April 8, 1897
DO THE preachers of this day really believe that crime is a worse thing than sin? If not, why are they fighting crime so much harder than they are fighting sin?
It is a fact that the clergy are devoting their energies to the suppression of crime. They are preaching about the prevalence of crime, and calling upon the civil authorities to enforce the laws, or to enact new laws which they deem to be needed. They are discoursing persistently upon problems of national, State, and municipal government. The religious societies of which they are the leaders are putting forth their strength to get control of the civil power for the suppression, as they believe, of the iniquity which so abounds under the Government. All this is too plain to be denied. And in it all the clergy are combating crime and not sin.
It may be, indeed, that they believe they are combating sin. It is probable that this work is so regarded by the majority of the people. Nevertheless they are not dealing with sin, as such, at all. They are not even combating crime in a proper and effective way. They seek to mix religion with devil enactments, and so to manufacture, rather than suppress, crime; for, the more religion is incorporated into the civil laws, the more will those laws be infracted by people who do not believe in religion, or whose religious views are different from those embodied in the law.
Crime and sin are vastly different things. Crime is the violation of human law; sin is the transgression of the divine law. The divine law is “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12); it partakes of the attributes of its divine Author. Human law is often unjust, and therefore neither holy nor good. A transgression of an unjust law is not sin. On the other hand, a transgression of the divine law is very often not a crime. The divine law embodies the conceptions of Omniscience. It is therefore as much superior to human law as the thoughts of God are superior to those of man. The divine law is “exceeding broad” (Psalm 119:96), covering the domain of the thoughts and desires of the heart. Human law can be of force only in the domain of outward conduct, and even there to only a limited extent.
Hence a vast difference must exist between the means employed for dealing with these two phases of conduct. For the suppression of crime there exists the machinery of civil government, by which are enforced the penalties of the civil law. But this means is altogether inadequate for dealing with sin. And on the other hand, the purpose of civil government could not be secured by the use of the means instituted for the suppression of sin.
Now it must be admitted that from the standpoint of Christianity sin is a very much worse thing than crime. And as this is the standpoint professedly occupied by the clergy in this country, they must be supposed to hold this view of sin. Why then, we may ask again, do they devote their energies mainly to the combating of crime?
Sin cannot be suppressed by legislative enactments, for it cannot be reached by such means. And should all the measures by enacted which the preachers and the religious societies want enacted by Congress and the State legislatures, and should the churches and the religious organizations get possession of all the power for which they are grasping, all this would accomplish nothing toward the suppression of sin. The seat of sin is the heart; and from this secret citadel sin dictates that outward conduct which, when it invades the individual rights, is punished by the civil law. The suppression of these outward acts does not touch the sin that is back of them. The trimming of some of the branches of an evil tree does not in the least hinder the flow of sap from its roots.
It must be evident, then, that in calling for the application of the civil law to the evils which abound in the  land, or for votes to accomplish the purification of politics, the clergy are not combating sin. Were they combating sin, they would also be combating crime, in a very effective way; for crime, when it is the violation of just law, is always a manifestation of sin in the heart. But law, in opposing crime by another avenue of attack than the heart, they are leaving sin free to continue its work not only of destroying the soul, but of producing crime as well.
Sin is the transgression of the divine law. 1 John 3:4. The only effective means therefore for suppressing sin is that which enables the individual to keep that law. And as this law is infinitely higher and broader than man’s law, only the Infinite One can provide the means required. And this He has done in the provisions of His gospel, which is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Romans 1:16. It is the privilege of Christian preachers to preach the power of God for the salvation of every sinner. It is their duty as well, and they are not true to their calling if they fail to do it. And what is “the power of God unto salvation”? The first chapter of Genesis furnishes an answer to the question. God said, “Let there be light,” and “there was light.” He said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,” and “it was so.” He said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind,” and “it was so.” His word created that which did not exist before; and in “every one that believeth” His word, there is created by its power that which did not exist before, even a new heart, which is clean and without sin. Psalm 51:10. By faith, the sinner becomes a “new creature” in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Can those who stand before the people as ambassadors of God do better than to devote their whole energies to the proclamation of the power of God unto salvation, through a new creation in Christ? Can they accomplish more by preaching the power of man for the suppression of crime? The SENTINEL thinks not.