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reviving an old opinion taken from the schools of Plato and Pythagoras, namely, that God created the souls of all men at first, and before they were united to their bodies, at least those that now they have, sinned; and, as a punishment of their crime in that state, they were not only condemned to their respective bodies, but to suffer all the miseries which they are exposed to therein; so that the sin, which they committed in these bodies, is nothing else but the propagation of that, which had its first rise in the acts of the understanding and will, when they first fell into a state of sin. This is so chimerical an opinion, that I would not have mentioned it, had it not been maintained by some, as an expedient, to account for the corruption of nature, by those who deny original sin, and affirmed with that assurance, as though it were founded in scripture ; whereas I cannot think it has the least countenance from it. They first take it for granted without sufficient ground that those scriptures, that speak of the pre-existence of Christ in his divine nature, are to be understood concerning the pre-existence of his soul; and from thence they infer, that it is reasonable to suppose, that the souls of other men pre-existed likewise. And they also strain the sense of two or three other scriptures to prove it; as when it is said, that, when God had laid the foundation of the earth, the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy, Job xxxviii. 7. where, by the morning stars, they understand, as others do, the angels; and, by the sons of God, they suppose, is meant the souls of men, that were then created, and untainted with sin, and, to give farther countenance to this, they explain what is said in a following verse, ver. 12. agreeably thereunto, where, when God had continued the account which he gives of his having created the world, he says, Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born, or because the number of thy days is great ; they render the words, Knowest thou, that thou wast then born, and that the number of thy days are many, or they depend upon the translation, which the LXX give of the text, I know that thou wast then born, for the number of thy days is many, that is, that thou wast then existent ; for though thou knowest not what thou didst, from that time, till thou camest into the world, yet the number of thy days is great, that is, thou hadst an existence many ages before. How easy a matter it is for persons to strain the sense of some words of scripture, to serve a purpose, contrary to the general scope and design thereof, if they attempt to give countenance thereby to any doctrine of their own invention.
As for those scriptures, which they bring to prove that the Jews were of this opinion, I will not deny the inference from thence, that some of them were, as appears from the report that the disciples gave to our Saviour, when he asked them, When
do men say that I am ? They replied; Some say that thou art John the Baptist, some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets, Matth. xvi. 13, 14. that is, they judged, according to the Pythagorean hypothesis, that the soul of Jeremias, or one of the prophets, dwelt in that body, which he had, and therefore that he was one of them. And there is another scripture, in which our Saviour's disciples, speaking concerning the blind man, asked him, Did this man sin, or his parents, that he was born blind? John ix. 2. as if he should say: Was it for some sin that this man's soul committed, before it entered into the body, to which it is united ? And was his being born blind a punishment thereof? I say, I will not deny, but that some of the Jews, from hence, may be supposed to have given into this fabulous notion, agreeably to the sentiments of the philosophy, which they had been conversant in. But I will not allow that our Saviour's not confuting this absurd opinion, is an intimation ; (as the defenders thereof generally conclude it to be) that he reckoned it just ; but I rather think, that he passed it over, as a vulgar error, not worthy of his confutation, And as for that passage, which they quote, for this purpose, out of the apocryphal book of Wisdom, which is no proof of this matter from Scripture, when one is represented, as saying to this effect, that because he was good, he came into a body undefiled ; this only proves, that this was the opinion of some of that triAing generation of men. And, when they speak of it, as what has been maintained by some of the Fathers, who received the notion from the philosophy above-mentioned, this is also as little to the purpose; and, indeed, all the other arguments that they bring, amount to nothing else but this; that, if the scripture had not given us ground to establish the contrary doctrine, there might have been, at least, a possibility of the truth of this, but to lay this as a foundation, on which they assert the truth thereof, and that with the design above-mentioned, this is nothing else, but for men to substitute their own fancies, without sufficient ground, as matters of faith, and build doctrines upon them, as though they were contained in scripture. I pass by other improvements, which they make on this fabulous notion, which still appear to be more romantic.*
There is another attempt to account for the origin of moral evil, without inferring God to be the author of it, which has formerly been advanced by those who deny the imputation of Adam's sin; and these suppose that the soul is rendered polluted with sin, by reason of its traduction, or propagation, from the soul of the immediate parent; so that, in like manner, as the body is subject to hereditary diseases, the soul is defiled
See a book, supposed to be written in defence hereof, by Glanvil, entitled, Lux Orientalis
with sin, as both one and the other are the consequence of their formation, according to the course of nature, in the likeness of those, from whom they immediately derive their respective beings; and they suppose that a similitude of passions, and natural dispositions in parents and children, is an argument to evince the truth hereof.
