Reason, by Ethan Allen

Chapter xi.

Section i. Imputation Cannot Change, Alienate or Transfer the Personal Demerit of Sin; and Personal Merit of Virtue to Others, who Were Not Active Therein, Although this Doctrine Supposes an Alienation Thereof

The doctrine of imputation according to the Christian scheme, consists of two parts; first, of imputation of the apostacy of Adam and Eve to their posterity, commonly called original sin; and secondly, of the imputation of the merits or righteousness of Christ, who in scripture is called the second Adam, to mankind, or to the elect. This is a concise definition of the doctrine, and which will undoubtedly be admitted to be a just one by every denomination of men, who are acquainted with Christianity, whether they adhere to it or not I therefore proceed to illustrate and explain the doctrine by transcribing a short, but very pertinent conversation, which in the early years of my manhood, I had with a Calvinistical divine: but previously remark, that I was educated in what is commonly called the Armenian principles, and among other tenets to reject the doctrine of original sin, this was the point at issue between the clergyman and me. In my turn I opposed the doctrine of original sin with philosophical reasonings, and as I thought had confuted the doctrine. The reverend gentleman heard me through patiently, and with candor replied, “your metaphysical reasonings are not to the purpose; inasmuch as you are a Christian, and hope and expect to be saved by the imputed righteousness of Christ to you; for you may as well be imputedly sinful as imputedly righteous. Nay, said he, if you hold to the doctrine of satisfaction and atonement by Christ, by so doing you pre-suppose the doctrine of apostacy or original sin to be in fact true; for said he, if mankind were not in a ruined and condemned state by nature, there could have been no need of a redeemer, but each individual would have been accountable to his creator and judge, upon the basis of his own moral agency. Further observing, that upon philosophical principles it was difficult to account for the doctrine of original sin, or original righteousness, yet as they were plain fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, we ought to assent to the truth of them, and that from the divine authority of revelation. Notwithstanding, said he, if you will give me a philosophical explanation of original imputed righteousness, which you profess to believe, and expect salvation by, then I will return you a philosophical explanation of the doctrine of original sin; for it is plain, said he, that your objections lie with equal weight against original imputed righteousness, as against original imputed sin.” Upon which I had the candor to acknowledge to the worthy ecclesiastic, that upon the Christian plan, I perceived that the argument had fairly terminated against me. For at that time I dared not distrust the infallibility of revelation, much more to dispute it. However, this conversation was uppermost in my mind for several months after, and after many painful searches and researches after the truth respecting the doctrine of imputation, resolved at all events to abide the decision of rational argument in the premises, and on a full examination of both parts of the doctrine, rejected the whole; for on a fair scrutiny I found, that I must concede to it entirely or not at all, or else believe inconsistently as the clergyman had argued.

Having opened and explained the doctrine, we proceed argumentatively to consider it. Imputation of sin or righteousness includes an alteration or transferring of the personal merits or demerits of sin or righteousness, from those who may be supposed to have been active in the one or the other, to others, who are premised not to have been active therein, otherwise it would not answer the Bible notion of imputation. For if sin or righteousness, vice or virtue, are imputable only to their respective personal proficients or actors, in this case original sin must have been imputed to Adam and Eve, to the exclusion of their posterity, and the righteousness of Christ as exclusively imputed to himself, precluding all others therefrom; so that both the sin of the first Adam and the righteousness of the second, would, on this stating of imputation, have been matters which respect merely the agency, of the demerits or merits of the two respective Adams themselves, and in which we could have had no blame, reward or concern, any more than in the building of Babel.

This then is the question that determines the sequel of the dispute for or against the doctrine of imputation, viz. whether the personal merit or demerit of mankind, that is to say, their virtue or vice, righteousness or wickedness can be alienated, imputed to, or transferred from one person to another, or not? If any should object against this stating of the question now in dispute, it would be the same in reality as disputing against the doctrine of imputation itself, for imputation must transfer or change the personal merit or demerit of the sin or righteousness of mankind or not do it; if it does not do it, the whole notion of original sin or of righteousness, as being imputed from the first and second Adams to mankind, is without foundation, consequently, if there is any reality in the doctrine of imputation, it must needs transfer or change the guilt of original sin, or of the apostacy of Adam and Eve, to their posterity, or otherwise they could need no atonement or imputative righteousness, as a remedy therefrom, but every individual of “mankind would have stood accountable to their creator and judge on the basis of their own moral agency,” which is undoubted the true state of the case, respecting all rational and accountable beings; so that if the transferring of the individual merits or demerits of one person to another, is not contained in the act or doctrine of imputation, it contains nothing at all, but is a sound without a meaning, and after all the talk which has been in the world about it, we must finally adopt to old proverb, viz. “every tub stands upon its own bottom.”

Section ii. The Moral Rectitude of Things Forecloses the Act of Imputation.

