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God's Remedy for Sin

God's Remedy for Sin

God's Remedy for Sin

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,” (Romans 8:3, ESV)

We have advanced thus far in our statement of Christian doctrine, or rather of the introduction and preliminaries to Christian doctrine. We have laid down the sinfulness of our whole nature: the manifoldness and deceitfulness of sin: the guilt and eternal consequences of sin. So far we have spoken of the disease: to-day we deal with the remedy.

Our text will furnish us in this matter with safe and sufficient guidance. It tells us of a way in which sin could not be cured: and of a way in which God has brought about its condemnation and cure.

Now remember how we have been treating sin throughout: as a taint, a disease in our nature, destructive to it, but pervading the whole of it, so that it is all sinful, all guilty, all perishing: so that it has absolutely no power to renew itself unto good or to cast out evil from itself. The witness of conscience it has: the help of God promised, and vouchsafed, we believe, even in ignorance and degradation: but this is not of itself: this depends entirely upon and flows from that Redemption of which we are to speak to-day.

Behold then man, guilty, helpless, lost. And what do we now hear of? How first does God manifest himself to him? We now first hear of a law being revealed to him. But it might be said, of what use can a law be to one who has no power to obey it? The answer is very simple: to teach him that he has no power to obey it. This was the use of the law given on Sinai. We have already seen, that one of the most fatal symptoms of the disease of sin is, a man’s unconsciousness of its presence. The sinner goes on imagining all is well; saying peace, when there is no peace. And in this ignorance he would live and die, were there not something to bring out and detect sin within him. This office the Law performed: by the Law is the knowledge of sin. But the Law had, and could have, no power whatever to overcome sin, nor to enable any man to contend with sin; any more than a command to rise up and walk could have on the man laid helpless on a bed of sickness. And this is what is meant in our text, when it is said, that the law was weak through the flesh. Its only organ of acting was, the weak, powerless, helpless flesh of man: that flesh which is infected and penetrated by the taint of sin. And let us stop as we pass by, to remark, that this same must be the case with all human systems of morality, all rules for good conduct, all discipline and codes of law: they have not, and cannot have, any power whatever to renew human nature, or to help it to overcome sin. Sin reigns in spite of them: nay sin has reigned most, and most fatally, where they have been best known, and most deeply studied, and most implicitly trusted to. All of them are just what their far greater example, God’s revealed law, was; and that is, merely a means whereby sin might be brought to light and known: means whereby the sinner might be rendered inexcusable, the proud heart might be crushed down, the dry and tearless eye might be filled with tears of repentance, and the sinner, hardened and careless before, driven to fly to God for mercy and pardon.

But here comes in a question which requires an answer, and to answer which will materially further our enquiry. "You tell us," it may be said to me, "that the law on Sinai, that every moral law, whether in the conscience, or in man’s writings and declarations, was given just to prove man guilty, and to drive him for mercy to God. But you know, and we know, and this Christmas Day reminds us, that it was not till four thousand years after man’s fall, that God’s grace and mercy was revealed to mankind by the Redemption which is in Christ. Do you mean to tell us, that the great God of compassion and goodness, who alone knew the way in which this dread disease of sin could be healed, allowed men to go on in their disease all this time without that cure, contenting Himself with making provision that they might know their guilt, and, knowing it, perish in it?" No, my brethren, nothing of the kind was the case. This Redemption by Christ, which first began its real course on the stage of this world about four thousand years after the creation, was no mere worldly course of events then first brought about,—no happy discovery then first made: it had been fixed in the divine counsels, and its glorious effects anticipated in God’s infinite loving-kindness, before the world began, before man’s sin was ever committed. Nay, all creation, the whole of this visible universe, is but a part, but a trifling portion, of this great divine scheme of Redemption. Every thing ever created, every thing that ever happened or shall happen, all these are simply elements in, contributions to, the glorious issue of the mediatorship of our Blessed Lord. All things are by Him and for Him: by him the universe holds together. And accordingly, we believe that there never was a time, in the history of man’s sin and of God’s dealing with it, when there was not opened to man a way of pardon and peace with God, through a Redeemer to come, or present, or having come. The antediluvian church, the Patriarchal church, the Jewish church,—these were in the direct track of that ray of light from above, which was to shine ever more and more unto the perfect day. By sacrifices, by types, by prophecies, the great Redeemer to come was made known to them as God saw fit for them, as they could bear and profit by the knowledge: at no time was access to God, and reconcilement, and pardon, denied to the sinner. Before the flood, Enoch walked with God, Noah was perfect in his generations, and preached righteousness: before the law, Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness, Jacob wrestled with. God and prevailed, and, dying, waited for His salvation: before the Gospel, Joshua determined that as for him and his household they would serve the Lord: David, amidst grievous weakness and sin, sought pardon and found it, and was the man after God’s own heart: Hezekiah walked in all the ways of the Lord, turning not to the right nor to the left: Simeon waited, in the light of the promise of the Holy Ghost, for the consolation of Israel. And if we turn to the other nations of the earth, though the picture of man’s delinquency is dark and gloomy enough, though our knowledge of their state and opportunities is but scanty and surrounded by difficulties, yet the argument of the Apostle in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and other expressions here and there dropped in Holy Scripture, enable us safely to affirm, that God left not himself without witness even amongst them: and that no where and at no time has it been true, that man has been abandoned by God to live and die in his sins.

This reply has prepared the way for entering on the further portion of my text, which indeed forms our proper subject to-day. The Law,—any law,—could not save man from sin. But God has done what the law could not do. He has sent One into the world, whose express object, as testified by the very Name given him, is, to save his people from their sins. He sent One into the world:—and who was this? That it was no mere son of man, must be evident at first sight: any and every such person would be born with the taint of sin on him, powerless to save himself, to say nothing of others. Every such person would be a mere unit in manhood, bounded by the limits of his own responsibilities, and unable to transfer any thing or pass it on to another: so that even suppose he could save himself, that would be all. The same objection would apply to any created being whatever: and this besides, that the combining our nature with any other nature, however exalted and angelic, would not do for us that which was required to be done: no angelic being has, or can have, righteousness of his own: every such one stands by divine grace imparted, may fall by grace rejected. No such Savior could suffice for us, or could save us from our sins. Then what did God? The language of our text is very important and explicit on this point: "He sent His Own Son." There is here a peculiar and intended emphasis on the words His Own. Angels are sons of God: we are said to be sons of God: but neither angels nor men are God’s own sons; for that imports, of His very nature and essence, very God begotten of very God,—eternal as Himself,—equal to Himself. There is but One, there never was but One, of whom this term can be used. That One was in the beginning: before creation existed: in union with God, and himself God.

But the particular respecting Him with which we are now more immediately concerned is, that God sent Him into the world. The question, when? is readily answered: as on this day. The event was one which happened, and was recorded, like any other in the history of our earth. In Bethlehem, a town of Judæa, a place which may even now be visited and seen, a child was born, whom we and all Christians believe to have been, and to be now, this Son of God,—God’s own Son,—the Savior of mankind. Important as the fact is, it requires little dwelling upon by me: because it is so plain, so well understood, so universally known. But the question, how He was sent into the world, is one which does require dwelling upon: because on the rightly answering it depends our soundness in the Christian faith;—depends the fulness of our joy in believing, depends the firmness of our trust, and the acceptableness of our obedience, and the progress of our sanctification, and the measure of our heavenly glory. According as a man does or does not apprehend rightly the Christian doctrine of our Blessed Lord’s Incarnation, depends it, whether his belief will yield him full consolation in his daily want of pardon and grace, in his daily struggles with sin, in the solemn hour of death, and in the decisive day of judgment. So let us endeavor earnestly to lay hold on the truth revealed to us in this all-important matter.