But this appears so contrary to the light of nature, and all the principles of philosophy, to suppose, that one spirit can produce another, in a natural way, and so repugnant to the ideas which we have of spirits, as simple beings, or not compounded of parts, as bodies are, that it seems almost to be universally exploded, as being destitute of any tolerable argument to support it, though it was formerly embraced by some of the Fa. thers. * And they, who pretend to account for it, by the similitude of one candle's lighting another, and yet the flame remaining the same as it was before, have only made use of an unhappy method of illustration, which comes far short of a conclusive argument to their purpose. And as for the likeness of natural dispositions in children to their parents, that does not, in the least prove it; since this arises very much from the temperament of the body, or from the prejudices of education. Therefore this method to account for the origin of moral evil, being not much defended at present, we may pass it over, as a groundless conjecture.
As for Arminius, and his followers, they have very much insisted on a supposition, which they have advanced, that the universal corruption of human nature arises only from imitation. In answer to which, though I will not deny but that the progress and increase of sin, in particular persons, may be very much owing to the pernicious example of others, with whom they are conversant ; yet it seems very absurd to assign this, as the first reason thereof; for it may easily be observed, that this corruption of nature, or disposition to sin, is visible in children, before they are capable of being drawn aside, by the inAuence of bad examples ; and indeed, their being corrupted thereby, is rather the effect, than the cause of this first propensity that there is in nature to sin ; and it would soon appear, that, if they never saw any thing but what is excellent or worthy to be imitated in those, under whose care they are, they would soon discover themselves, notwithstanding, prone to the contrary vices. And we may as well suppose, that wisdom, or holiness, takes its rise from imitation, in a natural way, as that sin, or folly, does so; But nothing is more common, than
Tertullian was of this opinion, (Vid. ejusd. de Anima) and Augustin, though he sometimes appears to give into the opinion of the traduction of the soul ; yet, at other times, he is in great doubt about it, as ready to give it up for an indefensible opinion, Vid, Aug. de Orig. Anim, & in Gen. ad liter lib. 10.
for children to be very degenerate from their parents. And whatever attempts are used to instil principles of virtue into them, it is nothing else, but striving against the stream of corrupt nature, unless the grace of God interpose, and do that which imitation can never be the cause of.
Therefore we must take some other method to account for this corruption of nature, and at the same time, maintain, that the soul is from God, by immediate creation, which, though it be not so plainly contained in scripture, as other articles of faith are, yet scripture seems not to be wholly silent as to this matter ; especially when God says, Behold, all souls are mine, Ezek. xviii. 4. and elsewhere, which is more express to this purpose, God speaks of the souls that he made, or created, Isa. lvii. 16. and the apostle, for this reason, styles him, The Father of spirits, Heb. xii. 9. and that in such a sense, as is opposed to the fa. thers of the flesh; therefore, taking this for granted, the difficulty which will recur upon us, which we are to account for, is, how can the soul, that comes out of God's immediate hand, be the subject of moral evil? To assert, that it is created guilty of Adam's first sin, or under an obligation to suffer that degree of punishment, which is due to it, is not inconsistent with the divine perfections, as will farther appear, when, under a following head, we consider what this punishment is : but to suppose that it is created by God impure, or with an inclination, or propen. sity to sin, cannot well be reconciled with the holiness of God.
