The theology of the last century has failed lamentably at two essential points, namely its teaching concerning God and its teaching concerning fallen man. As an Australian writer recently expressed it, "On the one hand, they have not ascended high enough . . . on the other hand, they do not descend low enough." God is infinitely greater and His dominion is far more absolute and extensive. Man has sunk much lower and is far more depraved than they will allow. Consequently a man's conduct unto his Maker is vastly more evil than is commonly supposed. Sin's horrible hideousness cannot really be seen except in the light supplied by Holy Writ. Sin is infinitely more vile in its nature than any of us realize. Men may acknowledge that they sin, but it appears sin to very, very few.
Sin was the original evil. Before it entered the universe there was no evil: "God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).
Sin is the greatest of all evils. There is nothing in it but evil, nor can it produce anything but evil—now, in the future, or forever. As soon as sin was conceived, all other evils followed in its train. We may take a survey of everything in and on the earth, and we cannot find anything so vile as sin.
The basest and most contemptible thing in this world has some degree of worth in it, as being the workmanship of God. But sin and its foul streams have not the least part of worth in them. Sin is wholly evil, without the least mixture of good. Sin is vileness in the abstract. Its heinousness appears in the author of it: "He who commits sin is of the devil: for the devil sins from the beginning" (1 John 3:8)—sin is his trade, and he is the incessant practitioner of it.
Sin's enormity is seen in what it has done to man: it has completely ruined his nature and brought him under the curse of God.
Sin is the source of all our miseries: all unrighteousness and wretchedness being its fruits. There is no distress of the mind, no anguish of the heart, no pain of the body, but it is due to sin. All the miseries which mankind groan under today, are to be ascribed to sin.
Sin is the cause of all penal evils: "Your way and your doings have procured these things unto you: this is your wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reaches unto your heart" (Jeremiah 4:18). Had there been no sin, there would have been . . .
no insane asylums,
Yet who lays these things to heart? Sin assumes many garbs, but when it appears in its nakedness it is seen as a black and misshapen monster! How God Himself views sin may be learned from the various similitudes used by the Holy Spirit to set forth its ugliness and loathsomeness. He has compared it with the greatest deformities and the most filthy and repulsive objects to be met with in this world. Sin is likened:
to the scum of a seething pot, wherein a detestable carcass is being destroyed (Ezekiel 24:11, 12);
to the blood and pollution of a newly born child, before it is washed; (Ezekiel 16:4, 6);
to a dead and rotting body (Romans 7:24);
to the repulsive stench and poisonous exhalations which issue from the mouth of an open sepulcher (Romans 3:13);
to the image of the Devil (John 8:44);
to putrefying sores (Isaiah 1:5, 6);
to a menstruous cloth (Isaiah 30:22, Isaiah 64:6);
to a canker or gangrene (2 Timothy 2:17);
to the dung of filthy creatures (Philippians 3:8);
to the vomit of a dog and the wallowing of a sow in the stinking mire (2 Peter 2:22).
Such comparisons show us something of the vileness and horribleness of sin, yet in reality it is beyond all comparison.
There is a far greater malignity in sin than is commonly supposed, even by the great majority of church members. Men regard sin as an infirmity, and term it a "human frailty" or "hereditary weakness." But Scripture calls it "an evil thing and bitter" (Jeremiah 2:19), an abominable thing which God hates (Jeremiah 44:4). Few people think it to be so: rather do the great majority regard it as a mere trifle, as a matter of so little importance that they have but to cry in the hour of death, "Lord, pardon me; Lord, bless me," and all will be eternally well with them.
They judge sin by the opinion of the world. But what can the world which "lies in wickedness" (1 John 5:19) know about God's hatred of sin! It matters nothing what the world thinks, but it matters everything what God says thereon.
Others measure the guilt of sin by what conscience tells them—or fails to! But conscience needs informing by the Bible. Many of the heathen put their female children and old folk to death, and conscience chided them not. A deadened conscience has accompanied multitudes to Hell without any voice of warning. So little filth do they see in sin that tens of thousands of religionists imagine that a few tears will wash away its stain. So little criminality do they perceive in it that they persuade themselves that a few good works will make full reparation for it.
