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A Treatise on Atonement, by Hosea Ballou

Hosea Ballou's 1805 work on Universalist theology, edited by Rev. Dan Harper.
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Continue to chapter 3: Of Sin, Its Consequences.

Chapter 2: Of Sin, Its Origin

The origin of sin has, among Christians in general been very easily accounted for; but in a way, I must confess, that never gave me any satisfaction, since I came to think for myself on subjects of this nature.

A short chimerical story of the bard, Milton, has given perfect satisfaction to millions, respecting the introduction of moral evil into the moral system which we occupy. The substance of the account is, sometime before the creation of man, the Almighty created multitudes of spiritual beings, called angels. Some of these creatures of God were much higher in dignity and authority than others, but all perfectly destitute of sin, or moral turpitude. One, dignified above all the rest, stood Prime Minister of the Almighty, clothed with the highest missive power, and clad with garments of primeval light; obsequious to nothing but the high behest of his Creator, he discharged the functions of his office with a promptitude and dignity, suited to the eminency of his station, and to the admiration of celestial millions. But when it pleased Jehovah to reveal the brightness of his glory and the image of the Godhead in humanity, he gave forth the command, see Psalm xcvii. 7: "Worship him, all ye Gods." And Heb. i. 6:

And again, when he bringeth the first begotten into the world, he saith, and let all the angels of God worship him.

Lucifer, Son of the Morning, (as Christians have called him) surprised at the idea of worshipping any being but God himself, looked on the Son with ineffable disdain, and in a moment grew indignant, rebelled against God, challenged supremacy with the Almighty, and cast his eye to the sides of the north as a suitable place to establish his empire. Legions of spirits followed this chief in rebellion, and formed a dangerous party, in the kingdom of the Almighty. The Son of God was invested with full power as Generalissimo of Heaven, to command the remaining forces, against the common enemy. And in short, after many grievious battles between armies of contending spirits, where life could not in the least be exposed, Lucifer and his party were driven out of Heaven, leaving it in peace, though in a great measure depopulated!

God having created the earth and placed the first man and woman in a most happy situation of innocence and moral purity, without the smallest appetite for sin or propensity to evil, the arch Apostate enviously looked from his fiery prison, to which he was consigned by the command of the Almighty, and beholding man placed in so happy a situation, and in a capacity to increase to infinite multitudes by which the kingdom of Heaven would be enlarged, was determined to crop this tree in the bud. -- He therefore turns into a serpent, goes to the woman and beguiles her, gets her to eat of a fruit which God had forbidden, by which means he introduced sin into our system.

I have not been particular in this sketch, but it contains the essence of the common idea. I shall now put it under examination, looking diligently for the propriety of accounting for the origin of moral evil in this way.


And first, of this memorable rebellion in heaven! It seems that this rebel angel was always obedient to the commands of his Maker, until the hour of his fall; that there was not the least spot of pollution in him, until he felt the emotions of pride, which lifted him above submission to the Son of God. This being the case, I ask, was this angel ignorant of the real character of the Son, whom he was commanded to worship? If he were not, but knew it to be no other than the true Eternal, his Creator, manifested in a nature which Jehovah created; if he loved his Maker as he ought to do, which none will pretend to dispute; he would have worshiped him with due reverence, the moment he made the discovery and heard the command: This no person in his senses will dispute. If he did not know the real character whom he was commanded to worship, had he complied, he would have worshipped, he knew not what. And nothing can be more absurd, than to suppose that infinite wisdom would command his creatures to worship ignorantly. I ask further, could purity produce impurity; or moral holiness, unholiness? All answer, no. Was not the angel holy in every faculty? Was not the command, for him to worship the Son, holy and just? All answer, yes. Then from such causes, how was sin produced? The reader will easily see, the question cannot be answered.

Now, be so kind as to turn to the scripture, to which I have referred on this subject, and see if we have any authority for saying, that either gods or angels refused to worship, when commanded (Heb. i. 16):

Again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, let all the angels of God worship him.

