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Sermons to the Natural Man by William G.T. Shedd

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only method. Other foundation can no man lay than is laid. For it rests
upon stubborn facts, and inexorable principles. _God_ knows that however
anxiously a transgressor may strive to pacify his conscience, and prepare
it for the judgment-day, its deep remorse can be removed only by the
blood of incarnate Deity; that however sedulously he may attempt to obey
the law, he will utterly fail, unless he is inwardly renewed and
strengthened by the Holy Ghost. _He_ knows that mere bare law can make no
sinner perfect again, but that only the bringing in of a "better hope"
can,--a hope by the which we draw nigh to God.

The text leads us to inquire: _Why cannot the moral law make fallen man
perfect_? Or, in other words: _Why cannot the ten commandments save a

That we may answer this question, we must first understand what is meant
by a perfect man. It is one in whom there is no defect or fault of any
kind,--one, therefore, who has no perturbation in his conscience, and no
sin in his heart. It is a man who is entirely at peace with himself, and
with God, and whose affections are in perfect conformity with the Divine

But fallen man, man as we find him universally, is characterized by both
a remorseful conscience and an evil heart. His conscience distresses him,
not indeed uniformly and constantly but, in the great emergencies of his
life,--in the hour of sickness, danger, death,--and his heart is selfish
and corrupt continually. He lacks perfection, therefore, in two
particulars; first, in respect to acquittal at the bar of justice, and
secondly, in respect to inward purity. That, therefore, which proposes to
make him perfect again, must quiet the sense of guilt upon valid grounds,
and must produce a holy character. If the method fails in either of these
two respects, it fails altogether in making a perfect man.

But how can the moral law, or the ceremonial law, or both united, produce
within the human soul the cheerful, liberating, sense of acquittal, and
reconciliation with God's justice? Why, the very function and office-work
of law, in all its forms, is to condemn and terrify the transgressor; how
then can it calm and soothe him? Or, is there anything in the performance
of duty,--in the act of obeying law,--that is adapted to produce this
result, by taking away guilt? Suppose that a murderer could and should
perform a perfectly holy act, would it be any relief to his anguished
conscience, if he should offer it as an oblation to Eternal Justice for
the sin that is past? if he should plead it as an offset for having
killed a man? When we ourselves review the past, and see that we have not
kept the law up to the present point in our lives, is the gnawing of the
worm to be stopped, by resolving to keep it, and actually keeping it from
this point? Can such a use of the law as this is,--can the performance of
good works, imaginary or real ones, imperfect or perfect ones,--discharge
the office of an _atonement_, and so make us perfect in the forum of
conscience, and fill us with a deep and lasting sense of reconciliation
with the offended majesty and justice of God? Plainly not. For there is
nothing compensatory, nothing cancelling, nothing of the nature of a
satisfaction of justice, in the best obedience that was ever rendered to
moral law, by saint, angel, or seraph. _Because the creature owes the
whole_. He is obligated from the very first instant of his existence,
onward and evermore, to love God supremely, and to obey him perfectly in
every act and element of his being. Therefore, the perfectly obedient
saint, angel, and seraph must each say: "I am an unprofitable servant, I
have done only that which it was my duty to do; I can make no amends for
past failures; I can do no work that is meritorious and atoning."
Obedience to law, then, by a creature, and still less by a sinner, can
never atone for the sins that are past; can never make the guilty perfect
"in things pertaining to conscience." And if a man, in this indirect and
roundabout manner, neglects the provisions of the gospel, neglects the
oblation of Jesus Christ, and betakes himself to the discharge of his own
duty as a substitute therefor, he only finds that the flame burns hotter,
and the fang of the worm is sharper. If he looks to the moral law in any
form, and by any method, that he may get quit of his remorse and his
fears of judgment, the feeling of unreconciliation with justice, and the
fearful looking-for of judgment is only made more vivid and deep. Whoever
attempts the discharge of duties _for the purpose of atoning for his
sins_ takes a direct method of increasing the pains and perturbations
which he seeks to remove. The more he thinks of law, and the more he
endeavors to obey it for the purpose of purchasing the pardon of past
transgression, the more wretched does he become. Look into the lacerated
conscience of Martin Luther before he found the Cross, examine the
anxiety and gloom of Chalmers before he saw the Lamb of God, for proof
that this is so. These men, at first, were most earnest in their use of
the law in order to re-instate themselves in right relations with God's
justice. But the more they toiled in this direction, the less they
succeeded. Burning with inward anguish, and with God's arrows sticking
fast in him, shall the transgressor get relief from the attribute of
Divine justice, and the qualities of law? Shall the ten commandments of
Sinai, in any of their forms or uses, send a cooling and calming virtue
through the hot conscience? With these kindling flashes in his
guilt-stricken spirit, shall he run into the very identical fire that
kindled them? Shall he try to quench them in that "Tophet which is ordained
of old; which is made deep and large; the pile of which is fire and much
wood, and the breath of the Lord like a stream of brimstone doth kindle
it?" And yet such is, in reality, the attempt of every man who, upon
being convicted in his conscience of guilt before God, endeavors to
attain peace by resolutions to alter his course of conduct, and strenuous
endeavors to obey the commands of God,--in short by relying upon the law
in any form, as a means of reconciliation. Such is the suicidal effort
of every man who substitutes the law for the gospel, and expects to
produce within himself the everlasting peace of God, by anything short of
the atonement of God.

Let us fix it, then, as a fact, that the feeling of culpability and
unreconciliation can never be removed, so long as we do not look entirely
away from our own character and works to the mere pure mercy of God in
the blood of Christ. The transgressor can never atone for crime by
anything that he can suffer, or anything that he can do. He can never
establish a ground of justification, a reason why he should be forgiven,
by his tears, or his prayers, or his acts. Neither the law, nor his
attempts to obey the law, can re-instate him in his original relations to
justice, and make him perfect again in respect to his conscience. The ten
commandments can never silence his inward misgivings, and his moral
fears; for they are given for the very purpose of producing misgivings,
and causing fears. "The law worketh wrath." And if this truth and
fact be clearly perceived, and boldly acknowledged to his own mind, it
will cut him off from all these legal devices and attempts, and will shut
him up to the Divine mercy and the Divine promise in Christ, where alone
he is safe.

We have thus seen that one of the two things necessary in order that
apostate man may become perfect again,--viz., the pacification of his
conscience,--cannot be obtained in and by the law, in any of its forms or
uses. Let us now examine the other thing necessary in order to human
perfection, and see what the law can do towards it.

The other requisite, in order that fallen man may become perfect again,
is a holy heart and will. Can the moral law originate this? That we may
rightly answer the question, let us remember that a holy will is one that
keeps the law of God spontaneously and that a perfect heart is one that
sends forth holy affections and pure thoughts as naturally as the sinful
heart sends forth unholy affections and impure thoughts. A holy will,
like an evil will, is a wonderful and wonderfully fertile power. It does
not consist in an ability to make a few or many separate resolutions of
obedience to the divine law, but in being itself one great inclination
and determination continually and mightily going forth. A holy will,
therefore, is one that _from its very nature and spontaneity_ seeks God,
and the glory of God. It does not even need to make a specific resolution
to obey; any more than an affectionate child needs to resolve to obey its

In like manner, a perfect and holy heart is a far more profound and
capacious thing than men who have never seriously tried to obtain it deem
it to foe. It does not consist in the possession of a few or many holy
thoughts mixed with some sinful ones, or in having a few or many holy
desires together with some corrupt ones. A perfect heart is one undivided
agency, and does not produce, as the imperfectly sanctified heart of the
Christian does, fruits of holiness and fruits of sin, holy thoughts and
unholy thoughts. It is itself a root and centre of holiness, and
_nothing_ but goodness springs up from it. The angels of God are totally
holy. Their wills are unceasingly going forth towards Him with ease and
delight; their hearts are unintermittently gushing out emotions of love,
and feelings of adoration, and thoughts of reverence, and therefore the
song that they sing is unceasing, and the smoke of their incense
ascendeth forever and ever.

Such is the holy will, and the perfect heart, which fallen man must
obtain in order to be fit for heaven. To this complexion must he come at
last. And now we ask: Can the law generate all this excellence within the
human soul? In order to answer this question, we must consider the nature
of law, and the manner of its operation. The law, as antithetic to the
gospel, and as the word is employed in the text, is in its nature
mandatory and minatory. It commands, and it threatens. This is the style
of its operation. Can a perfect heart be originated in a sinner by these
two methods? Does the stern behest, "Do this or die," secure his willing
and joyful obedience? On the contrary, the very fact that the law of God
comes up before him coupled thus with a _threatening_ evinces that his
aversion and hostility are most intense. As the Apostle says, "The law is
not made for a righteous man; but for the lawless and disobedient, for
the ungodly and for sinners." Were man, like the angels on high, sweetly
obedient to the Divine will, there would be no arming of law with terror,
no proclamation of ten commandments amidst thunderings and lightnings. He
would be a law unto himself, as all the heavenly host are,--the law
working impulsively within him by its own exceeding lawfulness and
beauty. The very fact that God, in the instance of man, is compelled to
emphasize the _penalty_ along with the statute,--to say, "Keep my
commandments _upon pain of eternal death_,"--is proof conclusive that man
is a rebel, and intensely so.

And now what is the effect of this combination of command and threatening
upon the agent? Is he moulded by it? Does it congenially sway and incline
him? On the contrary, is he not excited to opposition by it? When the
commandment "_comes_," loaded down with menace and damnation, does not
sin "revive," as the Apostle affirms?[1] Arrest the transgressor in the
very act of disobedience, and ring in his ears the "Thou shalt _not_" of
the decalogue, and does he find that the law has the power to alter his
inclination, to overcome his carnal mind, and make him perfect in
holiness? On the contrary, the more you ply him with the stern command,
and the more you emphasize the awful threatening, the more do you make
him conscious of inward sin, and awaken his depravity. "The law,"--as St.
Paul affirms in a very remarkable text,--"is the _strength_ of sin,[2]"
instead of being its destruction. Nay, he had not even ([Greek: te])
known sin, but by the law: for he had not known lust, except the law had
said, "Thou shalt not lust." The commandment stimulates instead of
extirpating his hostility to the Divine government; and so long as the
_mere_ command, and the _mere_ threat,--which, as the hymn tells us, is
all the law can do,--are brought to bear, the depravity of the rebellious
heart becomes more and more apparent, and more and more intensified.

There is no more touching poem in all literature than that one in which
the pensive and moral Schiller portrays the struggle of an ingenuous
youth who would find the source of moral purification in the moral law;
who would seek the power that can transform him, in the mere imperatives
of his conscience, and the mere struggling and spasms of his own will. He
represents him as endeavoring earnestly and long to feel the force of
obligation, and as toiling sedulously to school himself into virtue, by
the bare power, by the dead lift, of duty. But the longer he tries, the
more he loathes the restraints of law. Virtue, instead of growing lovely
to him, becomes more and more severe, austere, and repellant. His life,
as the Scripture phrases it, is "under law," and not under love. There is
nothing spontaneous, nothing willing, nothing genial in his religion. He
does not enjoy religion, but he endures religion. Conscience does not, in
the least, renovate his will, but merely checks it, or goads it. He
becomes wearied and worn, and conscious that after all his self-schooling
he is the same creature at heart, in his disposition and affections, that
he was at the commencement of the effort, he cries out, "O Virtue, take
back thy crown, and let me sin."[3] The tired and disgusted soul would
once more do a _spontaneous_ thing.

Was, then, that which is good made death unto this youth, by a _Divine_
arrangement? Is this the _original_ and _necessary_ relation which law
sustains to the will and affections of an accountable creature? Must the
pure and holy law of God, from the very nature of things, be a weariness
and a curse? God forbid. But sin that it might _appear_ sin, working
death in the sinner by that which is good,--that sin by the commandment
might become, might be seen to be, exceeding sinful. The law is like a
chemical test. It eats into sin enough to show what sin is, and there
stops. The lunar caustic bites into the dead flesh of the mortified limb;
but there is no healing virtue in the lunar caustic. The moral law makes
no inward alterations in a sinner. In its own distinctive and proper
action upon the heart and will of an apostate being, it is fitted only to
elicit and exasperate his existing enmity. It can, therefore, no more be
a source of sanctification, than it can be of justification.