God sent His own Son into our world: how? Our text tells us one most essential particular. It was in the likeness of sinful flesh: of the flesh of sin. The form in which He appeared in this world was this form of ours. He was made man. That flesh of ours, which had become tainted with sin, prone to sin, sure to commit sin,—did He take that on Him? Now observe the words of our text, and remember well what has been before said in these sermons. Remember how earnest we have been to impress upon you, that sin is not ourselves: is not our nature, but is something fatal and hostile to our nature. The Son of God took on Him our nature; became very man. He therefore took on Him our Flesh; for this tabernacle of flesh and blood is necessary to the nature of man, and none is full and very man, but those who bear it about with them. But sin is not man: sin is not necessary to our nature: sin is destructive of our nature: sin is the very negative of our nature. And for this reason, and by a reason also inherent in Himself, on account of His absolute and perfect holiness and purity, the Son of God did not, when he took our nature, take sin with it: did not, when he entered into our flesh, enter into sinful flesh. His flesh was our very flesh: it had the same attributes, the same necessities, the same pains, the same liability to death, even as had Adam before his sin: but sin it had not. He looked like sinful men: was of the same shape and form: mingled in their crowds, conversed with them, felt for them, wept when they wept, suffered as they suffer, died even as they die: but He was not sinful man, nor was His flesh sinful flesh. In Him was no sin.

But our text tells us, that besides sending Him in the likeness of sinful flesh, of that flesh which had become pervaded by sin, God sent Him into the world for sin. Sin was the reason why He came; the errand on which he was sent had regard to sin: "He was sent," says St. John, "to take away our sins:" "He himself," said the Prophet Isaiah, "bore our sins:" "He who knew no sin," says St. Paul, "became sin for us."

Now this taking away our sins He accomplished by two great things which He did: by His life, and by His death. The Apostle Paul puts this very plainly and clearly before us: "If," he says, "when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the Death of His Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved through His Life." The whole process of this wonderful matter—how His Death reconciled us, how His Life saves us, will come before us, please God, hereafter: to-day we are concerned with the first step, leading on to both: His Incarnation—His being born into our world.

What then do we see in the event of this day; in that event which fills every Christian heart with joy, in spite of adverse circumstances,—in spite of national mourning? We see this eternal and holy Son of God, becoming man. Let us take care that we get a right apprehension of this. That clear and most valuable confession of our faith which we have used this morning, will guide us aright. "The right faith is that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man: God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and man, of the substance of His mother, born in the world: perfect God and perfect man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood. Who although he be God and Man: yet He is not two, but one Christ (i.e. not two persons, not two Christs, but veritably and only one Person and one Christ): one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God"—that is, when he united the Godhead and the Manhood in Himself, becoming God and man and still remaining one Person, He did it, not by sinking, as it were, the Son of God into the Son of Man, becoming a human Person and ceasing to be a divine Person: but by the very opposite: by continuing to be the divine Person which He was from all eternity, and into that divine Personality taking the nature of Man. And then the Creed in its next verse further explains the same by saying, "One altogether: not by confusion of substance"—not by mingling together in a confused manner that which constituted the Godhead and that which constituted the Manhood: "but," it goes on, "by unity of Person:" by the divine Son of God entering, with all His Divinity entire, into our nature: taking it on Him, as St. Augustine excellently says, "from the very highest boundary of the rational soul down to the very lowest boundary of the animal body."

Now, my dear brethren, let not these considerations seem to you dry refinements of technical theology. They are, I assure you, far otherwise. They are statements of great doctrines, on which rest the very foundations of our Christian life: and I could not make to you this year what I am very anxious to make, a full and clear statement of the doctrines which form the faith of the Church of Christ, if I did not thus try to lay them out and explain them.

It is only left for us now to shew, how thus the foundation is laid for the Redemption of our race and its restoration to righteousness. The Son of God has become Man: our nature is united to the Godhead. A new and righteous seed is implanted in it: a second and perfect Head is granted. The first Adam was tried and fell: but this new Adam shall be tried and shall gloriously conquer. The first Adam, being created liable to Death, lost by sin the means of escaping death, and bound it as a lasting curse on himself and his posterity: the second Adam, also born liable to death, was pleased to become obedient even unto death for our sakes; thus condemning sin, the cause of death, in our flesh. The first Adam brought the penalty of his sin on us, the Head on the members: the second Adam suffered the penalty of our sin for us, the Head for the members. Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life: for to believe on Him is to be united to Him, and to do as He has done, and to go where He is: and He did not perish, but rose up out of death, and was glorified, and when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of God.

It is His Birth into our world which we celebrate to-day. It is the day which the church has set apart as the Birthday of Christ. It is for us a day of joy, as it ought to be. Shall we not rejoice, that our deadly wound is healed—that there is pardon and peace provided for the guilty sons of men? And it need not be surprising to any, that this our joy is not confined to devotional exercises of prayer and praise, but spreads itself over our social life, and is, even by faithful Christian men, celebrated outwardly and visibly, in mirth and gladness peculiar to the season. To forbid such manifestations, would be surely to forget that He who took our whole nature upon Him, came to bless it not in one part only, but altogether: came to make our desert rejoice and blossom as the rose: and to hallow even those bodily recreations and enjoyments which sin has polluted and marred. To keep Christmas by excess and licentiousness, is to profane it, and to insult Him whose birth we profess to honor: to shew ourselves to have no part nor lot in Him who was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil. But to keep it in peace and good-will and hearty thankfulness, gathering our families about us, and making what cheer we may, to keep an English Christmas, open-hearted and open-hearthed, this is not to dishonor Him, but to do as He would have us, who rose as our day-star, that we might walk in His light; who left us His words and triumphed for us, that our joy might be full: at whose birth angels from heaven sung peace on earth among men of good-will.

With such joy as this no deep religious feeling need be inconsistent, no time of prayer need be incongruous, no note of praise discordant: with such joy as this not even times of national grief need interfere. For is it not this day’s birth which has taken the sting from death? is there not to-day, even for the bereaved and weeping, the joyous cry, "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given?" is not this the day above all others which calls back again, and places by our sides those who have gone before us? which fills up the gaps in families, and brings round us our long-parted friends? the day which carries our thoughts onward to that great second birth, when He who sitteth on the Throne shall make all things new?

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

The Guild and Consequence of Sin

The Guild and Consequence of Sin

The Guilt and Consequence of Sin

“Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV)

The guilt and consequence of sin,—these form our subject to-day. May God give us grace to consider it aright. In order to this, we must bear firmly in mind one most important fact. Sin dwells in us,—works in us,—prevails too often over us: but sin is not ourselves. Sin is no more a man’s self, than the disease is the patient. "It is not I," says St. Paul, "but sin that dwelleth in me." And this is closely connected with what I maintained in the first of these sermons; that the evil to which we are prone by the disease of our nature is not any thing necessary or natural to us, but something both hateful and hurtful. It is not our nature, but is destructive of our nature. And yet, at the same time, the tendency to evil which leads to sin is so universal, and our nature is so penetrated by it, that to separate man from sin is for man impossible. The taint is at our root, and every branch shares in it. It is not a mere act or set of acts; but a state, a condition of spiritual disease. The new-born babe, who never committed sin, is yet sinful, and it is certain to commit sin, as soon as its faculties begin to unfold themselves. Original or birth-sin is not merely a doctrine in religion; it is a fact in man’s world, acknowledged by all, whether religious or not. Let a man be providing for an unborn child in case of distribution of worldly property; he will take care to bind him by conditions and covenants which shall guard against his fraudulently helping himself to that which he is to hold for or to apportion to another. He never saw that child: he does not know but that child may be the most pure and perfect of men: but he knows it will not be safe to put temptation in his way, because he knows he will be born in sin, and liable to sin, and sure to commit sin.