This is what has been acknowledged by most divines, as one of the greatest difficulties that occur in the whole scheme of divinity. Some, with a becoming and religious modesty, have confessed their inability to account for it, and advise us rather to be wail, and strive against it, than to be too inquisitive about the origin and cause of it. And, indeed, this is far better, than either to darken counsel by words, without knowledge, or to advance what we cannot prove; and I would rather chuse to acquiesce in this humble ignorance thereof, than to assert any thing which contains the least insinuation of God's being the author of it. It is certain, there are many things which we know to be true, though we cannot, at the same time, account for the manner of their being what they are, and are at a loss to determine their first original, or the natural cause thereof: Thus, though we are sure that the body is united to the soul, which acts by it, yet it is very hard to determine by what bands they are united, or how the soul moves the body, as its instrument in acting. Moreover, we know that the particles of matter are united to one another; but it is difficult to determine what is the cause thereof. So if we enquire into the reason of the different colour, or shape of herbs and plants ; or why the grass is green, and not white or red; no one would be blamed if he should acknowledge himself to be at a loss to account for these, and other things of the like nature. The same may be said, if we should confess that we are at a loss to deterinine what is the first rise of the propensity of the nature of man to sin : nevertheless, if we keep within the bounds of modesty in our enquiries, and advance nothing contrary to the divine perfections, we may safely, and with some advantage to the doctrine of original sin, say something as to this matter, that hereby we may remove the objections that are brought, by some, against it.
Various ways have been taken, as was before observed, to account for the origin of moral evil, which we cannot acquiesce in, by reason of the many absurdities that attend them; therefore it may be more excusable for me to offer my humble thoughts about this matter, in which, I hope, I shall not much deviate from the sentiments of many, who have judiciously and happily maintained this doctrine.
There is, indeed, one conjecture, which I meet with, in a learned judicious divine, which differs very much from any account which we have of it by any other,* namely, that the mother while the child is in the womb, having a sinful thought, impresses it on its soul, whereby it becomes polluted, in the same manner as its body is sometimes marked by the strength of her imagination : but this opinion is so very improbable, thai it will hardly gain any proselytes to it; and it only discovers how willing some persons are to solve this difficulty though in an uncommon method, as being apprehensive that others have not sufficiently done it.
But, that we may account for this matter in the most unexceptionable way, which does not in the least, infer God to be the author of sin nor overthrow the doctrine of imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity, we must consider this propensity of nature, or inclination that there is in the souls of men to sin as a corrupt habit, and therefore that it is not infused by God; and consequently though the soul, in its first creation, is guilty, that is, liable to suffer the punishment due to it for Adam's sin imputed, yet it does not come defiled out of the hands of God; or, as
one well expresses it,t “ We are not to think that * Vid. Pictet. Theol. Chr. Lib. V. cap. 7. Absit ut animam creari impuram diccmus, cum nihil impurum e Dei manibns prodire possit - Dum infans est in utero matris, cum intime ei conjungatur, objecta in ejus cerebrum easdem impressiones eficiuni, ac in matris cerebrum.Hoc patet ex eo quod contingit mulieribus prægnantibus ; cum enim avide inspiciunt aliquid, vel rubro, vel favo colore, vel pallido tinctum, contigit sepissime ut infantes quos in utero gestant, tali colore "tincti nascantur. Ita intime corpus & animam uniri, ut ad motum corporis, ceriæ oriantur in mente cogationes.-- MIctus, qui fiunt in cerebro infantium idem prestare in illis, ac in matribus, nempe eorum animam recens creatam rebus sensibilibus & carnalibus alligare ; unde videmus infantium animas omnia ad se & ad suum referre corpus.
See Du Alonun's Anatomy of Arminienis, Chap. X. 93, 15, 17.