Sermon 1095. The Monster Dragged to Light
A SERMON DELIVERED ON LORD'S-DAY MORNING, FEBRUARY 9, 1873,
BY REV. C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"Sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceedinglysinful." Romans 7:13.
"Philosophers have measured mountains Fathom'd the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walked with a staff to Hea ven and traced fountains: But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it does more behoove:
Yet few there are that sound them- Sin and Love."
So sang George Herbert, that sweet and saintly poet, and of one of those "two vast spacious things" we are about to speakon this morning-namely, sin. May the Holy Spirit direct us in thought and speech while into the very center of our subjectwe plunge at once, keeping to the words of our text.
I. Our first point to consider this morning shall be that TO MANY MEN SIN DOES NOT APPEAR SIN. Yes, and in all men in theirnatural blindness there is an ignorance of what sin is. It needs the power of the Divine Omnipotence, the voice of that sameMajesty, which said, "Let there be light," and there was light to illuminate the human mind, or else it will remain in darknessas to much of its own actual sin and the deep and deadly evil which belongs to it. Man, with wretched perverseness of misconception,abides content in a wrong idea of it. His deeds are evil and he will not come to the light lest he should know more concerningthat evil than he wishes to know.
Moreover, such is the power of self-esteem that though sin abounds in the sinner he will not readily be brought to feel orconfess its existence. There are men in this world, steeped up to the throat in iniquity, who never dream that they have committedanything worse than little faults. There are those whose souls are saturated with it till they are like the wool that hasbeen lying in the scarlet dye-and yet they conceive themselves as white as snow. This is due in part to that dullness of consciencewhich is the result of the Fall. Though I have heard 10,000 times that conscience is the deputy of God in the soul of man,I have never been able to subscribe to that dogma.
It is no such thing! In many persons conscience is perverted. In others only a fragment of it remains and in all it is fallibleand subject to aberrations. Conscience is in all men a thing of degrees dependent upon education, example and previous character.It is an eye of the soul, but it is frequently partly blind and weak and always needs light from above or else it does butmock the soul. Conscience is a faculty of the mind, which, like every other, has suffered serious damage through our naturaldepravity and it is by no means perfect. It is only the understanding acting upon moral subjects and upon such matters itoften puts bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, darkness for light and light for darkness. Therefore it is that men's sinsdo not appear to them to be sin.
In all probability there is not one, even among renewed men, who fully knows the evil of sin nor will there be until in Heavenwe shall be perfect. And then, when we shall see the perfection of Divine holiness, we shall understand how black a thingwas sin. Men who have lived underground all their lives do not know how dark the mine is, nor can they know it until theystand in the blaze of a summer's noon. In a great measure, our inability to see sin arises from the exceedingly deceitfulnessboth of sin and of the human heart. Sin assumes the brightest forms even as Satan attires himself as an angel of light. Sucha thing as iniquity walking abroad in its own nakedness is seldom seen-like Jezebel it attires its head and paints its face.And, indeed, the heart loves to have it so and is eager to be deceived.
We will, if we can, extenuate our faults. We are all very quick-sighted to perceive something, which, if it does not quiteexcuse our fault, at all events prevents its being placed in the first-class of atrocities. Sometimes we will not
understand the Commandment. We are willing not to know its force and stringency. It is too keen and sharp and we try to bluntits edge. If we can find a milder meaning for it we are glad to do so, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperatelywicked"-therefore it invents a thousand falsehoods. As the deceivableness of sin is very great, so that it adorns itself withthe colors of righteousness and makes men believe that they are pleasing God when they are offending Him, so is man, himself,an eager self-deceiver and, like the fool in Solomon's Proverbs, he readily follows the flatterer.
In most men, their not seeing sin to be sin arises from their ignorance of the spirituality of the Law. Men read the Ten Commandmentsand they suppose them to mean nothing more than the superficial sense. If they read, for instance, "You shall do no murder,"straightway they say, "I have never broken that Law." But they forget that he that hates his brother is a murderer and thatunrighteous anger is a distinct violation of the command. If I willfully do anything which tends to destroy or shorten life,either my own or my neighbor's, I am breaking the Commandment.
