THESE few thoughts on “free will” and these that we shall essay on accountability, are written at the instance of a friend of the SIGNS, who lives in Arkansas, and who does not wish her identity known. She says, “I wish the SIGNS might be printed weekly,” and also, “I hear so much of free moral agency and age of accountability in this part of the world, I wish you would some time in the near future give your views of the matter through the SIGNS. You know it is just as essential to know what is not truth as it is to know what is the truth.” We believe, too, that it is well ‘to call attention to error in order to emphasize the truth; the contrast of the two throws the striking features of each into bold relief. By the age of accountability, many Arminians mean that a child is not responsible for what it does until it arrives at a certain age, which they denominate the age of responsibility or accountability; if a child dies before it reaches this age it will be saved and go to heaven. If this is so, what a pity we did not all die while we were children. Such a doctrine would almost justify a parent in taking the life of its child to insure the child’s eternal happiness. The mere act of growing up into manhood or womanhood would place one in jeopardy eternally if the dogma of accountability be true. Those who advocate this doctrine believe that all infants and little children are innocent, and therefore without sin, that they are not sinners. But David said he was con ceived in sin, shapen in iniquity, and came forth from the womb speaking lies. If that be so, and the Bible says it is so, then David came into the world a sinner and stood in need of the sacrificial atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ the very day he first drew breath. But some who believe the aforesaid doctrine, while they admit the transgression of Adam, and that every child coming into the world is tainted with it, yet they make a distinction between what they call “original” and “actual” sin. That while the child is a sinner by virtue of the original sin of Adam, it is not actually a sinner on its own account, never having actually committed any wrongdoing itself. Parents who will stop to think a moment must confess, if they are honest, that they have seen the motions of sin in extremely young children. Who has not seen them show jealousy of other children? who has not seen them cry with rage and vexation? and who has not seen in manifold ways the appearance of things which we call “cute,” perhaps, but which in a person of adult years would be anything but “cute?” The principle is the same whether in a newborn babe or in the hoary-headed man, it is all sin. The infant is not merely a sinner by the original sin of Adam, but is actually a sinner every moment it lives and breathes. We do not like the distinction between “original” and “actual” sin, though many theologians make this difference. It is a distinction without a difference. As we said in a former. article not long ago, every one of Adam’s posterity was actually, as well as originally, a sinner in him. Every one of us was in the loins of Adam when he fell, and it was our flesh and blood and nature that committed the sinful act; we were as much to blame for it as he was. It was Adam that sinned, and we were Adam, so where is the difference between original and actual sin? But some say that even though the child is a sinner, the Lord does not hold it accountable for its sins until it reaches the age of accountability; that if it dies before it reaches that age it will be saved on the ground that it did not know any better. Now, Saul of Tarsus was not a child when he went about persecuting the saints, but he did not know any better, and verily thought he was doing God service. Did the fact that he, an adult man, did not know any better cause the Lord to hold him therefore not responsible? The Lord called him to account on the way to Damascus and judged him there. Although Saul had been acting sincerely, and to the best of his knowledge, he did not plead that as a reason why the Lord should be merciful to him. The Lord was merciful to him, but it was for Jesus’ sake and not for the sake of his not having known any better. We simply bring in this instance of Saul of Tarsus, not because he was a child, for he was a grown man, but to show that no one is ever saved on the ground that they do, not know any better. There is no plan of salvation in all the Bible that is founded on any such base as that of our ignorance being a means to it. If that were so, then ignorance would be a virtue and wisdom a vice. In other words, the idea of there being a certain accountable age at which one becomes responsible for his sins, means that a child needs no Christ to save it, as its own innocence is all-sufficient to that end, but that Christ is the atonement for adults only. But Jesus said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God,” showing that he is the Christ for all his people, whether they be adults, children or infants. There is but one plan of salvation outlined all through the Scriptures, and that is salvation by grace. It is grace all the way through from first to last, from the very first moment we draw breath in this world until we pass out into the great hereafter. The newborn babe is in need of the same grace to save it from its sins, as much as the aged sinner needs that same grace for himself. We are sure our readers know of many instances where children of very tender years have been convicted of sin. If there is such a thing as there being a certain age at which one becomes accountable, then the Lord would not call any one to account or convict him of sin before he reached that age. But we know that conviction for sin has been experienced, as we said before, by the very young, and many experienced people cannot remember a time when they did not feel that they were sinners. Both Elders Gilbert and William Beebe were convicted of sin when mere boys, and there are many other instances which our readers will be able to recall within the range of their own acquaintance.
These thoughts upon free will and accountability are not exhaustive at all, but just such as came to us at this time. Much more might be said to the point along the same lines, but we have filled our space, and will desist. L.
Elder H. H. Lefferts
Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 2.
January 15, 1916