That this first begotten is Christ, no doubt will be entertained. But when was he brought into the world? before or since the first transgression of man? Since, most certainly. Then, supposing millions of angels had sinned at that time, it could have had no consequence productive of man's transgression, as a cause cannot be posterior to its effects. Therefore, to suppose, that those angels who never sinned until long after man became a transgressor, were the instigators of what is called the fall, discovers a want of calculation.

And further, what authority have we for believing that the command was disobeyed? We find nothing connected with either passage, viz. that in Psalms or that in Hebrews, which intimates a refusal among the gods or angels. And I see no need of supposing that by gods in one text, or by angels in the other, any other beings are intended than men. In respect to the command for all the gods to worship him, I observe, "they were called gods to whom the word of God came, and the scriptures cannot be broken." And the command, for all the angels of God to worship, stands on this proper ground; by angels are meant messengers, who are employed by God, for the information of their fellow men; -- but as all those messengers, or ministers, were inferior to the "Messenger of the covenant," whom the Lord promised to send unto Jerusalem, it was suitable to show his superiority, by giving such a token, in the scriptures, as commanding all the angels to worship him.

There is another passage in the xivth of Isaiah, 12, etc.:

How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, Son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! for thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend unto heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north, etc.

"Here," I have been told, "we have a particular account of the sin which Satan committed in Heaven." But as there is nothing in this passage or its connections that has reference to any other creature or being as Lucifer, Son of the Morning, than the King of Babylon, I shall say but little upon it. Observe, the question is asked, How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, Son of the Morning? How art thou cut down to the ground, who didst weaken the nations? This Lucifer weakened the nations before he fell, but was unable to weaken them afterwards. He said in his heart he would ascend unto Heaven. Was this the sin of Satan, as is generally supposed? Was he not already in Heaven? How then could he say in his heart, I will ascend unto Heaven? I will not trouble the reader with any thing so vague as the vulgar application of this scripture, only enough to show that it had no such meaning. The King of Babylon is pointed out in this prophecy as exalting his throne above the stars of God, which, in a figurative sense, undoubtedly meant his exalting himself by the reduction of the Jews, who are figuratively called the stars of God.

Again, this angel of light must have been very ignorant of the power and goodness of the Almighty in order to have possessed a thought that to rebel against him could be of any possible advantage, or that he could have carried and maintained a contest with him. If he were as ignorant as all this, the inhabitants of Heaven must have been extremely uncultivated, in that age of eternity, and no great ornament to a place so much famed for glory and grandeur. If Heaven which is said to be God's throne be, or ever were, inhabited by defectible beings, the place itself must be a defectible place; and why the Almighty should take up his special abode in a defectible place, surrounded by defectible beings I cannot imagine. But I pass on --


After Satan was turned out of Heaven, he saw no possible way to injure his adversary, only by contaminating his creatures, which he had just made, and placed in the happy situation before described. Here observe, the matter appears strange. Did God not know the evil disposition of Satan? Had he forgotten the awful difficulty but just settled? Or would he leave an innocent lamb to the ferocity of a bear robbed of her whelps? God had driven Satan from heaven, from his own presence, but left him at loose ends to prey on his tender offspring, whom he had just left in a defenseless situation, on this ball of earth. What would appear more unnatural and shocking than for a father to chase his enemy out at his door, but leave him to slay his defenseless children in the street? I shall, after what I have observed, beg liberty to say that I am so far from believing any such story respecting the cause of sin that I have not even the shadow of evidence, from scripture or reason, to support the sentiment.

But I have been told that man, standing in a state of sinless purity, could not have fallen from that rectitude unless there had been some sinful being to have tempted him. Admitting there is any force in this observation, it stands as directly against the fall of Satan, without a sinful temptation, as it does against man's transgression without a tempter. Was man more pure, before he sinned, than that holy angel in Heaven? If not, how could that angel sin, without a temptation, easier than man, who was made in a lower grade?

But supposing we should admit that God commanded an angel to worship his Son Jesus, and the angel refused, and call that the first sin ever committed, it would not determine its origin or cause. A cause, or origin must exist, before an effect, or production. So, after all our journeying to heaven after a sinning angel, and after pursuing him to hell, and from hell to the earth, we have not yet answered the question, viz. What is the origin of sin? We have only shown, that the way in which this question has been generally solved, is without foundation.


