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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Taken from The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881
Man is perfectly free to sin. This statement is undeniable. When he becomes a drunkard it is to please himself; and when he is covetous to meanness, or dishonesty, when he is guilty of licentious acts, when he provokes God by his blasphemies, and when with wicked hands he slays his neighbor, he commits these crimes to gratify himself.
And the same doctrine is true with reference to all his transgressions. No man on trial in court would venture to urge, as an excuse for his criminal acts, that he was compelled to commit them, unless indeed physical force was used ; and if he offered such a plea every judge and jury in the world would regard this false pretense as an aggravation of his guilt. Satan can only tempt men to sin; he cannot coerce them to commit it. He possesses a great intellect, vast experience, unwearied perseverance, and hosts of agents; nevertheless, if men resist the devil he will flee from them.
Every man's consciousness tells him that he sins because of his own personal wishes, and not because of outside force. Haman planned to murder Mordecai, not for Satan's pleasure but his own. Ananias and his wife kept back part of the price, not to gratify the prince of darkness, but to satisfy their own covetous hearts.
The testimony of human consciousness proves that men sin because they themselves resolve upon it. And if we cannot believe our consciousness upon this question we cannot believe it about anything. We must reject its utterances when it tells us that we are living, or walking, or speaking, or working. To reject the evidence of our consciousness about our sins coming solely from ourselves would compel us to discard belief in all our experiences. Either then our sins are our own, or we can believe nothing, and our consciousness is but a constant instrument of deception.
From the fall of our first parents in Eden down to the last record of guilt in the Scriptures, God invariably assumes the responsibility of men for their sins; and in a great many instances he asserts it; and this responsibility rests upon their freedom to sin.
Man has lost his liberty to serve God. Paul says in Eph. 2:1, "You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." The death of which he speaks is a moral death; it represents men without Christ as destitute of all power to turn to Jesus.
When a man is "dead drunk" he cannot reason, he cannot walk, he is stupid and helpless. So the unsaved are under the curse of sinful intoxication, and they are dead to all the claims of God, and to all the charms of a loving Saviour; and left to themselves, they would never seek or find salvation. The Saviour says, John 6:44, "No man can come to me, except the Father who hath sent me draw him." There is a lack of moral ability in every human heart to come to Jesus till the drawings of grace lift the man from his helplessness and slavery and place him at the feet of Jesus.
The impenitent man might be compared to Samson when his hair was shorn; the great Israelite was robbed of his eyes, thrust into prison, bound with fetters of brass, and he did grind in the prison: and the only power he had was to inflict death; for when the Philistines were feasting in the temple of Dagon, Samson seized two of the pillars and the house fell, killing himself and three thousand of his enemies.
The unregenerate man has lost his moral eyesight, he is in the prison of unbelief, he is chained by sinful habits, he is grinding this world's grist, and he has only strength to destroy his own soul and the souls of others: The Philadelphia Confession of Faith in Article IX., says truly:
"Man in a state of innocency had freedom and power, to will and to do that which was good, and well pleasing to God. . . . Man by his fall into a state of sin hath wholly lost all his ability of will, to any spiritual good accompanying salvation, so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself. or to prepare himself thereunto."
The palsied will of an unsaved man is made free to serve God by the Holy Spirit. When the Comforter smote the heart of persecuting Saul his opposition to Christ instantly perished, and his earnest cry was, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? An iron paralysis held the will of Paul in its resistless power, so that he was approvingly helpless to exercise any faculty of his soul for God until the Comforter made his heart the temple of Jehovah and began to "work in him both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
It is through this blessed working that God's people are willing in the day of his power" to render obedience or to make painful sacrifices. The will of man, so free to sin, so powerless to decide for Christ's service, is strengthened and sanctified by the Spirit in conversion, and receives his assistance ever afterwards to steadfastly steer the soul for a heavenly port.
Men are conscious that they are free to sin, and when they are brought into the liberty wherewith Christ makes his people free, they are conscious that God's Spirit has given them deliverance front the bondage of unbelief, and they are conscious that their renewed hearts willingly love and serve the Saviour.