MAN'S ORIGINAL CONDITION, HIS PRESENT FALLEN STATE, AND HIS NEED OF SALVATION FROM SIN AND FROM ETERNAL DEATH
HE who desires to know what is his actual condition in the sight of the Most Holy God can learn this in part from his own conscience, and still more fully from the Word of God (كلام الله). For God knows all things, and from Him no secrets are hid. "All things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13). He knows not only all that we have done, but also all that we have thought and desired during all our past life. God alone can inform us with what object He has created and preserved us alive, and on what our attainment of future happiness depends. Philosophers in their books have related their own theories and speculations upon these subjects: but our reason assures us that, if God has revealed His Will to us by Prophets and Apostles, then what He has taught us in His Word (كلام) must be far more reliable than the conclusions of human limited and fallible reasonings. Therefore, in order to learn God's gracious purpose in creating mankind, and to ascertain how men have fallen into their present condition of sin and misery, we must refer to the Holy Scriptures. Hence the writer of these pages would with all courtesy entreat his honoured readers to lay aside all prejudice and to consult the Torah, Zabur, and Injil, to which, as we have seen, their own Qur'an bears such lofty testimony. In consulting the Word (كلام) of God, however, let us do so with due reverence, humility, and earnestness of heart and purpose, beseeching the Most Merciful God to grant us spiritual perception and guidance, that we may comprehend aright its meaning, and to open the eyes of our understanding, that we may discern our inward condition and the way to obtain eternal salvation, everlasting life, and abiding bliss and felicity.
If we study Genesis 1:26–2:25, and Ecclesiastes 7:29, we shall clearly perceive that God created man pure, holy, and happy. The statement that God created man in His own image, after His likeness, implies that in mind and especially in spirit there was originally such a degree of resemblance between the finite creature man and his Infinite Creator that God could in some measure make Himself known to man. Man was then free from sin in deed, and even from evil thoughts and impulses, as well as from all infirmity of body, soul, and spirit, nor was he liable to disease or a painful death. As he then knew and loved God and desired to serve Him, man was at first happy and contented. He was also the head of all creatures to be found on the face of the earth. From the Book of Genesis we learn that God specially prepared a place for man to live in, it was in Eden (Genesis 2:8), which was the name of the great plain in Lower Mesopotamia, on which Babel and other cities were long afterwards built.
Every man's own conscience testifies to the fact that mankind has not continued in that state of sinlessness and consequent happiness. Besides this, the history of ancient nations which for their wickedness have perished off the face of the earth, and the existence of the sin, misery, suffering and death which now bear sway over the whole face of the earth—both these facts afford abundant proof that our condition has changed very much from that in which the Most Merciful God created Adam, and in which He wished him and his children to continue. Besides this we have other evidence, for the Holy Scriptures tell us how guilty and miserable man's present condition is in God's sight (Genesis 8:21; Psalms 143:2; Romans 3:10-20, 23; 1 John 1:8).
He who is in any degree acquainted with his own heart, and knows the thoughts and desires which too often spring up there, like water gushing forth from a fountain, must admit that in very truth he is guilty in the sight of the Most Holy God, even as these verses state. Conscience forces him to acknowledge that sin and impurity have taken possession of his heart, and that he has been so full of evil impulses and unworthy passions that even from his childhood he has ever been inclined to what was wrong, and hence that his moral nature is and has been in a state of corruption. All men's inclinations are not towards the same kind of sin. Some are ambitious, others avaricious, others licentious, others cruel, others proud and cold-hearted, others false, others hypocritical, others unbelieving, others prone to more than one of these sins. But experience teaches us that no man is devoid of sin. Even the best of men confess that they have done much that they ought not to have done, and left undone much that they should have done. Thus the universal condition of mankind in all past ages and in the present is a great proof that the Bible is the Word of God. Many heathens, when they have heard it read, have felt that it so exactly described their spiritual condition that it must contain a message from the Creator Himself. Such men have therefore come for Christian teaching, saying, "He who made that Book made me."
There are some men who have experienced a change of heart, and have hence come to hate sin and love righteousness. But this change is due to the New Birth of which Christ spoke in John 3:3, 5: and it takes place only in those who truly believe in Him.