Now the guilt of sin is a very important matter: and if you will give me your attention, you will at once see that the unbeliever, who denies the guilt of sin because it is a disease tainting our whole nature, has no ground to stand upon. If God had given us no means of resisting sin: if sin were identical with all our convictions and tendencies and desires, then sin would be equally destructive of our happiness and of our nature as it is now, but there would be no guilt in us personally: no one could find fault with us for falling victims to that which we should be powerless to withstand. We should be objects of pity, not of blame. But how different is this now. We have conscience, ever protesting against sin: the written law of God, guiding and enlightening the conscience: and more than all that, the great Redemption which is by Christ, providing a full and sufficient escape from and cure of the fatal disease.

Now you see, wherein consists the guilt of sin: why it is that though born in sin, and prone to sin, I yet am a guilty creature if I sin. It is because sin is not myself, but my enemy: because I know it to be my enemy. Wherever this knowledge is present,—and it is present in some degree in every son and daughter of Adam,—there is, speaking generally, no excuse for sin: it is known to be wrong, and he who falls into it is a guilty person. And observe, that in the just government of God, this guilt varies according to the degree of light and knowledge. The poor heathen, the very savage, has some light of conscience, however dim and insufficient. The Christian has the full light of God’s revelation of Himself in the face of Jesus Christ. Between the savage who lives in sin, and the Christian who lives in sin, the difference of degree of guilt is immense. It will hereafter be made manifest in the case of many a Christian, that it would have been well for him if he had lived and died a poor ignorant heathen. It shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment for the lowest and most degraded of our race, than for us, the favored of God, if we repent not, and serve Him with our hearts.

From guilt, we are naturally led on to punishment. If the sinner is guilty, what will happen to him? Now to any of you who have intelligently followed me, it will be plain, that I have not put this question exactly in the form in which we must first answer it. It will be evident, that the punishment of sin will not be in proportion merely to personal guilt, but to the mischief which it works on our nature. Our whole nature is diseased and perishing: and if I encourage the disease, and give it opportunity, and way, and power over me, then my punishment will be, not only just retribution for that my undoubted and inexcusable guilt,—but also the consequence, whatever that may be, of the prevalence and history of the dread disease itself. And notice, that in the Christian man this also is a direct punishment for personal guilt. He knew the cure, and he did not apply it. He chose to perish, and he perishes accordingly.

But now, you see, two questions rise before us. What is the consequence of sin, unchecked, encouraged, prevailing, pervading a man’s being? This is the first: and the second is, What have we reason to think will be God’s punishment for one who has allowed sin thus to conquer him? Will it be simply the consequences of the malady, or will it be something else, over and above them?

Let us apply ourselves to the former question. We said in our first sermon, that sin was, entering into evil:—thinking, saying, doing that which is bad. We have simply to enquire then, what is the effect on us of thinking, saying, doing that which is bad? Let me ask any one of you, what do you suppose you were made for? I imagine the general answer will be, or will amount to this: "Our Maker must be good and beneficent, and must have made His creatures to be happy. And if He has given us powers and faculties above His other creatures, it must be because He wills that we should aim at, and reach, a higher degree of happiness than His other creatures." This reply which I have put into your mouths, is, as far as we are concerned, undoubtedly the right one. God made us to be happy, to strive after happiness to the highest reach of our faculties and powers. Well, now let me ask again; How do you suppose that happiness is to be attained? Is it to be a happiness gained by the pampering of the body, by giving scope to the lower appetites and passions? If so, why were we endowed with reason, and conscience, and desires after higher and better things? Go a step further:—Is it a happiness to be served by the indulgence of present temper and feeling,—by the lust of wealth and of power, by serving a man’s own narrow interests, and earthly purposes? If so, again, how is it that such present indulgence constantly and proverbially does not bring with it happiness, does not bring satisfaction; but the man who gives way to it is ever casting it aside as worthless, ever seeking something beyond it; and the man who goes on for years giving way to it becomes at last a miserable disappointed creature, a burden to himself and all around him? Surely this cannot be the way to happiness. And if not, what is? Is it not this,—to flee from evil and seek good? Is not the man who does this as a principle, as a habit, is not this man every where and at all times the happy man? Has he not a happiness which the world with its varying circumstances cannot touch: which outward and seeming misery cannot deprive him of: which survives in the midst of desolation, of persecution, of sickness: which is not diminished but increased by that which to other men is the height of misery, the approach of death itself? And if this be so, if to depart from evil, if to fight with and overcome sin, be the way, and the only way, to real happiness, what do you suppose is the consequence of evil cherished, sin practiced and followed, sin overcoming the man and leading the man captive, and triumphing over him? What can it be, but misery and ruin?

Look at its course; watch its progress. Let us try to enliven a dull but necessary argument by setting an example before you. Some matter is proposed to a man which he knows to be wrong—knows to be sinful. But it is very tempting; it will serve his interests; it will add to his means; it will increase his comforts; it will help his family after him. He stands at the parting of the two ways: duty, with toil and privation, with humble means for many a year; sin, with ease and competence, with worldly plenty and worldly consideration. One thought, nay not a thought, an intuition, a flash of irresistible Light, tells him in a moment which path he ought to choose. But he hesitates, he parleys with the enemy, he looks twice and thrice, and he makes up his mind: he grasps the present advantage: he casts away the protest of conscience, and the dread verdict of the certain future, and he adopts the sinful course.

Now the question for us is, what has this man done? what has happened to him? First, he certainly is not a better man; he is, in our common language, a worse man than he was before. And what meaning is there in these words, a worse man? O what is there not, that is miserable, that is deadly to all health, that is fatal to all happiness? His sin has put him further from good: he has descended a step from God and from happiness. And what is the consequence, I ask again? What further is in store for him? Can he rest where he is? Having made this compromise with evil, can he say "Just thus much I find necessary to my comfort, to my advantage, and here I will stop? I cannot have the full field of goodness for my course—I have barred myself out of part of it, but within the limits which remain I will be a good man?" Ah, my brethren, this may not be. Many and many a sinner tries it; jealously fencing round his reputation, taking credit for all that he does or says that looks like good, keenly resenting any charge on his fair name. But alas, he who lets in evil into his practice, is letting in a wild ocean to which no man may say "Hitherto and no further." He is a worse man. Not only part of his good is gone, but all his good is marred, is poisoned; his heart is no longer simple, it is divided; he is become a hypocrite, an actor of a part before men; he has a dark corner which he does not want the world to see into,—a locked closet at the door of which he keeps watch with fear and trembling, lest any discover its contents. And if this before men, O what before God? Ah, my brethren, when and as long as a man makes an agreement with evil, fosters evil, lives by evil, there is no more God for him; prayer, praise, the sacraments, God’s word, God’s house, God’s ministers, God’s people, these have all become for him nauseous things, unwelcome reminders whence he has fallen: for appearance sake he goes to church, he even presents himself, sad to say, at the Table of the Lord,—because if he did not, neighbors would question, friends would drop off, customers would forsake him; but he hates all such things; and he hesitates not, when he thinks himself safe, and worldly interests not at stake, to unburden his pent-up thoughts by shewing his hatred. The fact is, he has chosen that God shall be his enemy; and he cannot bear to face the terrible fact: and so he wants to forget Him, and not to have the thought of Him ever making him miserable.

