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Relation of Moral Evil to Freedom, and its Remedy.

1.—It is implied in the fact of forgiveness, to which reference was made at the close of the last chapter, in connection with the forgiving and loving principles involved in the mystery of the Cross, that there is something which needs to be forgiven; in other words, that man has gone astray and sinned. This fact brings up the inquiry, upon which there has been from time to time so much discussion, of the origin of moral evil. The view of the Absolute Religion, which is also the doctrine of the Scriptures when properly interpreted and understood, is that moral evil in its various forms and degrees is necessarily incidental to the facts which are involved in the constitution of man’s nature. In other words, the liability to sin is a necessary result of the great faculties and capabilities, which are man’s inheritance.

2.—It is the Scriptural statement that man was created in the “image of God.” A statement which is entitled on grounds of observation and reason to be accepted in its essential meaning, although it requires to be modified in its import by the consideration that man is finite and the Creator infinite. But with this modification kept in view, which implies that the likeness in the creation exists in the outlines and essential nature of being, rather than in the amount or degree of being, it still remains, that man was created in the divine image, in the first place, perceptively; in other words, in the possession of those powers which are employed in the acquisition of knowledge. And if the limitation, to which we have referred, excludes the attribute of omniscience, it accepts both the possibility and the fact of such a degree of knowledge as is appropriate to a finite being. Secondly, man was created in the image of God sentimentively; that is to say, he was created with that distinct and more interior department of our mental nature which is sometimes appropriately expressed by the term sensibilities; and which, in being the sphere of the sentiments, originates feeling in its various forms of emotions, desires and feelings of obligation, in distinction from mere perceptive acts. And thirdly, he was created with the power or faculty of the will; that great and controlling department of the mind, where we are to look for the foundations, or at least the necessary conditions, of personality and accountability. In all these important respects there can be no hesitation in saying that man was created in the image of God. And as a resultant of these attributes of being, and as a necessary fulfillment of the statement that he was born in the divine image, he was created
self-centered; a being not only endued with living power, but created in the possession of absolute moral freedom within the sphere of his personal existence and activity.

3.—So that if we rightly conceive of the principles of his birth, man was created a child of God, with a reality of freedom and of personal responsibility in his own finite sphere, analogous to that of God himself in his infinite sphere. The attribute of volitional and moral freedom, with that practical self-reliance which grows out of it, makes the self-centred position complete. So that man, being what he is and created as he is, is necessarily born a self-hood; and that self-hood, claiming on the ground of moral freedom a likeness and relationship with the self-hood of God, is not more a necessary condition or form of his life, than it is the foundation of his greatness and glory. And accordingly, though as man he is an out-birth from God and is necessarily inferior to God, he stands within his own sphere of life, and in virtue of the psychical and moral gifts which have been imparted to him, essentially a deific being; and is truly and emphatically born in the image of God and made a son of God. And that which, more than anything else, although none of his other mental attributes could be dispensed with, gives him this high place, and that which establishes him as one born in the image of God, and makes him a true child of God, is his inviolable freedom.

4.—In being an out-birth from the Infinite, man is not on that account infinite himself, but on the contrary is characterized, and necessarily so, by finiteness. An infinite out-birth, if it could be a thing conceivable, would be essentially a contradiction in terms. A creation or out-birth, which could be characterized as infinite, would not be an out-birth, but an identity. So that man, in the primal principles and facts of his creation, is born as he is and was, because he could not be born otherwise; made in the image of God, and therefore in an important sense deific, but not infinite. But here comes an incident of his history which is worthy of notice. The law and the facts of his being are such, that while they constitute the necessity and the glory of his existence, they draw the lines of separation, and place him, in the first instance, not only in the isolation of self-hood, but for a time at least in practical antagonism with everything else. He stands up in the conscious greatness of his individualism, which is only another name for his self-hood; and in the power and in the just pride of self-affirmation, his first utterance is necessarily an interrogation of the universe. He says, I am a man; let no one touch me; let no one violate the sphere of my activity; let no one attempt to control me. That proud voice which in affirming itself and ascertaining its own position, interrogates and warns all others, sounds through all heights and all depths, and proclaims the birth of a deific son. God himself stands aside, as it were, in deep reverence and love of his own mighty work; and will not, and in fact cannot, without a self-contradiction, act adversely in the violation, in any degree whatever, of that divine attribute of freedom which He has given never to be recalled.

