It is important that we should arrive at some clearer understanding of the nature of sin. Let us approach the question from the side of the Divine Indwelling. The doctrine of the Divine Immanence, in things and in persons, that doctrine which we are to-day slowly recovering, is rescued from pantheism by holding fast at the same time to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. God the Transcendent dwells in "all thinking things, all objects of all thoughts" by His Word and Spirit. The Word, the Logos, of which St. John speaks, is the Eternal Self-Expression of God, standing as it were face to face with Him in the depths of His eternal life. "In the beginning the Word was with God." He is the Eternal Thought of God, Who includes within Himself this and all possible universes. And the Spirit, One with the Father and the Word, gives to the Thought of God its realisation and embodiment in what we call things. And that realisation of the Thought of God by the Spirit of God is a progressive realisation --
1. In inorganic nature, as power and wisdom and beauty.
2. In organic beings, as vegetable and animal life.
3. In men, as the higher reason, including our moral and spiritual nature.
The long process of evolution is thus the progressive realisation of the Thought of God now becoming the Word, the expressed Thought of God. And this realisation is from within, a growing manifestation of God in created things. And its climax was reached in the Incarnation when
4. The Word became flesh; the Thought of God perfectly embodied in our humanity. And now this same progressive revelation of God is continuing on the higher plane into which it was uplifted at the Incarnation. The work of the Spirit is to form within the members of Christ's Body, that Body which is constituted by His indwelling, the Mind and the Life of God Incarnate. "He shall take of Mine and shall show it unto you." So we get
5. The work of the Spirit of Christ within the Church, extending the Incarnation.
"He," writes St. Paul, "gave Him [Christ] as Head over all to the Church, which is His Body, the fulness of Him Who at all points in all men is being fulfilled."
The application of this to our present subject is as follows. The animal life in us, and the Divine life in us, are both alike due to the indwelling God, both alike are manifestations of His Presence. But they are manifestations at two different levels of being. What follows?
The animal nature is good; the moral and spiritual nature is good. What do we mean in this connexion by "good"? We mean, they are the results of the action of Him Whose Will is essential goodness.
The peculiarity of human life is, however, the conflict between these two elements of man's nature -- the lower and the higher. Neither as yet, from the human standpoint, is good or bad. Moral attributes belong only to the will, which we may provisionally call the centre of man's personality. For man is a personal being, and as such stands apart from God.
God, Whose power brought man into being,
Man alone can bring into existence the morally good or the morally bad. And the materials of his choice are presented by the co-existence within him of the lower and the higher. Sin is the choice by the will of the lower, when that is felt to be in conflict with the higher. It is the resolution, previous to any action, to satisfy the desires of the animal, when these are known to contradict the dictates of the moral and spiritual nature.
Here we pause to notice a point of great importance for clear thinking on this subject. The conflict we have spoken of is that described by St. Paul as between the flesh and the spirit. Now the flesh is not equivalent to the body. The works of the flesh are by no means necessarily sensual sins; they include strife and envy. The flesh, the animal within us, is not to be identified with our physical organisation.
Now we are drawing near to the very heart of the matter. What is it which distinguishes the lower nature from the higher, the animal from the Divine in us, the flesh from the spirit? The distinction lies in the objects to which the desires of each of these natures are directed.
The animal, predominantly, desires the good of self: the Divine, the good of others.
This we must now expand. There is nothing morally wrong in the self-seeking of the animal. Moral evil -- sin -- only arises when two conditions are fulfilled.
The self-seeking desire must be felt to be in contradiction to the unselfish dictates of the higher nature.
The will, having this knowledge more or less clearly before it, chooses to give effect to the lower rather than to subordinate it to the higher. We may express the same truth somewhat more accurately.
The material of human sin is the co-existence of the animal nature and the Divine Nature within us.
The occasion of sin is the conflict between the two.
The conditions of sin are two -- knowledge and freedom; knowledge of the antagonism between the desires of the two natures, and freedom to give effect either to the one or to the other.
The actual fact of sin is the movement of the will, making its choice in favour of the lower in opposition to the higher.
These two corollaries follow: -- (i) Sin belongs only to the will, not to the nature. "There is nothing good in the world save a good will." And the converse is true: there is nothing sinful in the world save a sinful will.
(ii) Sin does not lie in the act, but in the movement of the will, of which the act is but the outward symbol. We must carefully distinguish between sin and temptation. No temptation is sinful, however strong and however vividly presented to the mind. Sin only comes in when the will makes the choice of the worse alternative. A sin in thought is an act of inward choice, the deliberate indulgence of, the dwelling with pleasure upon, the temptation presented to us. But if I am only prevented by circumstances or by fear from embodying the wrong choice of my will in action, I have, in the sight of God, committed that sin. If I have made the wrong choice, and am deterred by the faintest of moral scruples, as well as, perhaps, by other considerations, from carrying it out, I am really, although in a less degree, guilty.
