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fore, to what the doctrines of the New Church teach us
concerning these principles which involve our eternal

First, What is sin ? The common and the true answer
is. It is a violation of a Divine law. But this answer,
though true, may not convey a true idea, or at least may
give us a very imperfect idea of the real nature of sin.
We must have a true conception of the nature of a Divine
Taw before we can see what the necessary results of its
violation are. If the law is an arbitrary prohibition or
requirement, having no necessary, essential ground in
the nature of man or the Lord, but is imposed upon man
because the Lord had a right to do it, or for the sake of
testing his obedience, the punishment is as arbitrary as
the law. There is no necessary connection between them.
The punishment is not the direct effect of the sin, but of
the Lord's displeasure. But if the Divine laws are the
principles of man's life ; if man before he fell was the
personal embodiment of them, as the plant is the embodi-
ment of the laws of vegetable life, or the material body


of animal life, then the punishment of their violation fol-
lows as a necessary effect. As the plant withers and dies
when the conditions of its life and growth are not com-
plied with ; as the material body becomes feeble and is
filled with pain when its laws are broken, so disease and
pain and death must inevitably follow disobedience to the
laws of the soul. This point, then, must be settled before
we can answer the question we propose for our consid-
eration, and upon its answer will depend the answer to
all the other questions.

The prevalent theology is based upon the theory that
the law of the Lord, like the civil laws of nations, is in a
certain sense arbitrary, — that is, it has no necessary, in-
herent ground in the nature of man and his relations to
his Creator. The Lord, by His absolute ownership of
man, had a right to impose upon him any test of his
obedience, or to demand any amount of homage and
service He chose, and to attach any penalty He pleased.
He therefore gave him such laws and imposed such pen-
alties as in His wisdom and good pleasure He saw best,
as an arbitrary sovereign. In this respect, according to
common opinion, human and Divine laws are similar.
They may both be enacted for the good of the people,
and such penalties for disobedience or non-performance
of duty may be imposed as the highest wisdom and the
most benevolent intentions may dictate ; but still they
are totally unlike physical laws in their operation. We
call physical laws natural because they are embodied in
nature. But civil laws are in a certain sense arbitrary.
They may be the expression of the nature and relations
of societies and peoples, or they may not. They may be


enacted and repealed. Men may violate them and escape
the penalty, or they may suffer the penalty under false
accusation when they are innocent. But a natural law
cannot be evaded. Punishment grows out of its viola-
tion, and only the guilty can suffer. A natural law can
never be repealed or annulled. It may be overborne for
a time by a superior force, but its action is never sus-

If the Divine laws are arbitrary in the same sense that
any law of human enactment may be, — that is, if they
are not the outward expression of inward principles
actually embodied in man's spiritual nature, — the pun-
ishment may be remitted at the good pleasure of the
Lord, or it may not. And this is the general opinion of
the Christian world.

But there is abundant testimony in the Sacred Scrip-
tures that the laws of the Lord are not in any sense
arbitrary. ' ' If thou wilt enter into life, keep the com-
mandments. " * ' Thy law is the truth. " ' ' I am the way,
the truth, and the life" are Divine declarations. All the
promises of pardon and eternal life are based upon obedi-
ence to the commandments ; for to keep the command-
ments is to love the Lord and to beheve in Him. " He
that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is
that loveth me." Reason also would teach us that
Divine laws must be the embodiments of infinite wisdom.
Natural laws are the Divine methods of operation in the
material world, and they are inconceivably more perfect
in their action than the wisest human laws. Must we not
believe that the same, if not a much greater, perfection
exists in the Lord's spiritual laws ? Is it not evident that


the moral law existed before it was written on tables of
stone? Was it not always wrong to steal and lie and
murder? Was man under no obligations to love the
Lord and his neighbor before the two great command-
ments were given? These laws are written in man's
spiritual nature. He can no more attain heavenly hap-
piness without living according to them than the tree can
attain blossoms and fruit without acting according to the
laws of vegetable life, or than man can obtain the bless-
ings of health without obedience to the laws of physical
life. They were given in a formal and apparently arbi-
trary manner because man had forgotten them, and be-
cause it was essential that he should know and obey them
as the laws of God.