Having stated what I have been told was the origin of sin, and given my reasons why I do not believe it, I now come to give my own ideas of the matter.

Scripture, with the assistance of that reason without which the scriptures would be of no more service to us than they are to the brute creation, I shall take for my guide on the question before me. Almighty God is a being of infinite perfection; this the scriptures will support, and reason declare: He was the author of our existence, being the creator of the first man and woman, the occasion of their being formed of the dust of the ground, and the director of that providence by which we are all introduced by ordinary generation. Our maker must have had a design in the works of his hands; this the scriptures argue, and this reason says. The whole of God's design must be carried into effect, and nothing more, admitting him to be an infinite being.

It may assist us in arriving at a satisfactory solution of our subject to consider, in the first place, the origin of natural evil. This is unquestionably the necessary result of the physical organization and constitution of animal nature. In the elements of which our bodies are composed, and in their combination in our constitution, we evidently discover ample provisions for the production of all manner of disorders to which they are incident, and even of mortality itself. A careful examination of our natural senses, as mediums of pleasure and pain, and health and sickness, will very naturally lead to a consideration of these same senses as being the origin, as far as we can see, of our thoughts and volitions. With these senses are necessarily connected all the various passions which we possess and which are ever in accordance with the ideas or thoughts by them created. From the everchanging combinations and various evolutions of these our senses, thoughts, ideas, appetites, and passions are found to originate all that variety of moral character which is found in man.

It has long been the opinion of Christian divines that natural evil owes its origin to what is denominated moral evil or sin, but however respectable this sentiment may be considered on account of the respectability of its advocates, we feel fully convinced that the very reverse of the opinion is true. The doctrine which we feel authorised to reverse contends that natural evil is a judicial infliction on man for his sin, and therefore is the effect of moral evil; but the ground we shall take is that natural evil owes its origin to the original constitution of our animal nature, and that moral evil or sin owes its origin to natural evil.

In order to clearly understand the truth of the position here taken, it is necessary only to notice, with due caution, the origin of our volitions. This, in all cases, is want. If man wanted nothing he would do nothing, nor could he desire to do any thing. Now want unsatisfied is an evil; and unsatisfied want is the first movement to action or volition. The motives which invite to action owe their strength to the nature and strength of desire which want creates, and the moral character of the action depends on the character of the motive.

Thus man, as a partaker of flesh and blood (see Rom. viii. 20):

was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who subjected the same in hope.

This hope, which is that sure and steadfast anchor, which enters into that within the veil, and expatiates in a life to come, is the title our Creator has given us, as heirs of that immortal and eternal life which are brought to light through the Gospel. But from our natural constitution, composed of our bodily elements, we are led to act in obedience to carnal appetites, which justifies the conclusion that sin is the work of the flesh, as expressed by St. Paul in Gal. v. 19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulation, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.

And 1 Cor. iii. 3:

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men?

If man had been wholly constituted of flesh and blood, both body and mind, so that he was no more susceptible of moral principles than the beast creation appear to be, then would he never have been capable of committing sin, or of enduring moral evil, any more than do the lower animals around us. We might have had the same natural appetites, desires, and passions which we now have, and might have strove, like all other creatures to gratify them, and might have devoured one another, all without committing sin, or feeling guilt. But we find in man what we may call a law of moral, or spiritual life, of which St. Paul speaks in his epistle to the Romans where he is quite particular in setting forth the contrary workings of the law of the flesh and the law of the spirit of life. Rom. vii. 19-23:

For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not that I do. Now, if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

And chap. viii. 1-2:

There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

These conflicting laws of flesh and spirit have always existed in man from his first formation, and so long as they both continue to exert their powers in opposition to each other, so long will sin remain and continue to produce condemnation.

This law of the spirit of life is the spirit of Christ, or the second Adam, of which we read 1 Cor. xv. 45:

The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

This we may say is that image of God in which man was created, as Christ is said to be the "brightness of God's glory, and the express image of his person." (Heb. i. 3.)

