The Authority of Scripture: No. 3 - Man Accountable to God

 •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 7
James Boyd
No. 3. — Man Accountable to God
Conscience came in by the fall. Then God said, “The man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Gen. 3). This the Scriptures declare; and we know that man does possess a conscience, whatever may have been the circumstance under which he came to possess it. It is the intrinsic power by which he is able to judge of good and evil when they come before him.
It has been contended that what men call conscience is simply the result of education; but when we hear the Creator say that the ability to know good and evil made man “like one of us,” it is clear that, in the Scriptural sense of the word, education has nothing to do with the creation of such a faculty. It is not beyond being affected by education; it may be blinded, where the soul is schooled in error; benumbed also, where it has been ill-treated; but it is not the effect of education, or the result of coming under an imposed rule of life. The judgment which God passes upon actions is His own judgment, having nothing whatever to do with law, or environment, or anything external to Himself.
Man came into possession of this faculty by his disobedience. It is fallen man who has this conscience. He knows good and evil, but knows the evil as something which has power over him, and good as a thing to the possession of which he can no longer lay claim. Yet he does not like to confess this. He will say a great deal in favor of himself, a great deal in favor of man in the abstract; but he has the inward consciousness of his own imperfections. He knows that, to an extent, evil has the mastery over him; and his fellowmen he regards with distrust. To get along through the world at all, he finds it necessary to place a certain amount of confidence in his fellows, but just as little of that as will serve the end he has in view; and when that confidence is abused, although he may become very angry, he is not greatly disappointed, for it was with a certain amount of hesitation he trusted him at at all. He knows a little about himself, and from what he finds in himself he judges his neighbor; and in this he does not greatly err, for all men are alike evil.
It is not the Bible alone that tells men they are not what they ought to be (which is equivalent to saying that they are not what God made them, for if they are what God made them, they have no business to seek to be anything else), though he is there described from the tip of the leaf to the very roots of his moral being; but he has the witness in his conscience that there is a great difference between him and a perfect being. Each man is ashamed of the wicked thoughts which inhabit his own breast, though he knows very well that they are not morally worse than the thoughts of the man at his elbow. In a world of sinners he is ashamed of being a sinner, and, therefore, he makes efforts to hide the nakedness of his lamentable condition from the scrutiny of his neighbor, whose condition he knows to be no better than his own.
However unpleasant it may be, man cannot get out of his mind the thought that there must come a time for the settling of accounts, a day in which he must give account for the deeds done in the body. He is unable to shake himself free from this suspicion, for he knows that he holds his fellows accountable for their actions, as far as they affect his interests. They may plead, in extenuation of their offense, that they are just as they were made, and their actions were only the manifestations of the nature with which they were born, but he would not accept this as sufficient excuse for their transgression. He would tell them they should be different, or at least they should act differently with regard to him. Their paltry excuses would fall upon deaf ears.
But if this be so amongst men, it must be admitted that God has rights, which must be respected as well as those belonging to men. He cannot be the only one who has got no rights of any kind. I have responsibilities with regard to the throne of the kingdom of which I am a subject. Has God a throne? Are men His subjects in any sense? Does He hold them accountable? or has He thrown the reins upon the neck of humanity? If I am accountable to Him, and if He has got rights over me which I ignore, what will happen? Do I go free? Is He to receive no compensation? If so, God has practically no rights, for He is either indifferent to my trespass, or He is unable to safeguard His rights: I trespass upon them with impunity; offense exists only in name, and there is no righteousness.
Do not tell me that men are punished for their offenses in the present life, and that there can be nothing after death in the way of stripes for sin, for suffering in the present life is not always the effect of sin committed by the one who suffers. Men are born cripples, blind, deaf, idiotic; how have these transgressed? The transgressor often goes through life without the least mishap. When, and in what way, does the punishment of such take place? How is the man to be punished who has wronged, hated, cursed, insulted, and robbed his neighbor? and how is he to be punished who has given all this back with interest?
The self-respect of a man will often keep him from loose company, but he will not allow that his Creator has any partiality for the pure in heart, more than for the abominable. Man hates the good and loves the evil, and in spite of his self-respect, his actions prove his preference for the latter; but he has a conscience which approves the good that he hates, and condemns the evil that he loves; and yet if both are alike to God, what right have I, who am His creature, to make any distinction? Good is evil, and evil good; right is wrong, and wrong right; filthiness is purity, and purity filthiness: this must be so if everything is alike to God.
The principle of accountability is found all the world over, however men may seek to shirk it. If I trespass upon my neighbor, he will very quickly let me know that I cannot do this with impunity. I may have a desire to trespass upon his property, to appropriate for my own use that which he claims as his. He does not excuse in me the covetous spirit which possesses me. He will tell me that I have no right to that which he has inherited, or purchased with the sweat of his brow, or bought with his money; and though the selfish spirit in others might not much object to see him defrauded, they must, in order to safeguard themselves, acknowledge the righteousness of his claim.
How is it that the intelligent creation has been placed upon these moral foundations? Are we to be taught nothing regarding God by all this? How and why is it, that such a principle is found in the minds of men? Why have we been set in relationship with one another, so that such obligations exist? The thought of righteousness, truth, love and peace is found in the hearts of men, and they are the principles upon which relationships with one another are established. Why is this? Could not another order of things have been established, where such principles would have been unknown?