5.—But, although God had given man freedom, there was another thing which he did not and could not give. He did not and could not give him the right to violate the position and the rights of any other being which exists, whether great or small. All beings have their position and rights as distinctly marked and as clearly inviolable as are those of man so that, although man was born into the position of self-hood with all its possibilities and responsibilities, yet the great law of the universe, which God himself could not abrogate or alter, requires him to exercise that self-hood in all its tendencies and acts, in harmony with the rights and the highest good of all others. The soul in its self-hood, with the freedom and power of its self-hood, and yet without the knowledge which might enable it to act in harmony with the rights and claims of all other beings, is the soul in its first birth; the soul, in the language sometimes employed by theologians, in its Adamic life. And it is here, in this position of the soul, great and wonderful as it is, that we find the possibility and the practical beginnings of moral evil. It acts, because it has the freedom and the power to act; and is determined to act, because it is justly in love with its freedom and power; but in its blindness it is constantly doing wrong, because in breaking the law to which even freedom is bound to submit, it violates the harmonies of the universe. But all these sins and errors, originating in blindness of mind, are forgiven and blotted out in the principles and experiences of the Cross, as we have already explained them. And the soul, prepared by what it has passed through and impressed with a new and deeper sense of the divine wisdom, is born into that higher and better position which is not inappropriately called the
second birth.

6.—We can perhaps illustrate these views and make them clearer by calling to mind that the state of things which we have just now described, is essentially, and almost precisely, what we daily see in little children. Their freedom, without which in their sad stupidity, they would be but little better than mere blocks of stone or wood, sparkles in their eyes, sounds in their voice, and is a living activity in their hands and feet. And this very freedom, without which they would cease to be true children, constitutes the parents’ highest joy. The parents look upon the exuberance of their bliss in their runnings to and fro, and in their thousand experimental activities, with an ecstasy of pleasure; regarding it as the presage of the reality and the fruits of manhood and womanhood. And yet the first thing they do, is to place this incipient freedom, which is the seed of moral life and without which moral life is an impossibility, under law. They tell their children not to do this thing and not to do that thing; and the child, overrunning with gladness in the possession of his personality, seldom fails in some of the particulars which are placed under prohibition, to go contrary to the orders of the loving parents. And the consequence is, that they not only go astray, but they suffer for it; and there is no restoration for them and no happiness for them until they are willing to place themselves under parental direction, or what is the same thing, to place their wills under the wills of their parents.

7.—This analogous illustration helps us to understand man’s position in relation to God. The child who disobeys suffers; and the human race in its disobedience to God suffers; but the love of the parent comes to the rescue of the child; and so the love of God, incarnated and manifested in Christ, comes to the rescue of the race; and in both cases promptly, sincerely, and so far as the possibilities of the case will allow, effectually. All that is wanting on the part of man is those dispositions, including the penitent recognition of his sin, which will secure obedience. The great law of the universe which requires a regard for the rights and happiness of all possible existences, is an imperative one. It is a law so clear that it needs no proof except what it carries in itself in the fact of its own intuitional affirmation. And yet it is a law which cannot by any possibility be obeyed, except in one way; namely, by placing the human will in the keeping of the Divine will. And this, it cannot well be doubted, was the interior meaning and object of the law of Paradise, namely, to adjust permanently the relation of the human and the Divine will in order to man’s guidance and good.