A man finds it written, "You shall not commit adultery." "Well, well," he says, "I am clear there." Straightway he plumeshimself upon the supposition that he is chastity itself. But if he is given to understand that the command touches the heartand that a licentious look is adultery, and that even a desire to do that which is evil condemns the soul, then straightwayhe sees things in a very different light and sees that to be sin which had never troubled him before. Commonly-yes, universally-untilthe Spirit of God comes into the soul there is a total ignorance as to what the Law means. Men say, with a light heart, "Lord,have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this Law." But, if they did but know it, they would say, "Lord, have mercyupon us, and cleanse us of our innumerable infractions of a Law which we cannot keep and which must forever condemn us aslong as we abide under its power."
Thus you see a few of the reasons why sin does not appear in its true light to the unconverted, but cheats impenitent andself-righteous minds. This is one of the most deplorable results of sin. It injures us most by taking from us the capacityto know how much we are injured. It undermines the man's constitution and yet leads him to boast of unfailing health. It makeshim a beggar and tells him he is rich. It strips him and makes him glory in his fancied robes. In this it resembles slavery,which, by degrees eats into the soul and makes a man content in his chains. Bondage at length degrades a man so that at lasthe forgets the misery of slavery and the dignity of freedom and is unable to strike the blow when a happy hour offers himthe chance of liberty.
Sin, like the deadly frost of the northern regions, benumbs its victim before it slays him. Man is so diseased that he fancieshis disease to be health and judges healthy men to be under wild delusions. He loves the enemy which destroys him! He warmsat his bosom the viper whose fangs cause his death. The most unhappy thing that can happen to a man is for him to be sinfuland to judge his sinfulness to be righteousness! The Papist advances to his alter and bows before a piece of bread-but hedoes not feel that he is committing idolatry-no, he believes that he is acting in a praiseworthy manner! The persecutor houndedhis fellow creatures to prison and to death, but he thought he verily did God a service! You and I can see the idolatry ofthe Papist and the murder committed by the persecutor-but the guilty persons do not see it.
The passionate man imagines himself to be rightly indignant. The greedy man is proud of his own prudence. The unbeliever rejoicesin his independence of mind. These are the aspects under which iniquity presents itself to the spiritually blind. There isthe mischief of sin-that it throws out of gear the balances by which the soul discerns between good and evil! What horriblebeings those must have been who could run down a vessel crowded with living souls and then, while hearing them shriek andcry for help, could go steaming away from them, leaving them all to perish in the overwhelming waters! To what a state ofinhumanity must they have sunk to be able to do such a thing! The wreck of the vessel is hardly more dreadful than the wreckof the moral sense and common humanity in those who left the hundreds to die when they might have saved them.
To be able to stab a man would be horrible. But, to be so bad that after stabbing him you felt no sense of wrong doing wouldbe far worse. Yet with every act of sin there goes a measure of heart-hardening, so that he who is capable of great crimesis usually incapable of knowing them to be such. With the ungodly this pestilential influence is very powerful, leading themto cry, "peace, peace," where there is no peace and to rebel against the most Holy God without fear or compunction. And, alas,since even in the saints there remains the old nature, even they are not altogether free from the darkening power of sin,for I do not hesitate to say that we all unwittingly allow ourselves into practices which, clearer light would show to besins.
Even the best of men have done this in the past. For instance, John Newton, in his trading for slaves in his early days, neverseemed to have felt that there was any wrong in it. And Whitefield, in accepting slaves for his orphanage in Georgia, neverraised or dreamed of raising the question as to whether slavery was in itself sinful. Perhaps advancing light will show thatmany of the habits and customs of our present civilization are essentially bad and our grandsons will wonder how we couldhave acted as we did. It may need centuries before the national conscience, or even the common Christian conscience, willbe enlightened up to the true standard of right-and the individual man may need many a chastisement and rebuke from the Lordbefore he has fully discerned between good and evil.
O you demon, Sin! You are proved to be sin with a vengeance, by thus deluding us! You do not only poison us, but make us imagineour poison to be medicine-you defile us and make us think ourselves the more beautiful! You slay us and make us dream thatwe are enjoying life! My Brothers and Sisters, before we can be restored to the holy image of Christ, which is the ultimatumof every Christian, we must be taught to know sin to be sin! And we must have a restoration of the tenderness of consciencewhich would have been ours had we never fallen. A measure of this discernment and tenderness of judgment is given to us atconversion-for conversion, apart from it-would be impossible. How can a man repent of that which he does not know to be sin?How shall he humble himself before God concerning that which he does not recognize to be evil in God's sight? He must haveenlightenment. Sin must be made to appear as sin to him.