And from this to the life of the scorner and blasphemer there is but a very short step, and one which few can resist taking. Almost all such characters among us, almost all those who are bold against God, questioning His word, despising His ordinances, are not men whose unbelief is their misfortune, an unhappy turn of mind, or a conscientious form of doubt: they are ever, it is true, ready enough to take refuge under this: but almost all of them are men whose unbelief has become a miserable necessity to them by reason of their choosing to live in and to live by sin: so that a professed unbeliever of correct life is a very rarity in nature. But whether in profession or not, in heart the sinner is an unbeliever and a hater of God.

And then further; how does this state proceed, supposing it unrepented of? Life is full of new temptations, ever arising: and in such a life, the enemy who has gained one victory is not likely to relax his assaults: he who consents to sin, draws on him sin, as Holy Scripture has it, with a cart-rope: conscience, once overborne and silenced, speaks fainter next time, fainter still the time after, soon scarce audibly, after a while not at all. And so the sinner becomes hardened in his sins, more and more lost to true inward shame, less and less able to disentangle his feet from the net thrown round him: to conceal one sin, others have become necessary, and more again to varnish over those, until to stir without sinning has become well nigh impossible: he has to ask leave of evil, to let him speak or act at all. So life speeds on, and life’s end stands before him, and the new and final state has to be entered. God, whom he has so long striven not to know, is unsought by repentance. He goes out of the world as he lived in the world; and what is his state then?

Remember we are confining ourselves at present to the mere consequences of his sinful life, irrespective of any actual infliction of divine wrath. What is his state, do we ask? what can it be, but what it was here, only with every deceit laid open, and every door of hope shut? God he hated and fled from; and the joy of that state is the shining of God’s countenance: what has he to do with that? Good he deliberately refused: the delight of the blessed is to be purely good, to do nought but good, to bask in the beams of His light who is Good itself: what has he to do with this, or with them? What can the inward state of such a soul be but an enduring and living death?

Did we ever reflect on the terrible meaning of those words, eternal death? What is more dreadful to us here, than the process, the act, of bodily death? The great relief from our thoughts of it is, that it is short: it is the anguish of an hour, or of a few hours; or if it is prolonged to a day, or more than that, the announcement is terrible; "two days dying"—we shrink from the very mention of so distressing a fate. And why? Why, but because it is a time of sharp agony and fierce contention of hostile powers in man’s expiring frame: life struggling to continue, decay holding its own, and increasing its domain; the soul in dire apprehension, or at least in unknown conflict? And if this be so, if the prolongation of bodily death even for a short time be dreadful, what must be the eternal death of the soul—all its marvelous powers, no longer dulled by the world and the flesh, at wild variance with one another; self-accusation and remorse for ever inwardly working, conscience no longer to be silenced, but speaking too late,—all the elements which should have contributed to happiness made, by the poisoning power of sin, ingredients in ineffable misery? And there is no reason to think that state on the other side to be a passing one, as this is, or to be a preparation for another; every thing tells us that it is final, prefaced and determined by this present condition of trial. Sin here, earns death there; not annihilation, not a change into some further state, but the never-ending break up, and confusion, and unspeakable terror, and dismay, and dejection, and despair, of the guilty and corrupted soul.

We have however yet another question to ask and answer. Such are the consequences of sin in a man: so destructive, so irreparable, so final. But is this all? Are these natural consequences of sin the whole punishment which it will bring? If it consisted merely in acts done against our own happiness, this might be so: but recollect a moment what sin is. We explained it, after the Apostle St. John, as being transgression of God’s law. Now can we suppose that a just and almighty Lawgiver would make laws for His creatures which He knows to be for their welfare, promulgate them with all the sublime manifestations of His majesty, as of old on Sinai,—or with those of His infinite love, as by the mouth of Him who spake as never man spake,—can we suppose that He would do this, and then leave mankind, if they broke His laws, simply with the risk of the consequences upon them, as if those laws had never been thus made known? Is no penalty due to that God whom all sinners offend? Nor are we left to answer this question by our own speculations. God has again and again declared, that He will punish the sinner: that there are special punishments prepared for all who live and die in sin: punishments to which all the consequences of the sin itself, bad as they are, are as nothing in proportion. Holy Scripture exhausts the most terrible images in language and thought to make this clear to us.

But first, before them all, the plain words of our text demand our consideration, as announcing a punishment for sin, which is to be coextensive with its guilt: viz. that of death. There can be no doubt that bodily death in its present form as existing in our race, is the punishment of our sin,—the consequence of our sinful state. Whether we have any right to carry this further, and to say that death would not have come into the world at all but for man’s sin, is very doubtful: Scripture gives no authority for such an idea, and the appearances presented by nature are against it. But as now inflicted on all mankind, we are expressly told that death is the punishment of sin. There can indeed be little doubt that man, as he came from the hands of his Creator, was liable to death. This the Apostle Paul clearly shews us, when he declares that the first man was "of the earth, earthy:" this argument, and the propriety of the words "Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return," apply just as much to man before his sin as after it. But from a hint given in the third chapter of Genesis, it would appear, that had man remained pure and upright in Eden, the mysterious use of the tree of life would have wrought in him immortality and raised his body out of the power of decay. From this use however he was specially excluded on account of his sin. "Lest he put forth his hand and take of the tree of life and eat, and live for ever," a guard was placed which barred his access to that tree. So that death in us, with all its preceding evils, disease, weakness, pain, terror, and all its succeeding miseries, mourning, lamentation and woe, is the special punishment, by God’s own declaration, of our sin. We are sinful: therefore we die. And from this portion of sin’s punishment, no son or daughter of Adam is exempt. So entirely and of course is the whole of our nature subjected to it, that He who took that nature on him free from sinfulness either transmitted or personal, yet took it with this penalty attached to it, and became subject to all the approaches of death, and finally to death itself. It will come before us further on in our course to shew, how He by His death took the curse out of bodily death, and made it to us as nothing to them that believe in Him: it may be enough now to mention the blessed fact, and that by way of contrast: that we may be better able to declare that on them who live and die in sin, on the unbelievers in Christ, and the unworthy members of Christ, Death still retains all his hold and inflicts all his terrors. To them, death is not only the dissolution of the body, but the eternal misery of the soul: the state of the abiding wrath of God, from which there is for them no escape.

Thus much, my brethren, are we bound to believe, thus much to impress upon you, as to the consequence and punishment of sin. And all this is the deserved lot of every one among us; though by God’s infinite mercy in Christ, which we have yet to unfold, it will be the actual lot only of those who refuse His offers of grace, and prefer the service of sin to His service. The progress of that wonderful Redemption which He has wrought out, will open before us in that which we have to say on the morning of the approaching great Christmas Festival.

Meantime let us earnestly lay to heart the deadly nature, and the grievous peril, of sin. Our Collect to-day teaches us to confess that "through our sins and wickedness we are sorely let and hindered in running the race that is set before us." May we not only say this to-day and during the week, but may we every one of us deeply feel it: by searching and knowing our own peculiar faults and infirmities, by watching and praying against them, by ever living closer to Him whose bountiful grace and mercy can alone help and deliver us.

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

The Deceitfulness of Sin

The Deceitfulness of Sin

The Deceitfulness of Sin

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13, ESV)

We are warned, in the passage in which these words occur, to beware lest any of us be hardened through the Deceitfulness of sin. It is to this last quality of sin, as connected with its manifold working, that I would to-day bespeak your attention.

