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Reference: Guilt


1. Guilt may be defined in terms of relativity. It is rather the abiding result of sin than sin itself (see Pearson's Exposition of the Creed, ed. James Nichols, p. 514 f.). It is not punishment, or even liability to punishment, for this presupposes personal consciousness of wrong-doing and leaves out of account the attitude of God to sin unwittingly committed (Le 5:1 ff.; cf. Lu 12:48; Ro 5:13; see Sanday-Headlam, Romans, p. 144). On the other hand, we may describe it as a condition, a state, or a relation; the resultant of two forces drawing different ways (Ro 7:14 ff.). It includes two essential factors, without which it would be unmeaning as an objective reality or entity. At one point stands personal holiness, including whatever is holy in man; at another, personal corruption, including what is evil in man. Man's relation to God, as it is affected by sin, is what constitutes guilt in the widest sense of the word. The human struggle after righteousness is the surest evidence of man's consciousness of racial and personal guilt, and an acknowledgment that his position in this respect is not normal.

We are thus enabled to see that when moral obliquity arising from or reinforced by natural causes, adventitious circumstances, or personal environment, issues in persistent, wilful wrong-doing, it becomes or is resolved into guilt, and involves punishment which is guilt's inseparable accompaniment. In the OT the ideas of sin, guilt, and punishment are so inextricably interwoven that it is impossible to treat of one without in some way dealing with the other two, and the word for each is used interchangeably for the others (see Schultz, OT Theol. ii. p. 306). An example of this is found in Cain's despairing complaint, where the word 'punishment' (Ge 4:13 English Version) includes both the sin committed and the guilt attaching thereto (cf. Le 26:41).

2. In speaking of the guilt of the race or of the individual, some knowledge of a law governing moral actions must be presupposed (cf. Joh 9:41; 15:22,24). It is when the human will enters into conscious antagonism to the Divine will that guilt emerges into objective existence and crystallizes (see Martensen, Christian Dogmatics, Eng. tr p. 203 ff.). An educative process is thus required in order to bring home to the human race that sense of guilt without which progress is impossible (cf. Ro 3:20; 7:7). As soon, however, as this consciousness is established, the first step on the road to rebellion against sin is taken, and the sinner's relation to God commences to become fundamentally altered from what it was. A case in point, illustrative of this inchoate stage, is afforded by Joseph's brothers in their tardy recognition of a guilt which seems to have been latent in a degree, so far as their consciousness was concerned, up to the period of threatened consequences (Ge 42:21; cf. for a similar example of strange moral blindness, on the part of David, 2Sa 12:1 ff.). Their subsequent conduct was characterized by clumsy attempts to undo the mischief of which they had been the authors. A like feature is observable in the attitude of the Philistines when restoring the sacred 'ark of the covenant' to the offended Jehovah. A 'guilt-offering' had to be sent as a restitution for the wrong done (1Sa 6:3, cf. 2Ki 12:16). This natural instinct was developed and guided in the Levitical institutions by formal ceremony and religious rite, which were calculated to deepen still further the feeling of guilt and fear of Divine wrath. Even when the offence was committed in ignorance, as soon as its character was revealed to the offender, he became thereupon liable to punishment, and had to expiate his guilt by restitution and sacrifice, or by a 'guilt-offering' (AV 'trespass offering,' Le 5:15 ff; Le 6:1 ff.). To this a fine, amounting to one-fifth of the value of the wrong done in the case of a neighbour, was added and given to the injured party (Le 6:5; Nu 5:6 f.). How widely diffused this special rite had become is evidenced by the numerous incidental references of Ezekiel (Eze 40:39; 42:13; 44:29; 46:20); while perhaps the most remarkable allusion to this service of restitution occurs in the later Isaiah, where the ideal Servant of Jehovah is described as a 'guilt-offering' (Isa 53:10).

3. As might be expected, the universality of human guilt is nowhere more insistently dwelt on or more fully realized than in the Psalms (cf. Ps 14:2; 53:2, where the expression 'the sons of men' reveals the scope of the poet's thought; see also Ps 36 with its antithesis

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