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Chapter XV.—On the Different Kinds of Voluntary Actions, and the Sins Thence Proceeding.

What is voluntary is either what is by desire, or what is by choice, or what is of intention. Closely allied to each other are these things—sin, mistake, crime. It is sin, for example, to live luxuriously and licentiously; a misfortune, to wound one’s friend in ignorance, taking him for an enemy; and crime, to violate graves or p. 362 commit sacrilege. Sinning arises from being unable to determine what ought to be done, or being unable to do it; as doubtless one falls into a ditch either through not knowing, or through inability to leap across through feebleness of body. But application to the training of ourselves, and subjection to the commandments, is in our own power; with which if we will have nothing to do, by abandoning ourselves wholly to lust, we shall sin, nay rather, wrong our own soul. For the noted Laius says in the tragedy:—

“None of these things of which you admonish me have escaped me;
But notwithstanding that I am in my senses, Nature compels me;”

i.e., his abandoning himself to passion. Medea, too, herself cries on the stage:—

“And I am aware what evils I am to perpetrate,
But passion is stronger than my resolutions.” 2294

Further, not even Ajax is silent; but, when about to kill himself, cries:—

“No pain gnaws the soul of a free man like dishonour.
Thus do I suffer; and the deep stain of calamity
Ever stirs me from the depths, agitated
By the bitter stings of rage.” 2295

Anger made these the subjects of tragedy, and lust made ten thousand others—Phædra, Anthia, Eriphyle,—

“Who took the precious gold for her dear husband.”

For another play represents Thrasonides of the comic drama as saying:—

“A worthless wench made me her slave.”

Mistake is a sin contrary to calculation; and voluntary sin is crime (ἀδικία); and crime is voluntary wickedness. Sin, then, is on my part voluntary. Wherefore says the apostle, “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” 2296 Addressing those who have believed, he says, “For by His stripes we were healed.” 2297 Mistake is the involuntary action of another towards me, while a crime (ἀδικία) alone is voluntary, whether my act or another’s. These differences of sins are alluded to by the Psalmist, when he calls those blessed whose iniquities (ἀνομίας) God hath blotted out, and whose sins (ἁμαρτίας) He hath covered. Others He does not impute, and the rest He forgives. For it is written, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin, and in whose mouth there is no fraud.” 2298 This blessedness came on those who had been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord. For “love hides the multitude of sins.” 2299 And they are blotted out by Him “who desireth the repentance rather than the death of a sinner.” 2300 And those are not reckoned that are not the effect of choice; “for he who has lusted has already committed adultery,” 2301 it is said. And the illuminating Word forgives sins: “And in that time, saith the Lord, they shall seek for the iniquity of Israel, and it shall not exist; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found.” 2302 “For who is like Me? and who shall stand before My face? 2303 You see the one God declared good, rendering according to desert, and forgiving sins. John, too, manifestly teaches the differences of sins, in his larger Epistle, in these words: “If any man see his brother sin a sin that is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life: for these that sin not unto death,” he says. For “there is a sin unto death: I do not say that one is to pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin; and there is a sin not unto death.” 2304

David, too, and Moses before David, show the knowledge of the three precepts in the following words: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly;” as the fishes go down to the depths in darkness; for those which have not scales, which Moses prohibits touching, feed at the bottom of the sea. “Nor standeth in the way of sinners,” as those who, while appearing to fear the Lord, commit sin, like the sow, for when hungry it cries, and when full knows not its owner. “Nor sitteth in the chair of pestilences,” as birds ready for prey. And Moses enjoined not to eat the sow, nor the eagle, nor the hawk, nor the raven, nor any fish without scales. So far Barnabas. 2305 And I heard one skilled in such matters say that “the counsel of the ungodly” was the heathen, and “the way of sinners” the Jewish persuasion, and explain “the chair of pestilence” of heresies. And another said, with more propriety, that the first blessing was assigned to those who had not followed wicked sentiments which revolt from God; the second to those who do not remain in the wide and broad road, whether they be those who have been brought up in the law, or Gentiles who have repented. And “the chair of pestilences” will be the theatres and tribunals, or rather the compliance with wicked and deadly powers, and complicity with their deeds. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord.” 2306 Peter in his Preaching p. 363 called the Lord, Law and Logos. The legislator seems to teach differently the interpretation of the three forms of sin—understanding by the mute fishes sins of word, for there are times in which silence is better than speech, for silence has a safe recompense; sins of deed, by the rapacious and carnivorous birds. The sow delights in dirt and dung; and we ought not to have “a conscience” that is “defiled.” 2307

