Original Sin

Original Sin This expression is frequently used in a twofold sense, to denote the imputation of Adam's first sin to his posterity, and also that native depravity which we have derived by inheritance from our first parents. The first view of the subject — the imputation of Adam's first sin — has already been considered under the articles SEE IMPUTATION and SEE HOPKINSIANS. According to the second view we came into the world, in consequence of the sin of Adam, in a state of depravity. On this point the Westminster Confession of Faith explicitly declares: "By this sin," referring to the sin of our first parents, "they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of the soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation." Again, in another article the Confession teaches: "Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability to any spiritual good accompanying salvation, so that a natural man, being altogether averse from that good and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or prepare himself thereunto." This doctrine pervades the whole of the sacred writings, and may be called indeed a fundamental and essential truth of revelation. Thus before the flood we find the inspired penman declaring (Ge 6:5): "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Again, after the flood, the same statement is repeated (Ge 8:21): "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." David also (Ps 51:5) declares: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." The original and innate depravity of man might be deduced from the doctrine of Scripture respecting the necessity of regeneration. Our blessed Lord affirms (Joh 3:3): "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." We are said to be "saved by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior." Such language has no meaning if it be not true that we are utterly depraved by nature. How early does this innate corruption manifest itself in children! It is impossible for us to examine our own hearts, or look around us in the world, without having the conclusion forced upon us that the wickedness which everywhere prevails must have its seat in a heart that is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." The doctrine of original sin has been denied by heretics of different kinds. Socinians treat it as a foolish and absurd idea. The followers of Pelagius maintain that, notwithstanding the results of the fall, a man still retains the power, independently of divine grace, of originating, prosecuting, and consummating good works. God, they allege, gives us the ability to believe, but we can experience the ability without further assistance. This doctrine has been revived in our own day by the members of the Evangelical Union, commonly called Morrisonians Some theologians admit that we were born less pure than Adam, and with an inclination to sin; but in so far as this inclination or concupiscence, as it is called, is from nature, it is not properly sin. It is merely the natural appetite or desire, which, as long as the will does not consent to it, is not sinful. Romanists believe that original sin is taken away by baptism, and maintain, like the above, that concupiscience is not sinful. The apostle Paul, however, holds a very different opinion, declaring in the plainest language that the proneness to sin is in itself sinful. Thus in Ro 7:7-8, he says: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead." A keen controversy concerning the nature of original sin arose in the 16th century in Germany. A party of Jena, led by Matthias Flacius, endeavored to prove that the natural man could never cooperate with the divine influence in the heart, but through the working of innate depravity was always in opposition to it. Flacius met with a keen opponent in Victorinus Strigelius, and a public disputation on the subject of original sin was held at Weimar in 1560. On this occasion Flacius made the strong assertion that original sin was the very essence of man, language which was believed to imply either that God was the author of sin, or that man was created by the devil. Hence even the former friends of Flacius became his bitterest opponents. SEE SIN.

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