We have seen that the Holy Scripture informs us that Adam, when God created him, was not prone to sin, and therefore was not in the state of guilt and misery in which most of his descendants are to-day. Our reason also makes it clear to us that the commission of sin is not in accordance with God's will, for sin is the transgression of the Moral Law, which is in accordance with the Divine Nature (ذات) and an expression of it. Hence it is self-contradictory to say that God wills the transgression of His Will. As, however, the sons of Adam are now engulfed in the whirlpool of Sin and wretchedness and are bound in slavery to their own carnal disposition (النّفس الاْمّارة), it is fitting to inquire how this wickedness and misery befell mankind.
Holy Scripture gives the answer to this question. It informs us that sin and its evil results come upon men through the enmity and deceitfulness of Satan, and through man's own free choice and resolve to do his own will instead of God's. Eve was deceived by Satan, and she led Adam astray. He wilfully disobeyed the commandment of his Creator: and thus, turning aside in heart and conduct from the love of the truth, he cut himself off from the fountain of life and of true happiness. This is related in Genesis iii: compare John 8:44; Romans 5:12, 19: 1 Timothy 2:13, 14.
If anyone should here inquire, "How is it that God did not prevent the entrance of evil into the world? Why did He permit Satan to tempt man and to overcome him? Why does He still permit the Evil One to perpetuate sin and misery, discord and violence on earth?"—he will find the subject in some measure discussed in the "Way of Life" (طريقُ الْحيوَة). Here we content ourselves with saying that God has not fully explained this matter to us, nor has human reason been able to discover an answer which is in every respect full and satisfactory. But, however much we may wish to know the reason of God's conduct in this matter, it is not necessary for us in this world to be able to understand His doings. But it is necessary for us to recognize our own lost and miserable condition and the way of escape from it. We know, as did Abraham, that the Judge of all the earth does what is right (Genesis 18:25). Wise men have assured us that the presence of so many temptations in this present world, and the fact that there exists in it so much misery and sorrow and suffering caused by sin, all this renders life in this lower world peculiarly fit to train us in virtue 1 by leading us to resist and overcome temptation through God's grace, and by showing us how terrible are the consequences of sin. God Most High has given men freedom of will, to choose for themselves right or wrong, sin or righteousness, obedience or disobedience, freedom from the slavery of the Devil or submission to it. God has revealed His Will and His love towards us. He has shown us the right way, yet He does not compel us to turn to Him, for He desires our love, and in love, as in true Religion, there cannot be compulsion.
God Most Merciful has unmistakeably taught us in His Holy Word (كلام) that it is not His Will that any man should remain 2 subject to the dominion of Satan and the slavery of Sin. God's will is that every man should become free from the chains of sin, should be cleansed from the stains of guilt and impurity, and should thus attain to the spiritual condition of likeness to God from which Adam fell, so that each man may become an heir of eternal happiness. Both the Old Testament and the New agree with universal human experience in teaching that there can be no true happiness for man until he repents of his evil deeds and with true faith turns to God, becomes free from sin, and obtains God's forgiveness. Without purity of heart no one can ever see God with the inward eye (Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14). The truly pious man must become holy because God is Holy (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48; 2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1; 1 Peter 2:9, 10; 1 John 3:1-8). This is the teaching of the Holy Scripture: and when once we have heard this doctrine, our reason and conscience bear witness to its truth. For, as man was made in God’s image and has had that image marred by sin, it is necessary that he should be formed again into a spiritual likeness to the Holy One before he can dwell with God in harmony and love and can enjoy the Divine Vision (رُوُيَةُ الله ـ ديدارِ إلَهي).
If in this matter we compare the doctrine of the Bible with that of the other religious books of the world, we find a great difference between them on this very point. For the books of other religions teach us nothing of God's design in creating man, nothing about the need of sanctification and purification of the human heart and spirit. They teach that purity results from ablutions of the body, that forgiveness of sins is obtained through pilgrimages or sacrifices or almsgiving. Now ablutions of the body are very suitable and desirable, but they cannot purify the heart. As Christ Himself says, it is not sufficient to cleanse the outside of the cup or platter and leave the inside defiled. "Cleanse first", He says, "the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also" (Matthew 23:26). Good works, too, should result from love to God and conformity to His will and gratitude to Him for pardon and mercy. But almsgiving will not persuade God to forgive us our sins, for no just judge receives a bribe to pardon a criminal. The value of almsgiving and all other good works depends in God's sight on the motive with which they are undertaken, and no one can conceal his motives from Him who searches men's hearts.