8.—But the question may suggest itself here whether this is not a hard case for man; endowed as he is with freedom, and yet in the exercise of that freedom without which he would cease to be a man, doomed to errors which bring him into condemnation and suffering. It might perhaps be regarded so if this were the termination of his history, and if there were no escape from a position so unlooked for and so sad. But the Fall, as it is theologically expressed, or that series of events in which freedom in its early and irrepressible love of itself, took the position of disobedience to law and thus became rebellion, though a terrible evil in itself, is incidentally a gain in its results. And the reason of this is found in what has already been intimated in relation to the love and goodness of God. Man sins and suffers; but he is not deserted. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” Great words, uttered by an ancient Prophet in the solitary mountains of Judea; but which belong to all lands and nations. And what then, having done all that he consistently could do by instruction or in other ways, to prevent the fall, shall he do now that the fall has become a reality? Revealing himself in the divine analogy of his works, he teaches us that He does just what the true earthly parent does; only in a higher degree and with unspeakably greater results. In the first place, so great is his love that he allows them to suffer, or perhaps better he cannot help their suffering, because sin and suffering necessarily go together. He lets them suffer so long as they remain in disobedience, because there is no other way. The ways of God are not accidents, but wisdoms; not the uncertainties and the variations of time, but the permanencies of eternity.

9.—It is possible that some will say here, if freedom is necessary to the realization and the constitution of their manhood, then the surrender of the will to God is practically giving up the great characteristic of humanity, and is in fact the withdrawal and the annihilation of the great essential element which makes man what he is. It was perhaps this fear in part, in man’s incipient and Adamic condition, which led him into the disobedience of rejecting the divine command. But it was only a fear, and not a verity. God never proposed, and never can propose, without violence to the most glorious truths and sympathies of his nature, to violate man’s freedom, or to destroy it, or injure it in any way or degree, under any circumstances or in any place; either in the incipient Adamic humanity or in the perfected Christ humanity; in heaven, earth, or hell; in time or in eternity. All that He proposes, and all that He asks, in view of the creative and sustaining relationships of his eternal Fatherhood, is, that He may be allowed to exercise his parental interest and care, by guiding or helping to guide man in those cases, (and this is true of all cases of voluntary action,) which, in consequence of their infinitely varied relations, are in many essential respects beyond the reach and judgment of a finite mind. Cases where, if he is not guided by a Mind that understands this infinity of remote facts and relations, his fall becomes a moral necessity. It is the surrender of the will under these circumstances and to this extent, which God demands in virtue of his paternal necessities; and its refusal on the part of man is, and must be his certain and necessary ruin. But such a surrender of the will as this, is not the destruction of the will, and is not the destruction of humanity; but on the contrary is the perfection of the will’s action by harmonizing it with the truth, and is the human will harmonizing with the will of God in the divine marriage of a common thought and purpose; and instead of being the destruction, is the preservation and the perfection of humanity.

10.—The doctrine of the Fall then understood in its principles, stands before us not merely in the literal statements of the Scripture narrative, but as one of the great problems of philosophy, which the truth vindicates and accepts. And it may be accepted as a moral axiom, that whatever harmonizes with the truth will be found all for the best. It was best that man should be created as a self-centered existence or self-hood, with the freedom appropriate to it. It was best that he should demonstrate to himself and the universe, that he had a self-consciousness, a positive sphere of action, a personal responsibility, a divine freedom; and thereby vindicate his deific descent. It was best that God should leave him to the possibilities of the Fall, and that he should fall if in his freedom he chose to do so; not only for the reason which has been intimated, that he might be assured and all others might be assured of these great attributes of his nature; but that the love of God might be summoned to meet the exigency of his unhappy disobedience and overthrow. It was best that he should suffer the sorrows that are always born of sin, that in the greatness of his anguish he might cry out for help. It was best that the miseries which in the Fall flow out of the First Birth, should lead to the blood-bought inheritance of the Second Birth; that self-hood renouncing its personal and selfish limitations, should grow up into universal-hood; that an in-dwelling Adam should be exchanged for an indwelling Christ; and the Life that perishes for the Life that lives forever.