By thus accounting for the origin of sin we endeavor to set forth what we believe is the sense of the scripture representation of the subject. James says, chap. i. 14-15:

But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.


In the forepart of Genesis, the origin of sin is figuratively represented. There we are informed that man was placed in a garden of delights, to keep it and to dress it. The tree of life was in it, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; he was bid welcome to the tree of life, but was forbidden the other. A subtle serpent comes to the woman, and tempts her with the forbidden fruit; she eats, and gives it to her husband, and he also partakes: Their eyes are opened to the knowledge of good and evil; they see that they are naked, and hide themselves from God; sew figleaves together for garments to hide their nakedness. God comes into the garden in the cool of the day, calls for the man, and asks him if he had eaten of the forbidden fruit. He answers that the woman whom God gave him, gave unto him and he ate. The woman is next interrogated, and she lays it to the serpent's guile. The ground is cursed, for Adam's sake; when he tills it, it is to produce briars and thorns; he is to eat his bread, by the sweat of his face, and at last return to the dust. The woman's conception was to be multiplied in sorrow, and her desire was to be to her husband, and he was to rule over her. The serpent was cursed above all cattle, was to go on his belly, and to eat dust as long as he lived. This is, in short, the scripture representation of the first sin; and I consider it to be figurative.

Should it be said, that this garden was a literal garden, that the tree of life was a literal tree, and that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was also literal; I should be glad to be informed, what evidence can be adduced in support of such an idea. Where is the garden now? Where is the tree of life now? Where is the tree of knowledge of good and evil now? Are those trees now growing on the earth as literal trees? We are not informed, in the scripture, that this garden was carried off to heaven, or that either of those trees was removed. It is written, that God drove the man whom he had made out of the garden, and placed cherubims and a flaming sword at the east of the garden, to prevent the man from approaching the tree of life. If the garden were literal, why could not Adam have gone into it on the north, south, or west side?

The pathway of understanding is now open and clear. God saw fit, in his plan of divine wisdom, to make the creature subject to vanity; to give him a mortal constitution; to fix in his nature those faculties which would, in their operation, oppose the spirit of the heavenly nature. It is therefore said that God put enmity between the seed of the woman, and that of the serpent. And it was by the passions which arose from the fleshy nature that the whole mind became carnal, and man was captivated thereby.

But perhaps the objector will say this denies the liberty of the will, and makes God the author of sin. To which I reply, desiring the reader to recollect what I have said of sin in showing its nature; by which it is discovered that God may be the innocent and holy cause of that, which, in a limited sense, is sin; but as it respects the meaning of God, it is intended for good. It is not casting any disagreeable reflections on the Almighty, to say he determined all things for good; and to believe he superintends all the affairs of the universe, not excepting sin, is a million times more to the honor of God than to believe he cannot, or that he does not when he can.

The reader will then ask if God must be considered as the first, the holy, and the innocent cause of sin, is there any unholy or impure causes? I answer, there is, but in a limited sense. There is no divine holiness in any fleshly or carnal exercise; there is no holiness nor purity in all the deceptions ever experienced by imperfect beings; and these are the immediate causes of sin; and as such, they make the best of men on earth groan, and cry out, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" If it should be granted that sin will finally terminate for good in the moral system, it will then be necessary to admit that God is its first cause, or we cannot say that God is the author of all good. If we say, that sin is not for the good of God's system, but is a damage, we must also say that God would have prevented its taking place, if it had been in his power; if it were not in his power, he is not Almighty; neither can we say he is Supreme in an unlimited sense, as he was not superior to the causes which produced sin.

But, to say, that God is the author of sin, says the reader, sounds very badly, let you put what coloring you please upon it; and if I believed it, I should not dare to say it. Well, what shall I say, in order to please? Say the Devil was the author of sin. But did the Devil make himself? No; God made him an holy angel, and he made himself a devil, by transgression. Well, God made an angel, and that angel made a devil of himself, or any thing else, proves that God was the first cause as directly as any thing which I have argued.

