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and committing sin. The wrath of God is plainly revealed from heaven, against all such ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.
2. All wicked words, whether profane, or false, or slanderous, or obscene, are sins of commission. It was the resolution of David, "I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue." It is a proverb of Solomon, "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin." Our Saviour says, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment: for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." And the apostle James tells us, "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: it setteth on fire the whole course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell.”
3. We may transgress, and commit sin, in only the secret thoughts of our hearts. To these, the divine law extends; though human laws cannot take cognizance of them. The tenth commandment is express to this purpose; "Thou shalt not covet." And the sixth and seventh, according to our Saviour's exposition, implicitly forbid, all unreasonable anger, and every libidinous desire. The unrighteous man is required to forsake his thoughts; and it is said, "The thought of foolishness is sin." Not, indeed, all thinking of folly or wickedness. We ought often to think of our own sins, that we may repent of them; and sometimes of the sins of others, that we may reprove them. And we may have evil thoughts suggested to us, by wicked men or evil spirits, without being able to avoid it, and without being faulty. But that sin may be committed in the thoughts, intents, or desires of the heart, when it proceeds no further, is an undoubted truth. To devise evil, to meditate revenge, or to think of any wickedness, with a wish to perpetrate it, or with complacency in it, is certainly sinful.
That men may commit sin in the thought, word, and deed, will not be much disputed.
We will now inquire, whether nothing faulty is imputable to us, besides sins of commission: or, whether there may not be, what is truly of the nature of sin, prior to, or distinct from, actual transgressions. On this, I observe,
1. The Bible appears to speak of positive sin in the heart of man, antecedently to sinful actions, or words, or even thoughts; and as being the cause of all these.
I do not suppose indeed, that there are any evil principles or instincts in us, so radical, that they must have been created, by the immediate power of God. The corruption of our whole nature, I believe, primarily consists in the want of original righteousness, or of a good disposition. From self-love, and those appetites and passions which are not in themselves sinful, when one is destitute of virtue, that is, of the governing love of God and his neighbor, I conceive, will naturally be formed, all those roots of bitterness which springing up trouble us.
That there are, however, propensities to evil actions in depraved human nature, seems plainly taught in the holy scriptures; and this appears necessary to be supposed, in order to account for the sinful volitions of men, and their wicked external conduct. Our Saviour says, "From within, out of the heart, proceed evil thoughts, blasphemies, murders," &c. The apostle James speaks of the lusts of men, which war in their members, whence come wars and fightings: and he says, "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit which dwelleth in us, lusteth to envy?" And the apostle Paul complains of a law in his members, warring against the law of his mind: a law of sin, working death: a law that when he would do good, evil was present
with him. By all which phrases, in these several passages, this idea seems plainly intended and expressed; that there are in fallen man, propensities of nature to moral evil. And that it must be so, may be concluded from the evil volitions and actions of men, with as much certainty as the tree is known by its fruit, or as any cause can be learnt from its constant visible effects.
But if this be the evident fact, that we have such lusts which war in us; such laws of sin; such propensities to choose the evil and refuse the good; undoubtedly, these lusts, as well as the warring of them; these laws, as well as their operation, must be sinful. If the fruit be corrupt, the tree is also corrupt. It is agreeable to scripture, as well as reason and common sense, that the nature of a moral agent may be holy or unholy. The psalmist says, when praising the Lord, "Thou art good, and doest good." And we always suppose that the Most High is worthy of praise for what he is, and not merely for what he does for the perfections of his nature, and not merely for his wonderful works. But if God is to be praised for being good, as well as for doing good; for the same reason we are to be blamed for being bad, as well as for conducting ill. And do we not always thus judge, in accusing or excusing one another? Is not a man of an envious, revengeful, malicious disposition, whether at present provoked or not, to the actings or feelings of these passions, ever looked upon in an odious light? Is not such a disposition itself, universally disapproved, and thought hateful?
2. It seems, I think, to be the doctrine of scripture, and not disagreeable to the dictates of common sense, that mere neglects of duty, and merely the want of virtuous affections, are sinful, in a moral agent. I put the want of good affections and the omissions of duty together, because a proof of the criminality of them cannot well be separated.
It hath been said, (though not by them of old time, that "all sin consists in positive volition and exercise." None, consequently, in principle, or in being unprincipled: none in the weakness, or total want, of virtuous and religious affections: none in the omission or careless performance of any duty. It is said, that in not loving God or our neighbor; in not repenting, or not believing in Christ; in not being merciful or just; in not ever doing any good, we are guilty of no sin.
But by whomsoever, or by how manysoever, all this is said, it should not be received without examination. "To the law and to the testimony:" as far as any "speak not according to this word, there is no light in them."
That all sin consists in positives,. is a position the truth of which, the very phraseology of scripture, on this subject, gives us some reason to suspect. Sin is generally expressed by negative terms: unholiness, ungodliness, unrighteousness, iniquity. Is there no unholiness, in the want of holiness? no ungodliness, in not having any godliness? no unrighteousness, in not being righteous? no iniquity, in never paying any regard to justice and equity?
But we have greater witness than that of mere names and phrases. How often have prophets and apostles, and how often has the Author and Finisher of our faith, blamed and condemned men for deficiencies and neglects; for the want of pious and benevolent affections, and for the omission of religious and social duties? When our Saviour said to some of his hearers, "I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you;" he meant, one would think, to charge them with that which was not altogether faultless. And we know he upbraided those among whom most of his mighty works had been done, denounced woes upon them, and told them it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for
them, "because they repented not." It was like
wise a saying of his, "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed." In his parable of the man that had been robbed, and lay wounded and half dead; he evidently supposed that the Levite and priest, who passed by, were very culpable, for not showing kindness to one of their own nation, in such circumstances of distress. And in his representations of the day of judgment, he hath taught us in the strongest manner, that men will then be condemned for mere neglects of duty. Thus, in the parable of the talents left with servants to be improved for their lord during his absence; the one who had made no use of his talent, is, for that reason called a slothful and wicked servant, and ordered to be cast into outer darkness. And in the plainer account which follows, of the proceedings of that great and awful day, where we are told that the Judge will say to them on his left hand, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire ;" the only crimes charged as the cause of this terrible sentence, are sins of omission. "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink : I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not." These condemned sinners are represented, indeed, as replying against their Judge, and justifying themselves: but how do they do it? by pleading to the insufficiency of the charge, or by saying they were accused only of negatives, which are nothing? Not at all; the only plea they thought it possible to make in their defence, was denying the matter of fact. "Lord," say they," when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?" The Judge answers them, "Verily, I say unto you, In as much as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." It is added, "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment." To the same purpose are the words of the apostle James;