Friday, March 21, 2008

The deceitfulness of sin

Some may not see the usefulness of being prepared theologically before sharing our experiences with practical sanctification. I completely disagree with such a view. I will imitate Elihu (in the book of Job) who waited that the elders have spoken before he should give his opinion. Bishop Ryle's book on holiness is a classic and a very good book. Let him speak first. Then we will share our experiences!

One point only remains to be considered on the subject of sin, which I dare not pass over. That point is its deceitfulness. It is a point of most serious importance and I venture to think it does not receive the attention which it deserves. You may see this deceitfulness in the wonderful proneness of men to regard sin as less sinful and dangerous than it is in the sight of God and in their readiness to extenuate it, make excuses for it and minimize its guilt. "It is but a little one! God is merciful! God is not extreme to mark what is done amiss! We mean well! One cannot be so particular! Where is the mighty harm? We only do as others!". Who is not familiar with this kind of language? You may see it in the long string of smooth words and phrases which men have coined in order to designate things which God calls downright wicked and ruinous to the soul.

What do such expressions as "fast", "gay", "wild", "unsteady", "thoughtless", "loose" mean? They show that men try to cheat themselves into the belief that sin is not quite sinful as God says it is, and that they are not so bad as they really are. You may see it in the tendency even of believers to indulge their children in questionable practices, and to blind their own eyes to the inevitable result of the love of money, of tampering with temptation and sanctioning a low standard of family religion. I fear we do not sufficiently realize the extreme subtlety of our soul's disease. We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself to us in its true colors, saying, "I am your deadly enemy and I want to ruin you forever in hell".

Oh, no! Sin come to us, like Judas, with a kiss, and like Joab, with and outstretched hand and flattering words. The forbidden fruit seemed good and desirable to Eve, yet it cast her out of Eden. The walking idly on his palace roof seemed harmless enough to David, yet it ended in adultery and murder. Sin rarely seems sin at its first beginnings. Let us then watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation.

We may give wickedness smooth names, but we cannot alter its nature and character in the sight of God. Let us remember St. Paul's words: "Exhort one another daily...lest any be hardened through the deceitfullness of sin" (Heb. 3:13). It is a wise prayer in our litany: "From the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil, good Lord, deliver us." And now, before I go further, let me briefly mention two thoughts which appear to me to rise with irresistible force out of the subject.

On the one hand, I ask my readers to observe what deep reasons we all have for humiliation and self-abasement. Let us sit down before the picture of sin displayed to us in the Bible and consider what guilty, vile, corrupt creatures we all are in the sight of God. What need we all have of that entire change of heart called regeneration, new birth or conversion! What a mass of infirmity and imperfection cleaves to the very best of us at our very best! What a solemn thought it is that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord"! (Heb. 12:14). What cause we have to cry with the tax-collector every night in our lives we think of our sins of omission as well as commission, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" (Luke 18:13). How admirably suited are the general and communion confessions of the Prayer Book to the actual condition of all professing Christians! How well that language suits God's children which the Prayer Book puts in the mouth of every churchman before he goes up to the communion table: "The remembrance of our misdoings is grievous unto us; the burden is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past." How true it is that the holiest saint is in himself a miserable sinner and a debtor to mercy and grace to the last moment of his existence!

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

I am persuaded that the more light we have, the more we see our own sinfulness; the nearer we get to heaven, the more we are clothed with humility. In the very age of the church you will find it true, if you will study biographies, that the most eminent saints -- men like Bradford, Rutherford and Mc'Cheyne-- have always been the humblest men.

On the other hand, I ask my readers to observe how deeply thankful we ought to be for the glorious gospel of the grace of God. There is a remedy revealed for man's need, as wide and broad and deep as man's disease. We need not be afraid to look at sin and study its nature, origin, power, extent and vileness, if we only look at the time at the almighty medicine provided for us in the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. Though sin has abounded, grace has much more abounded. Yes: in the everlasting covenant of redemption, to which Father, Son and Holy Spirit are parties; in the Mediator of that covenant, Jesus Christ the righteous, perfect God and perfect Man in one Person; in the work that He did by dying for our sins and rising again for our justification; in the offices that He fills as our Priest, Substitute, Physician, Shepherd and Advocate; in the precious blood He shed which can cleanse from all sin; in the everlasting righteousness that He brought in; in the perpetual intercession that He carries on as our Representative at God's right hand; in His power to save to the uttermost the chief of sinners, His willingness to receive and pardon the vilest, His readiness to bear with the weakest; in the grace of the Holy Spirit which He plants in the hearts of all His people, renewing, sanctifying and
causing old things to pass away and all things to become new -- in all this (and oh, what a brief sketch it is!) -- in all this. I say, there is a full, perfect and complete medicine for the hideous disease of sin. No wonder that old Flavel ends many a chapter of his admirable Fountain of Life with the touching words: "Blessed be God for Jesus Christ.".