The objector will further say, that that angel was made a moral agent, and therefore ought to be considered the author of his own sin. But I say, in reply, that if God produced an agency, and that agency produced sin, it argues that God is the first cause, and agency the second and effective cause. If this mode of reasoning be faulted, I ask, is not God the origin and cause of all moral righteousness? None can be perverse enough to say no; then I ask, again, If moral agency, created by God, be not the original cause of moral righteousness, by what rule of reasoning can it be made the original cause of transgression? But I have before refuted the notion about this sinning angel.

I now call the attention of the reader to man, which is our proper study; and attend to the objection as it respects the liberty of the will. But, in the first place, for the sake of the argument, I will consent to any liberty of the will which is contended for; and then ask, what was the cause of man's having liberty of will? My opponent must allow it was God. Well, if God produced a liberty of will in man, and that liberty of will produced sin, is there any great difficulty in seeing, that that is making God the original cause of sin, in every sense in which I have argued it? What would the objector wish to be understood to mean, by will? If it be any thing more or less than choice, I am at a loss about it. If it be choice, then what we have to look into, is the liberty of choice.

In order for choice to take place, the mind must have perceptions of two, or more objects; and that object which has the most influence on the judgment and passions, will be the chosen object; and choice, in this instance, has not even the shadow of liberty. None will be vain enough to say that will, or choice, has any liberty before it exists, and choice does not exist until an object is chosen; and to say choice has liberty to refuse an object after it is chosen is using violence on terms.

And the same will be the conclusion if we take the word will. A person is invited by two friends to make them a visit the same afternoon, at their respective houses; he wishes to visit both, but cannot at the same time. In this circumstance, honored with both their invitations, he feels at a real loss what answer to make; both insist on his compliance, with equal earnestness, and with equal influence on his judgment and passions, he still remains without a determination. To end the affair, one of his friends says, I will go with you this afternoon and visit our friend, if you and he will return the visit next week. This decides in the mind of him who was first invited, as the other consents to the proposal.

Now, choice, or will, is in favor of visiting, according to the last proposal made. Until the man willed to go, the will to go did not exist; it could have no liberty before it did exist; and after it did, to say that that will which was to go one way was at liberty to go the other, is using the violence before mentioned.

It is then evident, that will, or choice, has no possible liberty. The objector will now move his position and say, It is the mind that has this liberty to choose, or not choose; to will, or not will. In order to determine this matter justly, I first ask, does the power of choosing exist in the mind, or in the object chosen? If it be answered that the power of choice is in the mind, and not in the object which influences the mind, the man who was at a loss to determine which of his friends to visit, while the objects were in equal force on his mind, was entirely ignorant of it; and admitting it was so, it might as well have been otherwise, for the power of choosing in his mind, did him no good; he was after all, dependent on a certain circumstance, which, being attached to one object, made it preferable to the other.

Again, admitting the power of choice to be attributed to the mind, and not to the object which gives perceptions to the mind and influences it, it must be as easy for the mind to choose a minor, as a major object. It will be granted, on all sides, that persons may choose an object in preference to another which is not half so valuable; but this is always in consequence of error in judgment.

Now it is as objects appear to the mind that we ought to consider them in our present query. Supposing a poor man, who has a wife and some hungry children to feed, is offered a dollar or a guinea, for a day's work; he does not know the value of either, not being acquainted with money, or its value, or the nature of the metals which are stamped with value. He consults, or means to consult the good of those for whom he is willing to labor, and would if possible receive that which would do the most towards removing their wants; and says to himself, the dollar is much the largest, and the probability is, it is worth three times as much as the guinea; it is finally his opinion that that is the case.

Now I ask in relation to my argument, which of those pieces of money will he be most likely to choose? The answer is, the dollar. But I ask, why? If his mind be at real liberty, it is no more attached to the dollar than to the guinea; the influence which the dollar has on his mind more than the guinea, destroys not the liberty of the mind to choose the guinea; I wish to be told why he is more likely to choose the dollar than the guinea.

Or, to alter the statement, so that the mind is not deceived. The man perfectly knows the value of both guinea and dollar. The good of his wanting family is what he means to consult; which will he be most likely to choose in this case? answer, the guinea. I ask, again, why? Is there any reason, or is there not? There is, and it is the greater value. Then the object governs the choice. I ask, in the above instance, had the mind any power or liberty to choose the object which appeared of the least value, and refuse that which appeared of the greatest? I am sure there is not a person in the world who would say that it had.