Justly, therefore, the prophet says, “The ungodly are not so: but as the chaff which the wind driveth away from the face of the earth. Wherefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment” 2308 (being already condemned, for “he that believeth not is condemned already” 2309 ), “nor sinners in the counsel of the righteous,” inasmuch as they are already condemned, so as not to be united to those that have lived without stumbling. “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; and the way of the ungodly shall perish.” 2310

Again, the Lord clearly shows sins and transgressions to be in our own power, by prescribing modes of cure corresponding to the maladies; showing His wish that we should be corrected by the shepherds, in Ezekiel; blaming, I am of opinion, some of them for not keeping the commandments. “That which was enfeebled ye have not strengthened,” and so forth, down to, “and there was none to search out or turn away.” 2311

For “great is the joy before the Father when one sinner is saved,” 2312 saith the Lord. So Abraham was much to be praised, because “he walked as the Lord spake to him.” Drawing from this instance, one of the wise men among the Greeks uttered the maxim, “Follow God.” 2313 “The godly,” says Esaias, “framed wise counsels.” 2314 Now counsel is seeking for the right way of acting in present circumstances, and good counsel is wisdom in our counsels. And what? Does not God, after the pardon bestowed on Cain, suitably not long after introduce Enoch, who had repented? 2315 showing that it is the nature of repentance to produce pardon; but pardon does not consist in remission, but in remedy. An instance of the same is the making of the calf by the people before Aaron. Thence one of the wise men among the Greeks uttered the maxim, “Pardon is better than punishment;” as also, “Become surety, and mischief is at hand,” is derived from the utterance of Solomon which says, “My son, if thou become surety for thy friend, thou wilt give thine hand to thy enemy; for a man’s own lips are a strong snare to him, and he is taken in the words of his own mouth.” 2316 And the saying, “Know thyself,” has been taken rather more mystically from this, “Thou hast seen thy brother, thou hast seen thy God.” 2317 Thus also, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself;” for it is said, “On these commandments the law and the prophets hang and are suspended.” 2318 With these also agree the following: “These things have I spoken to you, that My joy might be fulfilled: and this is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” 2319 “For the Lord is merciful and pitiful; and gracious 2320 is the Lord to all.” 2321 “Know thyself” is more clearly and often expressed by Moses, when he enjoins, “Take heed to thyself.” 2322 “By alms then, and acts of faith, sins are purged.” 2323 “And by the fear of the Lord each one departs from evil.” 2324 “And the fear of the Lord is instruction and wisdom.” 2325



Eurip., Medea, 1078.


These lines, which are not found in the Ajax of Sophocles, have been amended by various hands. Instead of συμφοροὺσα, we have ventured to read συμφορᾶςκηλὶς συμφορᾶς being a Sophoclean phrase, and συμφοροῦσα being unsuitable.


Rom. 4:7, 8.


1 Pet. ii. 24.


Ps. 32:1, 2; Rom. 4:7, 8.


1 Pet. iv. 8.


Ezek. xxxiii. 11.


Matt. v. 28.


Jer. i. 20.


Jer. xlix. 19.


1 John 5:16, 17.


Ps. i. 1 (quoted from Barnabas, with some additions and omissions). [See vol. i. p. 143, this series.]


Ps. i. 2.


1 Cor. viii. 7.


Ps. 1:4, 5.


John iii. 18.


Ps. 1:5, 6.


Ezek. xxxiv. 4-6.


These words are not in Scripture, but the substance of them is contained in Luke 15:7, 10.


One of the precepts of the seven wise men.


Isa. xxxii. 8, Sept.


Philo explains Enoch’s translation allegorically, as denoting reformation or repentance.


Prov. 6:1, 2.


Quoted as if in Scripture, but not found there. The allusion may be, as is conjectured, to what God said to Moses respecting him and Aaron, to whom he was to be as God; or to Jacob saying to Esau, “I have seen thy face as it were the face of God.”


Luke x. 27, etc.


John 15:11, 12.


χρηστός instread of χριστός which is in the text.


Ps. cviii. 8, cxi. 4.


Ex. x. 28, xxxiv. 12; Deut. iv. 9.


Prob. Ecclus. iii. 29.


Prov. iii. 7.


Ecclus. i. 27.

Next: Chapter XVI.—How We are to Explain the Passages of Scripture Which Ascribe to God Human Affections.