Spiritual laws, then, are of the same nature as natural
laws ; they operate in the same way ; they are enacted in
man's spiritual nature; they are the principles of his
being which govern all his activities and relations to the
Lord and to other beings. When I say to my child. You
must not put your hand into the fire, and if you do you
will be punished with terrible pain, I merely state a law
which exists whether I state it or not. I only give infor-
mation of a truth which existed before, though I give it
in the form of a command. So it is with all the Divine
commandments. They are formal statements of the laws
of man's spiritual nature.

But it may be said. The commandments are Divine
laws. Why does a man violate the laws of his own life
by disobedience to them ? Because man was created in
the image and likeness of the Lord. The laws of the
Divine life are finited in him, and he cannot break the


least commandment without doing violence to his own

Now we are prepared to answer our first question,
What is sin ? It is a violation of the laws of our own
life. The Lord created us for a definite purpose, and
with faculties specifically formed and adjusted to the at-
tainment of that purpose. He established a definite and
perfect order and system of means ; and when we step
out of that order we turn aside from the true and only
path that leads to life. We do the same thing in prin-
ciple that we do when we disobey a physical law. There
are physical, social, civil, and moral, as well as spiritual,
sins. All natural, as well as spiritual, laws are Divine,
because the Lord instituted them. They are His laws.
They are His methods of attaining His ends. The planet
obeys His law while it keeps to its own orbit ; the plant
obeys His law while it grows and brings forth fruit after
its kind ; the animal obeys His law while it follows its
own instincts ; and if it were possible for a plant or animal
to depart from its order, it would sin against the Lord as
well as do violence to the laws of its own life. So when
man obeys the Divine laws he obeys the laws of his own
being, and when he breaks them he breaks the laws of
his own life. Sin, therefore, consists essentially in acting
contrary to the laws of spiritual life, as they originate in
the Lord and are embodied in man.

All the forms and relations and methods of operation
of man's spiritual faculties were created and adapted in
the most perfect manner by infinite wisdom for the attain-
ment of a specific end, and that end was the reception of
life from the Lord, with its blessedness. Man sins by




departing from that order. He thinks he knows what is
good for him better than the Lord does. It seems to him
that the true way to attain hfe is to love himself and the
world, rather than the Lord and the neighbor. He loves
the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil better
than that which grows upon the tree of life. Thus he
inverts the true order of his life and disturbs the harmo-
nies of all his spiritual faculties, abandons the methods of
infinite wisdom, and violates its laws. This is sin.

We are now prepared to answer the second question.
What is the penalty ? It must be death. It could be
nothing else. For if the Lord has established a certain
method and chain of instrumentalities for the attainment
of life, and has adjusted them to that end with infinite
wisdom, to depart from that order must be to fail of the
end. Death follows as a necessary consequence and ac-
cording to a universal law, as it does in the physical body
or in a plant. But the penalty of sin is not the death of
the body ; it is the death of the soul. ' ' The soul that sin-
neth, it shall die." This body dies by the violation of
physical and natural laws ; the soul dies by the violation
of spiritual laws ; for the body is subject to physical laws
and the soul is subject to spiritual laws. There is no evi-
dence in the Bible, there are no grounds in reason or in
the analogies of nature, for the belief that the material
body would have been immortal if man had never sinned.
The decay and dissolution of the body is not the death
of the man any more than the falling of the leaf or the
rejection of the husk and chaff is the death of the plant.
Man is not a material being, and therefore no material
changes can create or destroy him.


