It is not correctly said in the Catechism, that |God is angry with us for birth-sins;| because original sin is a punishment. But whatever is a punishment is not properly a sin.
Nearly two months ago, a certain minister of God's word, came to me, desirous, as he declared, to confer with me about the opinion which I held concerning the Catechism and Dutch Confession being subjected to examination in our National Synod. On this subject we had some conversation together, and I concluded the expression of my opinion with this syllogism:
|Every human writing which is not in itself entitled to implicit credit, not authentic, and not divine, may be examined, and indeed ought to be; when it can be done in order, and after a legitimate manner, that is, in a Synod, to which [the consideration of] these writings belongs. But such productions are the Catechism and our Confession. Therefore, they may and ought to be subjected to examination.| When he had wearied himself in opposing a few things to this syllogism, which I soon dispersed by the clearest light of truth, he began to inquire what [objections] they were which I had against the Confession and Catechism; I replied, that I had nothing against those formularies, for that would be an act of prejudging, which I would not take upon myself; but that there were matters in those two productions, about which it was my wish to confer in a legitimate and orderly manner, with my brethren at their own time, in a Synod, whether on every point they be agreeable to the scriptures, or whether they dissent in any respect from them. For this purpose, that if, after a serious and strict examination, they be found to agree with the scriptures, they may be approved and confirmed by recent and fresh sanctions; or that, if found to dissent from them, they may be corrected as commodiously as possible.
He became urgent with me, therefore, and requested that I would disclose to him those points about which I was desirous to confer; and he declared, that he asked this favour for no other reason than that he might be able himself to think seriously about them. Unwilling positively to deny this his request, I began to produce some parts of the Confession, and especially the fourteenth Article. But he said, |that he made small account of this, because he thought something might easily be discovered in the Confession, which did not perfectly and in every respect correspond with the scriptures, at least with regard to its phraseology, for it was the composition of only a few persons, and in fact was written in the earliest times of the Reformation from Popery; and that he perceived very little danger in the Confession being corrected in some passages, since it was not much in use among the people.|
But when he began to be still more urgent concerning the Catechism, desirous in that particular likewise to gratify him, I adduced some passages, and, among others, the answer to the tenth question, in which God is said |by horrid methods to be angry both on account of birth-sins, and on account of those also which we ourselves commit,| &c. I said two things, in these words, might admit of discussion. (1.) Whether we could correctly call this universal taint in our nature |birth-sins| in the plural number. I had scarcely made this remark, when he, without waiting for any further explanation, said, |that on one occasion, while he was explaining the Catechism to some students, he had himself begun to think whether it was a good and proper phrase; but that he had defended it by this argument -- The Catechism employs the plural number on account of original sin itself, and on account of the sin committed by Adam which was the cause of that original sin.| But as I considered that kind of defense to be unworthy of any confutation, I said, it was better for him at once to own that these words required emendation, than to give such an explanation of them. After this conversation, I added another remark. (2.) It may admit of discussion, whether God could be angry on account of original sin which was born with us, since it seemed to be inflicted on us by God as a punishment of the actual sin which had been committed by Adam and by us in Him. For, in that case, the progress would be infinite, if God, angry on account of the actual sin of Adam, were to punish us with this original sin; were He again to be angry with us for this original sin, and inflict on us another punishment; and, for a similar cause were He a third time to be angry on account of that second punishment which had been inflicted, guilt and punishment thus mutually and frequently succeeding each other, without the intervention of any actual sin. When to this observation he replied, |that still it was sin.| I said, I did not deny that it was sin, but it was not actual sin. And I quoted the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the. Romans, in which the Apostle treats on the sin, and says that |it produces in the unregenerate all manner of concupiscence,| thus intimating that we must distinguish between actual sin, and that which was the cause of other sins, and which, on this very account might be denominated |sin.|
Matters were at that interview discussed between us in this placid manner, and for the purpose which I have just stated; and I know that I never spoke upon this subject in any other place. Yet this our conversation was related to a certain learned man, the very same day on which it occurred, either by the minister himself, or by some one who had heard it from him. I had it from the lips of this learned man himself; who urged it against me as an objection, within a few days after the minister and I had held this discourse: for the minister had resided at this learned man's house, during his stay in Leyden.
Is it equitable that things which are thus discussed among brethren for the sake of conference, should be instantly disseminated, and publicly proclaimed as heretical? I confess that I am devoid of all discernment, if such conduct as this is not the very violation of the law of all familiarity and friendship. Yet these are the persons who complain, that I decline to confer with them; that, when I am calmly asked, I refuse to declare my sentiments; and that I hold their minds in suspense.
To this article, therefore, I briefly reply: It is false that I said, |that this is not correctly expressed in the Catechism.| For I told that minister openly, that I would not prejudge the matter; that I was desirous to wait for the judgment of my brethren on matters of this kind, and on others which were comprised in the Catechism and Confession; and that, after things had been thus maturely and accurately weighed, something determinate might be concluded.
But a previous conference of this description seems to be attended with some utility on this account, it prevents any man from offering to the Synod itself for examination and abjudication those matters which, by such a private conversation as this, he might understand to have no difficulties in them. Let the brethren recall to mind what was asked of the Professors of Divinity in our University, by the Synod of South Holland, held at Gorchum, and let them compare it among themselves. We are asked diligently to read through the Confession and Catechism, and, if we find anything in them which merits animadversion, to announce the same seasonably and in order. And this, on my own part, I promised to do. For this purpose, is not a private conference with brethren highly useful, that what can be removed by it may not be proposed to the Synod for discussion, But that minister and I had known each other for many years; I had also long held epistolary correspondence with him, and had conversed with him on the articles of faith. On this account therefore, I thought that I ought to comply with his request, as an experiment whether he could expedite the affair.