I described it last Sunday as one of the worst symptoms of our spiritual disease, that the more a man is affected with it, the less, in many cases, does he know that he has it at all. And herein consists the deceitfulness of sin: not in making itself appear more important, but in making itself appear less important, than it really is. It is, as we saw, a deadly taint in our nature, ever stealing onward, requiring ever the most active check to be put upon it; never shrinking back, or declining, as a matter of course, but, on the contrary, as a matter of course always waxing, always flourishing: creeping about our pure thoughts, entangling our good resolves, binding down our holy aspirations; even until all becomes overborne by it, and confusion and helplessness and hopelessness set in, and self is exalted as supreme, and God is forgotten in the chambers of the heart, and the voice of the good Spirit becomes silent, and the darkness of the night gathers round, and the spoiler only waits without, certain of his prey. And mind I am not speaking now, I do not mean to speak to-day, of what men call great sinners, or of what are known as deadly and shameful sins: I speak of us all, I want to benefit all: I speak of the course of sin, its manifoldness, its deceitfulness, in us who, I will suppose, abstain at least from its outward and grosser manifestations: us, who are not murderers, not adulterers, not defrauders, not false swearers, but who are lovers of self, vain, envious, seekers of applause from men, careless, indolent, unwatchful, unfaithful to Christ. It is of the ordinary character of the average Christian man that I speak; in its infirmity, in its capriciousness, in its unwariness. May I be guided to speak aright, and you to judge what I say.

It will be plain to you that, in order to deal with such a subject profitably, I must not linger amidst mere general matters, but must enter into particulars, and exhibit sin in some of its various modes of attack and access to us. I must divide our life and its energies into its several departments, and shew how the manifoldness and deceitfulness of sin beset us in each one of them.

And for this purpose the most convenient division will be the most ordinary one. Our vital energy finds issue in three great ranges and regions: those of thought, of word, of deed. In each one of these there is duty, and there is fault. In each of them there is the voice of God speaking in our consciences, there is the written law of God guiding, confirming, furthering, that inward voice: in each of them there is in us the constant disposition to set conscience and to set God aside, and to become our own guides, our own masters. Let us then take each one of these in turn, and shew in each, how manifold sin is, how deceitful.

Sins of thought. How best may we place ourselves aright to consider these? It is not easy to turn inward, and be faithful witnesses to what passes within us. Nothing is so deceitful, nothing so apt to become a delusion, as the taking account of our own thoughts and feelings. Memory cannot copy faithfully the picture which has faded away, but overlays and tricks it out with fresh and unreal colors. What, for example, so utterly empty and unprofitable as religious diaries, experience-records, chronicles of past states of mind, unless indeed traced by a master-hand, and laid down with rare and self-denying faithfulness? This very fact shews, how busy sin is in our thoughts: how it is ever waking and watching, and turning even the infirmities of our memory into occasions for itself. In this very matter, how deep is its deceit—how subtle its craft! Take a more special example. Often we find in such records, often we find in ourselves, a disposition to exaggerate our own sinfulness. All is put down as bad: nothing could be worse. Slight errors are magnified into great sins: real sins blackened into unpardonable enormities. O meekness, we may be disposed to say,—O humility! But pause a moment, and enquire, Is this really so? When self is both the accuser and the accused, both the prisoner and the prosecutor;—when again the crime charged is past, and the act of charging it is present;—when all the discredit is looked upon as belonging to a former and infirm self, and all the credit as accruing to a present better self,—O how strong is the temptation to get at the comfortable inference, I was worse then, but I am better now! How the treacherous self-gratulation mingles even with humility, even with thankfulness to God! How it lurks in and pervades all such recollections,—from the glorious confessions of the great African Augustine to the flattest memoirs of the most common-place religionist of our puny time!

But we must not stay talking about the difficulty of dealing fairly with our thoughts, though this very difficulty illustrates our subject: we must enter in, and grapple with the difficulty itself. There is no question that our real thoughts can be got at, and their liability to sin justly measured, if we will spend time and trouble over it. And it must be remembered, that here in public, and in dealing with the matter on a large scale, we are not beset by the difficulty in its full strength: we are not dealing with our individual selves, whom we love, alas, not wisely but too well; we are dealing with our public self, so to speak; with our whole species, of which we are at least somewhat fairer, though by no means infallible judges.

And, thus dealing, we may venture to say, that the great burden of our sins of thought will be found to consist in this, in a want of honest, conscientious adoption and following of what we know to be real and true;—in Scripture language, "an evil heart of unbelief." We are not unbelievers: the bare idea is dreadful to us: we hold and we cling to the glorious doctrines of our redemption: if an hour of trial came, I do not suppose we should desert them; there would be found, as there have ever been found in Christ’s Church, many ready to suffer, some even to die for them. But in spite of all this, it is too often certain that while the man, with his mind and his affections, thoroughly believes, the heart is, to a sad extent, an unbeliever. I mean that in the secret inmost chamber where ideas spring into life, where resolves are formed, and plans matured, the great truths which are believed are not given their due place, nor allotted their proper share. A man thoroughly believes that there will be a judgment of all things done in the flesh. But how often, in forming his plans and resolves, does he take this into serious account? How often, when called upon to decide on a course of conduct, does any one of us say within himself, How shall I give account of this to Him who is ready to judge the quick and the dead? Are not our determinations much more often principally brought about by considerations of a very different kind from this? Our own inclination, our worldly interest, the opinion of others, all these are first consulted, and first satisfied: if, when this is done, the path chosen happens to be that of duty and God’s will, we are ready enough to take credit for it, and to flatter ourselves upon it: if it turns out to be another path, we set to work, I am afraid, to invent some compromise wherewith conscience may be lulled into acquiescence. O for that clearness of inward vision, which shall ever see the great noonday sun of God’s presence shining upon every thought, detecting its errors and prejudices and self-leanings! O for that singleness of purpose which shall be able to labor by that light alone, disregardful of how the work will appear under the dim and artificial candle of human estimation! There is no prayer of which we have more constant and urgent need than this,—"Unite my heart to fear thy name:"—make it to be in its life-thinking and energizing, what it is in its reasoning, what it is in its praying, what it is in its confessing, what it is in its teaching of others.

Again: a man firmly and without hypocrisy believes in the great sacrifice of Christ for him. He knows he is bought with the price of the precious blood of the Son of God; that he is a baptized member of Christ, and bound to live for Him and to Him. And yet, when we come to motives, when we come to resolves within him, where does this belief appear? Are our thoughts governed, are they penetrated, are they constrained, by any such considerations? When selfish views spread before us in all their attractiveness, the fertile plains of Sodom tempting us to dwell in them, does the course of self-denial to which we are pledged instantly assert its claim—does our eye at once rise to the thorny upward path, and to Him who bore his Cross, and dropped his Blood along it? When the temper is roused by insult, when the pride is stung by contumely, when the self-opinion is buffeted by designed slight, and the tyrant fiend of revenge springs to his feet in a moment,—do our eyes see, or do they refuse to see, the Spirit of the Lord lifting His standard against him? Do we hear, or do we refuse to hear, amidst the rising gusts of passion, the still small voice "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart?"

I have purposely dwelt on this particular class of sins of thought, because they are the most subtle, the least guarded against, the most seldom held up for warning: because they poison the very springs of life itself: because they are manifold and deceitful in every one of us: because they are ever undermining the building which we are raising on the one Foundation, robbing us of our full reward, tarnishing the brightness of our future spiritual crown. O that we might each of us have grace to wake and watch against them, and apply ourselves in earnest to their removal and cure!