Moreover, man will not renounce his self-righteousness till he sees his sinfulness. As long as he believes himself to be righteous,he will hug that righteousness and stand before God with the Pharisee's cry, "God, I thank You that I am not as other menare!" As long as it is possible for us to swim on the bladders of our own righteousness we will never take to the lifeboatof Christ's righteousness. We can only be driven to Free Grace by sheer stress of weather and as long as our leaky boat ofself-will only keeps us above the flood, we will hold to it.
It is a miracle of Grace to make a man see himself so as to loathe himself and confess the impossibility of being saved byhis own works. Yet, till this is done, faith in Jesus is impossible-for no man will look to the righteousness of another whilehe is satisfied with his own righteousness-and everyone believes he has a righteousness of his own till he sees sin in itsnative hideousness. Unless sin is revealed to you as a boundless evil, whoever you may be-where God and Christ are you cannever come! You must be made to see that your heart reeks with evil-that your past life has been defiled with iniquity-andyou must also be taught that this evil of yours is no trifle, but a monstrous and horrible thing!
You must be made to loathe yourselves as in the presence of God or else you never will fly to the atoning blood for cleansing.Unless sin is seen to be sin, Divine Grace will never be seen to be Divine Grace, nor Jesus to be a Savior. And without this,salvation is impossible! Here, then, we leave this important point-bearing witness, again, that to the natural man sin doesnot appear as sin-and, therefore, a work of Grace must be worked in him to open his blind eyes, or he cannot be saved.
These are no soft speeches and fair words, but hard Truths of God-may the Holy Spirit lead many hearts to feel how sorrowfullytrue they are.
II. This leads us to our second consideration-WHERE SIN IS MOST CLEARLY SEEN, IT APPEARS TO BE
SIN. Its most terrible aspect is its own natural self. Sin at its worst appears to be sin. Do I seem to repeat myself? Doesthis utterance sound like a mere platitude? Then I cannot help it, for the text puts it so. And I know you will not despisethe text. But, indeed, there is a depth of meaning in the expression, "Sin, that it might appear sin"-as if the Apostle couldfind no other word so terribly descriptive of sin as its own name. He does not say, "Sin, that it might appear like Satan."No, for sin is worse than the devil since it made the devil what he is. Satan as an existence is God's creature and this,sin never was. Its origin and nature are altogether apart from God.
Sin is even worse than Hell, for it is the sting of that dreadful punishment. Anselm used to say that if Hell were on oneside and sin on the other, he would rather leap into Hell than willingly sin against God. Paul does not say, "Sin, that itmight appear madness." Truly it is moral insanity, but it is worse than that by far. It is so bad that there is no name forit but itself. One of our poets who wished to show how evil sin looks in the presence of redeeming love, could only say-
"When the wounds of Christ exploring, Sin does like itself appear."
If you need an illustration of what is meant, we might find one in Judas. If you wanted to describe him, you might say hewas a traitor, a thief and a betrayer of innocent blood. But you would finish up by saying, "he was a Judas"-that gives youall in one-none could match him in villainy.
If you wished a man to feel a horror of murder, you would not wish murder to appear to him as manslaughter, or as destructionof life, or as mere cruelty, but you would want it to appear as murder- you could use no stronger expression. So here, whenthe Lord turns the strong light of His eternal Spirit upon sin and reveals it in all its hideousness and defilement, it appearsto be not only moral discord, disorder, deformity, or corruption, but neither more nor less than SIN. "Sin," says Thomas Brooks,"is the only thing that God abhors. It brought Christ to the Cross. It damns souls. It shuts Heaven and it laid the foundationsof Hell."
There are persons who see sin as a misfortune, but this is far short of the true view and, indeed, very wide of it. How commonlydo we hear one sort of sinner called, "an unfortunate." This indicates a very lax morality. Truly it is a calamity to be asinner, but it is much more than a calamity-and he who only sees sin as his misfortune has not seen it so as to be saved fromit! Others have come to see sin as folly and so far they see aright, for it is essentially folly-and every sinner is a fool.A fool is God's own name for a sinner-commonly used throughout the book of Psalms. But for all that, sin is more than folly.It is not mere lack of wit or mistaken judgment-it is the knowing and willful choice of evil-and it has in it a certain maliciousnessagainst God which is far worse than mere stupidity. To see sin as folly is a good thing, but it is not a gracious thing, nora saving thing.