In order that we may know God's Will and be able to obey Him, God Most High has given us much teaching both in the Old Testament and in the New. He has thus shown what we should do and what we should avoid. Hence, too, we find the Moral Law given in various short and simple enactments in different parts of the Bible. In the Torah are given the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21). In later days the Prophet Micah tells us that God’s law as to man's duty might be summed up thus: "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8). Ignorant people often assert that Christians have no law (شريعة) containing commands and prohibitions: but the fact that the Moral Law given in the Old Testament is binding upon us is a sufficient refutation of this statement. In the New Testament we have Christ's Law (شريعة) given us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7); and, besides this, He has summed up our duty for us in Mark 12:28-31 and Luke 6:31. Hence we see that He lays down general principles to guide us under all circumstances, instead of endeavouring, like all other lawgivers, to give particular directions for every circumstance that can arise. Whoever will attentively read Romans 12:14:1-8; 1 Corinthians 13; Ephesians 5:1-21; Colossians 3:1-4. I will perceive how high and holy a Way has been appointed for Christians to walk in. We are told to wash our hearts before praying, not merely our hands; not to make a pilgrimage (حجّ) once in our lives, but to be always strangers and pilgrims on earth, having no continuing city here, but ever seeking the one which is to come, and always drawing nearer to God in holiness; not to pray five or seven times a day but to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), i.e. so to live that we may always be in spiritual communion with God; not to offer sacrifices of dead animals, as did the Jews, but ourselves to be "living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1, 2; 1 Peter 2:5). From this it will be evident that the precepts of the New Testament, even more than those of the Old, are in full accordance with the glorious Attributes of the Holy and Most Merciful Lord, because they enjoin and conduce to purity of heart and of life. It will also be clear that without these things all merely external rites are valueless in God's sight, and cannot produce righteousness or lead to justification. Therefore the precepts of the Gospel stand far above the ordinances of every other religion, because they are specially fitted to effect sanctification of heart and life. They must therefore be accepted, not as the commandments of men, like those of all other religions except the Jewish, but as those of God Himself. All the precepts of the Gospel are summed up in the words, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind . . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39). These words are a slightly amplified quotation from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12; 30:6; Leviticus 19:18). They thus show how completely the Old Testament and the New agree in their teaching as to what God demands, and what is the way to walk in. God requires of us that our hearts should be so filled with love towards God, who has first loved us, that all the powers of our bodies, souls, spirits and minds, during every hour and minute of our lives, may be gladly spent in endeavouring to serve and please Him: and that, as we seek our own profit and good, so we should with heart and soul seek to do good to our neighbours. We should also remember that even our enemies are, in God's sight, our neighbours (Luke 10:25-37). By so acting we shall be obeying Christ's Golden Rule, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them" (Matthew 7:12).
Inasmuch as these precepts of the Bible unite man in love both to his Creator and to the whole of Adam's sons, and conduce to purity of heart and freedom from selfishness, they lead to happiness here and hereafter. They also agree with the Moral Law which God has inscribed upon the tablets of each man's heart and conscience. This is an evident proof that the teachings of the Bible are from the Creator of mankind and of the world. Hence its inspiration (إلهام) is clearer than the sun. Men who have not yet received the Holy Scriptures are not without a Law (شريعة), therefore, for God has placed this Moral Law in their hearts. Hence all men are responsible to God for their disobedience to what they themselves know to be right and incumbent upon them. The heathen are held accountable under this law, and they too must in some measure learn from their own consciences that, since they have not kept the law written in their hearts, they are sinners in God's sight and stand in need of a Saviour. The advantage of having received the Word of God, i.e. the Bible, is that the Moral Law within receives fresh testimony to its Divine origin from it. Moreover, men who accept the Holy Scriptures have their judgement enlightened to know their duty better, and are encouraged to seek help from God to do it.
Holy Scripture also teaches us that to know what is right will not justify, but condemn us, unless we perform our duty (Matthew 7:21-27; Luke 10:25-28; John 13:17; Romans 2:13). It states too that justice demands that there be no defect whatever in our obedience to the Divine commands, which clearly require perfection of character and conduct (Matthew 5:48). If any man were to obey the Divine Law in every point but one, he would, in that one point, be a transgressor (James 2:10, 11; Galatians 3:10-12). So it is also with human law. The law in every civilized land forbids murder and theft. If a man is not a murderer, and steals only once, he is a malefactor, and is liable to punishment. Of Adam only one sin is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, yet that one sin brought condemnation and death. God's favour cannot be obtained by the observance of only certain parts of His Law. He who desires to please Him, and by his own acts to be justified in God's sight, must strictly and without a single failure or omission keep the whole of God's law. Transgression of the least commandment will render him a sinner, and liable to punishment and alienation from God Most High.
But is there any man who has, day and right, during all his life, so perfectly obeyed God's law that he has never in any degree departed from it? Can anyone be found who has always loved God with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his mind, and who has loved his neighbour as himself (Matthew 22:37-39)? Or is there any person who in his whole life has never committed a sinful act, or spoken a word displeasing to God, or cherished in his heart a wrong thought or evil desire? (See Job 4:18, 19; 25:4, 5, 6; Psalms 143:2; Romans 3:20.) Only one such man has ever lived, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Seeing then that all human beings except Christ are found guilty by the testimony of our own conscience and by that of the Word of God as revealed in Holy Scripture, is it not most fitting that we should with true penitence of heart confess before our Creator: "O Lord of Lords, most Holy and Righteous God, the purity which Thou requirest is not in us: we are deserving, O Lord, of Thy wrath and of eternal death"?
That God does punish sinners is clearly taught, in the first place, by our experience, secondly by our Conscience, and thirdly by the Word (كلام) of God in such passages as Ezekiel 18:20; Matthew 12:36; 25:41; Romans 1:8; 2:8, 9; Colossians 3:25; 2 Thess. 1:9. Some persons imagine that God will pardon transgressors without punishing them, because of His boundless Mercy. But this is morally impossible, unless in some way the requirements of His righteous Law should be satisfied. Otherwise His justice would not be perfect, nor would He be acting in accordance with what He has Himself said. It is true that God's love and mercy are infinite, but so are also His justice and His holiness. Therefore wicked doers can never be pleasing in His sight, for He hates all sin.
Moreover, sin is in itself a curse and a punishment to the transgressor. No wicked man is happy, can be happy, ether in this life or in the next. A man whose soul is filled with lust, for instance, does not know what true happiness is, even here. Sin degrades man's nature, rendering men cruel, cowardly, selfish, base, and removing them far in spirit from the Most Holy God, in whose presence there is fullness of joy. "Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin" (John 8:34): and the most awful punishment he can receive is the condition of eternal sinfulness, which is the state of those who finally choose darkness for light, evil for good, Satan for God (John 3:19; Revelation 22:11).
It is also in accordance with God's attribute of Love that He should not permit man to sin without punishment. For if men knew that God would not punish the guilty, they would day by day sink more and more deeply into the whirlpool of sin, and thus become more and more wretched themselves and a cause of misery to others. It is clear also that transgression of God's Law must bring punishment; for if not, why should the Moral Law exist, and be written not only in Holy Scripture but also in men's hearts? No man of understanding can fancy that rebels and loyal servants of God will alike be acceptable to Him and receive the same treatment at His hands.
As all men but One have fallen into sin, all deserve punishment. None of us sinful men have in ourselves power to please God, to atone for our sins, and to obtain pardon and reconciliation with God Most High. We need not merely a way of escape from the punishment of our sins, but, still more, a means of escape from the power and the love of sin. Punishment is a good thing for the sinner, and it often leads him to repentance. Hence sin always brings punishment. But from the eternal consequences of sin, from being for ever shut out from God's presence and banished from the love and the care of our Heavenly Father, from becoming conformed in heart and mind to the likeness of Satan himself, we need to find a way of escape. Else it would have been well for us if we had never been created.
How are we to find this way of escape? If man in his present fallen condition cannot fulfil God's perfect Law, how can he atone for his past sins, how can he become reconciled to God? It is clear that his good works possess no merit, because God will not accept a gift from defiled hands, and still less from a sinful heart. Not only man's deeds but his words also and his very thoughts are defiled with sin. How is it possible for us, who have not even performed our own duty to God and to our neighbour, to acquire, by doing more than our duty, such an amount of merit as will avail as a satisfaction for our sins? This, of course, is impossible. If we could fancy the existence of a man who, during his whole life, had never transgressed God's commandments, then such a person would thereby have done nothing more than his duty (Luke 17:10). Even such a man could not claim to have laid up a store of merit for himself or for other men.
