by Alfred T. Overstreet
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Gen. 18:25
He shall judge the world with righteousness. Psalm 96:13
He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness. Acts 17:31
THE GREAT PROBLEM OF ORIGINAL SIN
The one great problem of original sin is that it clashes with man's irresistible convictions of justice. These innate, God-given convictions affirm to us irresistibly that it is impossible to hold a man responsible for a deed that he did not commit and that was committed thousands of years before he was born and came into existence. So the theologians who defend the theory of original sin have the impossible task of justifying God for doing what their own conscience affirms he could not be just in doing.
The theologians who work so hard to resolve this problem still find it impossible to escape their God-given convictions that the doctrine of original sin does, in fact, involve God in a monstrous injustice. Charles Hodge both recognizes this injustice and evades it in the same sentence:
It may be difficult to reconcile the doctrine of innate evil dispositions with the justice and goodness of God, but that is a difficulty which does not pertain to this subject. A malignant being is an evil being, if endowed with reason, whether he was so made or so born, and a benevolent rational being is good in the universal judgment of men, whether he was so created or so born. We admit that it is repugnant to our moral judgments that God should create an evil being; or that any being should be born in a state of sin, unless his being so born is the consequence of a just judgment.
This, then how to reconcile the justice and goodness of God with the doctrine of original sin is the great, omnipresent problem of original sin, a problem that remains to haunt the advocate of original sin even after he has hurriedly dismissed it. Sheldon also calls attention to the problem of the injustice of God involved in the doctrine of original sin. He says:
The same God whose penetrating glance burns away every artifice with which a man may enwrap himself, and reaches at once to the naked reality, is represented as swathing His judgment with a gigantic artifice, in that He holds countless millions guilty of a trespass which He knows was committed before their personal existence, and which they could no more prevent than they could hinder the fiat of creation. If this is justice, then justice is a word of unknown meaning.
Strong admits quite frankly that he is not completely satisfied with the theories of original sin. He says:
We must grant that no one, even of these later theories, is wholly satisfactory. We hope, however, to show that the last of them the Augustinian theory, the theory of Adam's natural headship, the theory that Adam and his descendants are naturally and organically one explains the largest number of facts, is least open to objections, and is most accordant with Scripture.
The fact is that the irresistible convictions of justice in the hearts of all men reject the teachings of the doctrine of original sin. Consider the following:
1. If Eph. 2:3, "By nature the children of wrath," means born with a sinful nature and under the wrath of God because of that nature which the advocates of the doctrine of original sin teach then it follows that every child who dies in infancy goes to hell where he must forever suffer the awful punishment and wrath of God.
But Christians will not accept this. I have not found a Christian yet who will accept that babies who die go to hell. But this text, which they themselves use to prove original sin, could not help but teach that babies who die go to hell where they will suffer God's wrath in never-ending punishment. If babies really are born "by nature the children of wrath," then they must go to hell if they die in such a state. But why is it that Christians cannot accept that babies who die go to hell? Because they know it would be a monstrous and cruel injustice to send innocent little babies to hell. And, of course, they are right. God would never send innocent little babies to hell. However, this is what Eph. 2:3 necessarily teaches if it teaches the doctrine of original sin. This problem with Eph. 2:3 points up once again the insurmountable problem with original sin, which is that it conflicts with our God-given convictions of justice, making God unjust.
2. If Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me," means that even unborn children in their mother's womb are sinners, then it follows that all the multiplied millions of children who have been aborted, along with all stillbirths, are in hell where they will suffer its torments throughout all eternity for "their part" in the sin of Adam.
3. If Heb. 7:9-10, "Levi...paid tithes in Abraham, for he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him" means that in Adam all mankind sinned because they were in his loins when he transgressed, which is the teaching of the advocates of original sin, then it follows that the Lord Jesus Christ also sinned in Adam. This is a blasphemous thought, which no Christian can allow, but something that would have to be true if all of human nature was corrupted in Adam when he sinned.
But if this theory is true, then we might suppose that there will be myriads of souls who will never be born, but who nevertheless existed as seed in the loins of Adam, and who will go to hell because they sinned in Adam, even though they never will be born! Why not! Is this so astonishing? If the advocates of original sin can believe that all of humanity sinned in Adam before they were born and began their existence, why can they not see that all the souls who never will be born and never will exist also sinned in him, because they were seed in his loins and potential souls when he sinned? There is no greater problem with the latter than with the former! And if the later is impossible and absurd, so is the former!
