Studies in Romans Part IX: The Universality of Sin -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 131:522 (Apr 1974)
Article: Studies in Romans Part IX: The Universality of Sin
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.


Studies in Romans
Part IX:
The Universality of Sin

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

[S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Outside of humanism, which by definition rests upon the claim of the greatness of man (and which by no means is dead1 ), it is doubtful that one can find greater agreement on any doctrine in the abstract than on the doctrine of the universality of sin. The Anglican Church’s General Confession begins with, “Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.” The fact that it is called “General” points to the universality of the confession of sin. Commenting upon this D. R. Davies remarks, “The very title, General Confession, is striking and significant. It is not a private or merely sectional confession, true of particular persons or of groups and classes, but of every human being without any exception whatsoever. It is a confession which applies to the total condition of the adulterer, the thief, the swindler, the criminal of any sort. But it is equally applicable to the philanthropist, to the just, the merciful, to the most devout and exalted saint. It is

true of the plumber, the lawer, the stockbroker, the statesman, the soldier and the bishop—especially the bishop.”2

Among some sermon notes of mine are a collection of quotations on the subject of sin. The documentation for them I do not have, but that is not of the greatest importance for the purpose of this study. “We have all sinned,” said the Roman philosopher Seneca, “some more, and some less.” Another Roman, Ovid, wrote, “We all strive for what is forbidden.” “There are two good men,” an ancient Chinese proverb runs, “one is dead and the other is not yet born.” And, who taught children to sin? If one child has nine toys—an auto, an airplane, a bucket, a shovel, and the rest—and another child playing nearby has only one, why is the former not happy until he has the latter’s one toy?

This sense of universal guilt is one of the profoundest facts in human history and experience. It seems to be so much a part of human nature that we cannot be said to be human unless we have it. It is found in the most primitive societies, those least exposed to the experiences of civilization. The universal prevalence of the practice of sacrifice illustrates it, as Davies points out. “Whatever the differences between ancient religions—and they are very many,” he says, “they were united in their recognition that man had offended his gods and ...

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