I now come to sins of word. And here I shall not speak of bad and unholy and impure words,—not of evil speaking, lying, and slandering: these are open and manifest: if we fall into these, we know it, we repent of it; but I shall speak of sins of word more beneath the surface, into which when we fall, we do not know it, of which, when we have fallen into them, we are little accustomed to repent.

And I believe such sins will mainly be found, as regards our dealings with men, in stating or not stating the very truth of our sentiments and feelings and beliefs. I am not now speaking of hypocrisy, nor of any willful and conscious disingenuousness, but of a general want of clear and fearless truthfulness, which pervades, it seems to me, the conversation of so many even good and religious persons. The motive for this frequently is, an over-cautious fear of the consequences of what may be said, or its effect upon those to whom it is said; a sense of the duty of taking a side, and fancying that this cannot be done without acting the partisan, and supporting that side at all hazards, even to the peril of truth and fairness itself. And thus in religious matters difficulties are glossed over, great questions which really agitate men’s minds are kept out of sight, institutions merely human are held up as perfect, or their imperfections acknowledged indeed in the general, where no harm can be done, but denied in every particular when the pinch really comes. And so our holy Religion becomes a thing upheld merely because it is right and expedient that it should be, not because of its own claims to our allegiance: and the Bible is upheld, not with an humble and intelligent examination of its real meaning and undoubted difficulties, but with a blind dogmatic spirit, finding fault with honest investigation, breaking the bruised reed of incipient doubt, quenching the smoking flax of awakened enquiry. Now human nature cannot stand this, either in a man’s self, or in others to or of whom he thus speaks. In himself, the consequences are deplorable. How many men uphold a rigid formal set of sentiments which in their hearts they do not believe! How many men are thus living at variance with their own reason and conscience, divided against themselves, and therefore, whatever may seem, of necessity falling into ruin and spiritual decay! How grievous it is, how sad it has been often in our own times, to see men from whose mouths has gone forth for years the pure language of religious truth, at last making wreck of faith and practice—proved to have been but counterfeits! And this, not in all cases, but I am persuaded in very many cases, because they never dealt ingenuously and fearlessly with their own hearts and with mankind about them: they professed to be fighting in armour which they had never proved, and so the enemy was too strong for them.

"What then?" I hear some one say: "are we never to take the side of God till we can understand Him? till we can penetrate the darkness in which He shrouds himself? Are we never to confess or to strive for a doctrine of religion, till we thoroughly and clearly see our way into it and round it?" Nay, my brethren, I said not any such thing. We never can by searching find out God: we must acknowledge many doctrines, which we do not understand. All I demand is that we freely and fearlessly confess these to be weaknesses. By all means let us stand on the side of God, on the side of the Bible, on the side of the Church, which we believe to be the best exponent of God as revealed in the Bible: but let this be done humbly, ingenuously, truthfully: not fearing to confess that there are matters regarding God which are as yet dark to us, that there are things in the Bible of which we cannot give an account, that there are infirmities and imperfections even in the best human setting forth of the Church on earth. When will we learn, that the consideration of the consequences of what we say is not to be entertained, when justice and right require of us to speak and fear not? When will men come to feel, that the blessed Gospel of Christ never was and never can be the gainer by any false statement, any equivocation, any shrinking from dangerous truth or unwelcome fact? Doubtless it is misery enough to be an unbeliever, even though honest in unbelief; but a dishonest believer is worse and more miserable than an honest unbeliever. And yet how many of the former, it is to be feared, have, in the history of God’s Church, stood in high and holy places, and dictated, and persecuted: and how many of the latter might have been reclaimed and persuaded, had they been dealt with more in the spirit of Christ!

If again the effect of this timid untruthful religion be bad on a man’s self, much more is it hurtful and fatal on others. The world outside, seeing the questions which it is ever too ready to press on Christians evaded, or insufficiently met, forms its own conclusion, unjust indeed, but hardly to be wondered at, as to the reasons why the Gospel of Christ is upheld by us; attributes it to the love of our position, care for our emoluments, or mere habit and use, and not liking to see the old faith decay: instead of that which is the real motive even in those who thus feebly advocate it, love to God and to man, and thorough persuasion of its truth.

And now let us advance to sins of act and deed: doing what we ought not to do, leaving undone what we ought to do. And here again, being anxious to speak of the manifoldness and deceitfulness of sin, I will not deal Math known sins,—plain omissions or flagrant commissions,—but with those which we seldom think of or charge ourselves with. And this being so, it is plain that our attention will be almost entirely confined to sins of omission: as it is in course of these mainly that the attention is set to sleep, and the watchful guard is relaxed, and the standard of positive duty is lowered. One of the commonest omissions in the ordinary lives of Christian men is, the neglect of the words of the Master of all Christian men: the disuse of taking into account, as rules of conduct, the injunctions and precepts of Christ. Our lives are mainly spent in obedience to the common conventional rules set by the opinions and practices of those about us. Thanks to God, those about us form a community regulated in outward and plain matters by Christian rules: so that men’s lives have become, by the leavening influence of Christianity, a decent approximation to the tenor of the precepts of Christ. Still there are many things yet left, in which public usage or opinion says one thing, and the Lord Christ says plainly another: many as to which the world’s rule lays down nothing, but our divine Master lays down very much. It is in such matters, I believe, that we Christians are continually falling into sin. We think our actions good enough, if they will bear comparison with those of the society in which we move, and of the time in which we live: forgetful that our rule has been prescribed by One who speaks not on earth but from heaven: that our standard has been set for us in words which shall not have passed away when heaven and earth are no more.

O that there were in any of us the habit of referring our questioning thoughts at once to His verdict whom we profess to serve; of guiding our actions simply, humbly, fearlessly, by His precept and His example! And in order for this, there would be no occasion to run counter in ordinary things to the habits and feelings of those about us: if we were earnest like Him, humble like Him, wise like Him, at whatever distance from His perfect example, we should recommend and adorn our unflinching course of Christian duty by quietness, by unobtrusiveness, by consideration for others, by knowledge what to say, and when, and to whom. It is not the busy protester against what other men do, it is not the man who is ever found up in arms against the usages of society, who does the good; but he who is gifted with sound judgment enough to overlook things indifferent, to join in practices which he himself would perchance not have chosen, if by so doing he may cheer, and bless, and hallow, and leaven, the society in which God has cast his lot. Here again I conceive good Christian men are often led, in our time, into sin. For O it is sin, to misrepresent the profession of a disciple of Christ by a morose and unsocial and forbidding aspect; it is sin, always to be found in opposition, and never in hearty concurrence, when schemes are proposed which interest and please others. If a man’s religion be so completely a matter of his own, of keeping himself so usually aloof from his brethren, all we can say is that it is not Christ’s religion, who pleased not himself: it is not St. Paul’s religion, who became all things to all men. An unsocial, uncomplying, individualizing life may be very flattering to pride: may serve as a salve to the conscience, and make a man fancy himself very good and pure; but there can be no doubt that such a course is a life-long sin, bringing dishonor on the blessed Gospel of Christ, and hardening men’s hearts against its influence.

It is time to draw to a close; and the special object which I would recommend to you1 to-day furnishes me with an eminent example of another branch of sins of omission on the part of Christian men. There are many things which Christ has expressly charged on His Church as positive and perpetual duties. The care of His poor, the instruction of His little ones, these are of this kind; and, not least among such, the evangelization of the whole world. Words cannot be more explicit than His parting command,—"Go ye into all the world: preach the Gospel to every creature." Whatever the time, whatever the appearance of things, whatever the state of the Church or the nations, whether hope or fear, exultation or dejection be our present attitude, these words change not: this holy command binds every Christian at every time. And remember the solemn words of Holy Writ—"To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." You know, every one of you well knows, that each of us is bound to-day to bring to God his contribution,—great or small matters not half so much,—to this His Society, by which this Church of England is fulfilling our Lord’s behest. You know this. Are you going to do it? Because if, having this knowledge, you pass by and refuse to contribute, it is sin—a new stain on your own souls—a new mark against you in that book which shall be opened the next time we all stand together in God’s presence.