4. Another problem is man's idea of an "age of accountability." This idea is completely inconsistent with the idea of original sin. Yet I have never known a Christian who believed in original sin who did not also believe in an "age of accountability." But the two cannot exist together because the doctrine of original sin forbids that children wait until they reach a certain age before they become accountable. According to original sin, we are accountable and guilty for Adam's sin at birth! This leaves no room for a child to come to the "age of accountability" because he is already accountable, guilty, and under the wrath of God from birth. In other words, he has reached the "age of accountability" when he is only an innocent little baby.
The idea of an "age of accountability" is completely inconsistent with the doctrine of original sin. Those who have the idea of the one must give up the idea of the other. The two cannot consist together.
But Christians will not give up the idea of an "age of accountability." Why? Because of their irresistible convictions of justice. The conviction that a child cannot be accountable for his actions until he knows the difference between right and wrong is the universal judgment of all men, and this judgment repudiates the doctrine of original sin, which teaches that babies are accountable, guilty, and under the wrath of God from birth.
5. The idea of free moral agency is also inconsistent with the doctrine of original sin. Men cannot sin unavoidably because of an inborn sin nature and be free at the same time. If we are born with a sinful nature which makes sin unavoidable, then we are not free. Nor are we moral agents because moral agency implies freedom. Yet I have never known a Christian who believed in original sin who did not believe also that he was a free moral agent. But to be consistent, those who believe in the doctrine of original sin must give up the idea that they are free moral agents, for if we sin unavoidably because of an inborn sin nature, we cannot be free. But Christians will not give up the idea that they are free moral agents. Why? Because of their irresistible convictions that they must be free, meaning able to obey God and do right, or they cannot justly be held accountable for their actions.
6. The doctrine of original sin so clashes with man's irresistible convictions of justice that, even when men believe and teach the doctrine, they cannot escape the fact that it is unjust.
I remember that, soon after I was converted, I began testifying and preaching in missions, jails, and on street corners. I preached that men are born sinners because that is what I had heard others preach, and I remember that at the time I felt uneasy telling people that they were sinners because they were born sinners. Why? It was because I knew intuitively that we could not be to blame for being born sinners. I was preaching that men were born sinners, even though it conflicted with my irresistible convictions of justice.
Also, recently I heard an old preacher preaching on original sin. He preached the standard sermon, using the standard proof-texts. Then he concluded his sermon almost facetiously with the words, "When I get to heaven, I'm going to ask God all about this." In this way, he tacitly acknowledged his consciousness of the obvious injustice of the original sin doctrine. The very advocates of this doctrine cannot escape their God-given convictions that it is unjust.
7. It is a remarkable fact that there are several conflicting theories of original sin instead of just one. Why is this? The reason is founded in the great problem of original sin: Man's reason testifies that it is unjust. And so, several different theories have been formulated, and have come down to us, each one proposing to have the best legal basis upon which God might be just in condemning the whole human race for the sin of one man. This brings us to the discussion of a theory we have not mentioned up until now, the Arminian Theory of original sin. This theory was formulated by Arminius in the early part of the 17th century and was a reaction to the injustice perceived in the Augustinian theory of original sin. Arminius taught that babies are not guilty for the sin of Adam. They inherit a depraved nature from Adam, but God bestows upon each individual at the dawn of consciousness a special influence of the Holy Spirit sufficient to counteract the effect of their inherited depravity and make obedience possible. So that men are able to obey God if they will cooperate with the special influence of the Holy Spirit. Under his theory, men are guilty only when they consciously and voluntarily commit sin.
Like Arminius did, preachers, Sunday school teachers, and Christians in general make up their own brand of original sin because of compelling convictions of its injustice. For instance, Augustine taught that infants who die without baptism are damned, but this teaching is too offensive to the conscience of most Christians. So they teach a different brand of original sin or remain silent upon this point that is so repulsive to the conscience. They use all the standard proof-texts, such as Eph. 2:3, "By nature the children of wrath," to prove the doctrine of original sin, but are either unaware of the implications this has for infants who die or come up with a brand of original sin in which babies are not accountable and guilty for original sin until they reach the "age of accountability." They invent a new brand of original sin because their convictions of justice tell them that children cannot be guilty before they actually sin. They are ignorant that the doctrine of original sin makes children "by nature the children of wrath" from the time they are born. They are unaware of the implications and inconsistencies of what they believe and teach. They are teaching what they have been taught, and since they can quote some proof-texts from the Bible, they feel they are on firm ground. They are unaware of the fact that their irresistible convictions of the unjustness of the original sin doctrine has compelled them to come up with a brand new kind of original sin that could only be true if the dogma of original sin were false!
God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. II Peter 3:9
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. I Tim. 2:4
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