That all comparisons fail to set forth the horrible malignity which there is in that abominable thing which God hates, appears in the fact that we can say nothing more evil of sin than to term it what it is: "but sin, that it might appear sin" (Romans 7:13). "Who is like unto You, O Lord?" (Exodus 15:11). When we say of God that He is God we say all that can be said of Him. "Who is a God like unto You" (Micah 7:18). We cannot say more good of Him than to call Him God. So we cannot say more evil of sin than to say it is sin. When we have called it that, we have said all that can he said of it. When the Apostle would put a descriptive epithet to sin, he invested it with its own name: "that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful" (Romans 7:13). That was the worst he could say of it, the ugliest name he could give it—just as when Hosea denounced the Ephraimites for their idolatry: "so shall Bethel do unto you because of the evil of your evil" (10:15 margin). The Prophet could not paint their wickedness in any blacker color than to double the expression.
The hideousness of sin can be set forth no more impressively than in the terms used by the Apostle in Romans 7:13, "That sin . . . might become exceeding sinful" is a very forcible expression. It reminds us of similar words used by him when magnifying that glory which is yet to be revealed in the saints, and with which the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared, namely "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." No viler name can be found for sin than its own.
There are four great evils in sin:
the total absence of the moral image of God,
the transgression of His just Law,
obnoxiousness to His holiness,
separation from Him—
entailing the presence of positive evil, guilt which cannot be measured by any human standard, defilement the most repulsive, and misery inexpressible.
Sin contains within it an infinite evil, for it is committed against a Being of infinite glory, unto whom we are under infinite obligations. Its odiousness appears in that fearful description, "filthiness and overflow of wickedness" (James 1:21), which is an allusion to the brook Kidron, into which the garbage of the temple sacrifices and other vile things were cast (2 Chronicles 29:16).
Sin's hatefulness to God is seen in His awful curse upon the workmanship of His own hands, for He would not anathematize man for a trifle. If He does not afflict willingly, then most certainly He would not curse without great provocation.
The virulence and vileness of sin can only be gauged at Calvary, where it rose to the terrible commission of Deicide! At the Cross sin "abounded" to the greatest possible degree.
The demerits of sin are seen in the eternal damnation of sinners in Hell, for the indescribable sufferings which Divine vengeance will then inflict upon them are its righteous wages.
Sin is a species of atheism, for it is the virtual repudiation of God; to make of God no God, to set up our wills against His: "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?" (Exodus 5:2).
Sin is a malignant spirit of independence: whether imperceptibly influencing the mind or consciously present, it lies at the root of all evil and human depravity. Man would be lord of himself, hence his ready reception, at the beginning, of the Devil's lie, "You shall be as gods," and his credence thereof was the dissolution of that tie which bound the creature in willing subjection to the Author of his being. Thus sin is really the denial of our creaturehood, and in consequence, a rejection of the rights of the Creator. Its language is, "I am my own, and therefore have I the right to live unto myself."
As Thornwell pointed out, "Considered as the renunciation of dependence upon God, it may be called unbelief; as the exaltation of itself to the place of God, it may he called pride: as the transferring to another object the homage due to the Supreme, it may be called idolatry; but in all these aspects the central principle is one and the same."
An atheist is not only one who denies the existence of God, but also one who fails to render unto God that honor and subjection which are His due. Thus there is a practical atheism as well as a theoretical atheism. The former manifests wherever there is no genuine respect for God's authority and no concern for His glory. There are many who entertain theoretical notions in their heads of the Divine existence, yet whose hearts are devoid of any affection to Him. And that is now the natural condition of all the fallen descendants of Adam. Since there be "none that seeks after God" (Romans 3:11), it follows that there are none with any practical sense of His excellency or His claims. The natural man has no desire for communion with God, for he places his happiness in the creature. He prefers everything before Him and glorifies everything above Him. He loves his own pleasures more than God. His wisdom being "earthly, sensual, devilish" (James 3:15), the celestial and Divine are outside of his consideration. This appears in man's works, for actions speak louder than words. Our hearts are to be gauged by what we do, and not by what we say. Our tongues may be great liars, but our deeds tell the truth, showing what we really are.