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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

The Personal Nature of Sin

The Personal Nature of Sin.

Those who teach that guilt and merit, with their penalties and rewards, can be transferred, deny in the directest way the personal nature of Sin. That men should find a foreign remedy for their perpetrated wickedness, is not less shocking than that they should trace it to a foreign source. If they know what it is at all, they feel it to be inalienably their own; which none could page 144 give them and which none can take away. And nothing is more amazing than that good Christians, who seem truly cast down in humiliation, oppressed with the sense of their short-comings, penetrated with the sadness of bafiled aspiration,—and who, therefore, one would think, must really have a consciousness of the personality of sin, and know how it is chargeable only on their individual will,—can yet obtain relief by flying, as it is said, to the cross, and persuading themselves that the evil has been stayed and cured by transactions wholly outside themselves, and belonging to the history of another being. What can possibly be meant by the statement that Christ has borne the punishment some eighteen hundred years ago, of your sins and mine—of people non-existent then, and therefore non-sinful? Can the punishment precede the sin? Can it be inflicted and gone through before it is even determined whether the sin will be perpetrated at all? Or can merely potential sin, which may never become actual, be dealt with at ages distant, and its accounts be settled ere it arise? If so, what is the death of Christ but the provisory accumulation of a fund beforehand, ready to be drawn upon as the everlasting "treasure of the church" for the free discharge of guilty debts and the release of Divine obligations? And in what respect does this differ from the Roman Catholic doctrine—except that the treasure is at the discretion of no chartered sacerdotal company, but is open on more popular and looser terms?

Moral relations, by their very nature, exclude all vicarious agency; you cannot fall, you cannot recover by deputy: the ill that haunts you is the insult you have put on the divine spirit in your heart, and it is as if you were alone with God. An interposing medium can as little divert the retribution, as it can intercept the complacency of the Infinite and Holy Mind. What more fearful charge could you bring against any government, than to say that its penalities may be bought off?

A judge who accepts the voluntary sufferings of innocence in acquittance of the liabilities of guilt, shocks every sentiment of justice, and does that which the most judicial caprice would never dare to imitate. A law that does not care whether the right person feels its retribution, provided it gets an equivalent suffering elsewhere, is an affront to the most elementary notion of right. And an offender who can welcome his escape by such device, permits his moral perceptions to be blinded by personal gratitude, and is content to profit by a transaction which it would fill him with remorse to repeat upon his own children.—James Martineau.