Think of this: and God give you grace to act accordingly.

But, though my time has run out, and I have said what I had to say on my subject, none of you I am sure will to-day grudge me a few words more. I little knew, when I wrote of times of national dejection, what deep occasion we should have for it before that sentence was uttered here. A prince and a great man has this day fallen in Israel. At the very time when the vessel of the state requires most careful guidance, and none can tell what dangers are before her, one of those nearest the helm has been mysteriously snatched away. When none thought it—when it seemed as if unbroken prosperity were almost the heritage of our royal family,—in one night our princely house is fatherless, our Queen a widow. I pause not to-day to draw out the solemn lessons which such an event suggests. The blow is too fresh—the effect too numbing just now. All I say is this: First, pray, loyally, fervently, constantly, for her whose great grief is now uppermost in all our thoughts: and secondly, waken more than ever at this solemn moment to the claim of our national Christian duties. Let not the astonishment of your present grief supersede your zeal for God’s work to which, you are called; rather let the softened heart, the stricken spirit, acknowledge God as nearer, His voice as more plainly heard: and in this and all duties to which He summons you, make you more ready to say, Lord, what wouldst thou have us to do?

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

Sin as a Fact

Sin as a Fact

Sin as a Fact

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV)

The Gospel of Christ may be described as a glorious remedy for a disease fatal and otherwise incurable, with which our whole race is tainted. And the first step in treating of the Gospel must ever be to lay open, and make us sensible of, that disease. For one of its most dangerous symptoms is, that it makes men insensible to its own presence: so that the worse a man is afflicted with it, the less he knows that he has it at all. And, seeing that the remedy is not one which can be simply taken once and then all will be well, but one which requires long and painful and self-denying application, a man must be very thoroughly persuaded that he has the disease, and that he is likely to perish from it, before he will take the necessary trouble to be cured of it. Now this disease we call sin. And in consequence of what has been said you will see, that in beginning a course of sermons on Christian doctrine, I must deal first with this fact which lies at the bottom of all Christian doctrine, that all men are sinners. I may be at once met with the question, Who does not know that? Who does not confess himself to be a sinner? Doubtless, all do this by profession and with the lips. But, my brethren, there is as much difference between confessing with the lips and feeling intensely in the depth of the heart, as there is between confessing and not confessing at all. "Miserable sinners:" "Have mercy upon us miserable sinners." But what do we mean by sinners?

Let us try and lay hold of this—let us try to-day and see what sin means—what "all having sinned" means.

When any of us looks out upon mankind, or looks within himself, with ever so little attention, one thing can hardly fail to strike him. It is, the presence of Evil. We at once see that there is a something in the world, and within us, rebellious, destructive, altogether unwelcome, and which we would gladly be rid of. We want harmony among men, harmony in ourselves, for all purposes of human improvement, for all purposes of our own progress and enlightening. But instead of harmony, we find discord every where. From the first, man’s history has been a history of going wrong and doing wrong: from the first, our own personal history has been a history of interrupted good and interfering bad. Now observe, I am not at this moment speaking as a minister of the Gospel: I am speaking merely as man,—as a citizen of the world, as one of you, or one of any band of men gathered out of any age and any place upon earth. I am dwelling upon what is matter of universal observation. Who can deny this presence and this working of an unwelcome and a hostile element in all human matters? What deceit will ever enable a man to hide from himself this dark shadow which falls upon the fairest prospects and purest courses in life? What mind looking into itself is not found to confess that there is this night side of its thoughts and ways?

Now it is not my purpose, at all events not at present, to say a word about the reason why this evil ever came into God’s universe. I am concerned to-day with the fact, and the importance of knowing and acknowledging the fact, that it has come into it and is every where present. Some may say—some have said, conceal the fact, and you will get rid of it. Don’t tell people that there is evil in the world; forget that there is evil about and in yourself; and you and they will become good. It may be true, they continue, that there is such a dark spot in nature; that there are these black shadows amidst the shining of the Face of the universal Father: but gazing upon them is painful and useless: look at the bright side of every thing: believe things to be innocent and right, and infinitely more good will be done than by dwelling on the gloom and so increasing it. This, my brethren, not only has been the published advice of a whole school of writers,—it is also the view taken by many loose and shallow thinkers in every place at our own time. But let me ask you, do you suppose that the unquestioned evil in universal nature, and in our nature, can be thus got rid of? "Believe the world to be good, and it will become good," says one of these writers: "Believe yourself to be good, and you will become good." I answer, Try it. Try it for a day, for an hour. Then go into your chamber, and take strict unsparing account. And if it is urged that more time is wanted, try it for a year: shut your eyes to all that is bad in the world—to all that is bad in you: refuse to believe, refuse to entertain any suspicion of evil in yourself, or in others, for that time: then retire and trace your path during the time. Does not every man see what would be the result? Do not we all know, that it would be simply the tale of the silly ostrich over again, which imagines itself safe from the hunter by shutting its eyes, and by hiding him from its own sight? Do we not see, that such a person would only be delivered up far more and far more helplessly into the power of evil?

No, my brethren: a man who wants to get rid of evil in himself must open his eyes to the evil, not hide it: must not shrink from any pain which the sight may give him, if it also gives him the knowledge, what the danger is, and how to meet it. And he who wants to overcome evil in others, must not shrink from the gloomy and unwelcome task of speaking of it, exposing it, probing its extent and measuring its strength, that so they may be the more deeply and earnestly convinced of its existence, and the more active in combating it.

There is then this evil all about us and in us: and we must make up our minds to see it, to recognize it, to stand face to face with it, and conquer it. Now here come in two most important remarks. This evil is not the only disagreeable thing in life. There are bodily pain, discomfort, misery, common to us and all mankind—nay, common to us and the lower animals. And there is this circumstance about all these, worthy of our present notice. If we can manage to forget them, to flee away from them, to hide them from us, we thereby get rid of them. We need not look at them, nor study their nature. A man who wants to avoid breaking a limb, need not be always gazing on or describing broken limbs: he has but to avoid those risks which might occasion the mischief. A man who would avoid death will follow the ordinary instinct of self-preservation: he would not be for ever studying all the possible ways of dying. Such knowledge is not necessary; nay, it would be an incumbrance and a nuisance. But the man who wishes to avoid evil in this world, must be awake and alive to the forms and accesses of evil. He cannot do without such knowledge: his very safety consists in it. Therefore—and mark the inference as an important one in our progress to-day—evil is a matter of a totally different kind from bodily pain, misery, or death.

Again: evil is not by any means our only inward source of annoyance and hindrance. You have—I have—every one has—defects, infirmities, in his or her mind and disposition: things of which we would willingly be rid if we could: bars to our progress and hindrances to our perfection. But none of these do we look upon as we look upon evil. Let it be shewn that we are dull, or feeble, or inferior to some others, we put up with it, we excuse it, we make ourselves as comfortable as we may under the knowledge of it: but let it be once shewn, by others or by our own conscience that we have wished, said, done, that which is evil, and we know at once that there is no excuse for it. We may try to shew that we did it inadvertently, or by force of circumstances; or in some way to lessen our own share in it: but the very labor to construct an excuse shews that we hold the evil itself, as evil, to be inexcusable. Evil itself no one attempts to excuse: all take for granted that it is a loathsome thing, all desire that their character and their conscience should stand free from it.