Of what use, then, is the law to a fallen man?--some one will ask. Why is
the commandment enunciated in the Scriptures, and why is the Christian
ministry perpetually preaching it to men dead in trespasses and sins? If
the law can subdue no man's obstinate will, and can renovate no man's
corrupt heart,--if it can make nothing perfect in human character,--then,
"wherefore serveth the law?" "It was added because of
transgressions,"--says the Apostle in answer to this very question.[4] It
is preached and forced home in order to _detect_ sin, but not to remove
it; to bring men to a consciousness of the evil of their hearts, but not
to change their hearts. "For," continues the Apostle, "if there had been
a law given which could have given _life_"--which could produce a
transformation of character,--"then verily righteousness should have been
by the law," It is not because the stern and threatening commandment can
impart spiritual vitality to the sinner, but because it can produce within
him the keen vivid sense of spiritual death, that it is enunciated in the
word of God, and proclaimed from the Christian pulpit. The Divine law is
waved like a flashing sword before the eyes of man, not because it can
make him alive but, because it can slay him, that he may then be made
alive, not by the law but by the Holy Ghost,--by the Breath that cometh
from the four winds and breathes on the slain.

It is easy to see, by a moment's reflection, that, from the nature of the
case, the moral law cannot be a source of spiritual life and
sanctification to a soul that has _lost_ these. For law primarily
supposes life, supposes an obedient inclination, and therefore does not
produce it. It is not the function of any law to impart that moral force,
that right disposition of the heart, by which its command is to be
obeyed. The State, for example, enacts a law against murder, but this
mere enactment does not, and cannot, produce a benevolent disposition in
the citizens of the commonwealth, in case they are destitute of it. How
often do we hear the remark, that it is impossible to legislate either
morality or religion into the people. When the Supreme Governor first
placed man under the obligations and sovereignty of law, He created him
in His own image and likeness: endowing him with that holy heart and
right inclination which obeys the law of God with ease and delight. God
made man upright, and in this state he could and did keep the commands
of God perfectly. If, therefore, by any _subsequent action_ upon their
part, mankind have gone out of the primary relationship in which they
stood to law, and have by their _apostasy_ lost all holy sympathy with
it, and all affectionate disposition to obey it, it only remains for the
law (not to change along with them, but) to continue immutably the same
pure and righteous thing, and to say, "Obey perfectly, and thou shalt
live; disobey in a single instance, and thou shalt die."

But the text teaches us, that although the law can make no sinful man
perfect, either upon the side of justification, or of sanctification,
"the bringing in of a better _hope_" can. This hope is the evangelic
hope,--the yearning desire, and the humble trust,--to be forgiven through
the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be sanctified by the
indwelling power of the Holy Ghost. A simple, but a most powerful thing!
Does the law, in its abrupt and terrible operation in my conscience,
start out the feeling of guiltiness until I throb with anguish, and moral
fear? I hope, I trust, I ask, to be pardoned through the blood of the
Eternal Son of God my Redeemer. I will answer all these accusations
of law and conscience, by pleading what my Lord has done.

Again, does the law search me, and probe me, and elicit me, and reveal
me, until I would shrink out of the sight of God and of myself? I hope, I
trust, I ask, to be made pure as the angels, spotless as the seraphim, by
the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit. This confidence in Christ's
Person and Work is the anchor,--an anchor that was never yet wrenched
from the clefts of the Rock of Ages, and never will be through the aeons
of aeons. By this hope, which goes away from self, and goes away from the
law, to Christ's oblation and the Holy Spirit's energy, we do indeed draw
very nigh to God,--"heart to heart, spirit to spirit, life to life."

1. The unfolding of this text of Scripture shows, in the first place, the
importance of having a _distinct and discriminating conception of law,
and especially of its proper function in reference to a sinful being_.
Very much is gained when we understand precisely what the moral law, as
taught in the Scriptures, and written in our consciences, can do, and
cannot do, towards our salvation. It can do nothing positively and
efficiently. It cannot extinguish a particle of our guilt, and it cannot
purge away a particle of our corruption. Its operation is wholly negative
and preparatory. It is merely a schoolmaster to conduct us to Christ. And
the more definitely this truth and fact is fixed in our minds, the more
intelligently shall we proceed in our use of law and conscience.

2. In the second place, the unfolding of this text shows the importance
of _using the law faithfully and fearlessly within its own limits; and in
accordance with its proper function_. It is frequently asked what the
sinner shall do in the work of salvation. The answer is nigh thee, in thy
mouth, and in thy heart. Be continually applying the law of God to your
personal character and conduct. Keep an active and a searching conscience
within your sinful soul. Use the high, broad, and strict commandment of
God as an instrumentality by which all ease, and all indifference, in sin
shall be banished from the breast. Employ all this apparatus of torture,
as perhaps it may seem to you in some sorrowful hours, and break up that
moral drowze and lethargy which is ruining so many souls. And then cease
this work, the instant you have experimentally found out that the law
reaches a limit beyond which it cannot go,--that it forgives none of the
sins which it detects, produces no change in the heart whose vileness it
reveals, and makes no lost sinner perfect again. Having used the law
legitimately, for purposes of illumination and conviction merely, leave
it forever as a source of justification and sanctification, and seek
these in Christ's atonement, and the Holy Spirit's gracious operation in
the heart. Then sin shall not have dominion over you; for you shall not
be under law, but under grace. After that _faith_ is come, ye are no
longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are then the children of God by faith
in Christ Jesus.[5]

How simple are the terms of salvation! But then they presuppose this
work of the law,--this guilt-smitten conscience, and this wearying sense
of bondage to sin. It is easy for a _thirsty_ soul to drink down the
draught of cold water. Nothing is simpler, nothing is more grateful to
the sensations. But suppose that the soul is satiated, and is not a
thirsty one. Then, nothing is more forced and repelling than this same
draught. So is it with the provisions of the gospel. Do we feel ourselves
to be guilty beings; do we hunger, and do we thirst for the expiation of
our sins? Then the blood of Christ is drink indeed, and his flesh is
meat with emphasis. But are we at ease and self-contented? Then nothing
is more distasteful than the terms of salvation. Christ is a root out of
dry ground. And so long as we remain in this unfeeling and torpid state,
salvation is an utter impossibility. The seed of the gospel cannot
germinate and grow upon a rock.

[Footnote 1: Rom. vii. 9-12.]

[Footnote 2: 1 Cor. xv. 56.]

[Footnote 3: SCHILLER: Der Kampf.]

[Footnote 4: Galatians iii. 19.]

[Footnote 5: Galatians iii. 25, 26.]


ISAIAH, i. 11.--"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord;
though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though
they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

These words were at first addressed to the Church of God. The prophet
Isaiah begins his prophecy, by calling upon the heavens and the earth to
witness the exceeding sinfulness of God's chosen people. "Hear, O
heavens, and give ear O earth: for the Lord hath spoken; I have nourished
and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox
knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not
know, my people doth not consider." Such ingratitude and sin as this, he
naturally supposes would shock the very heavens and earth.

Then follows a most vehement and terrible rebuke. The elect people of God
are called "Sodom," and "Gomorrah." "Hear the word of the Lord ye rulers
of Sodom: give ear unto the law of our God ye people of Gomorrah. Why
should ye be stricken, any more? ye will revolt more and more." This
outflow of holy displeasure would prepare us to expect an everlasting
reprobacy of the rebellious and unfaithful Church, but it is strangely
followed by the most yearning and melting entreaty ever addressed by the
Most High to the creatures of His footstool: "Come now, and let us reason
together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

These words have, however, a wider application; and while the unfaithful
children of God ought to ponder them long and well, it is of equal
importance that "the aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" should
reflect upon them, and see their general application to all
transgressors, so long as they are under the Gospel dispensation. Let us,
then, consider two of the plain lessons taught, in these words of the
prophet, to every unpardoned man.

I. The text represents God as saying to the transgressor of his law,
"Come and let us reason _together_." The first lesson to be learned,
consequently, is the duty of examining our moral character and conduct,
_along with God_.

When a responsible being has made a wrong use of his powers, nothing is
more reasonable than that he should call himself to account for this
abuse. Nothing, certainly, is more necessary. There can be no amendment
for the future, until the past has been cared for. But that this
examination may be both thorough and profitable, it must be made _in
company with the Searcher of hearts_.

For there are always two beings who are concerned with sin; the being who
commits it, and the Being against whom it is committed. We sin, indeed,
against ourselves; against our own conscience, and against our own best
interest. But we sin in a yet higher, and more terrible sense, against
Another than ourselves, compared with whose majesty all of our faculties
and interests, both in time and eternity, are altogether nothing and
vanity. It is not enough, therefore, to refer our sin to the law written
on the heart, and there stop. We must ultimately pass beyond conscience
itself, to God, and say, "Against _Thee_ have I sinned." It is not the
highest expression of the religious feeling, when we say, "How can I do
this great wickedness, and sin against my conscience?" He alone has
reached the summit of vision who looks beyond all finite limits,
however wide and distant, beyond all finite faculties however noble and
elevated, and says, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against

Whenever, therefore, an examination is made into the nature of moral evil
as it exists in the individual heart, both parties concerned should share
in the examination. The soul, as it looks within, should invite the
scrutiny of God also, and as fast as it makes discoveries of its
transgression and corruption should realize that the Holy One sees also.
Such a joint examination as this produces a very keen and clear sense of
the evil and guilt of sin. Conscience indeed makes cowards of us all, but
when the eye of God is felt to be upon us, it smites us to the ground.
"When _Thou_ with rebukes,"--says the Psalmist,--"dost correct man for
his iniquity, Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth." One
great reason why the feeling which the moralist has towards sin is so
tame and languid, when compared with the holy abhorrence of the
regenerate mind, lies in the fact that he has not contemplated human
depravity in company with a sin-hating Jehovah. At the very utmost, he
has been shut up merely with a moral sense which he has insulated from
its dread ground and support,--the personal character and holy emotions
of God. What wonder is it, then, that this finite faculty should lose
much of its temper and severity, and though still condemning sin (for it
must do this, if it does anything), fails to do it with that spiritual
energy which characterizes the conscience when God is felt to be
co-present and co-operating. So it is, in other provinces. We feel the
guilt of an evil action more sharply, when we know that a fellow-man
saw us commit it, than when we know that no one but ourselves is
cognizant of the deed. The flush of shame often rises into our face, upon
learning accidentally that a fellow-being was looking at us, when we did
the wrong action without any blush. How much more criminal, then, do we
feel, when distinctly aware that the pure and holy God knows our
transgression. How much clearer is our perception of the nature of moral
evil, when we investigate it along with Him whose eyes are a flame of

It is, consequently, a very solemn moment, when the human spirit and the
Eternal Mind are reasoning together about the inward sinfulness. When
the soul is shut up along with the Holy One of Israel, there are great
searchings of heart. Man is honest and anxious at such a time. His usual
thoughtlessness and torpidity upon the subject of religion leaves him,
and he becomes a serious and deeply-interested creature. Would that the
multitudes who listen so languidly to the statements of the pulpit, upon
these themes of sin and guilt, might be closeted with the Everlasting
Judge, in silence and in solemn reflection. You who have for years been
told of sin, but are, perhaps, still as indifferent regarding it as if
there were no stain, upon the conscience,--would that you might enter
into an examination of yourself, alone with your Maker. Then would you
become as serious, and as anxious, as you will be in that moment when you
shall be informed that the last hour of your life upon earth has come.

