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3. "It is the corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam." This tenet keeps the middle path and takes the certain ground that the race—the whole race—has been corrupted by sin; that it is not what it would have been had not sin “by one man entered in.” It furthermore assumes that this corruption has come through the principle of sin, and points to the law of heredity as the channel through which this principle has operated. We are constantly seeing how wisely time and history have shaped these Articles, eliminating dogmatical elements and leaving them affirmative of those great facts which have been and still are in the crucible of experience or at the sword edge of polemics.
The confessional theology of Methodism is unique in this, that it views the moral history of man as in no sense the outcome of arbitrary or accidental conditions; but rather as a sublime struggle upward against forces and conditions that fell out according to his own nature and the conditions of the moral universe about him. Sin did not come upon him as the result of an arbitrary decree, but it came at the point where his own free and untrammeled will met a principle which pleased and enticed him. At that point he discovered his weakness, his need. The remedy for that need showed him his true destiny-an inheritance in Deity. If no member of the race had ever fallen, Christ had still been necessary to it—its Saviour, its Perfecter. But now the race knows itself only through its sin, for “where sin abounded, grace did much abound.”
4. "Whereby man is very far gone from original
righteousness." The Article attempts no picture or account of man's original state—the estate of the first sinner before his sin. Whatever may have been in the minds of the confessors, they carefully refrained, in this particular, from overdoing their work as the makers of a confession. So the meaning of our Article at this point is neither more nor less than that men through sin are "very far gone from” the ideal of righteousness which the Maker of them designed they should attain as their birthright. Righteousness is itself a principle—an original principle—no less than sin, and lies back of the first righteous act of man, as the principle of sin lies back of the first sin. The first commandment-the one which embodied the ideal of "original righteousness”—though a moral one, must have been most simple in its form and requirements. That is more than suggested by the allegorical figures under which it appears in the record. It must needs have been simple and rudimentary to match the infantile mind of the creature; for whatever is said of his state of righteousness, it must be understood as a negative one—a condition of innocency and of untrammeled heredity. The moral effect, however, must be the same, as we see that the antediluvans were under different standards from those under which the Jews of the theocracy lived, and they were under still a different letter of requirement from that under which Christians are placed. The state of Christian grace is infinitely superior to the state of original righteousness” which our dogmatics have assigned to the beginning days of the head of the moral race. Christians may wisely use this Scripture-supported fact in mod
ifying those stern scholastic theorizings which the world's old theology fixed upon them. The founder of our Church and the purger of our Confession did so for himself, and so set us a wholesome example.
5. "Inclined to evil, and that continually." What is more certainly provable from experience? However it came to be so, this fact abides beyond controversy: that in us—that is, in our flesh—there dwell a spirit of disobedience, a persistent waywardness, a selfishness, unaccountable, surprising, destructive, complete. Grace is our only help.
OF FREE WILL.
The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and works of faith and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.
This Article is an extension of the arguments of the former. It was anciently denied that original sin, or, as it is properly described, the infectious principle of evil, had impaired, or dominated, the wills of men so as to affect their powers of choice. This tenet is a denial of the heresy.
The heredity of disobedience has taken away the strength of man's will, so that "he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength" for "calling upon God.” Neither has he power to do good works or accomplish of himself any task pleasing to God. Yet "with the grace of God by Jesus Christ preventing," he "may have a good will” and choose that which is right and best. This Article is not a discussion of the abstract doctrine of the will, but of the will as it must be helped by divine grace in making holy choices. This puts the emphasis where it will best serve the Church of the future.
The Anglican Arminianism of the Confession is at full tide in this Article. Augustinianism and Calvinism deny the freedom of the will—the freedom of human choice. This idea is utterly discarded by our theology. Even the sinner has freedom of choice, much more the man under grace. The power to choose and the power to appropriate are different. The wills of all men are free, but only grace can empower us to appropriate what our wills have the intellectual force to choose.
1. “The fall of Adam.” This form of statement is not found in Scripture; but, like the term “original sin," has become a confessional description that cannot be substituted without confusion and misunderstanding. Besides, the phrase “the fall of Adam” exactly describes the calamity which resulted in the case of the first sinner. It is not only a fall; it is death—soul death—when it secures dominion in the life. It is easy also, in the light of our most scriptural confession, to see that this first fall was the fall of the race. It has been multiplied in the countless disobediences made possible-aye, made certain-by reason of that first. A fall from innocence is a fall to death, and it is certain the first man accomplished that. From the wilderness and night of his loss his generations issued.
2. “Without the grace of God by Christ Jesus preventing us." Those who think of the gospel as an afterthought of the divine purpose—an expedient to cure the unforeseen disease of Adamic sin—narrow the scheme of an infinite God to the limits of human thinking. "The grace of God by Christ Jesus” is a plan of worlds, of heights and depths, and eternities. It is a cure not for man's sins alone, but for all the disorders of the universe. And yet—what exaltation is ours !—it is perfectly revealed in its preventing--going before—us men to make effective our choice of will when we would seek divine things. Moreover, it coalesces with our wills to make us will the things of God. “Confessedly the mystery of godliness is great!”