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agent before it is capable of speaking? We know that a child discovers volition before it is capable of speaking; for it exercises choice, and prefers one thing to another. It chooses light rather than darkness, and to be with one person rather than another. It discovers memory before it can speak, and recollects what it has found to be agreeable to it. And it discovers reason and conscience before it can speak those words. For if it be unreasonably and unjustly corrected, it will manifest a sense of the injury it suffers by sighing and sobbing, rather than crying. If we may judge by analogy between little children and larger children, or between little children and those that are universally allowed to be moral agents, we must be inclined to believe that little children are moral agents before they are capable of uttering a single word.
The only objection against children's being so early moral agents is, that they have not knowledge enough to be moral agents. But who can tell how much knowledge they must have before they become moral agents ? Every one will allow that a child seven years old is a moral agent, and capable of knowing what is right and what is wrong. Almost every body will allow that a child four years old is a moral agent, and capable of knowing what is right and what is wrong. And those who allow that a child four years old is a moral agent, and knows what is right and wrong, will generally allow that a child two years old is a moral agent, and knows what is right and what is wrong. And where shall we stop? Why may we not suppose that a child one year old, or half a year old, is a moral agent, and knows what is right and what is wrong, in some cases ? It is not necessary that a child should know that there is a God, or that the Bible is his word, in order to know that it is right to obey its parents, and wrong to disobey them; or that it is right for one child to have its own playthings, and wrong for another to take them away without its consent. The bare light of nature, or the dictates of conscience are sufficient to teach little children what is right and what is wrong in the cases that have been mentioned, and in a multitude of other similar cases. If children do not become moral agents as soon as they possess and exercise the mental powers and faculties which render them capable of moral agency, we can never know when they do become moral agents. They are men in miniature, and not mere animals. Their free, vol. untary exercises and actions are moral exercises and actions, and are essentially different from the free and voluntary actions of a young lamb, or any other young animal which is destitute of conscience, or a faculty of distinguishing between moral good and evil. But that they do sin as soon as they are capa
ble of sinning is a point still to be proved. Accordingly, I proceed to show,
III. That they do sin as soon as they become capable of sinning.
As soon as they become capable of exercising selfishness, they become capable of exercising benevolence; or, as soon as they become capable of exercising morally good, they are capable of exercising morally evil affections. Their first moral exercises must be either morally sinful or morally good. For as soon as they possess those mental powers and faculties which render them capable of moral agency, they must act in the view of the objects they perceive, and either love or hate them, in a sinful or holy manner. They must act as moral agents; and their first free and voluntary exercises must be either morally good or morally evil. There is certainly a time when they begin to act as moral agents; and the question now before us is, whether at that time they always begin to sin.
Now, so far as we can derive any evidence from observation on this subject, we must conclude that they begin to sin as soon as they become moral agents, or as soon as it is possible for them to begin to sin. They certainly discover as early as possible, impatience, obstinacy and revenge, which are sinful exercises in any moral agent that can distinguish between right and wrong. And that children, before they can speak or walk, do know that these are evil exercises, appears from their conduct when they are corrected for them. Correction directly tends to restrain and still them. They appear differently under just and unjust correction; which is a presumptive evidence that they discern the moral difference between deserved and undeserved corrections. We not only early discover impatience, obstinacy and revenge in children, but real selfishness, which is the essence of all sin. How soon do they begin to covet each other's property, and display art, deception and falsehood, to obtain it unjustly! Does not such conduct indicate that they act wrong as soon as they are capable of acting wrong? These appearances of moral depravity in little children carry conviction to parents, who are partial in their favor. Where is there a parent who will not reprove or correct his children, so soon as they discover their selfishness in coveting and fraudulently taking what is not their own ? And if it carries this evidence to parents, why should it not carry still stronger conviction to all other critical and impartial observers ? Observation, therefore, affords a strong presumptive evidence that children begin to sin as soon as they are moral agents, or are capable of sinning. The testimony of observation on this subject is strengthened
at least, by the testimony of experience. Every person in the world is conscious of sinning, and of sinning as long ago as he can remember. He has, therefore, as strong an evidence as he can have, from his own experience, that he began to sin as early as he became a moral agent, or capable of sinning. Every person has the evidence of experience that he began to sin as early as possible, and has no experimental evidence to the contrary. The evidence of experience, therefore, corroborates the evidence of observation, that children do begin to sin as soon as they are capable of sinning. So far as others have told them how they appeared and acted in childhood, and so far as they remember how they appeared and acted in childhood, they have strong presumptive evidence that they were by nature children of disobedience, and transgressors in infancy. And now, if we look into the Bible, we shall there find conclusive and infallible evidence that mankind do actually sin as soon as they become moral agents, and are capable of sinning. All the inspired writers bear united testimony to this melancholy truth. God says to every sinner in Zion, “ I knew that thou wouldest deal treacherously, and wast called a transgressor
from the womb." After God had swept away the wicked from the face of the earth, he “said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.” David says, “ The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent.” Seneca, a heathen philosopher, observes, that “ serpents do not receive their poison when they bite, but they had it before, by nature." Again, David says of himself, “ I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Though these passages of scripture are not to be understood literally, yet they undoubtedly mean that mankind begin to sin as soon as their rational nature renders them capable of sinning. When we say a serpent is naturally poisonous, we mean that it is poisonous as soon as its nature renders it capable of having poison. So when the inspired writers speak of men's sinning as soon as they be born, their expressions plainly imply that they are sinners by nature, or begin to sin as soon as they are capable of sinning. This same sentiment we find taught in more plain and literal terms, by Job. He emphatically asks, 6 What is man that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous ?” This question carries in it a strong affirmation that mankind are naturally sinners, and always sin as soon as they become men in miniature, or moral agents. Solomon says, “ Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” This must mean moral folly, which lies in the heart; for the rod of correction cannot drive away the folly that lies in the understanding. The apostle tells the Ephesian converts, that they had been dead in trespasses and sins, and were by nature children of wrath, even as others; that is, even as all the rest of mankind were by nature.