But spiritual death is not the disorganization and dis-
persion of the spiritual substances which compose man's
spiritual form. It is rather such a derangement and in-
version of his spiritual organism that it is no longer recep-
tive of spiritual life from the Lord. The lower plane of
his mind, the natural and sensual degree, has become
so deranged and disproportionately developed that the
higher planes cannot be formed. Man is a barren fig-
tree, which bears leaves only. His faculties are so ajar
and discordant in their activities that their movements
cause pain instead of pleasure. Like an instrument out
of- tune, they produce discords rather than harmonies ;
or like a defective chronometer, they do not move in the
order and exact measure of the heavenly principles with
which they were made to accord, and consequently the
man who trusts to them is led astray. Life is not bare
existence ; death is not the extinction of being. Life
truly considered is the attainment of the ends of our
being, the development of the spiritual and heavenly
degrees of the mind, and the reception of life from the
Lord, in those degrees, in ever-increasing fulness. Death
obstructs, withers, blasts them. Death is failure in the
true ends of life. It prevents the orderly development of
the higher degrees of man's spiritual nature, and brings
discord, disease, and pain into all those that remain.
''The soul that sinneth, it shall die." The penalty of sin
is spiritual death ; sin is the cause and death the inevi-
table effect.

Our next inquiry is, How is this penalty inflicted ? Is
it imposed like a fine ? or measured out like the penalties
of human laws ? Is it arbitrarily imposed, as so many


years of imprisonment or a certain amount of disabilities
for so much sin ? Is it imposed or remitted at the good
pleasure of the Lord, as an emperor having absolute
power determines the punishment for offences against his
government, and inflicts or remits it according to his will ?
The Lord answers the question, " The wickedness of the
wicked shall be upon him." "In his trespass that he
hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in
them shall he die." Death follows sin as an inevitable
consequence. Sin is death. Man is not punished for
sinning as the thief is sent to the penitentiary for steal-
ing. But he is punished in sinning. As spiritual laws
are not arbitrarily imposed, so their violation cannot be
arbitrarily punished. The Lord does not bruise a man's
flesh and break his bones because he falls. The physical
injury follows as a consequence of the disobedience of
physical law. The Lord does not measure out in an
arbitrary way so much pain for so much physical sin, so
many twinges of gout or pangs of dyspepsia for so much
idleness and luxury. He does not send a fever upon one,
a consumption on another, a dropsy or paralysis upon
another, as a punishment for the violation of certain
physiological laws ; they follow as legitimate effects from
natural causes. He did not organize the body for pain,
but for pleasure ; but if man will not obey the laws of his
organization, the end is missed, and pain comes as a con-
sequence. So the Lord did not organize the spiritual
body that It might be tormented with fears, regrets, dis-
appointments, hatreds, revenges, and remorse, but for
the reception of gratitude, love, joy, peace, blessedness,
and all heavenly delights. But if man will not obey the


laws of his spiritual organization, if he will not follow the
methods which infinite wisdom has provided as the only
way of attaining these spiritual blessings, he must fail of
receiving them. If he will sin, he must reap the fruits of
sinning. There is no escape from the consequences. If
there had been no written law, if the Lord had never said
a word about sin or its punishment, the consequences
would have been the same. In a word, all Divine laws,
spiritual, moral, civil, physical, and material, are self-
executing. There is no difference in principle in their
operation. The reward and the punishment inhere in
the law, and when we act according to it the blessing
necessarily follows, and when we break it the curse fol-
lows. Life is the effect of obedience, and death of sin.

Our final inquiry is. What are the only conditions of
escape from the penalties of sin ? The Lord answers the
question, " But if the wicked will turn from all his sins
that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do
that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he
shall not die." His release from the penalty, then, is
effected by his release from sin. The effect ceases with
the cause which produced it. When a man begins to live
he ceases to die. The penalty goes with the sin. They
are inseparably bound together, like pain and disease.
With a return to health, feebleness and pain disappear.
Put an instrument in perfect tune and its discords cease.
Darkness disappears when the sun rises ; frost vanishes
in the presence of heat. So death ceases in the presence
of life. This result follows of necessity, if the relation
between sin and its penalties is that of cause and effect.
The logic, as you will see, is complete, and there is no



escape from it, if you admit that spiritual and natural
laws are similar in their operation. If the Lord follows
an immutable order and method in the administration of
His spiritual kingdom, as universal nature attests that He
does in His natural kingdom, "The soul that sinneth, it
shall die." There are no exceptions, no remedies, no
offers of pardon, no conditions of escape except a return
to life. This is not the prevalent opinion, and it is
worthy of our most careful consideration.

It is an almost universal belief in the Christian Church
that the Lord punishes in an arbitrary manner, and that
He can remit the penalty of sin from mere mercy, and
admit whomsoever He chooses into heaven ; and that He
is only prevented from exercising universal clemency by
some considerations of justice and consistency. The
common idea is that the Divine pardon is similar to that
exercised by kings and magistrates in this world. A man
has broken some law or committed some offence against
the king or ruler, and from mercy or favor, or through
the intercession of friends, he is pardoned, — that is, the
penalty is remitted ; the man is restored to favor, and
occupies the same position which he did before the offence
was committed. So it is commonly believed that by the
intercession of the Saviour, and the exercise of faith by
man, the Lord will remit the penalty of sin and take him
to heaven. The whole scheme of salvation, according to
the prevalent theology, is based upon this idea, and must
stand or fall with it.

This error seems to have arisen from confounding sin
with its penalty, while they are as distinct as pain and
disease, as sound and the instrument which produces it,


or, universally, as cause and effect. The Lord is always,
by all the means known to His infinite wisdom, in the
unceasing effort to pardon our sins. But He never remits
the penalty. " The soul that sinneth, it shall die," is the
immutable and irrevocable sentence pronounced against
sin, and the law is in as full force now as it ever was.
There is no more pardon for violating a spiritual or moral
law than there is iov breaking a natural law. Every
violation of every law, physical, moral, or spiritual, al-
ways has been, is now, and ever will be punished. If
you throw yourself into the fire or water, or eat arsenic,
or fall from an immense height, we know that the Lord
will not interpose in answer to any prayer to save you
from burning or drowning, from the effects of poison, or
from broken bones. He will not arrest His own order
and violate His own laws for the sake of saving man from
the consequences of disobedience. And yet this is what
we are commonly taught the Lord does in His spiritual
kingdom, and it is generally believed that our salvation
depends upon such interposition. But that is contrary to
every principle of the Divine government.

There can be no greater absurdity than that a Being
of infinite wisdom should impose an arbitrary law upon
His children, which He knew they would break, pro-
nounce an arbitrary punishment, and when they broke
the law, as He foresaw they would, set about contriving
a plan by which He could save them from His own sen-
tence. With all our weakness and folly, a human parent
would hardly do that. What would you say of a legis-
lator or of a king who should promulgate a law which he
knew would be broken, and then devise a method of

t88 progress in SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE.

averting the very penalties he had affixed to it ? Would
you not say that the law ought not to have been enacted,
or that the penalty was not wisely decreed ? Why do to-
day what you must seek to undo to-morrow or ruin your
friends ?

Because there is so much said in the Bible about the
Lord's mercy and His willingness to forgive sin, because
He came down to earth and suffered and died and rose
again to save man from sin, it is inferred that He seeks to
set aside His own law and prevent the execution of its
penalty. But He declares that He did not come to de-
stroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil ; that heaven
and earth shall pass away, but not one jot or tittle shall
pass from the law until all are fulfilled. He did not come,
therefore, to repeal His own laws, to release man from his
obligations to keep them, or to save him from the penalty
of breaking them.

Two great errors widely prevail upon this subject : first,
that the Lord came into the world to save man from the
punishment of sin ; and, secondly, that the punishment of
sin remains after the sin is committed, until some compen-
sation is made for it, or some special act of release is ob-
tained. The Lord did not come to save man from the
punishment of sin apart from the sin itself This would
be a violation of His own laws and order. The Lord
never remits the penalty of sin so long as the sin remains.
No penalty ever was remitted or ever will be while the
sin remains. He no more forgives us for being diseased
spiritually than He does for being diseased naturally. If
I break any of the commandments, the Lord will no more
forgive me than He will forgive me for breaking my


bones. The two cases are perfectly analogous. The
punishment follows as the inevitable effect of its cause,
the sin, and it must remain as long as the producing cause
remains. If we can settle it in our minds as a great and
universal law of the Lord's operation, from which He
never deviates, that no penalty is ever remitted and that
no sin goes unpunished, we have taken one great step
towards the solution of one of the most difficult problems
of human life.

The question now occurs, If the Lord never remits the
penalty of sin, how are we to escape punishment ? Must
we suffer forever? No. The penalty ceases with the
sin. It would be just as impossible for the punishment
to remain after man had ceased to be a sinner as it would
be for the cold of winter to remain during the heat of
summer, or the pains of a disease to fill the body after
the disease was removed and the body restored to perfect
health. The executors of human laws can punish after
the deed is committed and for it, but the Lord never does.
The penalty and the sin are so bound together that they
cannot be separated.

But if I broke my bones yesterday, shall I not suffer
for it to-day? No, you suffer to-day because they are
still broken. The evil is not yet removed. If they were
restored to perfect soundness, you would not suffer in the
least. You suffer so long as the cause which produces
the pain remains, and no longer. Sin is not limited to
the overt act, and does not essentially consist in it. The
sin consists in that evil state or motive which causes us to
commit evil deeds. There is the same distinction be-
tween sin and sinful deeds that there is between a tree and


its fruits, or between disease and its symptoms ; between
the flushed face, the rapid pulse, the burning thirst, and
the wild delirium, and the fever which causes them. The
sin may remain and burn and consume and be the con-
tinual cause of sinful acts. We are not punished for
doing this or that sinful act. The Lord does not recount
our evil deeds, or keep a record of our good ones. He
does not keep an account of debt and credit with us.
We suffer because our natures are not in harmony with
the Divine order ; not because they were discordant yes-
terday, but because they are discordant now.

Strictly speaking, therefore, we never suffer spiritually
for a past evil. When the sinful state is gone, the pain
that originated in it goes with it. The most fatal miscon-
ceptions of the Divine character have arisen from the
erroneous belief that the consequences of sin remain after
the sin itself is removed. And many of the difficulties
which good men have found in reconciling the Divine
benevolence with the punishment of the wicked have
their origin in this falsity. It is a terrible injustice to the
Lord to suppose that we shall be eternally punished for a
sinful act, or any number of sinful acts committed in this
life. It follows as a necessary consequence of the law
which we have been considering that we shall never be
punished in the spiritual world for what we do in this
world. We shall be punished only for what we do there.
When a man passes into the spiritual world through the
gate of death the Lord does not say to him, You were a
great sinner while you lived upon the earth, and now I
am going to punish you for it forever. If the wicked go
away into everlasting punishment, it will be because they



will go their way in everlasting opposition to the Lord's
way, which is the only way in which happiness can be
found. The Lord sends His angels to every one, saint
as well as sinner, and invites them all to heaven, to the
enjoyments of eternal life. He places all in the most
favorable conditions to disclose their true characters. If
they can conform to the order of heaven in will and in
understanding, in thought and in act, they will enjoy
the blessings of such conjunction with heaven and the
Lord. He will not bring up old scores against them.
If one will turn from his sins, ' ' all his transgressions that
he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto
him : in his righteousness that he hath done he shall
live. ' ' But if he still continues to love himself supremely,
and to break the Divine commandments, which, as we
have seen, are the laws of his own being and the only
ways in which life and happiness can be obtained, he must

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Online LibraryChauncey GilesProgress in spiritual knowledge → online text (page 13 of 26)