Another effect of this "reasoning together" with God, respecting our
character and conduct, is to render our views _discriminating_. The
action of the mind is not only intense, it is also intelligent. Strange
as it may sound, it is yet a fact, that a review of our past lives
conducted under the eye of God, and with a recognition of His presence
and oversight, serves to deliver the mind from confusion and panic, and
to fill it with a calm and rational fear. This is of great value. For,
when a man begins to be excited upon the subject of religion,--it may be
for the first time, in his unreflecting and heedless life,--he is
oftentimes terribly excited. He is now brought _suddenly_ into the midst
of the most solemn things. That sin of his, the enormity of which he had
never seen before, now reveals itself in a most frightful form, and he
feels as the murderer does who wakes in the morning and begins to realize
that he has killed a man. That holy Being, of whose holiness he had no
proper conception, now rises dim and awful before his half-opened inward
eye, and he trembles like the pagan before the unknown God whom he
ignorantly worships. That eternity, which he had heard spoken of with
total indifference, now flashes penal flames in his face. Taken and held
in this state of mind, the transgressor is confusedly as well as terribly
awakened, and he needs first of all to have this experience clarified,
and know precisely for what he is trembling, and why. This panic and
consternation must depart, and a calm intelligent anxiety must take its
place. But this cannot be, unless the mind turns towards God, and invites
His searching scrutiny, and His aid in the search after sin. So long as
we shrink away from our Judge, and in upon ourselves, in these hours of
conviction,--so long as we deal only with the workings of our own minds,
and do not look up and "reason together" with God,--we take the most
direct method of producing a blind, an obscure, and a selfish agony. We
work ourselves, more and more, into a mere phrenzy of excitement. Some of
the most wretched and fanatical experience in the history of the Church
is traceable to a solitary self-brooding, in which, after the sense of
sin had been awakened, the soul did not discuss the matter with God.

For the character and attributes of God, when clearly seen, repress all
fright, and produce that peculiar species of fear which is tranquil
because it is deep. Though the soul, in such an hour, is conscious that
God is a fearful object of sight for a transgressor, yet it continues to
gaze at Him with an eager straining eye. And in so doing, the superficial
tremor and panic of its first awakening to the subject of religion passes
off, and gives place to an intenser moral feeling, the calmness of which
is like the stillness of fascination. Nothing has a finer effect upon a
company of awakened minds, than to cause the being and attributes of God,
in all their majesty and purity, to rise like an orb within their
horizon; and the individual can do nothing more proper, or more salutary,
when once his sin begins to disquiet him, and the inward perturbation
commences, than to collect and steady himself, in an act of reflection
upon that very Being who _abhors_ sin. Let no man, in the hour of
conviction and moral fear, attempt to run away from the Divine holiness.
On the contrary, let him rush forward and throw himself down prostrate
before that Dread Presence, and plead the merits of the Son of God,
before it. He that finds his life shall lose it; but he that loses his
life shall find it. Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die,
it remains a single unproductive corn of wheat; but if it _die_, it
germinates and brings forth much fruit. He who does not avoid a contact
between the sin of his soul and the holiness of his God, but on the
contrary seeks to have these two things come together, that each may be
understood in its own intrinsic nature and quality, takes the only safe
course. He finds that, as he knows God more distinctly, he knows himself
more distinctly; and though as yet he can see nothing but displeasure in
that holy countenance, he is possessed of a well-defined experience. He
knows that he is wrong, and his Maker is right; that he is wicked, and
that God is holy. He perceives these two fundamental facts with a
simplicity, and a certainty, that admits of no debate. The confusion and
obscurity of his mind, and particularly the queryings whether these
things are so, whether God is so very holy and man is so very sinful,
begin to disappear, like a fog when disparted and scattered by sunrise.
Objects are seen in their true proportions and meanings; right and wrong,
the carnal mind and the spiritual mind, heaven and hell,--all the great
contraries that pertain to the subject of religion,--are distinctly
understood, and thus the first step is taken towards a better state of
things in the soul.

Let no man, then, fear to invite the scrutiny of God, in connection with
his own scrutiny of himself. He who deals only with the sense of duty,
and the operations of his own mind, will find that these themselves
become more dim and indistinct, so long as the process of examination is
not conducted in this joint manner; so long as the mind refuses to accept
the Divine proposition, "Come now, and let us reason _together_." He, on
the other hand, who endeavors to obtain a clear view of the Being against
whom he has sinned, and to feel the full power of His holy eye as well as
of His holy law, will find that his sensations and experiences are
gaining a wonderful distinctness and intensity that will speedily bring
the entire matter to an issue.

II. For then, by the blessing of God, he learns the second lesson taught
in the text: viz., that _there is forgiveness with God_. Though, in this
process of joint examination, your sins be found to be as scarlet, they
shall be as white as snow; though they be discovered to be red like
crimson, they shall be as wool.

If there were no forgiveness of sins, if mercy were not a manifested
attribute of God, all self-examination, and especially all this conjoint
divine scrutiny, would be a pure torment and a pure gratuity. It is
wretchedness to know that we are guilty sinners, but it is the endless
torment to know that there is no forgiveness, either here or hereafter.
Convince a man that he will never be pardoned, and you shut him up with
the spirits in prison. Compel him to examine himself under the eye of his
God, while at the same time he has no hope of mercy,--and there would be
nothing _unjust_ in this,--and you distress him with the keenest and most
living torment of which a rational spirit is capable. Well and natural
was it, that the earliest creed of the Christian Church emphasized the
doctrine of the Divine Pity; and in all ages the Apostolic Symbol has
called upon the guilt-stricken human soul to cry, "I believe in the
forgiveness of sins."

We have the amplest assurance in the whole written Revelation of God,
_but nowhere else_, that "there is forgiveness with Him, that He may be
feared." "Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy;" and
only with such an assurance as this from His own lips, could we summon
courage to look into our character and conduct, and invite God to do the
same. But the text is an exceedingly explicit assertion of this great
truth. The very same Being who invites us to reason with Him, and canvass
the subject of our criminality, in the very same breath, if we may so
speak, assures us that He will forgive all that is found in this
examination. And upon _such_ terms, cannot the criminal well afford to
examine into his crime? He has a promise beforehand, that if he will but
scrutinize and confess his sin it shall be forgiven. God would have been
simply and strictly just, had He said to him: "Go down into the depths of
thy transgressing spirit, see how wicked thou hast been and still art,
and know that in my righteous severity I will never pardon thee, world
without end." But instead of this, He says: "Go down into the depths of
thy heart, see the transgression and the corruption all along the line of
the examination, confess it into my ear, and I will make the scarlet and
crimson guilt white in the blood of my own Son." These declarations of
Holy Writ, which are a direct verbal statement from the lips of God, and
which specify distinctly what He will do and will not do in the matter of
sin, teach us that however deeply our souls shall be found to be stained,
the Divine pity outruns and exceeds the crime. "For as the heavens are
high above the earth, so great is his mercy towards them that fear him.
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how
shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" Here upon earth,
there is no wickedness that surpasses the pardoning love of God in
Christ. The words which Shakspeare puts into the mouth of the remorseful,
but _impenitent_, Danish king are strictly true:

"What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood?
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy,
But to confront the visage of offence?"[1]

Anywhere this side of the other world, and at any moment this side of the
grave, a sinner, _if penitent_ (but penitence is not always at his
control), may obtain forgiveness for all his sins, through Christ's blood
of atonement. He must not hope for mercy in the future world, if he
neglects it here. There are no acts of pardon passed in the day of
judgment. The utterance of Christ in _that_ day is not the utterance,
"Thy sins are forgiven thee," but, "Come ye blessed," or "Depart ye
cursed." So long, and only so long, as there is life there is hope, and
however great may be the conscious criminality of a man while he is under
the economy of Redemption, and before he is summoned to render up his
last account, let him not despair but hope in Divine grace.

Now, he who has seriously "reasoned together" with God, respecting his
own character, is far better prepared to find God in the forgiveness of
sins, than he is who has merely brooded over his own unhappiness, without
any reference to the qualities and claims of his Judge. It has been a
plain and personal matter throughout, and having now come to a clear and
settled conviction that he is a guilty sinner, he turns directly to the
great and good Being who stands immediately before him, and prays to be
forgiven, and _is_ forgiven. One reason why the soul so often gropes days
and months without finding a sin-pardoning God lies in the fact, that its
thoughts and feelings respecting religious subjects, and particularly
respecting the state of the heart, have been too vague and indistinct.
They have not had an immediate and close reference to that one single
Being who is most directly concerned, and who alone can minister to a
mind diseased. The soul is wretched, and there may be some sense of sin,
but there is no one to go to,--no one to address with an appealing cry.
"Oh that I knew where I might find him," is its language. "Oh that I
might come even to his seat. Behold I go forward, but he is not there;
and backward, but I cannot perceive him." But this groping would cease
were there a clear view of God. There might not be peace and a sense of
reconciliation immediately; but there would be a distinct conception of
_the one thing needful_ in order to salvation. This would banish all
other subjects and objects. The eye would be fixed upon the single fact
of sin, and the simple fact that none but God can forgive it. The whole
inward experience would thus be narrowed down to a focus. Simplicity and
intensity would be introduced into the mental state, instead of the
previous confusion and vagueness. Soliloquy would end, and prayer,
importunate, agonizing prayer, would begin. That morbid and useless
self-brooding would cease, and those strong cryings and wrestlings till
day-break would commence, and the kingdom of heaven would suffer this
violence, and the violent would take it by force. "When I _kept silence_;
my bones waxed old, through my roaring all the day long. For day and
night thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture was turned into the drought
of summer. I _acknowledged_ my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity I no
longer _hid_. I said, I will _confess_ my transgressions unto the Lord;
and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. For this,"--because this is
Thy method of salvation,--"shall every one that is godly pray unto
thee, in a time when thou mayest be found." (Ps. xxxii. 3-6.)

Self-examination, then, when joined with a distinct recognition of the
Divine character, and a conscious sense of God's scrutiny, paradoxical as
it may appear, is the surest means of producing a firm conviction in a
guilty mind that God is merciful, and is the swiftest way of finding Him
to be so. Opposed as the Divine nature is to sin, abhorrent as iniquity
is to the pure mind of God, it is nevertheless a fact, that that sinner
who goes directly into this Dread Presence with all his sins upon his
head, in order to know them, to be condemned and crushed by them, and to
confess them, is the one who soonest returns with peace and hope in his
soul. For, he discovers that God is as cordial and sincere in His offer
to forgive, as He is in His threat to punish; and having, to his sorrow,
felt the reality and power of the Divine anger, he now to his joy feels
the equal reality and power of the Divine love.

And this is the one great lesson which every man must learn, or perish
forever. The _truthfulness_ of God, in every respect, and in all
relations,--His strict _fidelity to His word_, both under the law and
under the gospel,--is a quality of which every one must have a vivid
knowledge and certainty, in order to salvation. Men perish through
unbelief. He that doubteth is damned. To illustrate. Men pass through
this life doubting and denying God's abhorrence of sin, and His
determination to punish it forever and ever. Under the narcotic and
stupefying influence of this doubt and denial, they remain in sin, and at
death go over into the immediate presence of God, only to discover that
all His statements respecting His determination upon this subject are
_true_,--awfully and hopelessly true. They then spend an eternity, in
bewailing their infatuation in dreaming, while here upon earth, that
the great and holy God did not mean what he said.

Unbelief, again, tends to death in the other direction, though it is far
less liable to result in it. The convicted and guilt-smitten man
sometimes doubts the truthfulness of the Divine promise in Christ. He
spends days of darkness and nights of woe, because he is unbelieving in
regard to God's compassion, and readiness to forgive a penitent; and
when, at length, the light of the Divine countenance breaks upon him, he
wonders that he was so foolish and slow of heart to believe all that God
himself had said concerning the "multitude" of his tender mercies.
Christian and Hopeful lay long and needlessly in the dungeon of Doubting
Castle, until the former remembered that the key to all the locks was in
his bosom, and had been all the while. They needed only to take God at
his word. The anxious and fearful soul must believe the Eternal Judge
_implicitly_, when he says: "I will justify thee through the blood of
Christ." God is truthful under the gospel, and under the law; in His
promise of mercy, and in His threatening of eternal woe. And "if we
believe not, yet He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself." He hath
promised, and He hath threatened; and, though heaven and earth pass away,
one jot or one tittle of that promise shall not fail in the case of those
who confidingly trust it, nor shall one iota or scintilla of the
threatening fail in the instance of those who have recklessly and rashly
disbelieved it.

