy controversy with the modern tendency to minimize the exceeding sinfulness of sin and to deny the ruin wrought and entailed by sin. In the light of the ancient heresy the language of the tenet is justified, and as a check to the modern error it has a commendable value. Let it be understood that it is not the function of the confession to discuss the entire theology of sin; that is done for us in the New Testament, and the subject is of such importance that appeal must be taken to the original and supreme statement in the Word. The Article deals with a controverted fact about sin, not with the admitted, incontrovertible fact itself.

Hardwick in reaching a conclusion as to the spirit, and frequently the purpose, of the English Articles found it necessary to inquire narrowly into the views held by Cranmer "in the years immediately after the accession of King Edward,” that being the season of the incubation of those historic dogmas.1 In settling certain points of inquiry concerning the Articles of Methodism a like study must be undertaken to find out the exact conclusions at which Mr. Wesley had arrived "in the years immediately” preceding the year 1784, the year in which the Twenty-Four Articles were given to American Methodism. If it should be objected that Mr. Wesley wrote no articles himself, but only selected such as he approved from the cast of Cranmer and Parker, and that therefore the Articles of his selection and abridgment can symbolize no other theology than that of the first compilers, I answer that both Cranmer and Parker, as I have conclusively shown, borrowed the terms of their Articles from other confessions and yet made them voice the theology of Anglicanism. Mr. Wesley, in his turn, made their Articles voice the theology of Methodism.

It is a well-known fact that the literature which Mr. Wesley created, as being a history of his developing theological views during more than fifty years of active labors, may be made to support opposing interpretations of not a few subjects, and notably of the doctrine of original sin. But all must accept as fair, in his case, the method pursued by Hardwick in the case of Cranmer. Wesley's very latest views on the doctrine of sin are those deducible from a grammatical interpretation of the Seventh Article of our Confession. It embodies the belief on that subject held by present-day Methodism.

It is well known that as late as 1756 Mr. Wesley

See Hardwick, "History of the Articles," p. 66.

held views on the doctrine of original sin that were pronouncedly Augustinian in character-i. e., he held to the doctrine of transmitted guilt as a consequence of original sin. But by 1785 these views had given place to others diametrically opposed and thoroughly scriptural in language and import. His fifty-two sermons, which, with his "Notes" on the New Testament, were made the doctrinal standards of the Wesleyan Church, were thoroughly revised by him certainly as late as 1783. In the sermon on "Christian Perfection," Volume III. of this collection, occurs this definition of sin, which is accepted as his final and most mature view of the whole subject:

You say: "Yes, it (perfection] is inconsistent with the last Article; it cannot consist with salvation from sin.I answer: “It will perfectly well consist with salvation from sin, according to that definition of sin (which I apprehend to be the scriptural definition of it), a voluntary transgression of a known law. Nay, but all transgressions of the law of God, whether voluntary or involuntary, are sin; for St. John says: 'All sin is a transgression of the law. True, but he does not say: 'All transgression of the law is sin.' This I deny: let him prove it that can.

For no body, or matter of any kind, can be sinful; spirits alone are capable of sin. Pray, in what part of the body should sin lodge ?

Only the soul can be the seat of sin.”

This declaration, together with the act of Mr. Wesley in eliding the Augustinian section of the Ninth Article of the English Confession so as to make of the remaining section the Seventh Article of our Confession, shows conclusively the perfect deliverance and freedom of his mind from the dogma of inherited guilt. On this position of Mr. Wesley, Dr. Albert Taylor Bledsoe, who has done more than any one man to fix the theological views of the Methodism of the Southern half of the continent, says:

It is certain that the very notion respecting original sin, and the effects of infant baptism, which Mr. Wesley so earnestly advocated in 1756, he cut from his creed, or confession of faith, in 1784, and gave them to the winds. Is not the fact that he expunged the absurd notion of the guilt of original sin from the Ninth Article of his own Church, leaving no trace of it in the Articles he prepared for the Methodists of this country, a significant hint as to what his followers should do with the same notion in his work on the “Doctrine of Original Sin ?" ... He said in one of his sermons of that year (1785) that “sin is the voluntary transgression of a known law.” Now according to this definition the "original sin" of newborn infants (as it is called) is not truly or strictly sin at all. They are certainly not guilty of any voluntary transgression of any law whatever."

But after all has been said (and for one we hold to these conclusions as final), our Articles do teachand in this they accord with Scripture—that in the

The rejected part of the Ninth (Anglican) Article reads as follows: "So that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek opóvnua oápkos, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh, is not subject to the law of God; and although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin."

s“Christian Theology," Southern Review, October, 1876.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »