(4) And, lastly, Christ says all men are sinful. Of course, He did not say, nor did He imply that all are equally sinful. On the contrary, He said plainly that whereas the debt of some is as fifty pence, the debt of others is as five hundred pence. Neither did Christ teach that man is wholly sinful, in the sense that there is in man nothing that is good, or that every man is by nature as bad as he can be. Nor, let it be said in passing, is this what theology means when it speaks, as it still sometimes does, about the “total depravity” of human nature. What is meant is, as Dr. Denney says, that the depravity which sin has produced in human nature extends to the whole of it. If I poison my finger, it is not only the finger that is poisoned; the poison is in the blood, and, unless it be got rid of, not my finger merely, but my life is in peril. And in like manner the sin which taints my nature taints my whole nature, perverting the conscience, enfeebling the will, and darkening the understanding. But with whatever qualifications Christ’s indictment is against the whole human race. He never discusses the origin of sin, but He always assumes its presence. No matter how His hearers might vary, this factor remained constant. “If ye, being evil” that mournful presupposition could be made everywhere. He spoke of men as “lost,” and said that He had come to seek and save them. He summoned men, without distinction, to repentance. He spoke of His blood as “shed for many unto remission of sins.” The gospel which, in His name, was to be preached unto all the nations was concerning “repentance and remission of sins.” Even His own disciples He taught, as they prayed, to say, “Forgive us our sins.” And though it is true He said once that He had not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, He did not thereby mean to suggest that there really are some righteous persons who have no need of repentance; rather was He seeking by the keenness of His Divine irony to pierce the hard self-satisfaction of men whose need was greater just because it was unfelt.
“All have sinned;” but once more let us remind ourselves, sin is not seriously realized except as a personal fact. The truth must come home as a truth about ourselves. The accusing finger singles men out and fastens the charge on each several conscience: “Thou art the man!” And as the accusation is individual, so, likewise, must the acknowledgement be. It is not enough that in church we cry in company, “Lord have mercy upon us, miserable offenders”; each must learn to pray for himself, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Then comes the word of pardon, personal and individual as the condemnation, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin.”
In what has been said thus far I have dwelt, for the most part, on the sterner and darker aspects of Christ’s teaching about sin. And, as every student of contemporary literature knows, there are voices all around us to-day ready to take up and emphasize every word of His concerning the mischief wrought by moral evil. Take, e.g., a passage like this from Thomas Hardy’s powerful but sombre story, Tess:—