The Holy Scriptures teach us that God's Law requires of us such perfect devotion (Matthew 22:36-40) that man cannot, when he has fallen short of it, recover what he has lost. There are some men who proudly and ignorantly assert that they have performed more worship and service than God demands of them. Yet the folly of such statements is manifest. In spite of their boasting, such men can never by any means assure themselves that they are justified in God's sight. They often in their hearts feel most painful doubts about their state after death. They often live in fear of death and die in great mental agony. As an instance of this we quote what Ibn Khallikan says of Abu 'Imran Ibrahim ibn Yazid. He was "one of the famous Imams and a Tabi'i". "When death came upon him, he feared with a violent fear . . . Accordingly he said, 'What danger is greater than that in which I am? I am awaiting a messenger who will come upon me from my Lord, either with Paradise or with Hell fire.'" He then swore that he would far rather that his soul should flutter in his throat 3 until the resurrection-day than that he should die. This was because of his dread of what was to happen to him after death.
Nor will repentance itself suffice to blot out our transgressions. It is most befitting that we should truly repent of our sins; but we cannot by repentance alone undo the evil which we have done. Hence repentance is not enough to save us. The transgression of merely human laws cannot be atoned for in this way. If a thief or a murderer tells the judge that he has repented, will the judge be acting justly in setting him free? That would be contrary to our innate idea of justice. But this conception of justice is part of the Moral Law which God has written in our hearts, therefore it must be right. And often men are so hardhearted that they cannot repent, even if they would.
Thus we have seen there is no possibility of our saving ourselves, by our works, either from the punishment of our sins or from their other consequences. Still less can we save ourselves from the love and the power of sin and obtain reconciliation with God Most High through any merits of our own. Hence, if there is no Saviour who can atone for our sins, we must for ever remain alienated from God, and can never attain that eternal happiness, the desire for which God has implanted in every heart.
It has been shown that, if there be a Saviour who can make Atonement and can render sinners free from sin and pure in the sight of the just and holy God, that Saviour cannot be merely a man, born like other men, inheriting Adam's corrupt nature, and himself a sinner. No sinner can save sinners. As all men who are merely men are sinners, none of them can atone for the rest. In the Zabur we are told that "None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him" (Psalms 49:7), even to save him from the death of the body. How much more true is it therefore that none of us can redeem another from eternal death!
Yet if there be a Saviour, He must be a man, for otherwise He cannot represent us and be one of us, the Head of the human race, and we cannot feel convinced that He sympathizes with us, understands us, loves us. He must therefore both be higher in nature and dignity than are the men whom He saves, and yet He must share their nature in some way. He must be free from sin, and must render perfect obedience to all the Law of God. This is what Reason itself tells us must be the case, if there be a Saviour for men. If there be no such Saviour, then mankind is lost, has no hope, and can never attain to the state of holiness and happiness for which all men naturally yearn.
But is there such a Saviour to be found? When we turn to the Bible we find that there is: that the Old Testament contains the promise of His coming, and the New Testament tells us how He came. Prophets and Apostles have alike borne witness to Him, the true and only Saviour from sin, the Saviour who has offered to God a perfect propitiation and atonement for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1, 2), and who is thus able to obtain pardon for transgressors. This Saviour is the Lord Jesus Christ, who by His greatness and holiness, His perfect obedience even unto death, has borne the sin of the world, and has become the one Mediator for all men. He has made Atonement and has reconciled man to the Holy and Righteous God, having obtained eternal salvation for all who truly believe in Him. Therefore He offers to all men forgiveness of sin and eternal joy.
Hence with thankful hearts we join our voice with the Apostle's and say: "Unto the King eternal, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever" (1 Timothy 1:17). For He, the Living, the Loving, the Most Merciful God, has, of His infinite love and mercy, offered to us guilty sinners so great a redemption and such a glorious salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. [Compare Butler's Analogy of Religion, Part I, ch. v (vol. ii, p. 91, § 16 of Bernard's edition of 1900).]
2. Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11; John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9.
3. ولمّا حضرته الْوفاة جزع جزعاً شديداً ... فقال واىّ خطر اعظم ممّا انا فيه ـ انا اتوقّع رسولاً يرد علىّ من ربّي امّا بالْجنّة وامّا بالْنّار والله لَوَدَدْتُ انّها تلجلج في حلقي الى يوم القيَمة Ibn Khallikan's Wafayatu'l A'yan, vol. i, p. 2, published by Aqa Mirza 'Ali Akbar in Persia