Guilt -- By: John Steinfort Kedney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 045:180 (Oct 1888)
Article: Guilt
Author: John Steinfort Kedney


Guilt1

John Steinfort Kedney

Julius Müller, in his treatise on “The Christian Doctrine of Sin,” finds an antinomy between the fact of “Original Sin” ( so called) and the human self-accusation called “Guilt.” In the survey of the ground occupied by the former, he finds no place for moral freedom, and that the seeming choice must be pre-determined by the necessities of the nature; and on the other hand concludes that the consciousness called “guilt” is inexplicable except upon the admission of moral freedom, since the self-accusation implies that the subject might have decided otherwise. Hence his attempt to resolve this antinomy by the notion of an extra-temporal decision, involving the subjects, having come under time conditions, in the chain of necessity. An examination into the genesis of the judgment of guilt may show that there is no need of any such postulate; which has, besides, its own other difficulties.

The feeling of guilt, in concrete experience, precedes the Judgment of guilt, and ever after accompanies it, such feeling anticipating obscurely the fully formed and conscious judgment; but as feeling, it is, in part at least, a posteriori in origin. It comes from the discovery in experience that suffering and ill-being are possible and actual; and that while much of it is indeed inevitable and indubitably ab extra, much beside might have been avoided, and has come from the violation of known laws of the universe. The simpler and more obvious the law, the sooner comes the retribution. The subtler and profounder the law, the remoter is the recoil. Sooner or later, and with variant depth of conviction, is the inference drawn that no law of the universe can be violated with impunity. Hence the dread of suffering, more or less clearly imagined, which is the primal feeling in human guilt. The inference is first and most readily drawn with reference to physical laws. To disregard the law of gravitation brings accident; to disregard the laws of health brings bodily pain; to disregard social laws brings various and remoter distress; to disregard the simpler moral maxims, such as command truth and honesty, is met by punishment in so many cases, as to arouse the suspicion or create the conviction that every violation of moral law must meet its return in suffering,

or something equally to be dreaded. To set the whole life in violation of known moral law and by a refined prudence to evade its speedy, and fence off its remoter retribution may indeed dull the apprehension, since imagination cannot wander very far into the remote, yet not so utterly as to put to sleep the dread that the law of retribution has n...

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