In respect, then, to both sides of the revelation of the Divine
character,--in respect to the threatening and the promise,--men need to
have a clear perception, and an unwavering belief. He that doubteth in
either direction is damned. He who does not believe that God is truthful,
when He declares that He will "punish iniquity, transgression and sin,"
and that those upon the left hand shall "go away into everlasting
punishment," will persist in sin until he passes the line of probation
and be lost. And he who does not believe that God is truthful, when He
declares that He will forgive scarlet and crimson sins through the blood
of Christ, will be overcome by despair and be also lost. But he who
believes _both_ Divine statements with equal certainty, and perceives
_both_ facts with distinct vision, will be saved.

From these two lessons of the text, we deduce the following practical

1. First: In all states of religious anxiety, we should _betake ourselves
instantly and directly to God_. There is no other refuge for the human
soul but God in Christ, and if this fails us, we must renounce all hope
here and hereafter.

"If this fail,
The pillared firmament is rottenness,
And earth's base built on stubble."[2]

We are, therefore, from the nature of the case, shut up to this course.
Suppose the religious anxiety arise from a sense of sin, and the fear of
retribution. God is the only Being that can forgive sins. To whom, then,
can such an one go but unto Him? Suppose the religious anxiety arises
from a sense of the perishing nature of earthly objects, and the soul
feels as if all the foundation and fabric of its hope and comfort were
rocking into irretrievable ruin. God is the only Being who can help in
this crisis. In either or in any case,--be it the anxiety of the
unforgiven, or of the child of God,--whatever be the species of mental
sorrow, the human soul is by its very circumstances driven to its Maker,
or else driven to destruction.

What more reasonable course, therefore, than to conform to the
necessities of our condition. The principal part of wisdom is to take
things as they are, and act accordingly. Are we, then, sinners, and in
fear for the final result of our life? Though it may seem to us like
running into fire, we must nevertheless betake ourselves first and
immediately to that Being who hates and punishes sin. Though we see
nothing but condemnation and displeasure in those holy eyes, we must
nevertheless approach them _just and simply as we are_. We must say with
king David in a similar case, when he had incurred the displeasure of
God: "I am in a great strait; [yet] let me fall into the hand of the
Lord, for very great are his mercies" (1 Chron. xx. 13). We must suffer
the intolerable brightness to blind and blast us in our guiltiness, and
let there be an actual contact between the sin of our soul and the
holiness of our God. If we thus proceed, in accordance with the facts of
our case and our position, we shall meet with a great and joyful
surprise. Flinging ourselves helpless, and despairing of all other
help,--_rashly_, as it will seem to us, flinging ourselves off from the
position where we now are, and upon which we must inevitably perish, we
shall find ourselves, to our surprise and unspeakable joy, caught in
everlasting, paternal arms. He who loses his life,--he who _dares_ to
lose his life,--shall find it.

2. Secondly: In all our religious anxiety, we should _make a full and
plain statement of everything to God_. God loves to hear the details of
our sin, and our woe. The soul that pours itself out as water will find
that it is not like water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered
up again. Even when the story is one of shame and remorse, we find it to
be mental relief, patiently and without any reservation or palliation, to
expose the whole not only to our own eye but to that of our Judge. For,
to this very thing have we been invited. This is precisely the "reasoning
together" which God proposes to us. God has not offered clemency to a
sinful world, with the expectation or desire that there be on the part of
those to whom it is offered, such a stinted and meagre confession, such a
glozing over and diminution of sin, as to make that clemency appear a
very small matter. He well knows the depth and the immensity of the sin
which He proposes to pardon, and has made provision accordingly. In the
phrase of Luther, it is no painted sinner who is to be forgiven, and it
is no painted Saviour who is offered. The transgression is deep and real,
and the atonement is deep and real. The crime cannot be exaggerated,
neither can the expiation. He, therefore, who makes the plainest and most
child-like statement of himself to God, acts most in accordance with the
mind, and will, and gospel of God. If man only be hearty, full, and
unreserved in confession, he will find God to be hearty, full, and
unreserved in absolution.

Man is not straitened upon the side of the Divine mercy. The obstacle in
the way of his salvation is in himself; and the particular, fatal
obstacle consists in the fact that he does not feel that he _needs_
mercy. God in Christ stands ready to pardon, but man the sinner stands up
before Him like the besotted criminal in our courts of law, with no
feeling upon the subject. The Judge assures him that He has a boundless
grace and clemency to bestow, but the stolid hardened man is not even
aware that he has committed a dreadful crime, and needs grace and
clemency. There is food in infinite abundance, but no hunger upon the
part of man. The water of life is flowing by in torrents, but men have no
thirst. In this state of things, nothing can be done, but to pass a
sentence of condemnation. God cannot forgive a being who does not even
know that he needs to be forgiven. Knowledge then, self-knowledge, is the
great requisite; and the want of it is the cause of perdition. This
"reasoning together" with God, respecting our past and present character
and conduct, is the first step to be taken by any one who would make
preparation for eternity. As soon as we come to a right understanding of
our lost and guilty condition, we shall cry: "Be merciful to me a sinner;
create within me a clean heart, O God." Without such an
understanding,--such an intelligent perception of our sin and guilt,--we
never shall, and we never can.

[Footnote 1: SHAKSPEARE: Hamlet, Act iii. Sc. 4.]

[Footnote 2: MILTON: Comus, 597-599.]


John viii. 34.--"Jesus answered them, Verily, verily I say unto you,
whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin."

The word [Greek: doulos] which is translated "servant," in the text,
literally signifies a slave; and the thought which our Lord actually
conveyed to those who heard Him is, "Whosoever committeth sin is the
_slave_ of sin." The apostle Peter, in that second Epistle of his which
is so full of terse and terrible description of the effects of unbridled
sensuality upon the human will, expresses the same truth. Speaking of the
influence of those corrupting and licentious men who have "eyes full of
adultery, and that _cannot_ cease from sin," he remarks that while they
promise their dupes "liberty, they themselves are the servants [slaves]
of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he _brought
in bondage_."

Such passages as these, of which there are a great number in the Bible,
direct attention to the fact that sin contains an element of
_servitude_,--that in the very act of transgressing the law of God there
is a _reflex_ action of the human will upon itself, whereby it becomes
less able than before to keep that law. Sin is the suicidal action of the
human will. It destroys the power to do right, which is man's true
freedom. The effect of vicious habit in diminishing a man's ability to
resist temptation is proverbial. But what is habit but a constant
repetition of wrong decisions, every single one of which _reacts_ upon
the faculty that put them forth, and renders it less strong and less
energetic, to do the contrary. Has the old debauchee, just tottering
into hell, as much power of active resistance against the sin which has
now ruined him, as the youth has who is just beginning to run that awful
career? Can any being do a wrong act, and be as sound in his will and as
spiritually strong, after it, as he was before it? Did that abuse of free
agency by Adam, whereby the sin of the race was originated, leave the
agent as it found him,--uninjured and undebilitated in his voluntary

The truth and fact is, that sin in and by its own nature and operations,
tends to destroy all virtuous force, all holy energy, in any moral being.
The excess of will to sin is the same as the defect of will to holiness.
The degree of intensity with which any man loves and inclines to evil is
the measure of the amount of power to good which he has thereby lost. And
if the intensity be total, then the loss is entire. Total depravity
carries with it total impotence and helplessness. The more carefully we
observe the workings of our own wills, the surer will be our conviction
that they can ruin themselves. We shall indeed find that they cannot be
_forced_, or ruined from the outside. But, if we watch the influence upon
the _will itself_, of its own wrong decisions, its own yielding to
temptations, we shall discover that the voluntary faculty may be ruined
from within; may be made impotent to good by its own action; may
surrender itself with such an intensity and entireness to appetite,
passion, and self-love, that it becomes unable to reverse itself, and
overcome its own wrong disposition and direction. And yet there is no
_compulsion_, from first to last, in the process. The man follows
himself. He pursues his own inclination. He has his own way and does
as he pleases. He loves what he inclines to love, and hates what he
inclines to hate. Neither God, nor the world, nor Satan himself, force
him to do wrong. Sin is the most spontaneous of self-motion. But
self-motion has _consequences_ as much as any other motion. Because
transgression is a _self_-determined act, it does not follow that it has
no reaction and results, but leaves the will precisely as it found it. It
is strictly true that man was not necessitated to apostatize; but it is
equally true that if by his own self-decision he should apostatize, he
could not then and afterwards be as he was before. He would lose a
_knowledge_ of God and divine things which he could never regain of
himself. And he would lose a spiritual _power_ which he could never again
recover of himself. The bondage of which Christ speaks, when He says,
"Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin," is an effect within the
soul itself of an unforced act of self-will, and therefore is as truly
guilt as any other result or product of self-will,--as spiritual
blindness, or spiritual hardness, or any other of the qualities of sin.
Whatever springs from will, we are responsible for. The drunkard's
bondage and powerlessness issues from his own inclination and
self-indulgence, and therefore the bondage and impotence is no excuse for
his vice. Man's inability to love God supremely results from his intense
self-will and self-love; and therefore his impotence is a part and
element of his sin, and not an excuse for it.

"If weakness may excuse,
What murderer, what traitor, parricide,
Incestuous, sacrilegious, may not plead it?
All wickedness is weakness."[1]

The doctrine, then, which is taught in the text, is the truth that _sin
is spiritual slavery_; and it is to the proof and illustration of this
position that we invite attention.

The term "spiritual" is too often taken to mean unreal, fanciful,
figurative. For man is earthly in his views as well as in his feelings,
and therefore regards visible and material things as the emphatic
realities. Hence he employs material objects as the ultimate standard, by
which he measures the reality of all other things. The natural man has
more consciousness of his body, than he has of his soul; more sense of
this world, than of the other. Hence we find that the carnal man
expresses his conception of spiritual things, by transferring to them, in
a weak and secondary signification, words which he applies in a strong
and vivid way only to material objects. He speaks of the "joy" of the
spirit, but it is not such a reality for him as is the "joy" of the body.
He speaks of the "pain" of the spirit, but it has not such a poignancy
for him as that anguish which thrills through his muscles and nerves.
He knows that the "death" of the body is a terrible event, but transfers
the word "death" to the spirit with a vague and feeble meaning, not
realizing that the second death is more awful than the first, and is
accompanied with a spiritual distress compared with which, the sharpest
agony of material dissolution would be a relief. He understands what is
meant by the "life" of the body, but when he hears the "eternal life" of
the spirit spoken of, or when he reads of it in the Bible, it is with the
feeling that it cannot be so real and lifelike as that vital principle
whose currents impart vigor and warmth to his bodily frame. And yet,
the life of the spirit is more intensely real than the life of the body
is; for it has power to overrule and absorb it. Spiritual life, when in
full play, is bliss ineffable. It translates man into the third heavens,
where the fleshly life is lost sight of entirely, and the being, like St.
Paul, does not know whether he is in the body or out of the body.

The natural mind is deceived. Spirit has in it more of reality than
matter has; because it is an immortal and indestructible essence, while
matter is neither. Spiritual things are more real than visible things;
because they are eternal, and eternity is more real than time. Statements
respecting spiritual objects, therefore, are more solemnly true than any
that relate to material things. Invisible and spiritual realities,
therefore, are the standard by which all others should be tried; and
human language when applied to them, instead of expressing too much,
expresses too little. The imagery and phraseology by which the Scriptures
describe the glory of God, the excellence of holiness, and the bliss of
heaven, on the one side, and the sinfulness of sin with the woe of hell,
on the other, come short of the sober and actual matter of fact.

