Sin (3)

4. Concerning the guilt, vileness and offensiveness of sin in the sight of God, my words shall be few. I say 'few' advisedly. I do not think, in the nature of things, that mortal man can at all realize the exceeding sinfulness of sin in the sight of that holy and perfect One with whom we have to do. On the one hand, God is that eternal Being who 'chargeth His angels with folly', and in whose sight the very 'heavens are not dean'. He is One who reads thoughts and motives as well as actions and requires 'truth in the inward parts' (Job_4:18; Job_15:15; Psa_51:6). We, on the other hand - poor blind creatures, here today and gone tomorrow, born in sin, surrounded by sinners, living in a constant atmosphere of weakness, infirmity and imperfection - can form none but the most inadequate conceptions of the hideousness of evil. We have no line to fathom it and no measure by which to gauge it. The blind man can see no difference between a masterpiece of Titian or Raphael and the queen's head on a village signboard. The deaf man cannot distinguish between a penny whistle and a cathedral organ. The very animals whose smell is most offensive to us have no idea that they are offensive and are not offensive to one another. And man, fallen man, I believe, can have no just idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of that God whose handiwork is absolutely perfect - perfect whether we look through telescope or microscope; perfect in the formation of a mighty planet like Jupiter, with his satellites, keeping time to a second as he rolls round the sun; perfect in the formation of the smallest insect that crawls over a foot of ground. But let us nevertheless settle it firmly in our minds that sin is 'the abominable thing that God hateth'; that God 'is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and cannot look upon that which is evil'; that the least transgression of God's law makes us 'guilty of all'; that 'the soul that sinneth shall die'; that 'the wages of sin is death'; that God shall 'judge the secrets of men'; that there is a worm that never dies and a fire that is not quenched; that 'the wicked shall be turned into hell' and 'shall go away into everlasting punishment'; and that 'nothing that defiles shall in any wise enter' heaven (Jer_44:4; Hab_1:13; Jam_2:10; Eze_18:4; Rom_6:23; Rom_2:16; Mar_9:44; Psa_9:17; Mat_25:46; Rev_21:27). These are indeed tremendous words, when we consider that they are written in the book of a most merciful God!

No proof of the fulness of sin, after all, is so overwhelming and unanswerable as the cross and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the whole doctrine of His substitution and atonement. Terribly black must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction. Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops of blood in agony at Gethsemane and cry at Golgotha, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' (Mat_27:46). Nothing, I am convinced, will astonish us so much, when we awake in the resurrection day, as the view we shall have of sin and the retrospect we shall take of our own countless shortcomings and defects. Never till the hour when Christ comes the second time shall we fully realize the 'sinfulness of sin'. Well might George Whitefield say, 'The anthem in heaven will be: What hath God wrought!'

5. One point only remains to be considered on the subject of sin, which I dare not pass over. That point is its deceitfulness. It is a point of most serious importance and I venture to think it does not receive the attention which it deserves. You may see this deceitfulness in the wonderful proneness of men to regard sin as less sinful and dangerous than it is in the sight of God and in their readiness to extenuate it, make excuses for it and minimize its guilt. 'It is but a little one! God is merciful! God is not extreme to mark what is done amiss! We mean well! One cannot be so particular! Where is the mighty harm? We only do as others!' Who is not familiar with this kind of language? You may see it in the long string of smooth words and phrases which men have coined in order to designate things which God calls downright wicked and ruinous to the soul. What do such expressions as "fast', 'gay', 'wild', 'unsteady', 'thoughtless', 'loose' mean? They show that men try to cheat themselves into the belief that sin is not quite so sinful as God says it is, and that they are not so bad as they really are. You may see it in the tendency even of believers to indulge their children in questionable practices, and to blind their own eyes to the inevitable result of the love of money, of tampering with temptation and sanctioning a low standard of family religion. I fear we do not sufficiently realize the extreme subtlety of our soul's disease. We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself to us in its true colours, saying, 'I am your deadly enemy and I want to ruin you for ever in hell.' Oh, no! Sin comes to us, like Judas, with a kiss, and like Joab, with an outstretched hand and flattering words. The forbidden fruit seemed good and desirable to Eve, yet it east her out of Eden. The walking idly on his palace roof seemed harmless enough to David, yet it ended in adultery and murder. Sin rarely seems sin at its first beginnings. Let us then watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation. We may give wickedness smooth names, but we cannot alter its nature and character in the sight of God. Let us remember St Paul's words: 'Exhort one another daily, lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin' (Heb_3:13). It is a wise prayer in our Litany: 'From the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil, good Lord, deliver us.'

And now, before I go further, let me briefly mention two thoughts which appear to me to rise with irresistible force out of the subject.

On the one hand, I ask my readers to observe what deep reasons we all have for humiliation and self-abasement. Let us sit down before the picture of sin displayed to us in the Bible and consider what guilty, vile, corrupt creatures we all are in the sight of God. What need we all have of that entire change of heart called regeneration, new birth or conversion! What a mass of infirmity and imperfection cleaves to the very best of us at our very best! What a solemn thought it is that 'without holiness no man shall see the Lord'! (Heb_12:14). What cause we have to cry with the publican every night in our lives, when we think of our sins of omission as well as commission, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!' (Luk_18:13). How admirably suited are the general and communion confessions of the Prayer Book to the actual condition of all professing Christians! How well that language suits God's children which the Prayer Book puts in the mouth of every churchman before he goes up to the communion table: 'The remembrance of our misdoings is grievous unto us; the burden is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past.' How true it is that the holiest saint is in himself a miserable sinner and a debtor to mercy and grace to the last moment of his existence!

With my whole heart I subscribe to that passage in Hooker's sermon on 'Justification', which begins: 'Let the holiest and best things we do be considered. We are never better affected unto God than when we pray; yet when we pray, how are our affections many times distracted! How little reverence do we show unto the grand majesty of God unto whom we speak! How little remorse of our own miseries! How little taste of the sweet influence of His tender mercies do we feel! Are we not as unwilling many times to begin, and as glad to make an end, as if in saying, "Call upon Me," He had set us a very burdensome task? It may seem somewhat extreme, which I will speak; therefore, let every one judge of it, even as his own heart shall tell him, and not otherwise; I will but only make a demand! If God should yield unto us, not as unto Abraham - if fifty, forty, thirty, twenty, yea, or if ten good persons could be found in a city, for their sakes this city should not be destroyed but, and if He should make us an offer thus large: "Search all the generations of men since the Fall of our father Adam, find one man that hath done one action which hath passed from him pure, without any stain or blemish at all, and for that one man's only action neither man nor angel should feel the torments which are prepared for both," do you think that this ransom to deliver men and angels could be found to be among the sons of men? The best things which we do have somewhat in them to be pardoned. ‹1›

to be continued