Some, too, have seen certain sins to be crimes and yet have not viewed them as sins. Our use of the word, "crime," is significant.When an action hurts our fellow men, we call it a crime. When it only offends God, we style it a sin. If I were to call youcriminals, you would be disgusted with me. But if I call you sinners, you will not be at all angry because to offend man isa thing you would not like to do, but to offend God is to many persons a small matter, scarcely worth a moment's thought.Human nature has become so perverted that if men know that they have broken human laws they are ashamed-but the breach ofa command which only affects the Lord Himself causes them very little concern.
If we were to steal, or lie, or knock another down, we would be ashamed of ourselves, and so we ought to be. But, for allthat, such shame would be no work of Divine Grace. Sin must appear to be sin against God-that is the point. We must say withDavid, "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight." With the prodigal we must cry, "Father, Ihave sinned against Heaven and before You, and am no more worthy to be called Your son." That is the true view of it. Maythe Lord bring us to confess our transgressions after that sort.
And here lend me your ears a minute or two. Think how odious a thing sin is. Beloved, our offenses are committed against aLaw which is based upon right. It is holy and just and good-it is the best Law which could be conceived. To break a bad Lawwe may be more than excusable, but there can be no excuse for transgression when the Commandment commends itself to everyman's conscience. There is not one command in God's Word which is either harsh, arbitrary, or unnecessary. If we, ourselves,were perfect in holiness, infinitely wise and had to write a Law, we should have written just the Law which God has givenus.
The Law is just to our fellow men and beneficial to ourselves. When it forbids anything, it does but set up danger signalswhere real danger to ourselves exists. The Law is a kind of spiritual police to keep us out of harm's way. Those who offendagainst it injure themselves. Sin is a false, mean, unrighteous thing. It does evil all round and brings good to nobody. Ithas not one redeeming feature. It is evil, only evil, and that continually. It is a wicked, wanton, purposeless, useless rejectionof that which is good and right in favor of that which is disgraceful and injurious. We ought, also, to remember that theDivine Law is binding upon men because of the right and authority of the Lawgiver. God has made us, ought we not to serveHim?
Our existence is prolonged by His kindness, we could not live a moment without Him-should we not obey Him? God is superlativelygood. He has never done us any harm. He has always designed our benefit and has treated us with unbounded kindness. Why shouldwe willfully insult Him by breaking laws which He had a right to make and which He has made for our good? Is it not shamefulto do that which He hates when there can be nothing to gain thereby and no reason for doing it? How I wish every heart herecould hear that plaintive lamentation of the Lord-it is wonderful condescension that He should describe Himself as utteringit-"The ox knows his owner and the ass his master's crib, but Israel does not know-My people do not consider."
That other word of pleading is equally pathetic where the Lord expostulates and cries "O, do not this abominable thing thatI hate!" After all His tenderness in which He has acted towards us-as a father to his child-we have turned against Him andharbored His enemy. We have found our pleasure in grieving Him and have called His commands burdens and His service weariness.Shall we not repent of this? Can we continue to act so basely? This day, my God, I hate sin not because it damns me, but becauseit has done You wrong! To have grieved my God is the worst of grief to me. The heart renewed by Grace feels a deep sympathywith God in the ungrateful treatment which He has received from us. It cries out, "How could I have offended Him? Why didI treat so gracious a God in so disgraceful a manner? He has done me good and no evil, why have I slighted Him?"
Had the Eternal been a tyrant and had His Laws been despotic, I could imagine some dignity in a revolt against Him. But seeingHe is a Father full of gentleness and tenderness, whose loving kindnesses are beyond all count, sin against Him is exceedinglysinful! Sin is worse than bestial, for the beasts only return evil for evil. Sin is devilish-for it returns evil for good.Sin is lifting our heel against our Benefactor-it is base ingratitude, treason, causeless hate, spite against holiness anda preference for that which is low and groveling. But where am I going? Sin is sin and in that word we have said it all.
It would appear that Paul made the discovery of sin as sin through the light of one of the Commandments. He gives us a littlebit of his own biography which is most interesting to notice. He says, "I had not known lust except the Law had said you shallnot covet." It strikes me that when Paul was struck down from his horse on his way to Damascus, the first thought that cameto him was, "this Jesus whom I have been persecuting, is, after all, the Messiah and Lord of all! Oh, horror of horrors, Ihave ignorantly warred against Him. He is Jesus the Savior who saves from sins, but what are my sins? Where have I offendedagainst the Law?"
In his lonely blindness his mind involuntarily ran over the Ten Commandments. And as he considered each one of them with hispoor half-enlightened judgment, he cried to himself, "I have not broken that! I have not broken that!" till at last he cameto that command, "You shall not covet," and in a moment, as though a lightning flash had cut in two the solid darkness ofhis spirit, he saw his sin and confessed that he had been guilty of inordinate desires. He had not known lust if the Law hadnot said, "you shall not covet." That discovery unveiled all the rest of his sins-the proud Pharisee became a humble penitentand he who thought himself blameless cried out-"I am the chief of sinners."
I pray God by some means to let the same light stream into every soul here, where as yet it has not penetrated. O my Hearers,I beseech the Lord to let you see sin as sin and so lead you to Jesus as the only Savior!
III. I shall need your best attention to the third point which is this-THE SINFULNESS OF SIN IS MOST
CLEARLY SEEN IN ITS PERVERTING THE BEST OF THINGS TO DEADLY PURPOSES. So the text runs-"Sin, that it might appear sin, workingdeath in me by that which is good." It is evident that we are atrociously depraved since we make the worst conceivable useof the best things. Here is God's Law, which was ordained to life, for, "He that does these things shall live in them," iswillfully disobeyed and so sin turns the light into an instrument of death!
It does worse! The sin that is in us, when it hears the Commandment, straightway resolves to break it. It is a strangely wickedpropensity of our nature, that there are many things which we should not care for otherwise, which we lust after at once-assoon as they are forbidden. Have you ever noticed, even in regard to human law, that when a thing is prohibited, persons longafter it? I do not remember, in all the years I have lived in London, any cravings of the populace to hold meetings in HydePark till an attempt was made to keep them out-and then, straightway, all the railings were pulled down and the ground wascarried by storm. The park has been a field of battle ever since. Had liberty of speech in the park never been interferedwith as it was, most unwisely, nobody would have cared to hold forth at the Reformer's Tree or any other tree. They wouldhave said, "What's the use of dragging up there all through the mud for miles when we can meet more comfortably in a hallunder cover," but because they must not do it, they resolve to do it!
That is the way with our common nature-it kicks at restraint-if we must not do a thing, then we will do it! Even before shefell, our mother Eve felt drawn to the forbidden tree and the impulse in her fallen sons and daughters is far more forcible!As by one common impulse we wander from the road appointed and break hedges to leap into fields enclosed against us. Law toour depraved nature is but the signal for revolt! Sin is a monster, indeed, when it turns a preventive Law into an incentiveto rebellion. It discovers evil by the Law and then turns to it and cries, "Evil, you are
my good." This is far from being the only case in which good is turned to evil through our sin. I might mention many others.
Very briefly then, how many there are who turn the abounding mercy of God, as proclaimed in the Gospel, into a reason forfurther sin! The preacher delights to tell you, in God's name, that the Lord is a God ready to forgive and willing to havemercy upon sinners-and that whoever believes in Jesus shall receive immediate pardon! What do men say, "O, if it is so easyto be forgiven, let us go on in sin! If faith is so simple a matter, let us put it off until some future time!" O, base andcruel argument! To infer greater sin from infinite love! What if I call it devilish reasoning-for so it is-to make of thevery goodness of a gracious God a reason for continuing to offend! Is it so that the more God loves the more you will hate?The better He is the worse you will be? Shame! Shame!
Then, again, there are individuals who have indulged in very great sin and have very fortunately escaped from the naturalconsequences of that sin-and what do they gather from this forbearance on God's part? God has been very long-suffering andcompassionate to them and, therefore, they defy Him again and return presumptuously to their former habits! They dream thatthey have immunity to transgress and even boast that God will never punish them, let them act as they may! Sin appears sin,indeed, when the long-suffering which should lead to repentance is regarded as a license for further offending! What a marvelthat the Eternal does not crush His foes at once when they count His gentleness to be weakness and make His mercy a groundfor further disobedience!