Again, admitting, for the sake of the argument that the mind possesses this imaginary liberty; I then ask, how came it to possess such liberty? Answer, God gave it. Then the matter stands thus, God produced a mind, and gave it liberty to will, or choose, and it wills or chooses; I ask, what is the original cause of this willing and choosing? The reader will easily see, that if I grant my opponent's arguments, it will not be to his advantage.

Again, for the last time, if God gave to man a liberty whereby he can choose or refuse the same object, did he not give his creature a liberty which he did not possess himself? Did not the Infinitely Wise eternally know all that he himself would do? It must be granted. Then I ask, again, does he possess any liberty in his nature, whereby it is in his power to abandon the general system contained in his divine omnisciency, and embrace one entirely different? I am sure there are but few in the world who would not say, as did the apostle, "He cannot deny himself." If the creature possess any ability which is not in his Creator, I would ask, first, where he got it? And, secondly, if the Almighty knew all the consequences which would arise from such an ability? If the answer be in the negative, it argues that his wisdom is finite and limited, and that he does not know but this unaccountable ability of willing and choosing may finally destroy his whole plan in creation, providence and redemption! If it be granted, that he did know all the consequences that would arise from this ability of willing and choosing, which is called liberty of will, it is denying its existence. For if those consequences are all known, it argues they were all certain, and none of them avoidable.

Having, as I hope, to the reader's satisfaction answered the objections in respect to the liberty of the will, I would again invite him back to our subject.


The immediate causes of sin are found in our natural constitutions, and the most distant of those immediate causes are the same as the most distant of the immediate causes of our virtues; but the most immediate causes of our virtues and our vices are extremely different. For instance, two men meet at an inn; both of them have families which are in want of bread; they have each fifty cents, which they have just taken for their day's work. One says, to the other, come, sit down, and we will take some drink, for our comfort, after a hard day's labor. The other reflects in his mind, and says to himself, to let my children suffer at home, to gratify my company in what is indifferent to me, would be abominable, having no particular appetite for spirits; he, therefore, refuses, bids his company good night, goes and purchases necessary provisions for his family, and goes home. He has done as a virtuous, honest husband ought to do. The other possesses a violent appetite for ardent spirits; the moment he comes where it is his want of it overpowers his love and duty to his family, the latter object being at a distance, and the former being nigh; he calls for drink until he spends his fifty cents, and then goes home to his expecting family intoxicated. In this, according to the scriptures, though he were a professed Christian, he is worse than an infidel.

In the mirror presented, the reader may see, that those two men acted equally alike from their natural wants, appetites and passions. Had neither of them any wants, appetites or passions, neither of them would have done any thing at all. They would not have labored for the money; and if they had the money, they would not have laid it out in any way possible. Therefore, we see, that want, appetite and passion, in one, produced virtue, and in the other vice. But the still more immediate causes were not the same in both persons; and the consequences to them, in a moral sense, differ as much as did the most immediate circumstances which produced their conduct. One felt the approbation of a good conscience in having done what cool, dispassionate reason dictated; the other, as soon as his eyes are opened to see what he has done, is struck with condemnation for having violated the dictates of that law of prudence and equity of which he was susceptible.

A beggar influenced by hunger calls at the door of the affluent for food; he knows it is there; his appetite is good; the object magnifies to his senses; but by one who knows the love of property more than the want of food, he is sternly denied. The beggar prostrates himself and moves his suit in language of distress, reducing his petition to only a piece of bread; the covetous man is a little moved, with some small feelings of compassion, but fearing that if he should bestow, he should consequently be troubled again, bids the beggar depart, and leaves him. The beggar's object was food, and his passion hunger; he acted up to the influence of his object, and did all in his power to obtain it. The other's object was the saving of his property, and his passion was covetousness; he acted up to the influence of his object, to the gratification of his passion. Now had the circumstance been varied so much as this, that he did not think his giving at that time would ever induce him to call again, the probability is his object and his passion would both have been different; to feed an hungry man, would have been his object, and charity his passion.