These representations of the sinfulness and guilt of childhood are confirmed by God's providential treatment of children. Natural death has reigned over all mankind from Adam to Moses, and from Moses to this day. Death is a natural evil, and was threatened to mankind as a punishment for sin. When God inflicts death upon the human race, it indicates that they are guilty of sin. God has not threatened death to the animal creation, and therefore his inflicting death upon them does not indicate that he punishes them for sin. But the apostle represents death as a punishment inflicted upon the children of men. “ Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." According to the calculation of some, one half of mankind die before they are eight years old. We know, however, that God inflicts death upon the aged and the young without any discrimination. He destroyed the children in Sodom, though he declared he would not destroy the righteous with the wicked. Thus it appears from observation and experience, and from scripture declarations and facts, that men begin to sin as soon as they become moral agents, and are capable of sinning. It only remains to show,
IV. Why they always have sinsul before they have holy exercises.
Whenever they become moral agents, and capable of exercising sinful affections, they at that time become capable of exercising holy affections. But it appears from what has been said, that they always have sinful, before they have any holy exercises. If this were not true, they would not be by nature depraved, any more than Adam was before he lost the moral image of God. I know, some suppose that they do have holy affections before they have sinful ones. But I shall now take it for granted that it has been proved that their first moral exercises are sinful and not holy. And on this supposition, the question now to be answered is, Why do they begin to sin before they ever begin to be holy?
Here it is evident, that it is not because they are not as capable of exercising holy affections, as unholy and sinful ones. Nor is it because they have derived a corrupt and sinful nature from Adam, which is prior to, and the cause of, their sinful exercises. I know this is often supposed; but the supposition is absurd. For it is impossible to conceive of a corrupt and sinful nature prior to, and distinct from, corrupt and sinful exercises. Sin is a free, voluntary exercise, which cannot be transferred from one person to another. Men do not, therefore, begin to sin before they begin to be holy, because they derived a corrupt and sinful nature from Adam. Nor do they begin to sin before they begin to be holy, because they have a self determining power. This is generally supposed by those who deny native depravity. They suppose that mankind are not moral agents as soon as they come into the world; and that during the interval of time from their coming into the world until they become moral agents, be that term longer or shorter, they suppose they are no more inclined to evil than to good. But they suppose that as soon as they become moral agents, they possess a self determining power, which is essential to moral agency
By this power they mean a self-sufficient, independent power to produce their own free and voluntary exercises. And they suppose that as soon as children become moral agents, they exercise their self-determining power, and actually begin to choose good before they begin to choose evil. But there is nothing in reason or scripture, to support this mode of accounting for the native innocence of children. For it can be demonstrated by reason, that children do not possess a self determining power when they become moral agents. And it has been, perhaps, sufficiently proved that children always begin to choose evil before they begin to choose good.
The question then still returns, Why do they as soon as they become moral agents, always choose evil, before they choose good ? I can give no better reason than this. God appointed Adam to be the public head of his posterity; and determined, in case of his disobedience, that they should begin to sin before they should begin to be holy. This determination God has executed, by directly operating on the hearts of children when they first become moral agents. The native depravity of all mankind comes in this way, in consequence of Adam's first sin. This representation is confirmed by the express declaration of the apostle. “By one man's disobedience many were made sinners." Though men have sought out many inventions to account for the native depravity of the human race, yet there appears no other way than this which has been mentioned, to account for it agreeably to reason and scripture.
1. If the native depravity of children consists in having free, voluntary, sinful affections, as soon as they become moral