That these principles have been founded is enough for me. I know no relationship which does not carry with it responsibilities. Has man no relationship with God? If not, he is nothing but a beast. He may be the cleverest beast there is, but he is nothing more if he has no link with God. That which elevates man above the brute creation is his link with God. Put aside the idea of accountability to God, and you have degraded him to the level of the brute creation. His cleverness does not give him any moral pre-eminence. He may be the most clever and inventive of all the brute creation; and when you have said that, you have said all that can be said if he has no responsibility to God. This is how man dishonors himself when he casts off God. This is where he brings himself by his infidelity. And yet, were he injured by a beast, you would not find him saying it had no right so to act. He does not after all connect the thought of responsibility with the other beasts which are less clever than he is.
In this world men, who have themselves no honorable distinction, boast of their connection with those who have. Like certain planets, their glory is derived from the orb to which they are attached; having no glory of their own, they attract no attention once they are robbed of their connection with their brilliant center. It is so with man, whose dignity consists in his having to say to God. It is because of this he has been formed to walk erect, and lift up his head to heaven, in contrast with the beast who looks downward into the earth, from whence he sprang and into which he sinks again. Man became a living soul by the inbreathing of God; and this returns to God who gave it; not so the beast, which was made a living soul by the fiat of God, and whose spirit, as well as his body, goes back to the earth again (Eccl. 3:2121Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? (Ecclesiastes 3:21)).
The Scriptures tell us it was this abandonment of God on the part of man that brought all the evil into the world at the beginning. That he has proved himself to be very clever and inventive is unquestionable, but he has used his cleverness to set himself up in independence of God. He has built up and embellished a world for his own glory and the gratification of corrupt fallen nature, and the door of which he has carefully bolted against the knowledge of God. Moralists are not wanting either, for people have consciences and wants, and fears for the future which require to be set somehow at rest. We are told that all will come right in the end; good will be the final goal for all; man is at present building his own heaven, or scooping out his own hell by his works; and after all, misery is not eternal, for the sinner must be given chance after chance, either in the present life or in some other undefined existence, until in the end he reaches perfection.
This is the human mind gone stark mad. It is against all reason and experience, leaving Scripture out of the question. It is the downgrade with most people in, the present life. A child is more free from guile, hypocrisy, deceit, envy, and every kind of wickedness, than a grown person. All experience goes to prove that there will always be the downward tendency unless some powerful intervention outside man himself comes in to stay it. The child, as I have said, is more innocent of evil than the adult. I do not say the tree is different in old age from what it was in its youth, for trees do not change their nature. The nature of a man is the same in an infant as it is in a centenarian, but the development of that nature means an evil life. There is no upward tendency; it is all downward. Give a man another chance, and will he do any better? His past experience will not help him, for every man knows that the way of transgressors is hard, and that satisfaction is not found in the fulfillment of the lusts of the flesh; but the lusts of the flesh they will fulfill, even at the risk of eternal damnation. No danger is a sufficient deterrent in the pathway of lust. I do not mean lust in any unclean sense, but the desires of the carnal appetite. And is there no one, and nothing, with ability to throw light upon all this confusion and unspeakable tangle of discordant ideas? Is there nothing which can put everything in its proper place, so that we may come to know the whole truth of the matter? What is there under the sun which can solve for us the problem of life? What about death — its gloom, horror, silence? Will the dead come forth again? Must we give account to God? What is the disposition of Him to whom I am responsible? What is His nature? Is He hard, unkind, cruel, envious, careless as to my happiness or misery? Is He like men, as I know men? Who can answer these questions to the satisfaction of my heart? The Bible, and the Bible alone, comes to my rescue in the midst of the surrounding gloom, and sets sin, death, judgment, God and man, heaven and hell, paradise and perdition, before me in their true light, and my darkness is dispelled, and worship fills my soul.
Bible Reading
A man tells me that he reads the Bible through once every year. I reply, no man can read the Bible through. This he can do literally, measurably, externally; he can utter articulately and distinctly every word in the Bible, but he has not read the Bible through. It has no “through.” It grows as it is read; it turns the reader back again; he cannot read the twenty-third Psalm without turning back to see what the twenty-second says; and when he has found “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” he can get into the twenty-third, which says “The Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want.” The Bible calls for recapitulation, review, another study of the last page; and so it lures its readers on by sending them back, that they may not drop a single ear of corn which they have gleaned in the field of revelation.
That time is never wasted in which a man stays to pray before he goes to work.
“I Will Fear No Evil.”
A mother one morning gave her two little ones books and toys to amuse them, while she went to attend to some work in an upper room. Half an hour passed quietly, and then a timid voice at the foot of the stairs called out, “Mamma, are you there?”
“Yes, darling.”
“All right, then;” and the child went back to its play.
By and by the question was repeated, “Mamma, are you there?”
“All right, then;” and the little ones reassured of their mother’s presence, again returned to their toys.
Thus we, God’s little ones, in doubt and loneliness sometimes, look up and ask, “My Father, art Thou there?” and when there comes in answer the assurance of His presence, our hearts are quieted.