Recently I read The Christian Doctrine of Original Sin by Jonathan Edwards, one of the leading pastors in The Great Awakening which occurred in America prior to the Revolutionary War. Edwards wrote the book because he saw a weakening of the doctrine of Total Depravity in New England churches where he ministered. If sinners are not radically corrupt, then a radical remedy is not really needed in the gospel of the grace of God.
This concern of Edwards proved true as many of the churches of New England turned to liberal theology and eventually lost the gospel entirely, like the Unitarians. What do they believe?
Unitarians believe in the goodness of human nature, criticize doctrines of the Fall, the Atonement, and eternal damnation, and require only openness to divine inspiration. (The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 995)
I once attended a Unitarian church service where the entire message was about saving the environment with no hint about saving mankind from the ruin of sin. If you don’t believe that mankind is ruined in sin, why not focus on some other ruin that needs saving? If people are fine, then let’s try to harness their energies to improve some aspect of life that needs improving. After the service, we were invited to go on a nature walk rather than go and make disciples. (By the way, we do have a creation mandate to care responsibly for the earth God has created, but that is a far cry from replacing God with the worship of the earth itself. That is the inevitable result of denying Original Sin. We will see no need to be reconciled to the God we have strayed from.)
What Jonathan Edwards saw in his Bible is that we are sinners in three ways: 1) We are guilty of Adam’s sin because he was head of the whole human race which God constituted as one. Romans 5:12 says that when Adam sinned, we all sinned. Notice the past tense. It does not say that we sin (present tense), but that we sinned in the past when Adam sinned. The name Adam is the same Hebrew word for mankind. Adam represented the whole human race so that his sin was also our sin. 2) We inherit a depraved nature from Adam with a total bent towards sin and hostility towards God. Romans 8:7-8 says we are hostile to God, do not submit to God, cannot submit to God, and cannot please God. Matthew 9:36 says we are helpless, unable to remedy our sinful situation. 3) We commit personal sin (and can only sin before salvation because our good works are corrupted by wrong motives). Isaiah 64:6 says that the righteous deeds of the nonbeliever are as filthy rags. Coming from a polluted source, God sees them as polluted works.
Original sin is proven from experience in several ways, even if the Bible did not teach us so. We begin sinning immediately as soon as we can make our own choices. The self-centeredness in the youngest child is so self-evident that parents must spend enormous amounts of time counteracting it thru discipline and instruction. We sin continuously throughout our entire life. Even the best people get impatient, complain or lose their temper. Almost no one ever throughout the longest life claims to be perfect. Finally, we sin progressively worse (unless we are saved and born anew by God’s grace). The child left to itself becomes progressively worse, not better. What are the implications of this as Christians for life and ministry? There are many, so stay tuned for next month’s article when we will explore them.
Your friend, thinking with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).