Look again at thousands of prosperous sinners whose riches are their means of sinning. They have all that heart can wish andinstead of being doubly grateful to God they are proud and thoughtless! They deny themselves none of the pleasures of sin.The blessings entrusted to them become their curses because they minister to their arrogance and worldliness. They war againstGod with weapons from His own armory! They are indulged by Providence and then they indulge their sins the more. Fullnessof bread too often breeds contempt of God. Men are lifted up and then look down upon religion and speak loftily against thepeople of God and even against the Lord Himself! With His meal in their mouths they blaspheme their Benefactor and with thewealth which is the loan of His charity they purchase the vile pleasures of iniquity.
This is horrible, but it is so, that the more God gives to man the more man hates His God, and he to whom God multiplies Hismercies returns it by multiplying his transgressions! I remember in our Baptist martyrologies the story of one of the Baptistsof Holland escaping from his persecutors. A river was frozen over and the good man crossed it safely, but his enemy was ofgreater bulk and the ice gave way under him. The Baptist, like the child of God he was, turned round and rescued his persecutorjust as he was sinking beneath the ice to certain death. And what did the wretch do? As soon as ever he was safely on theshore, he seized the man who had saved his life and dragged him off to prison, from which he was taken to be put to death!
We marvel at such inhumanity! We are indignant at such base returns-but the returns which the ungodly make to God are farmore base! I marvel, myself, as I talk to you-I marvel that I speak so calmly on so terribly humbling a theme! And rememberingour past lives and our long ingratitude to God, I marvel that we do not turn this place into one vast Bochim or place of weeping-andmingle our tears in a flood with expressions of deep shame and self abhorrence for our dealings towards God! The same evilis manifested when the Lord reveals His Justice and utters threats. When a threatening sermon is delivered, you will hearmen say, as they go out from hearing such a discourse, although the preacher has spoken most affectionately, "We will haveno more of this Hell-fire preaching! We are wearied and worried with these threats of judgment."-
"Your judgments, too, unmoved they hear, Amazing thought! Which devil's fear Goodness and wrath in vain combine, Their heartbetrays no feeling sign." Try the same man with God's tenderness and speak of God's love-and he will be hardened by it-forthe Gospel hardens some men and becomes a savor of death unto death unto many.
O Sin, you are sin, indeed, to make the Gospel of salvation a reason for deeper damnation! When great judgments are abroadin the land, not a few of the ungodly become more insolent against God and even rail at Him as a tyrant. The fire which oughtto melt them only makes them harder! The terrors of God they defy and like Pharaoh they demand, "Who is the Lord?" We haveknown persons in adversity-very poor and very sick-who ought to have been led to God
by their sorrow. But instead, they have become careless of all religion and cast off all fear of God. They have acted likeAhaz of whom it is written, "In the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord: this is that king Ahaz."
The rod has not separated them from sin, but whipped them into a worse state. Their medicine has become their poison. Themore the tree has been pruned, the less fruit it has yielded. Plowing has only made the field more barren. That which hasoften proved so great a blessing to Believers has been utterly lost upon them. Why should they be smitten any more? They willrevolt more and more. One very singular instance of the heart's perversity is the fact that familiarity with death and thegrave often hardens the heart and none become more callous than grave-diggers and those who carry dead men to their graves.
Men sin openly when graves are open before them. It is possible to work among the dead and yet to be as wild as the man possessedof a devil in our Lord's day who dwelt among the tombs. The Egyptians were accustomed to hold their riotous festivals in thepresence of a corpse, not to sober their mirth, as some have said, but to make them the more wanton, gluttonous and drunkbecause they should so soon die. Coffins and shrouds should be good sermons, but they seldom are so to those who see themevery day. In times when cholera has raged-and in seasons when the pest, in the olden times, carried off its thousands-manymen have not been at all softened, but have grown callous in the presence of God's grim Messenger. Hervey finds holy "meditationsamong the tombs," but unholy men are as far off from God in a churchyard as in a theater.
Another strange thing I have often noticed-as a proof of sin's power to gather poison from the most healthful flowers-I haveobserved that some transgress all the more because they have been placed under the happy restraints of godliness. Though trainedto piety and virtue, they rush into the arms of vice as though it were their mother. As gnats fly at a candle as soon as everthey catch sight of it, so do these infatuated ones dash into evil. Young people who are placed in the Providence of God whereno temptations ever assail them-in the midst of holy and quiet homes where the very name of evil scarcely comes-will oftenfret and worry themselves to get out into what they call, "life," and thrust their souls into the perils of bad company.