We should, therefore, beware of the error to which in our unspirituality
we are specially liable; and when we hear Christ assert that "whosoever
committeth sin is the slave of sin," we should believe and know, that
these words are not extravagant, and contain no subtrahend,--that they
indicate a self-enslavement of the human will which is so real, so total,
and so absolute, as to necessitate the renewing grace of God in order to
deliverance from it.

This bondage to sin may be discovered by every man. It must be
discovered, before one can cry, "Save me or I perish." It must be
discovered, before one can feelingly assent to Christ's words, "Without
me ye can do nothing." It must be discovered, before one can understand
the Christian paradox, "When I am weak, then am I strong." To aid the
mind, in coming to the conscious experience of the truth taught in the
text, we remark:

I. Sin is spiritual slavery, if viewed in reference to man's _sense of
obligation to be perfectly holy_.

The obligation to be holy, just, and good, as God is, rests upon every
rational being. Every man knows, or may know, that he ought to be perfect
as his Father in heaven is perfect, and that he is a debtor to this
obligation until he has _fully_ met it. Hence even the holiest of men are
conscious of sin, because they are not completely up to the mark of this
high calling of God. For, the sense of this obligation is an exceeding
broad one,--like the law itself which it includes and enforces. The
feeling of duty will not let us off, with the performance of only a part
of our duty. Its utterance is: "Verily I say unto you, till heaven and
earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till
_all_ be fulfilled." Law spreads itself over the whole surface and course
of our lives, and insists imperatively that every part and particle of
them be pure and holy.

Again, this sense of obligation to be perfect as God is perfect, is
exceedingly deep. It is the most profound sense of which man is
possessed, for it outlives all others. The feeling of duty to God's
law remains in a man's mind either to bless him or to curse him, when all
other feelings depart. In the hour of death, when all the varied passions
and experiences which have engrossed the man his whole lifetime are dying
out of the soul, and are disappearing, one after another, like
signal-lights in the deepening darkness, this one particular feeling of
what he owes to the Divine and the Eternal law remains behind, and grows
more vivid, and painful, as all others grow dimmer and dimmer. And
therefore it is, that in this solemn hour man forgets whether he has been
happy or unhappy, successful or unsuccessful, in the world, and remembers
only that he has been a _sinner_ in it. And therefore it is, that a man's
thoughts, when he is upon his death-bed, do not settle upon his worldly
matters, but upon his sin. It is because the human conscience is the very
core and centre of the human being, and its sense of obligation to be
holy is deeper than all other senses and sensations, that we hear the
dying man say what the living and prosperous man is not inclined to say:
"I have been wicked; I have been a sinner in the earth."

Now it might seem, at first sight, that this broad, deep, and abiding
sense of obligation would be sufficient to overcome man's love of sin,
and bring him up to the discharge of duty,--would be powerful enough to
subdue his self-will. Can it be that this strong and steady draft of
conscience,--strong and steady as gravitation,--will ultimately prove
ineffectual? Is not truth mighty, and must it not finally prevail, to the
pulling down of the stronghold which Satan has in the human heart? So
some men argue. So some men claim, in opposition to the doctrine of
Divine influences and of regeneration by the Holy Ghost.

We are willing to appeal to actual experience, in order to settle the
point. And we affirm in the outset, that exactly in proportion as a man
hears the voice of conscience sounding its law within his breast, does he
become aware, not of the strength but, of the bondage of his will, and
that in proportion as this sense of obligation to be _perfectly_ holy
rises in his soul, all hope or expectation of ever becoming so by his own
power sets in thick night.

In our careless unawakened state, which is our ordinary state, we sin on
from day to day, just as we live on from day to day, without being
distinctly aware of it. A healthy man does not go about, holding his
fingers upon his wrist, and counting every pulse; and neither does a
sinful man, as he walks these streets and transacts all this business,
think of and sum up the multitude of his transgressions. And yet, that
pulse all the while beats none the less; and yet, that will all the while
transgresses none the less. So long as conscience is asleep, sin is
pleasant. The sinful activity goes on without notice, we are happy in
sin, and we do not feel that it is slavery of the will. Though the chains
are actually about us, yet they do not gall us. In this condition, which
is that of every unawakened sinner, we are not conscious of the "bondage
of corruption." In the phrase of St. Paul, "we are alive without the
law." We have no feeling sense of duty, and of course have no feeling
sense of sin. And it is in this state of things, that arguments are
framed to prove the mightiness of mere conscience, and the power of bare
truth and moral obligation, over the perverse human heart and will.

But the Spirit of God awakens the conscience; that sense of obligation to
be _perfectly_ holy which has hitherto slept now starts up, and begins to
form an estimate of what has been done in reference to it. The man hears
the authoritative and startling law: "Thou shalt be perfect, as God is."
And now, at this very instant and point, begins the consciousness of
enslavement,--of being, in the expressive phrase of Scripture, "_sold_
under sin." Now the commandment "comes," shows us first what we ought to
be and then what we actually are, and we "die."[2] All moral strength
dies out of us. The muscle has been cut by the sword of truth, and the
limb drops helpless by the side. For, we find that the obligation is
immense. It extends to all our outward acts; and having covered the whole
of this great surface, it then strikes inward and reaches to every
thought of the mind, and every emotion of the heart, and every motive of
the will. We discover that we are under obligation at every conceivable
point in our being and in our history, but that we have not met
obligation at a single point. When we see that the law of God is broad
and deep, and that sin is equally broad and deep within us; when we learn
that we have never thought one single holy thought, nor felt one single
holy feeling, nor done one single holy deed, because self-love is the
root and principle of all our work, and we have never purposed or desired
to please God by any one of our actions; when we find that everything
has been required, and that absolutely nothing has been done, that we are
bound to be perfectly holy this very instant, and as matter of fact are
totally sinful, we know in a most affecting manner that "whosoever
committeth sin is the _slave_ of sin".

But suppose that after this disheartening and weakening discovery of the
depth and extent of our sinfulness, we proceed to take the second step,
and attempt to extirpate it. Suppose that after coming to a consciousness
of all this obligation resting upon us, we endeavor to comply with it.
This renders us still more painfully sensible of the truth of our
Saviour's declaration. Even the regenerated man, who in this endeavor has
the aid of God, is mournfully conscious that sin is the enslavement of
the human will. Though he has been freed substantially, he feels that the
fragments of the chains are upon him still. Though the love of God is the
predominant principle within him, yet the lusts and propensities of the
old nature continually start up like devils, and tug at the spirit, to
drag it down to its old bondage. But that man who attempts to overcome
sin, without first crying, "Create within me a clean heart, O God," feels
still more deeply that sin is spiritual slavery. When _he_ comes to know
sin in reference to the obligation to be perfectly holy, it is with
vividness and hopelessness. He sees distinctly that he ought to be a
perfectly good being instantaneously. This point is clear. But instead of
looking up to the hills whence cometh his help, he begins, in a cold
legal and loveless temper, to draw upon his own resources. The first step
is to regulate his external conduct by the Divine law. He tries to put a
bridle upon his tongue, and to walk carefully before his fellow-men. He
fails to do even this small outside thing, and is filled with
discouragement and despondency.

But the sense of duty reaches beyond the external conduct, and the law of
God pierces like the two-edged sword of an executioner, and discerns
the thoughts and motives of the heart. Sin begins to be seen in its
relation to the inner man, and he attempts again to reform and change the
feelings and affections of his soul. He strives to wring the gall of
bitterness out of his own heart, with his own hands. But he fails
utterly. As he resolves, and breaks his resolutions; as he finds evil
thoughts and feelings continually coming up from the deep places of his
heart; he discovers his spiritual impotence,--his lack of control over
what is deepest, most intimate, and most fundamental in his own
character,--and cries out: "I _am_ a slave, I am a _slave_ to myself."

If then, you would know from immediate consciousness that "whosoever
committeth sin is the slave of sin," simply view sin in the light of that
obligation to be _perfectly_ pure and holy which necessarily, and
forever, rests upon a responsible being. If you would know that spiritual
slavery is no extravagant and unmeaning phrase, but denotes a most real
and helpless bondage, endeavor to get entirely rid of sin, and to be
perfect as the spirits of just men made perfect.

II. Sin is spiritual slavery, if viewed in reference to the _aspirations_
of the human soul.

Theology makes a distinction between common and special grace,--between
those ordinary influences of the Divine Spirit which rouse the
conscience, and awaken some transient aspirations after religion, and
those extraordinary influences which actually renew the heart and will.
In speaking, then, of the aspirations of the human soul, reference is had
to all those serious impressions, and those painful anxieties concerning
salvation, which require to be followed up by a yet mightier power from
God, to prevent their being entirely suppressed again, as they are in a
multitude of instances, by the strong love of sin and the world. For
though man has fallen into a state of death in trespasses and sins, so
that if cut off from _every_ species of Divine influence, and left
_entirely_ to himself, he would never reach out after anything but the
sin which he loves, yet through the common influences of the Spirit of
Grace, and the ordinary workings of a rational nature not yet reprobated,
he is at times the subject of internal stirrings and aspirations that
indicate the greatness and glory of the heights whence he fell. Under the
power of an awakened conscience, and feeling the emptiness of the world,
and the aching void within him, man wishes for something better than he
has, or than he is. The minds of the more thoughtful of the ancient
pagans were the subjects of these impulses, and aspirations; and they
confess their utter inability to realize them. They are expressed
upon every page of Plato, and it is not surprising that some of the
Christian Fathers should have deemed Platonism, as well as Judaism, to be
a preparation for Christianity, by its bringing man to a sense of his
need of redemption. And it would stimulate Christians in their efforts to
give revealed religion to the heathen, did they ponder the fact which the
journals of the missionary sometimes disclose, that the Divine Spirit is
brooding with His common and preparatory influence over the chaos of
Paganism, and that here and there the heathen mind faintly aspires to be
freed from the bondage of corruption,--that dim stirrings, impulses, and
wishes for deliverance, are awake in the dark heart of Paganism, but that
owing to the strength and inveteracy of sin in that heart they will prove
ineffectual to salvation, unless the gospel is preached, and the Holy
Spirit is specially poured out in answer to the prayers of Christians.

Now, all these phenomena in the human soul go to show the rigid bondage
of sin, and to prove that sin has an element of servitude in it. For when
these impulses, wishes, and aspirations are awakened, and the man
discovers that he is unable to realize them in actual character and
conduct, he is wretchedly and thoroughly conscious that "whosoever
committeth sin is the _slave_ of sin." The immortal, heaven-descended
spirit, feeling the kindling touch of truth and of the Holy Ghost,
thrills under it, and essays to soar. But sin hangs heavy upon it, and it
cannot lift itself from the earth. Never is man so sensible of his
enslavement and his helplessness, as when he has a _wish_ but has no

Look, for illustration, at the aspirations of the drunkard to be
delivered from the vice that easily besets him. In his sober moments,
they come thick and fast, and during his sobriety, and while under the
lashings of conscience, he wishes, nay, even _longs_, to be freed from
drunkenness. It may be, that under the impulse of these aspirations he
resolves never to drink again. It may be, that amid the buoyancy that
naturally accompanies the springing of hope and longing in the human
soul, he for a time seems to himself to be actually rising up from his
"wallowing in the mire," and supposes that he shall soon regain his
primitive condition of temperance. But the sin is strong; for the
appetite that feeds it is in his blood. Temptation with its witching
solicitation comes before the will,--the weak, self-enslaved will. He
_aspires_ to resist, but _will_ not; the spirit _would_ soar, but the
flesh _will_ creep; the spirit has the _wish_, but the flesh has the
_will_; the man longs to be sober, but actually is and remains a
drunkard. And never,--be it noticed,--never is he more thoroughly
conscious of being a slave to himself, than when he thus _ineffectually_
aspires and wishes to be delivered from himself.

