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George Burnap on Original Sin
(an excerpt)
(1844)

That the condemnation of mankind to endless misery on account of Adam's sin, would be unjust, is a proposition so plain, that it only requires to be stated to strike the intuitive sense of justice, which God has implanted in every bosom. It is so plain that no reasoning can make it plainer. It only admits of illustration by parallel cases.

Suppose a law should be enacted, whereby it was decreed, that not only every thief should be imprisoned for life, but his children as soon as they were born, to the remotest generation, should be imprisoned likewise; would not such a law be considered unjust? But how infinitely less unjust than the condemnation of children for the sin of a remote ancestor, to interminable torments?

Suppose it should be decreed that every murderer should not only be hung himself, but that all his descendants to the end of time should have their eyes put out as soon as they are born? Could such a law as that be tolerated for a moment? Would not a legislature which could enact such a law be thought worthy of the eternal execration of mankind? And yet the injustice of such a law would be trifling, compared with that of dooming them to everlasting woe, instead of depriving them of one of their senses.

It is to be borne in mind, likewise, that the effect of Adam's sin is two-fold. Its guilt is not only immediately imputed to his posterity, so that they are born under God's wrath and curse, but the same death in sin and corrupted nature is conveyed to his posterity, "whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil." After this, when men are "disabled" to all good, and made incapable of doing anything good, then a law is proposed to them, not one article of which they can keep or perform, any more than the blind can see, or the lame can walk, and God punishes them for disobedience by all the pains that are consequent on sin in this world, and in the world to come.

Such a complication of injustice as this far transcends all human conception; it exceeds all the injustice, which has been committed in all the tyrannies that have existed since the commencement of time. We say, therefore, that there must be some mistake here, some grand defect, either in the premises, or the reasonings by which such a doctrine is deduced from them.

I cannot doubt, that many pious and good men have thought themselves compelled by sufficient evidence to receive this doctrine as true, and doubtless, have considered it useful, to break down and subdue the stubborn heart of sinful man. But I say, at the same time, that I know no doctrine, which to me seems more calculated to vitiate and destroy all true piety to God and charity to man--to corrupt the moral sense and harden the heart.


2003 American Unitarian Conference