In bringing this mighty subject to a close, I feel that I have only touched the surface of it. It is one which cannot be thoroughly handled in a message like this. He who would see it treated fully and exhaustively must turn to such masters of experimental theology as Owen and Burgess and Manton and Charnock and the other giants of the Puritan school.

On subjects like this there are no writers to be compared to the Puritans. It only remains for me to point out some practical uses to which the whole doctrine of sin may be profitably turned in the present day.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The guilt, vileness and offensiveness of sin

During the next few weeks, we will continue quoting Bishop Ryle's book on holiness. I consider that a must before we can begin to share our subjective experiences and struggles towards holiness. So, be patient, we will be more personal when this very needful and very long introduction will be completed. Everyone knows that sound theology must precede practical sanctification.

Concerning the guilt, vileness and offensiveness of sin in the sight of God, my words
will be few. I say "few" advisedly. I do not think, in the nature of things, that mortal man can at all realize the exceeding sinfulness of sin in the sight of that holy and perfect One with whom we have to do. On the one hand, God is that eternal Being who "charges His angels with folly" and in whose sight the very "heavens are not clean". He is One who reads thoughts and motives as well as actions and requires "truth in the inward parts" (Job 4:18; 15:15; Ps.51:6). We, on the other hand - poor blind creatures, here today; and gone tomorrow, born in sin, surrounded by sinners, living in a constant atmosphere of weakness, infirmity and imperfection - can form none but the most inadequate conception of the hideousness of evil. We have no line to fathom it and no measure by which to gauge it. The blind man can see no difference between a masterpiece of Titian or Raphael and the queen's head on a village signboard. The deaf man cannot distinguish between a penny whistle and a cathedral organ. The very animals whose smell is most offensive to us have no idea that they are offensive and are not offensive to one another.

Fallen men and women, I believe, can have no just idea what a vile thing sin is in the
sight of that God whose handiwork is absolutely perfect—perfect whether we look
through telescope or microscope; perfect in the formation of a mighty planet like Jupiter, with his satellites, keeping time to a second as he rolls round the sun; perfect in the formation of the smallest insect that crawls over a foot of ground. But let us nevertheless settle it firmly in our minds that sin is "the abominable thing that God hates"; that God "is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and cannot look upon that which is evil"; that the least transgression of God's law makes us "guilty of all"; that "the soul that sins shall die"; that "the wages of sin is death"; that God will "judge the secrets of men"; that ther is a worm that never dies and a fire that is not quenched; that "the wicked shall be burned into hell" and "shall go away into everlasting punishment"; and that "nothing that defiles shall in any wise enter" heaven (Jer. 44:4; Hab. 1:13; James 2:10; Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 6:23; Rom.2: 16; Mark 9:44; Ps. 9:17; Matt. 25:46; Rev. 21:27). These are indeed tremendous words, when we consider that they are written in the book of a most merciful God!

No proof of the fullness of sin, after all, is so overwhelming and unanswerable as the
cross and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the whole doctrine of His substitution and atonement. Terribly black must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction. Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops of blood in agony at Gethsemane and cry at Golgotha, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46). Nothing, I am convinced, will astonish us so much, when we awake in the resurrection day, as the view we will have of sin and the retrospect we will take of our own countless shortcomings and defects. Never until the hour when Christ comes the second time will we fully realize the "sinfulness of sin". Well might George Whitefield say, "The anthem in heaven will be: What has God wrought!"

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Lord's creation!

"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork" Psalm 19:1

The extent of sin

Bishop Ryle is doing a masterful job in exposing sin as the force opposing holiness. Let us read what he says:

Concerning the extent of this vast moral disease called "sin," let us beware that we make no mistake. The only safe ground is that which is laid for us in Scripture. "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart" is by nature "evil," and that "continually." "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9).

Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected. Even the conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide, and is as likely to lead men wrong as right, unless it is enlightened by the Holy Spirit. In short, "from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness" about us (Isa. 1:6).

The disease may be veiled under a thin covering of courtesy, politeness, good manners and outward decorum, but it lies deep down in the constitution. I admit fully that man has many grand and noble faculties left about him, and that in arts and sciences and literature he shows immense capacity. But the fact still remains that in spiritual things he is utterly "dead" and has no natural knowledge, or love, or fear of God. His best things are so interwoven and intermingled with corruption, that the contrast only brings out into sharper relief the truth and extent of the Fall.

That one and the same creature should be in some things so high and in others so low; so great and yet so little; so noble and yet so mean; so grand in his conception and execution of material things and yet so groveling and debased in his affections; that he should be able to plan and erect buildings like those at Carnac and Luxor in Egypt and the Parthenon at Athens, and yet worship vile gods and goddesses and birds and beasts and creeping things; that he should be able to produce tragedies like those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and histories like that of Thucydides, and yet be a slave to abominable vices like those described in the firstchapter of the Epistle to the Romans—all this is a sore puzzle to those who sneer at "God’s Word written" and scoff at us as bibliolaters.

But it is a knot that we can untie with the Bible in our hands. We can acknowledge that man has all the marks of a majestic temple about him, a temple in which God once dwelt, but a temple which is now in utter ruins, a temple in which a shattered window here, and a doorway there, and a column there, still give some faint idea of the magnificence of the original design, but a temple which from end to end has lost its glory and fallen from its high estate. And we say that nothing solves the complicated problem of man’s condition but the doctrine of original or birth–sin and the crushing effects of the Fall. Let us remember, beside this, that every part of the world bears testimony to the fact that sin is the universal disease of all mankind.

Search the globe from east to west and from pole to pole; search every nation of every climate in the four quarters of the earth; search every rank and class in our own country from the highest to the lowest—and under every circumstance and condition, the report will be always the same.

The remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, completely separate from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, beyond the reach alike of Oriental luxury and Western arts and literature, islands inhabited by people ignorant of books, money, steam and gunpowder, uncontaminated by the vices of modern civilization, these very islands have always been found, when first discovered, the abode of the vilest forms of lust, cruelty, deceit and superstition. If the inhabitants have known nothing else, they have always known how to sin! Everywhere the human heart is naturally "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9).

For my part, I know no stronger proof of the inspiration of Genesis and the Mosaic account of the origin of man, than the power, extent and universality of sin. Grant that mankind have all sprung from one pair and that this pair fell (as Genesis 3 tells us), and the state of human nature everywhere is easily accounted for. Deny it, as many do, and you are at once involved in inexplicable difficulties. In a word, the uniformity and universality of human corruption supply one of the most unanswerable instances of the enormous "difficulties of infidelity."

After all, I am convinced that the greatest proof of the extent and power of sin is the pertinacity with which it cleaves to man, even after he is converted and has become the subject of the Holy Spirit’s operations. To use the language of the ninth Article: "This infection of nature does remain—yes, even in them that are regenerate." So deeply planted are the roots of human corruption, that even after we are born again, renewed, washed, sanctified, justified and made living members of Christ, these roots remain alive in the bottom of our hearts and, like the leprosy in the walls of the house, we never get rid of them until the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved.

Sin, no doubt, in the believer’s heart, has no longer dominion. It is checked, controlled, mortified and crucified by the expulsive power of the new principle of grace. The life of a believer is a life of victory and not of failure. But the very struggles which go on within his bosom, the fight that he finds it needful to fight daily, the watchful jealousy which he is obliged to exercise over his inner man, the contest between the flesh and the spirit, the inward "groanings" which no one knows but he who has experienced them—all, all testify to the same great truth, all show the enormous power and vitality of sin.

Mighty indeed must that foe be who even when crucified is still alive! Happy is that believer who understands it and, while he rejoices in Christ Jesus, has no confidence in the flesh and, while he says,"Thanks be unto God who gives us the victory," never forgets to watch and pray lest he fall into temptation!