What has been said of drunkenness, and the aspiration to be freed from
it, applies with full force to all the sin and all the aspirations of the
human soul. There is no independent and self-realizing power in a mere
aspiration. No man overcomes even his vices, except as he is assisted by
the common grace of God. The self-reliant man invariably relapses into
his old habits. He who thinks he stands is sure to fall. But when, under
the influence of God's common grace, a man aspires to be freed from the
deepest of all sin, because it is the source of all particular acts of
transgression,--when he attempts to overcome and extirpate the original
and inveterate depravity of his heart,--he feels his bondage more
thoroughly than ever. If it is wretchedness for the drunkard to aspire
after freedom from only a single vice, and fail of reaching it, is it not
the depth of woe, when a man comes to know "the plague of his heart," and
his utter inability to cleanse and cure it? In this case, the bondage of
self-will is found to be absolute.

At first sight, it might seem as if these wishes and aspirations of the
human spirit, faint though they be, are proof that man is not totally
depraved, and that his will is not helplessly enslaved. So some men
argue. But they forget, that these aspirations and wishes are _never
realized_. There is no evidence of power, except from its results. And
where are the results? Who has ever realized these wishes and
aspirations, in his heart and conduct? The truth is, that every
_unattained_ aspiration that ever swelled the human soul is proof
positive, and loud, that the human soul is in bondage. These
_ineffectual_ stirrings and impulses, which disappear like the morning
cloud and the early dew, are most affecting evidences that "whosoever
committeth sin is the _slave_ of sin." They prove that apostate man has
sunk, in one respect, to a lower level than that of the irrational
creation. For, high ideas and truths cannot raise him. Lofty impulses
result in no alteration, or elevation. Even Divine influences leave him
just where they find him, unless they are exerted in their highest grade
of irresistible grace. A brute surrenders himself to his appetites and
propensities, and lives the low life of nature, without being capable of
aspirations for anything purer and nobler. But man does this very
thing,--nay, immerses himself in flesh, and sense, and self, with an
entireness and intensity of which the brute is incapable,--in the face of
impulses and stirrings of mind that point him to the pure throne of God,
and urge him to soar up to it! The brute is a creature of nature, because
he knows no better, and can desire nothing better; but man is "as the
beasts that perish," in spite of a better knowledge and a loftier

If then, you would know that "whosoever committeth sin is the _slave_ of
sin," contemplate sin in reference to the aspirations of an apostate
spirit originally made in the image of God, and which, because it is not
eternally reprobated, is not entirely cut off from the common influences
of the Spirit of God. Never will you feel the bondage of your will more
profoundly, than when under these influences, and in your moments of
seriousness and anxiety respecting your soul's salvation, you aspire
and endeavor to overcome inward sin, and find that unless God grant you
His special and renovating grace, your heart will be sinful through all
eternity, in spite of the best impulses of your best hours. These upward
impulses and aspirations cannot accompany the soul into the state of
final hopelessness and despair, though Milton represents Satan as
sometimes looking back with a sigh, and a mournful memory, upon what he
had once been,[4]--yet if they should go with us there, they would
make the ardor of the fire more fierce, and the gnaw of the worm more
fell. For they would help to reveal the strength of our sin, and the
intensity of our rebellion.

III. Sin is spiritual slavery, if viewed in reference to the _fears_ of
the human soul.

The sinful spirit of man fears the death of the body, and the Scriptures
assert that by reason of this particular fear we are all our lifetime in
bondage. Though we know that the bodily dissolution can have no effect
upon the imperishable essence of an immortal being, yet we shrink back
from it, as if the sentence, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt
return," had been spoken of the spirit,--as if the worm were to "feed
sweetly" upon the soul, and it were to be buried up in the dark house of
the grave. Even the boldest of us is disturbed at the thought of bodily
death, and we are always startled when the summons suddenly comes: "Set
thy house in order, for thou must die."

Again, the spirit of man fears that "fearful something after death," that
eternal judgment which must be passed upon all. We tremble at the
prospect of giving an account of our own actions. We are afraid to reap
the harvest, the seed of which we have sown with our own hands. The
thought of going to a just judgment, and of receiving from the Judge of
all the earth, who cannot possibly do injustice to any of His creatures,
only that which is our desert, shocks us to the centre of our being! Man
universally is afraid to be judged with a righteous judgment! Man
universally is terrified by the equitable bar of God!

Again, the apostate spirit of man has an awful dread of eternity. Though
this invisible realm is the proper home of the human soul, and it was
made to dwell there forever, after the threescore and ten years of its
residence in the body are over, yet it shrinks back from an entrance into
this untried world, and clings with the desperate force of a drowning man
to this "bank and shoal of time." There are moments in the life of a
guilty man when the very idea of eternal existence exerts a preternatural
power, and fills him with a dread that paralyzes him. Never is the human
being stirred to so great depths, and roused to such intensity of action,
as when it feels what the Scripture calls "the power of an _endless_
life." All men are urged by some ruling passion which is strong. The love
of wealth, or of pleasure, or of fame, drives the mind onward with great
force, and excites it to mighty exertions to compass its end. But never
is a man pervaded by such an irresistible and overwhelming influence as
that which descends upon him in some season of religious gloom,--some
hour of sickness, or danger, or death,--when the great eternity, with
all its awful realities, and all its unknown terror, opens upon his
quailing gaze. There are times in man's life, when he is the subject of
movements within that impel him to deeds that seem almost superhuman; but
that internal ferment and convulsion which is produced when all eternity
pours itself through his being turns his soul up from the centre. Man
will labor convulsively, night and day, for money; he will dry up the
bloom and freshness of health, for earthly power and fame; he will
actually wear his body out for sensual pleasure. But what is the
intensity and paroxysm of this activity of mind and body, if compared
with those inward struggles and throes when the overtaken and startled
sinner sees the eternal world looming into view, and with strong crying
and tears prays for only a little respite, and only a little preparation!
"Millions for an inch of time,"--said the dying English Queen. "O
Eternity! Eternity! how shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet
with in _eternity_,"--says the man in the iron cage of Despair. This
finite world has indeed great power to stir man, but the other world has
an infinitely greater power. The clouds which float in the lower regions
of the sky, and the winds that sweep them along, produce great ruin and
destruction upon the earth, but it is only when the "windows of heaven
are opened" that "the fountains of the great deep are broken up," and
"all in whose nostrils is the breath of life die," and "every living
substance is destroyed which is upon the face of the ground." When fear
arises in the soul of man, in view of an eternal existence for which he
is utterly unprepared, it is overwhelming. It partakes of the immensity
of eternity, and holds the man with an omnipotent grasp.

If, now, we view sin in relation to these great fears of death, judgment,
and eternity, we see that it is spiritual slavery, or the bondage of the
will. We discover that our terror is no more able to deliver us from the
"bondage of corruption," than our aspiration is. We found that in spite
of the serious stirrings and impulses which sometimes rise within us, we
still continue immersed in sense and sin; and we shall also find that in
spite of the most solemn and awful fears of which a finite being is
capable, we remain bondmen to ourselves, and our sin. The dread that goes
down into hell can no more ransom us, than can the aspiration that goes
up into heaven. Our fear of eternal woe can no more change the heart,
than our wish for eternal happiness can. We have, at some periods,
faintly wished that lusts and passions had no power over us; and perhaps
we have been the subject of still higher aspirings. But we are the same
beings, still. We are the same self-willed and self-enslaved sinners,
yet. We have all our lifetime feared death, judgment, and eternity, and
under the influence of this fear we have sometimes resolved and promised
to become Christians. But we are the very same beings, still; we are the
same self-willed and self-enslaved sinners yet.

Oh, never is the human spirit more deeply conscious of its bondage to its
darling iniquity, than when these paralyzing fears shut down upon it,
like night, with "a horror of great darkness." When under their
influence, the man feels most thoroughly and wretchedly that his sin is
his ruin, and yet his sinful determination continues on, because
"whosoever committeth sin is the _slave_ of sin," Has it never happened
that, in "the visions of the night when deep sleep falleth upon men," a
spirit passed before your face, like that which stood still before the
Temanite; and there was silence, and a voice saying, "Man! Man! thou must
die, thou must be judged, thou must inhabit eternity?" And when the
spirit had departed, and while the tones of its solemn and startling cry
were still rolling through your soul, did not a temptation to sin solicit
you, and did you not drink in its iniquity like water? Have you not found
out, by mournful experience, that the most anxious forebodings of the
human spirit, the most alarming fears of the human soul, and the most
solemn warnings that come forth from eternity, have no prevailing power
over your sinful nature, but that immediately after experiencing them,
and while your whole being is still quivering under their agonizing
touch, you fall, you rush, into sin? Have you not discovered that even
that most dreadful of all fears,--the fear of the holy wrath of almighty
God,--is not strong enough to save you from yourself? Do you know that
your love of sin has the power to stifle and overcome the mightiest of
your fears, when you are strongly tempted to self-indulgence? Have you no
evidence, in your own experience, of the truth of the poet's words:

"The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain, Slaves by their own compulsion."

If, then, you would know that "whosoever committeth sin is the _slave_ of
sin," contemplate sin in relation to the fears which of necessity rest
upon a spirit capable, as yours is, of knowing that it must leave the
body, that it must receive a final sentence at the bar of judgment, and
that eternity is its last and fixed dwelling-place. If you would know
with sadness and with profit, that sin is the enslavement of the will
that originates it, consider that all the distressing fears that have
ever been in your soul, from the first, have not been able to set you
free in the least from innate depravity: but, that in spite of them all
your will has been steadily surrendering itself, more and more, to the
evil principle of self-love and enmity to God. Call to mind the great
fight of anguish and terror which you have sometimes waged with sin, and
see how sin has always been victorious. Remember that you have often
dreaded death,--but you are unjust still. Remember that you have often
trembled at the thought of eternal judgment,--but you are unregenerate
still. Remember that you have often started back, when the holy and
retributive eternity dawned like the day of doom upon you,--but
you are impenitent still. If you view your own personal sin in reference
to your own personal fears, are you not a slave to it? Will or can your
fears, mighty as they sometimes are, deliver you from the bondage of
corruption, and lift you above that which you love with all your heart,
and strength, and might?

It is perfectly plain, then, that "whosoever committeth sin is the slave
of sin," whether we have regard to the feeling of obligation to be
perfectly holy which is in the human conscience; or to the ineffectual
aspirations which sometimes arise in the human spirit; or to the dreadful
fears which often fall upon it. Sin must have brought the human will into
a real and absolute bondage, if the deep and solemn sense of indebtedness
to moral law; if the "thoughts that wander through eternity;" if the
aspirations that soar to the heaven of heavens, and the fears that
descend to the very bottom of hell,--if all these combined forces and
influences cannot free it from its power.

It was remarked in the beginning of this discourse, that the bondage of
sin is the result of the _reflex_ action of the human will upon itself.
It is not a slavery imposed from without, but from within. The bondage of
sin is only a _particular aspect_ of sin itself. The element of
servitude, like the element of blindness, or hardness, or rebelliousness,
is part and particle of that moral evil which deserves the wrath and
curse of God. It, therefore, no more excuses or palliates, than does any
other self-originated quality in sin. Spiritual bondage, like spiritual
enmity to God, or spiritual ignorance of Him, or spiritual apathy towards
Him, is guilt and crime.

And in closing, we desire to repeat and emphasize this truth. Whoever
will enter upon that process of self-wrestling and self-conflict which
has been described, will come to a profound sense of the truth which our
Lord taught in the words of the text. All such will find and feel that
they are in slavery, and that their slavery is their condemnation. For
the anxious, weary, and heavy-laden sinner, the problem is not
mysterious, because it finds its solution in the depths of his own
_self-consciousness_. He needs no one to clear it up for him, and he has
neither doubts nor cavils respecting it.