Imputation confounds virtue and vice, and saps the very foundation of moral government, both divine and human. Abstract the idea of personal merit and demerit, from the individuals of mankind, justice would be totally blind, and truth would be nullified, or at least excluded from any share in the administration of government. Admitting that moral good and evil has taken place in the system of rational agents, yet, on the position of imputation, it would be impossible, that a retribution of justice should be made to them by God or by man, except it be according to their respective personal merits and demerits; which would fix upon the basis of our own moral agency and accountability, and preclude the imputation of righteousnes.

Truth respects the reality of things, as they are in their various complicated and distinct natures, and necessarily conforms to all facts and realities. It exists in, by and with every thing that does exist, and that which does not and cannot exist, is fictitious and void of truth, as is the doctrine of imputation. It is a truth that some of the individuals of mankind are virtuous, and that others are vicious, and it is a truth, that the former merit peace of conscience and praise, and the latter horror of conscience and blame; for God has so constituted the nature of things, that moral goodness, naturally and necessarily tends to happiness in a moral sense, and moral evil as necessarily tends to the contrary; and as truth respects every thing, as being what it is, it respects nature, as God has constituted it, with its tendencies, dispositions, aptitudes and laws; and as the tendency of virtue is to mental happiness, and vice the contrary, they fall under the cognizance of truth, as all other facts necessarily do; which tendencies will for ever preclude imputation, by making us morally happy or miserable according to our works.

Truth respects the eternal rules of unalterable rectitude and fitness, which comprehends all virtue, goodness and true happiness; and as sin and wickedness is no other but a deviation from the rules of eternal unerring order and reason, so truth respects it as unreasonable, unfit, unrighteous and unhappy deviation from moral rectitude, naturally tending to misery. This order of nature, comprehended under the terms of truth, must have been of all others the wisest and best; in fine it must have been absolutely perfect; for this order and harmony of things, could not have resulted from anything short of infinite wisdom, goodness and power, by which it is also upheld; and all just ideas of equity, or of natural and moral fitness must be learned from nature, and predicated on it; and nature predicated on the immutable perfection of a God; and to suppose that imputation, in any one instance has taken place, is the same as to suppose, that the eternal order, truth, justice, equity and fitness of things has been changed, and if so, the God of nature must needs have been a changeable being, and liable to alter his justice or order of nature, which is the same thing; for without the alteration of nature, and the tendency of it, there could be no such thing as imputation, but every of the individuals of mankind would be ultimately happy or miserable, according as their respective proficiencies may be supposed to be either good or evil, agreeable to the order and tendency of nature before alluded to. For all rational and accountable agents must stand or fall upon the principles of the law of nature, except imputation alters the nature and tendency of things; of which the immutability of a God cannot admit. From what has been already argued on this subject, we infer, that as certain as the individuals of mankind are the proprietors of their own virtues or vices, so certain, the doctrine of imputation cannot be true. Furthermore, the supposed act or agency of imputing or transferring the personal merit or demerit of moral good or evil, alias, the sin of the first Adam, or the righteousness of the second Adam, to others of mankind, cannot be the act or exertion of either the first or second Adam, from whom original sin and righteousness is said to have been imputed. Nor can it be the act or doings of those individuals, to whom the supposed merit or demerit of original sin or righteous is premised to be imputed; so that both Adam and each individual of mankind are wholly excluded from acting any part in the premised act of imputation; and are supposed to be altogether passive in the matter, and consequently it necessarily follows, that if there ever was such an act as that of imputation, it must have been the immediate and sovereign act of God, to the preclusion of the praise or blame of man But to suppose, that God can impute the virtue or vice of the person of A, to be the virtue or vice of the person of B, is the same as to suppose that God can impute or change truth into falsehood, or falsehood into truth, or that he can reverse the nature of moral rectitude itself, which is inadmissable. But admitting, that imputation was in the power and at the option of man, it is altogether probable that they would have been very sparing in imputing merit and happiness, but might nevertheless have been vastly liberal in imputing demerit and misery, from one to another, which is too farcical.

Section iii. Containing Remarks on the Atonement and Satisfaction for Original Sin

The doctrine of imputation is in every point of view incompatible with the moral perfections of God. We will premise, that the race of Adam in their respective generations was guilty of the apostacy, and obnoxious to the vindictive justice and punishment of God, and accordingly doomed to either an eternal or temporary punishment therefore, which is the Bible representation of the matter. What possibility could there have been of reversing the divine decree? It must be supposed to have been just, or it could not have had the divine sanction, and if so, a reversal of it would be unjust. But it would be still a greater injustice to lay the blame and vindictive punishment of a guilty race of condemned sinners upon an innocent and inoffensive being, for in this case the guilty would be exempted from their just punishment, and the innocent unjustly suffer for it, which holds up to view two manifest injustices; the first consists in not doing justice to the guilty, and the second in actually punishing the innocent, which instead of atoning for sin, would add sin to sin, or injustice to injustice; and after all, if it was ever just, that the race of Adam should have been punished for the imputed sin of their premised original ancestor, be that punishment what it will, it is so still, notwithstanding the atonement, for the eternal justice and reason of things can never, be altered. This justice always defeats the possibility of satisfaction for sin by way of a mediator.