Man's main object, in all he does, is happiness; and were it not for that, he never could have any other particular object. What would induce men to form societies; to be at the expense of supporting government; to acquire knowledge; to learn the sciences, or till the earth, if they believed they could be as happy without, as with? The fact is, man would not be the being that he now is, as there would not be any stimulus to action; he must become inert, therefore cease to be. As men are never without this grand object, so they are never without their wants which render such an object desirable. But their minor objects vary, accordingly as their understanding vary, and their passions differ.
Then, says the objector, there is no such thing as disinterested benevolence. We answer, words are used to communicate ideas; there is that, often, in our experience which is meant by disinterested benevolence. An American is travelling in Europe; he meets, in the street, a young and beautiful fair, bathed in tears, her breast swollen with grief, and her countenance perfectly sad. His heart, fraught with the keenest sensibility, is moved compassionately to inquire the cause of her grief; he is informed that her father, in a late sickness, became indebted to his physician twenty guineas, for which he was that hour committed to gaol, when he had but partially recovered his health. Our traveller no sooner hears the story than he advances the twenty guineas to discharge the debt, and gives her fifty more as a reward for her generous concern. As our traveller did not expect any pecuniary reward, either directly or indirectly, his charity is called disinterested benevolence. But strictly speaking, he was greatly interested; he was interested in the afflictions of father and child; their relief was his object; and charity his passion. Now did he not act for his own happiness? Yes, as much as ever a man did in life. What must have been his misery, possessing the same disposition, without the means to relieve? And what a sublime satisfaction he enjoyed by the bestowment of his favor! Sacred truth informs us, "It is more blessed to give, than to receive."

We find some men honest and industrious; who think, and think justly, that happiness is not to be found in any other way. Others are indolent and knavish, and they expect to obtain happiness in so being. But they are deceived in their objects; and will finally learn, that they must be what conscience has often told them they ought to be, honest and just, in order to be happy.


The objector will say: To admit that our happiness is the grand object of all we do destroys the purity of religion, and reduces the whole to nothing but selfishness. To which we reply, a man acting for his own happiness, if he seek it in the heavenly system of universal benevolence, knowing that his own happiness is connected with the happiness of his fellow men, which induces him to do justly, and to deal mercifully with all men, he is no more selfish than he ought to be. But a man acting for his own happiness, if he seek it in the narrow circle of partiality and covetousness, his selfishness is irreligious and wicked.

We know it is frequently contended, that we ought to love God for what he is, and not for what we receive from him; that we ought to love holiness for holiness' sake, and not for any advantage such a principle is to us. This is what we have often been told, but what we never could see any reason for, or propriety in. I am asked if I love an orange; I answer, I never tasted of one; but am told I must love the orange for what it is! Now I ask, is it possible for me either to like or dislike the orange, in reality, until I taste it? Well, I taste of it, and like it. Do you like it? says my friend. Yes, I reply, its flavor is exquisitely agreeable. But that will not do, says my friend; you must not like it because its taste is agreeable, but you must like it because it is an orange. If there be any propriety in what my friend says it is out of my sight.

A man is travelling on the sands of Arabia, he finds no water for a number of days; the sun scorches, and he is exceedingly dry; at last, he finds water and drinks to his satisfaction; never did water taste half so agreeably before. To say that this man loves the water because it is water, and not because of the advantage which he receives from it, betrays a large share of inconsistency. Would not this thirsty traveller have loved the burning sand as well as he did the water if it had tasted as agreeably, and quenched his thirst as well? The sweet Psalmist of Israel said, "O taste and see that the Lord is good." And an apostle says, "We love him because he first loved us." What attribute do we ascribe to God, that we do not esteem on account of its advantage to us? Justice would have been no more likely to be attributed to the Almighty than injustice, if it had not first been discovered that justice was of greater advantage to mankind than injustice. And so of power, were it of no more advantage to human society than weakness; the latter would have been as likely to have been esteemed an attribute of God as the former. If wisdom were of no greater service to man than folly, it would not have been adored in the Almighty, any more than folly. If the love were no more happifying to man than hatred, hatred would as soon have been esteemed an attribute of God as love.