So far then this evil is something which our nature itself teaches us to revolt from and abhor. We do not, we cannot excuse it; we cannot contentedly put up with it, we cannot be happy under its influence. Now do not mistake me. Many a man, as we have seen, excuses his share in evil, excuses his evil deed as not being evil, plays the self-deceiver and hides the evil of his ways from himself, abandons his helm and lets himself drift into evil, and so is contented, and fancies himself happy, under evil. But again, and for all this, the thing itself is simply a deadly enemy to us, whenever and wherever detected, and exposed as being what it is. No son of man ever said or could say, from his inmost heart, what the great poet sublimely represents Satan as saying, "Evil, be thou my good." It requires more than man ever to say this.

Well now, my brethren, what does all this shew? Does it not testify to there being a law within us, implanted in our nature, by which evil is avoided, and by consequence good sought and desired? And observe that this is true, quite independently of and previous to all circumstances in which a man is placed, all interests in which he is involved. Our abhorrence of evil as evil does not spring from our finding it to be hurtful to us: we know that it is hurtful to us, the moment we know any thing. The little child for the first time detected in evil, is as much ashamed of it as the experienced and mature man. Now this is exceedingly important: all-important, in our present enquiry. A law within us tells us what is good, tells us that we ought to be good, to say good, to do good. Mind I only assert this fact. That this law is broken in upon, that it is not always distinctly or properly or effectively asserted, is nothing to my present purpose. I know all this, and shall have to use it by and by. But I only care now for this great fact, that there is this law: that we all know it, all judge by it, all act upon it as a familiar and confessed thing. All our enacted laws, all our public opinion, even all our ways of thinking and speaking in words, are founded on there being such a law within man, sanctioning good, prohibiting evil.

Now then it is time for us to ask, when man becomes, says, acts evil, what sort of a thing does he do? For that such is the case, is but too plain. Evil thoughts, evil words, evil acts, are but too often to be found in the course of all of us; evil men unhappily abound in every place and society. How are we to look upon such evil thoughts, words, acts, and men? Are they necessary? In plain words, is it a condition of our lives that we must enter into compact with evil, as it is that we must eat and sleep? Certainly not. This is clear from what has already been said. Every protest against evil, every resistance to evil, every victory over evil, proves that evil is not necessary to our being; that He who made us has made us capable of existing without evil, and all the better for existing without evil. But now let us listen to what follows. True as this is, we must always remember, that this great and blessed state of our being, the freedom from and victory over evil, is not that after which all men are striving. There are all kinds of lower forms of our being, which satisfy men, and in some cases constitute their chief good. One man seeks the gratification of his bodily appetites and lusts: another, the heaping up of wealth: a third, the gaining of power: a fourth, the rising in the esteem of those about him: another again, several, or all of these together: and so, not man’s brightest aim, to be good and pure and calm and wise, but an aim very far below this, is followed by the worse part of mankind always,—by even the best of mankind sometimes.

Now, my brethren, every one of these lower and unworthy objects, if followed as an object, does necessarily bring a man into contact and compromise with evil. To be bent on gratifying lust, is of itself evil: to amass selfishly, is evil: to promote our own influence and push for precedence, is evil. Greed, intemperance, injustice to others, unkindness, overweening opinion of self, and a hundred other evil things beset every one of such courses of life; every one of such thoughts, words, actions.

Now we have advanced, I think, close to our point. When a man lives such a course, when any one of us gives way to such thoughts or words, or commits such deeds, he is disobeying that great first law of our being by which, as I shewed you, we choose the good and abhor the evil. How it is that men got the wish so to go wrong and so to disobey the law of their being, it is not my present object to enquire. But though it is not, I must simply remind you that we Christian believers know how this was; and more than this,—that our Bibles give us the only satisfactory account that ever was given of it. We know that it was by a taint at the root and spring of our race; by our first parents using that freedom in which their Creator made them, not to please Him by remaining in good, but to please themselves by entering into a compromise with evil. But I say no more, as to enlarge on this is beyond our subject to-day. Men are (there is no doubt of this) liable, every man is liable, thus to enter into compact with his worst enemy, evil, in order to serve his present lower purposes. We all do this continually.

Now whenever we do this, we sin. "All sin," says St. John, "is transgression of law." Where there is no law, there is no sin; wherever there is a law, there he who disobeys that law commits sin. And we have seen that this inward law which teaches us to abhor evil and choose good is broken and set at nought by us all. We do not choose the good which we know we ought to choose: we do choose the evil which we very well know we ought not to choose. The propensity to do this, the entertaining the temptation to do it, the doing it, all these are sin. Now sin is not, like evil, a mere general quality: it is committed against a person. And there is, properly speaking, but one Person, against whom sin is, or can be committed. There is One who is the source and fountain of all law, all right, all purity, all goodness. And this law of good and evil of which we have been speaking, this above and before all others, springs from that Holy and Just one who hath made us and to whom we are accountable. All sin is against Him: is a violation of His law, is a thwarting, by His mysterious permission, of His holy and blessed purposes with regard to man.

All have sinned. And in dwelling on this, the fact, that all men have inherited the disposition to sin, necessarily comes first. And this is no fiction: this is not, as the unbeliever of our day would try to persuade you, an exploded fallacy of a gone-by system; but it is sober and fearful truth. It is moreover agreeable to the analogy of all God’s works in nature and in spirit: a truth, as matter of experience, undeniable by any who is aware of even the most common phænomena of our nature. And, inheriting this disposition, but with it inheriting also the great inward law of conscience warning us against evil, we have again and again followed, not the good law, but the evil propensity: in wayward childhood this has been so: in passionate youth: in calm deliberate manhood. We have not chosen evil; we have hated evil by our very nature; but we have followed evil, fallen into sin, by reason of our lusts and our passions blinding us, dragging us onward and downward, and delivering us tied and bound into the power of the enemy whom we naturally shun and detest. We have done this,—we are doing it, continually: we shall ever be doing it more or less, in our manifold weaknesses, our besetting dangers, our abounding temptations.

Now then, this being so, what follows? Can sin be safe? Can a sinner be happy? Can a sinful man be gaining the ends of his being? The full answer to this question does not belong to our subject to-day; but I cannot and ought not to conclude without slightly anticipating it.

Sin is and must be the ruin of man, body and soul, here and hereafter. The born sinner—the tainted child of a tainted stock, living under that taint, with it working and spreading in him and through him,—how shall he be safe? how shall he be happy? how shall he ever grow on to good and to a blessed eternity? Without going any further into the matter to-day, do you not see that this cannot be so? Whoever sins, goes wrong: lays up grief, shame, all that is dreadful, for himself, by thwarting the gracious ends for which God created him, viz. to love, obey, and imitate Himself, that he may become like Him, and one day see Him as He is.

No more then at present but this. Every man’s work in life, sinners as we all are, is this: to find out his sins, to confess his sins to God, to struggle with God’s help against his sins, year by year and day by day to gain victories over his sins through Him who overcame sin for us; to believe in, and live in the reality of, the Atonement which His Blood has made for all and every sin. All the glorious process of that which He hath accomplished for us, will come before us as we proceed.

But now in this season of Advent, when we are to cast away the works of darkness, I must detain you some Sundays longer on our own need of Him for whose coming we are to prepare; and shall therefore, by God’s help, speak to you on the next two Sundays on the manifold nature of sin, and on its guilt and consequences.

Now to Him who hath loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to the Son of God, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory for ever. Amen.

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)


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