That physical evils may and have been propagated by natural generation, none can dispute, for that the facts themselves are obvious. But that moral evil can be thus propagated, is altogether chimerical, for we are not born criminals.

Section iv. Remarks on Redemption, Wrought Out by Inflicting the Demerits of Sin Upon the Innocent, Would Be Unjust, and That it Could Contain No Mercy or Goodness to the Universality of Being

The practice of imputing one person’s crime to another, in capital offences among men, so that the innocent should suffer for the guilty, has never yet been introduced into any court of judicature in the world, or so much as practised in any civilized country; and the manifest reason in this, as in all other cases of imputation, is the same, viz. it confounds personal merit and demerit.

The murderer ought to suffer for the demerit of his crime, but if the court exclude the idea of personal demerit (guilt being always the inherent property of the guilty and of them only) they might as well sentence one person to death for the murder as another: for justice would be wholly blind was it not predicated on the idea of the fact of a personal demerit, on the identical person who was guilty of the murder: nor is it possible to reward merit abstractly considered from its personal agents. These are facts that universally hold good in human government. The same reasons cannot fail to hold good in the divine mind as in that of the human, for the rules of justice are essentially the same whether applied to the one or to the other, having their uniformity in the eternal truth and reason of things.

But it is frequently objected, that inasmuch as one person can pay, satisfy and discharge a cash debt for another, redeem him from prison and set him at liberty, therefore Jesus Christ might become responsible for the sins of mankind, or of the elect, and by suffering their punishments atone for them and free them from their condemnation. But it should be considered, that comparisons darken or reflect light upon an argument according as they are either pertinent or impertinent thereto; we will therefore examine the comparison, and see if it will with propriety apply to the atonement.

Upon the Christian scheme, Christ the Son was God, and equal with God the Father, or with God the Holy Ghost, and therefore original sin must be considered to be an offence equally against each of the persons of the premised Trinity, and being of a criminal nature could not be discharged or satisfied by cash or produce, as debts of a civil contract are, but by suffering; and it has already been proved to be inconsistent with the divine or human government, to inflict the punishment of the guilty upon the innocent, though one man may discharge another’s debt in cases where lands, chattels or cash are adequate to it; but what capital offender was ever discharged by such commodities?

Still there remains a difficulty on the part of Christianity, in accounting for one of the persons in the premised Trinity satisfying a debt due to the impartial justice of the unity of the three persons. For God the Son to suffer the condemnation of guilt in behalf of man, would not only be unjust in itself, but incompatible with his divinity, and the retribution of the justice of the premised Trinity of persons in the god-head (of whom God the Son must be admitted to be one) toward mankind; for this would be the same as to suppose God to be judge, criminal and executioner, which is inadmissible.

But should we admit for argument’s sake, that God suffered for original sin, yet taking into one complex idea the whole mental system of beings, universally, both finite and infinite, there could have been no display of grace, mercy, or goodness to being in general, in such a supposed redemption of mankind; inasmuch as the same quantity or degree of evil is supposed to have taken place upon being, universally considered, as would have taken place, had finite individuals, or the race of Adam, suffered according to their respective demerits.

Should we admit that there is a Trinity of persons in the divine essence, yet the one could not suffer without the other, for essence cannot be divided in suffering, any more than in enjoyment. The essence of God is that which includes the divine nature, and the same identical nature must necessarily partake of the same glory, honor, power, wisdom, goodness and absolute uncreated and unlimited perfection, and is equally exempted from weakness and suffering. Therefore, as certain as Christ suffered he was not God, but whether he is supposed to be God or man, or both, he could not in justice have suffered for original sin, which must have been the demerit of its perpetrators as before argued.

Supposing Christ to have been both God and man, he must have existed in two distinct essences, viz. the essence of God and the essence of man. And if he existed in two distinct and separate essences, there could be no union between the divine and human natures. But if there is any such thing as an hypostatical union between the divine and human natures, it must unite both in one essence, which is impossible: for the divine nature being infinite, could admit of no addition or enlargement and consequently cannot allow of a union with any nature whatever. Was such an union possible in itself, yet, for a superior nature to unite with an inferior one in the same essence, would be degrading to the former, as it would put both natures on a level by constituting an identity of nature: the consequences whereof would either deify man, or divest God of his divinity, and reduce him to the rank and condition of a creature; inasmuch as the united essence must be denominated either divine or human.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50