But, an objection always assails that mind which has not the key of an
inward moral struggle to unlock the problem for it. When Christ asserts
that "whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin," the easy and
indifferent mind is swift to draw the inference that this bondage is its
misfortune, and that the poor slave does not deserve to be punished, but
to be set free. He says as St. Paul did in another connection: "Nay
verily, but let them come themselves, and fetch us out." But this slavery
is a _self_-enslavement. The feet of this man have not been thrust into
the stocks by another. This logician must refer everything to its own
proper author, and its own proper cause. Let this spiritual bondage,
therefore, be charged upon the _self_ that originated it. Let it be
referred to that self-will in which it is wrapped up, and of which it is
a constituent element. It is a universally received maxim, that the agent
is responsible for the _consequences_ of a voluntary act, as well as for
the act itself. If, therefore, the human will has inflicted a suicidal
blow upon itself, and one of the consequences of its own determination is
a total enslavement of itself to its own determination, then this
enslaving _result_ of the act, as well the act itself, must all go in to
constitute and swell the sum-total of human guilt. The miserable
drunkard, therefore, cannot be absolved from the drunkard's condemnation,
upon the plea that by a long series of voluntary acts he has, in the end,
so enslaved himself that no power but God's grace can save him. The
marble-hearted fiend in hell, the absolutely lost spirit in despair,
cannot relieve his torturing sense of guilt, by the reflection that he
has at length so hardened his own heart that he cannot repent. The
unforced will of a moral being must be held responsible for both its
direct, and its _reflex_ action; for both its sin, and its _bondage_ in

The denial of guilt, then, is not the way out. He who takes this road
"kicks against the goads." And he will find their stabs thickening, the
farther he travels, and the nearer he draws to the face and eyes of God.
But there is a way out. It is the way of self-knowledge and confession.
This is the point upon which all the antecedents of salvation hinge. He
who has come to know, with a clear discrimination, that he is in a guilty
bondage to his own inclination and lust, has taken the very first step
towards freedom. For, the Redeemer, the Almighty Deliverer, is near the
captive, so soon as the captive feels his bondage and confesses it. The
mighty God walking upon the waves of this sinful, troubled life,
stretches out _His_ arm, the very instant any sinking soul cries, "Lord
save me." And unless that appeal and confession of helplessness _is_
made, He, the Merciful and the Compassionate, will let the soul go
down before His own eyes to the unfathomed abyss. If the sinking Peter
had not uttered that cry, the mighty hand of Christ would not have been
stretched forth. All the difficulties disappear, so soon as a man
understands the truth of the Divine affirmation: "O Israel thou hast
destroyed thyself,"--it is a real destruction, and it is thy own
work,--"but in ME is thy help."

[Footnote 1: MILTON: Samson Agonistes, 832-834.--One key to the solution
of the problem, how there can be bondage in the very seat of
freedom,--how man can be responsible for sin, yet helpless in
it,--is to be found in this fact of a reflex action of the will upon
itself, or, a reaction of self-action. Philosophical speculation upon
the nature of the human will has not, hitherto, taken this fact
sufficiently into account. The following extracts corroborate the view
presented above. "My _will_ the enemy held, and _thence_ had made a
chain for me, and bound me. For, of a perverse _will_ comes _lust_; and a
lust yielded to becomes _custom_; and custom not resisted becomes
_necessity_. By which links, as it were, joined together as in a chain, a
hard bondage held me enthralled." AUGUSTINE: Confessions, VIII. v. 10.
"Every degree of inclination contrary to duty, which is and must be
sinful, implies and involves an equal degree of difficulty and inability
to obey. For, indeed, such inclination of the heart to disobey, and the
difficulty or inability to obey, are precisely one and the same. This
kind of difficulty or inability, therefore, always is great according
to the strength and fixedness of the inclination to disobey; and it
becomes _total_ and _absolute_ [inability], when the heart is totally
corrupt and wholly opposed to obedience.... No man can act contrary to
his present inclination or choice. But who ever imagined that this
rendered his inclination and choice innocent and blameless, however wrong
and unreasonable it might be." SAMUEL HOPKINS: Works, I. 233-235.
"Moral inability" is the being "unable to be willing." EDWARDS: Freedom
of the Will, Part I, sect. iv. "Propensities,"--says a writer very
different from those above quoted,--"that are easily surmounted lead us
unresistingly on; we yield to temptations so trivial that we despise
their danger. And so we fall into perilous situations from which we might
easily have preserved ourselves, but from which we now find it impossible
to extricate ourselves without efforts so superhuman as to terrify us,
and we finally fall into the abyss, saying to the Almighty, 'Why hast
Thou made me so weak?' But notwithstanding our vain pretext, He addresses
our conscience, saying, 'I have made thee _too weak to rise from the
pit_, because I made thee _strong enough not to fall therein_." ROUSSEAU:
Confessions, Book II.]

[Footnote 2: Romans vii. 9-11.]

[Footnote 3: Some of the Schoolmen distinguished carefully between the
two things, and denominated the former, _velleitas_, and the latter,

[Footnote 4: MILTON: Paradise Lost, IV. 23-25; 35-61.]


ROMANS vii. 10.--"The commandment which, was ordained to life, I found to
be unto death."

The reader of St. Paul's Epistles is struck with the seemingly
disparaging manner in which he speaks of the moral law. In one place, he
tells his reader that "the law entered that the offence might abound;" in
another, that "the law worketh wrath;" in another, that "sin shall not
have dominion" over the believer because he is "not under the law;" in
another, that Christians "are become dead to the law;" in another, that
"they are delivered from the law;" and in another, that "the strength
of sin is the law." This phraseology sounds strangely, respecting that
great commandment upon which the whole moral government of God is
founded. We are in the habit of supposing that nothing that springs from
the Divine law, or is in any way connected with it, can be evil or the
occasion of evil. If the law of holiness is the strength of sin; if it
worketh wrath; if good men are to be delivered from it; what then shall
be said of the law of sin? Why is it, that St. Paul in a certain class of
his representations appears to be inimical to the ten commandments, and
to warn Christians against them? "Is the law sin?" is a question that
very naturally arises, while reading some of his statements; and it is a
question which he himself asks, because he is aware that it will be
likely to start in the mind of some of his readers. And it is a question
to which he replies: "God forbid. Nay I had not known sin, but by the

The difficulty is only seeming, and not real. These apparently
disparaging representations of the moral law are perfectly reconcilable
with that profound reverence for its authority which St. Paul felt and
exhibited, and with that solemn and cogent preaching of the law for which
he was so distinguished. The text explains and resolves the difficulty.
"The commandment which was ordained to _life_, I found to be unto death."
The moral law, in its own _nature_, and by the Divine _ordination_, is
suited to produce holiness and happiness in the soul of any and every
man. It was ordained to life. So far as the purpose of God, and the
original nature and character of man, are concerned, the ten commandments
are perfectly adapted to fill the soul with peace and purity. In the
unfallen creature, they work no wrath, neither are they the strength of
sin. If everything in man had remained as it was created, there would
have been no need of urging him to "become dead to the law," to be
"delivered from the law," and not be "under the law." Had man kept his
original righteousness, it could never be said of him that "the strength
of sin is the law." On the contrary, there was such a mutual agreement
between the unfallen nature of man and the holy law of God, that the
latter was the very joy and strength of the former. The commandment was
ordained to life, and it was the life and peace of holy Adam.

The original relation between man's nature and the moral law was
precisely like that between material nature and the material laws. There
has been no apostasy in the system of matter, and all things remain there
as they were in the beginning of creation. The law of gravitation, this
very instant, rules as peacefully and supremely in every atom of matter,
as it did on the morning of creation. Should material nature be
"delivered" from the law of gravitation, chaos would come again. No
portion of this fair and beautiful natural world needs to become "dead"
to the laws of nature. Such phraseology as this is inapplicable to the
relation that exists between the world of matter, and the system of
material laws, because, in this material sphere, there has been no
revolution, no rebellion, no great catastrophe analogous to the fall of
Adam. The law here was ordained to life, and the ordinance still stands.
And it shall stand until, by the will of the Creator, these elements
shall melt with fervent heat, and these heavens shall pass away with a
great noise; until a new system of nature, and a new legislation for it,
are introduced.

But the case is different with man. He is not standing where he was, when
created. He is out of his original relations to the law and government of
God, and therefore that which was ordained to him for life, he now finds
to be unto death. The food which in its own nature is suited to minister
to the health and strength of the well man, becomes poison and death
itself to the sick man.

With this brief notice of the fact, that the law of God was ordained to
life, and that therefore this disparaging phraseology of St. Paul does
not refer to the intrinsic nature of law, which he expressly informs us
"is holy just and good," nor to the original relation which man sustained
to it before he became a sinner, let us now proceed to consider some
particulars in which the commandment is found to be unto death, to every
_sinful_ man.

The law of God shows itself in the human soul, in the form of a _sense of
duty_. Every man, as he walks these streets, and engages in the business
or pleasures of life, hears occasionally the words: "Thou shalt; them
shalt not." Every man, as he passes along in this earthly pilgrimage,
finds himself saying to himself: "I ought, I ought not." This is the
voice of law sounding in the conscience; and every man may know, whenever
he hears these words, that he is listening to the same authority that cut
the ten commandments into the stones of Sinai, and sounded that awful
trumpet, and will one day come in power and great glory to judge the
quick and dead. Law, we say, expresses itself for man, while here upon
earth, through the sense of duty. "A sense of duty pursues us ever," said
Webster, in that impressive allusion to the workings of conscience, in
the trial of the Salem murderers. This is the accusing and condemning
_sensation_, in and by which the written statute of God becomes a living
energy, and a startling voice in the soul. Cut into the rock of Sinai, it
is a dead letter; written and printed in our Bibles, it is still a dead
letter; but wrought in this manner into the fabric of our own
constitution, waylaying us in our hours of weakness, and irresolution,
and secrecy, and speaking to our inward being in tones that are as
startling as any that could be addressed to the physical ear,--undergoing
this transmutation, and becoming a continual consciousness of duty and
obligation, the law of God is more than a letter. It is a possessing
spirit, and according as we obey or disobey, it is a guardian angel, or a
tormenting fiend. We have disobeyed, and therefore the sense of duty is a
tormenting sensation; the commandment which was ordained to life, is
found to be unto death.

I. In the first place, to go into the analysis, the sense of duty is a
sorrow and a pain to sinful man, because it _places him under a continual

No creature can be happy, so long as he feels himself under limitations.
To be checked, reined in, and thwarted in any way, renders a man
uneasy and discontented. The universal and instinctive desire for
freedom,--freedom from restraint,--is a proof of this. Every creature
wishes to follow out his inclination, and in proportion as he is hindered
in so doing, and is compelled to work counter to it, he is restless and

Now the sense of duty exerts just this influence, upon sinful man. It
opposes his wishes; it thwarts his inclination; it imposes a restraint
upon his spontaneous desires and appetites. It continually hedges up his
way, and seeks to stop him in the path of his choice and his pleasure. If
his inclination were only in harmony with his duty; if his desires and
affections were one with the law of God; there would be no restraint from
the law. In this case, the sense of duty would be a joy and not a sorrow,
because, in doing his duty, he would be doing what he liked. There are
only two ways, whereby contentment can be introduced into the human soul.
If the Divine law could be altered so that it should agree with man's
sinful inclination, he could be happy in sin. The commandment having
become like his own heart, there would, of course, be no conflict between
the two, and he might sin on forever and lap himself in Elysium. And
undoubtedly there are thousands of luxurious and guilty men, who, if they
could, like the Eastern Semiramis, would make lust and law alike in their
decree;[1] would transmute the law of holiness into a law of sin; would
put evil for good, and good for evil, bitter for sweet and sweet for
bitter; in order to be eternally happy in the sin that they love. They
would bring duty and inclination into harmony, by a method that would
annihilate duty, would annihilate the eternal distinction between right
and wrong, would annihilate God himself. But this method, of course, is
impossible. There can be no transmutation of law, though there can be of
a creature's character and inclination. Heaven and earth shall pass away,
but the commandment of God can never pass away. The only other mode,
therefore, by which duty and inclination can be brought into agreement,
and the continual sense of restraint which renders man so wretched be
removed, is to change the inclination. The instant the desires and
affections of our hearts are transformed, so that they accord with the
Divine law, the conflict between our will and our conscience is at an
end. When I come to love the law of holiness and delight in it, to obey
it is simply to follow out my inclination. And this, we have seen, is to
be happy.