Now we can fall back upon our main thought. The animal matter is essentially self-regarding. This is not (a) the same thing as to say that all actions of all animals are self-regarding. I see no difficulty in believing that there may be adumbrations of the moral and spiritual in animals below man, if the animal life is the manifestation, on a lower plane, of the same Word Who is the Life of nature and the Light (the higher reason and spiritual life) of man. Nor (b) is it the same thing as to say that the desires of the animal nature are selfish. For selfishness is a moral term and, as we have seen, moral attributes are inapplicable except to a wrong choice of the will.
These self-regarding impulses of the animal nature are due to the fact, that that nature is the result of the age-long struggle for existence. These impulses have secured the survival and the predominance of man.
But man is more than a successful animal. He is made in the image of God. In him, the Word is revealed, not as life only, but as light. In an altogether higher sense than can be predicated of any part of creation below man, he is a sharer in the Divine life.
Now that Divine life is the very life of Him Whose very essence and being is Love. God is Love. What does this mean? It has never been better expressed than in the following words: "God is a Being, not one of Whose thoughts is for Himself. . . . Creation is one great unselfish thought of God, the bringing into existence of beings who can know the happiness which God Himself knows" (Dr. Askwith). What happiness is that? It is explained, by the same writer, as the happiness which is found in the promotion of the happiness, that is, in the largest sense, the well-being of others.
We can now see the reason of the antagonism between the animal and the Divine in ourselves, the real meaning of the Pauline antithesis between the flesh and the Spirit, the old man and the new.
We are to "put off the old man." He is old, indeed, beyond our imaginations of antiquity, for he is the product of the hoary animal ancestry of our race. Our progress as successful competitors in the struggle for animal existence, has been the waxing stronger of the old man day by day.
To put on the new man, is to continue our evolution, now a conscious and deliberate evolution, on an entirely different plane. It is to subdue the self-regarding impulses, in obedience to the movements of the Divine life within us, which bids us deny ourselves -- not some particular desire, but our own selves -- and to seek the good of others; to seek and, seeking, surely to find, "the happiness which God Himself knows."
To put on the new man is synonymous, in St. Paul, with putting on Christ. For He is the perfect revelation of the Divine in our humanity.
He is this perfect revelation of the Divine self-sacrifice in His Incarnation, when "He became poor for our sakes," when "He emptied Himself." So the Incarnation is, it may well be, but the climax of the Divine sacrifice involved in creation, when God limited Himself by His manifestation in "material" things; involved, we may say with greater certainty, in the creation of man, who can, in some real sense, thwart and hinder the Divine Will.
He is the revelation of the Divine in us, in the whole course of His earthly life. "Christ pleased not Himself." "He went about doing good."
And, above all, He is that revelation in the supreme act of love and sacrifice upon the Cross. "In this have we come to know what love is, because He laid down His life for us." We have come to know love, in its supreme manifestation of itself, for ever the test, the standard of all true love; and in coming to know love, we have necessarily come to know God. The Cross is the perfect self-utterance and disclosure of the Mind of God, the crowning revelation of His Word. And in coming to know God, we have come to know ourselves. For the true self of man is the self conformed perfectly to the Divine Life within him.
Thus the Cross of Jesus Christ is the crowning revelation of man, as well as of God. There, side by side with humanity marred and wrecked and spoilt by sin, which is selfishness, we see man as God made him, as God meant him to be, clothed with the Divine beauty and glory of self-sacrifice.
In the Cross we see ourselves, our true selves, not as we have made ourselves, but our real and genuine selves, as we exist in the Mind of God.
In the light of that wonderful revelation, we can recognise that which is Divine and Christ-like in us, that spirit which bids us seek not the things of self, but the things of others, "even as Christ pleased not Himself."
All this may be summed up in one short phrase, which goes near, I believe, to express the innermost reality of the Christian religion. Christ, the Son of man, is the true self of every man. To follow Him, to be His disciple, in thought, and word, and deed, is to be oneself, to realise one's own personality. In no other way can I attain to be myself.
Thus the Cross is the supreme revelation of the Divine Life in man. And now we shall go on to see how it brings to us, not merely the knowledge of the Ideal, but also, what is far more, the very means whereby the Ideal may be realised in and by each one of us.
We have dealt with the Cross as illumination; we now approach its consideration as redemptive power.