The sons and daughters of Adam long to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their very preservation from temptationgrows irksome to them. They loathe the fold and long for the wolf! They think themselves hardly done by that they have notbeen born in the midst of licentiousness and tutored in crime. Strange infatuation and yet many a parent's heart has beenbroken by this freak of depravity, this reckless lust for evil! The younger son had the best of fathers and yet he could neverbe quiet till he had gained his independence and had brought himself to beggary in a far country by spending his living withharlots.
Observe another case. Men who live in times when zealous and holy Christians abound are often the worse for it. What effecthas the zeal of Christians upon such? It excites them to malice! All the while the Church is asleep the world says, "Ah, wedo not believe your religion, for you do not act as if you believed it yourselves." But the moment the Church bestirs herself,the world cries, "They are a set of fanatics! Who can put up with their ravings? We could have believed their religion hadit been brought to us with respectful sobriety, but accompanied by enthusiasm it is detestable." Nothing will please sinnersbut their sins! And if their sins could be made into virtues they would fly to their virtues at once, so as to remain in opposition.Contrary to God man will go-his very nature is enmity against his Creator.
The quaint poet with whose verse we commenced our sermon, has truly said-
"If God had laid all common, certainly
Man would ha ve been the encloser:
But since now God has impal'd us, on the contrary
Man breaks the fence, and every ground will plow.
O what were man, might he himself misplace!
Sure to be cross he would shift feet and face." Sin is thus seen to be exceedingly sinful. That plant must possess great vitalitywhich increases by being uprooted and cut down. That which lives by being killed is strangely full of force. That must bea very hard substance which is hardened by lying in the blast furnace, in the central heat of the fire where iron melts andruns like wax. That must be a very terrible power which gathers strength from that which should restrain it and rushes onthe more violently in proportion as it is reined in.
Sin kills men by that which was ordained to life. It makes Heaven's gifts the stepping stones to Hell. It uses the lamps ofthe temple to show the way to Perdition and makes the Ark of the Lord, as in Uzzah's case, the messenger of death. Sin isthat strange fire which burns the more fiercely for being dampened, finding fuel in the water which was intended to quenchit. The Lord brings good out of evil, but sin brings evil out of good! It is a deadly evil-you judge how deadly! O that menknew its nature and abhorred it with all their hearts! May the Eternal Spirit teach men to know aright this worst of ills,that they may flee from it to Him who alone can deliver.
Now, what is all this about, and what is the drift of this discourse? Well, the drift of it is this. There is in us by naturea propensity to sin which we cannot conquer and yet conquered it must be, or we can never enter Heaven. Your resolutions toovercome sin are as feeble as though you should try to bind Leviathan with a thread and lead him with a string. As well ashope to bind the tempest and rein in the storm as to govern yourself by your own reservations as to sin! Nor is sin to beovercome by philosophy. It laughs at such a spider's web. Nor can it be prevented. Nor will the soul be cleansed from it byany outward observances. Genuflections, penances, fasting, washing are all in vain.
What, then, must be done? We must be newly created! We are too far gone for mending. We must be made afresh! And for cleansingthere is no water beneath the skies, nor any above them that can remove our stain. But there is a fountain. filled with theblood of God's own Son. He that is washed there shall be made white. And there is an all-creating Holy Spirit who can fashionus anew in Christ Jesus into holiness! I would to God you all despaired of being saved except by a miracle of Grace. I wouldto God you utterly despaired of being saved except by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit!
I would to God you were driven to look away from self, each one of you, to Him who on the bloody tree bore the wrath of God,for there is life in a look at Him and whoever looks at Him shall be saved-saved from the power of sin as well as its guilt!That which the bronze serpent took away was the burning poison in the veins of the men who had been bitten by the serpents.They were diseased with a deadly disease and they looked, and they were healed. It was not filth that was taken from them-itwas disease that was healed by their simple look.
And so a look at Christ does not merely take away sin, but it heals the disease of sin-and, mark you-it is the only possiblehealing for the leprosy of iniquity! Faith in Jesus brings the Holy Spirit with His sacred weapons of invincible warfare intothe field of the human heart-and HE overthrows the impregnable strongholds of sin, makes lust a captive and slays the enmityof the heart. Sin, being made to appear sin, Grace is made to appear Grace-God's Holy Spirit gets the victory and we are saved!
God grant that this may be the experience of us all. Amen and Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Romans 7.