Undoubtedly the Almighty loves without an influential object, as it would be erroneous to suppose that an infinite being could be operated upon. He loves because his nature is to love. An apostle says, "God is love." The sun does not shine, because our earth influences it; it is the nature of the sun to shine. But all created beings love, because of influential objects; and they always love according to the influence which objects have on their minds and passions.

It seems then, says the objector, that our vices are not to be attributed to the devil, but to the influence which objects have on our minds. Surely the reader ought to expect that after we have denied the existence of a being, we should likewise deny his power. Perhaps, however, the reader may be surprised to find that we do not believe in the existence of a being so universally acknowledged among Christian people, and which perhaps has been of as much advantage to some, as the Goddess Dianna was to the craftsmen of Ephesus. But we are willing to give our reasons for not believing with the multitude in this particular.

A created individual being cannot be in more than one place at the same time. But how many millions of places must this evil angel be in at once, in order to perform the business which Christians have allotted him? In order for us to believe in such a being, we must give him the omnipresency of the Almighty, which belongs to none, in my opinion, but our Maker. Again to admit the existence of such a being would be of no avail, as there is nothing for him to do. There is, says the objector; he tempts men to sin. But does he tempt men contrary to their passions and the influence of their motives? Answer, no. Then the temptation is of no possible consequence.

Supposing a man to be exceedingly hungry, and an agreeable meal is set before him, and he invited to refresh; at that moment, the devil comes, and tempts him to eat. What effect would the temptation have on the hungry man? Or supposing, in room of tempting him to eat, he should tempt him not to eat, would he be likely to succeed? But what means the scripture, which speaks of a devil? -- one who was a liar from the beginning, etc. I answer, I have no objection to believing that there is such a devil as the scripture speaks of. He is called the old Serpent, and is the same I have described which beguiled the woman in the beginning; and it is the carnal mind which is enmity against God.

"I will put enmity between thee and the woman," said the Lord, "between her seed and thy seed." An apostle says, "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, that ye cannot do the things ye would." And, that this was the first beguiler, we may learn from the scripture, before quoted, which saith, "Lust, when it conceived, brought forth sin; and, sin when it was finished, brought forth death." An apostle also says, "When a man is tempted, he is drawn away with his own lusts, and enticed." Any person, who is wholly dictated by a fleshly mind, may justly be called a devil, as in the case of Judas and Peter. As our Lord said to the Jews, also, "Ye are of your father the devil; and the lusts of your father, ye will do."

But says the objector, do you think our Saviour was tempted by the powers of the flesh, when it was said he was tempted by the devil? I ask in my turn, for what is this particular circumstance introduced? If we cannot prove, from our own experience, that we are tempted by some other being than our own fleshly appetites, would it be any thing more than a speculative belief, to admit another tempter?

But says the objector, that does not answer the question. Then let us look at his temptations; when he hungered, he was tempted; by what? and to what? Answer, by hunger, to turn stones into bread. Here was a fleshly appetite. When he had a view of all the kingdoms of the earth, and their worldly glory, he was tempted to avail himself of them. Here was natural ambition, such as gave rise to the victories of an Alexander. When on the pinnacle of the temple, he was tempted to cast himself down, as it was written concerning him, that God would give his angels charge over him, etc. Here was that passion which gives rise to presumption, and wishes to avoid duty. But it is said, the devil taketh him about, thus and so; not literally, however, for there is no mountain in the world that commands a prospect of but a small part of the kingdoms of the world.

In a word, the scriptures inform us that he was tempted in all points as we are yet without sin. If, therefore, we know how we are tempted, we know also, how he was tempted. It is a sentiment of mine, that we ought not to argue that for truth, in matters of this nature, which we have no knowledge of, by experience.

Having illustrated the original cause, and the secondary causes of sin, I pass to take notice of its consequences.

Continue to chapter 3: Of Sin, Its Consequences.
Table of Contents.

Paragraphing and some punctuation altered for clarity. See the Preface to the 2011 Web Edition. Thanks to Steven Rowe an early version of this chapter.