But such is not the state of things, in the unrenewed soul. Duty and
inclination are in conflict. Man's desires appetites and tendencies are
in one direction, and his conscience is in the other. The sense of duty
holds a whip over him. He yields to his sinful inclination, finds a
momentary pleasure in so doing, and then feels the stings of the
scorpion-lash. We see this operation in a very plain and striking manner,
if we select an instance where the appetite is very strong, and the voice
of conscience is very loud. Take, for example, that particular sin which
most easily besets an individual. Every man has such a sin, and knows
what it is, Let him call to mind the innumerable instances in which that
particular temptation has assailed him, and he will be startled to
discover how many thousands of times the sense of duty has put a
restraint upon him. Though not in every single instance, yet in hundreds
and hundreds of cases, the law of God has uttered the, "Thou shalt not,"
and endeavored to prevent the consummation of that sin. And what a
wearisome experience is this. A continual forth-putting of an unlawful
desire, and an almost incessant check upon it, from a law which is hated
but which is feared. For such is the attitude of the natural heart toward
the commandment. "The carnal mind is _enmity_ against the law of God."
The two are contrary to one another; so that when the heart goes out in
its inclination, it is immediately hindered and opposed by the law.
Sometimes the collision between them is terrible, and the soul becomes;
an arena of tumultuous passions. The heart and will are intensely
determined to do wrong, while the conscience is unyielding and
uncompromising, and utters its denunciations, and thunders its warnings.
And what a dreadful destiny awaits that soul, in whom this conflict and
collision between the dictates of conscience, and the desires of the
heart, is to be eternal! for whom, through all eternity, the holy law of
God, which was ordained to life peace and joy, shall be found to be unto
death and woe immeasurable!

II. In the second place, the sense of duty is a pain and sorrow to a
sinful man, because it _demands a perpetual effort_ from him.

No creature likes to tug, and to lift. Service must be easy, in order to
be happy. If you lay upon the shoulders of a laborer a burden that
strains his muscles almost to the point of rupture, you put him in
physical pain. His physical structure was not intended to be subjected to
such a stretch. His Creator designed that the burden should be
proportioned to the power, in such a manner that work should be play. In
the garden of Eden, physical labor was physical pleasure, because the
powers were in healthy action, and the work assigned to them was not a
burden. Before the fall, man was simply to dress and keep a garden; but
after the fall, he was to dig up thorns and thistles, and eat his bread
in the sweat of his face. This is a _curse_,--the curse of being
compelled to toil, and lift, and put the muscle to such a tension that
it aches. This is not the original and happy condition of the body, in
which man was created. Look at the toiling millions of the human family,
who like the poor ant "for one small grain, labor, and tug, and strive;"
see them bending double, under the heavy weary load which they must carry
until relieved by death; and tell me if this is the physical elysium, the
earthly paradise, in which unfallen man was originally placed, and for
which he was originally designed. No, the curse of labor, of perpetual
effort, has fallen upon the body, as the curse of death has fallen upon
the soul; and the uneasiness and unrest of the groaning and struggling
body is a convincing proof of it. The whole physical nature of man
groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, waiting for the
adoption, that is the _redemption of the body_ from this penal necessity
of perpetual strain and effort.

The same fact meets us when we pass from the physical to the moral nature
of man, and becomes much more sad and impressive. By creation, it was
a pleasure and a pastime for man to keep the law of God, to do spiritual
work. As created, he was not compelled to summon his energies, and strain
his will, and make a convulsive resolution to obey the commands of his
Maker. Obedience was joy. Holy Adam knew nothing of _effort_ in the path
of duty. It was a smooth and broad pathway, fringed with flowers, and
leading into the meadows of asphodel. It did not become the "straight and
narrow" way, until sin had made obedience a toil, the sense of duty a
restraint, and human life a race and a fight. By apostasy, the obligation
to keep the Divine law perfectly, became repulsive. It was no longer easy
for man to do right; and it has never been easy or spontaneous to him
since. Hence, the attempt to follow the dictates of conscience always
costs an unregenerate man an effort. He is compelled to make a
resolution; and a resolution is the sign and signal of a difficult and
unwelcome service. Take your own experience for an illustration. Did you
ever, except as you were sweetly inclined and drawn by the renewing grace
of God, attempt to discharge a duty, without discovering that you were
averse to it, and that you must gather up your energies for the work, as
the leaper strains upon the tendon of Achilles to make the mortal leap.
And if you had not become weary, and given over the effort; if you had
entered upon that sad but salutary passage in the religious experience
which is delineated in the seventh chapter of Romans; if you had
continued to struggle and strive to do your duty, until you grew faint
and weak, and powerless, and cried out for a higher and mightier power to
succor you; you would have known, as you do not yet, what a deadly
opposition there is between the carnal mind and the law of God, and what
a spasmodic effort it costs an unrenewed man even to _attempt_ to
discharge the innumerable obligations that rest upon him. Mankind
would know more of this species of toil and labor, and of the cleaving
curse involved in it, if they were under the same physical necessity in
regard to it, that they lie under in respect to manual labor. A man
_must_ dig up the thorns and thistles, he _must_ earn his bread in the
sweat of his face, or he must die. Physical wants, hunger and thirst,
set men to work physically, and keep them at it; and thus they well
understand what it is to have a weary body, aching muscles, and a tired
physical nature. But they are not under the same species of necessity, in
respect to the wants and the work of the soul. A man may neglect these,
and yet live a long and luxurious life upon the earth. He is not driven
by the very force of circumstances, to labor with his heart and will, as
he is to labor with his hands. And hence he knows little or nothing of a
weary and heavy-laden soul; nothing of an aching heart and a tired will.
He well knows how much strain and effort it costs to cut down forests,
open roads, and reduce the wilderness to a fertile field; but he does not
know how much toil and effort are involved, in the attempt to convert the
human soul into the garden of the Lord.

Now in this demand for a _perpetual effort_ which is made upon the
natural man, by the sense of duty, we see that the law which was ordained
to life is found to be unto death. The commandment, instead of being a
pleasant friend and companion to the human soul, as it was in the
beginning, has become a strict rigorous task-master. It lays out an
uncongenial work for sinful man to do, and threatens him with punishment
and woe if he does not do it. And yet the law is not a tyrant. It is
holy, just, and good. This work which it lays out is righteous work, and
ought to be done. The wicked disinclination and aversion of the sinner
have compelled the law to assume this unwelcome and threatening attitude.
That which is good was not made death to man by God's agency, and by a
Divine arrangement, but by man's transgression.[2] Sin produces this
misery in the human soul, through an instrument that is innocent, and in
its own nature benevolent and kind. Apostasy, the rebellion and
corruption of the human heart, has converted the law of God into an
exacting task-master and an avenging magistrate. For the law says to
every man what St. Paul says of the magistrate: "Rulers are not a terror
to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou, then, not be afraid of the
power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For
he is the minister of God to thee for good: _but if thou do that which is
evil, be afraid_." If man were only conformed to the law; if the
inclination of his heart were only in harmony with his sense of duty; the
ten commandments would not be accompanied with any thunders or
lightnings, and the discharge of duty would be as easy, spontaneous,
and as much without effort, as the practice of sin now is.

Thus have we considered two particulars in which the Divine law,
originally intended to render man happy, and intrinsically adapted to do
so, now renders him miserable. The commandment which was ordained to
life, he now finds to be unto death, because it places him under a
continual restraint, and drives him to a perpetual effort. These two
particulars, we need not say, are not all the modes in which sin has
converted the moral law from a joy to a sorrow. We have not discussed the
great subject of guilt and penalty. This violated law charges home the
past disobedience and threatens an everlasting damnation, and thus fills
the sinful soul with fears and forebodings. In this way, also, the law
becomes a terrible organ and instrument of misery, and is found to be
unto death. But the limits of this discourse compel us to stop the
discussion here, and to deduce some practical lessons which are
suggested by it.

1. In the first place, we are taught by the subject, as thus considered,
that _the mere sense of duty is not Christianity_. If this is all that a
man is possessed of, he is not prepared for the day of judgment, and the
future life. For the sense of duty, alone and by itself, causes misery in
a soul that has not performed its duty. The law worketh wrath, in a
creature who has not obeyed the law. The man that doeth these things
shall indeed live by them; but he who has not done them must die by them.

There have been, and still are, great mistakes made at this point. Men
have supposed that an active conscience, and a lofty susceptibility
towards right and wrong, will fit them to appear before God, and have,
therefore, rejected Christ the Propitiation. They have substituted ethics
for the gospel; natural religion for revealed. "I know," says Immanuel
Kant, "of but two beautiful things; the starry heavens above my head, and
the sense of duty within my heart."[3] But, is the sense of duty
_beautiful_ to apostate man? to a being who is not conformed to it? Does
the holy law of God overarch him like the firmament, "tinged with a blue
of heavenly dye, and starred with sparkling gold?" Nay, nay. If there be
any beauty in the condemning law of God, for man the _transgressor_, it
is the beauty of the lightnings. There is a splendor in them, but there
is a terror also. Not until He who is the end of the law for
righteousness has clothed me with His panoply, and shielded me from their
glittering shafts in the clefts of the Rock, do I dare to look at them,
as they leap from crag to crag, and shine from the east even unto the

We do not deny that the consciousness of responsibility is a lofty one,
and are by no means insensible to the grand and swelling sentiments
concerning the moral law, and human duty, to which this noble thinker
gives utterance.[4] But we are certain that if the sense of duty had
pressed upon him to the degree that it did upon St. Paul; had the
commandment "come" to him with the convicting energy that it did to St.
Augustine, and to Pascal; he too would have discovered that the law which
was ordained to life is found to be unto death. So long as man stands at
a distance from the moral law, he can admire its glory and its beauty;
but when it comes close to him; when it comes home to him; when it
becomes a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; then its
glory is swallowed up in its terror, and its beauty is lost in its truth.
Then he who was alive without the law becomes slain by the law. Then this
ethical admiration of the decalogue is exchanged for an evangelical trust
in Jesus Christ.

2. And this leads us to remark, in the second place, that this subject
shows _the meaning of Christ's work of Redemption_. The law for an
alienated and corrupt soul is a burden. It cannot be otherwise; for it
imposes a perpetual restraint, urges up to an unwelcome duty, and charges
home a fearful guilt. Christ is well named the _Redeemer_, because He
frees the sinful soul from all this. He delivers it from the penalty, by
assuming it all upon Himself, and making complete satisfaction to the
broken law. He delivers it from the perpetual restraint and the irksome
effort, by so renewing and changing the heart that it becomes a delight
to keep the law. We observed, in the first part of the discourse, that if
man could only bring the inclination of his heart into agreement with his
sense of duty, he would be happy in obeying, and the consciousness of
restraint and of hateful effort would disappear. This is precisely what
Christ accomplishes by His Spirit. He brings the human heart into harmony
with the Divine law, as it was in the beginning, and thus rescues it from
its bondage and its toil. Obedience becomes a pleasure, and the service
of God, the highest Christian liberty. Oh, would that by the act of
faith, you might experience this liberating effect of the redemption that
is in Christ Jesus. So long as you are out of Christ, you are under a
burden that will every day grow heavier, and may prove to be fixed and
unremovable as the mountains. That is a fearful punishment which the poet
Dante represents as being inflicted upon those who were guilty of pride.
The poor wretches are compelled to support enormous masses of stone which
bend them over to the ground, and, in his own stern phrase, "crumple up
their knees into their breasts." Thus they stand, stooping over, every
muscle trembling, the heavy stone weighing them down, and yet they are
not permitted to fall, and rest themselves upon the earth.[5] In this
crouching posture, they must carry the weary heavy load without relief,
and with a distress so great that, in the poet's own language,

"it seemed
As he, who showed most patience in his look,
Wailing exclaimed: I can endure no more."[6]

Such is the posture of man unredeemed. There is a burden on him, under
which he stoops and crouches. It is a burden compounded of guilt and
corruption. It is lifted off by Christ, and by Christ only. The soul
itself can never expiate its guilt; can never cleanse its pollution. We
urge you, once more, to the act of faith in the Redeemer of the world. We
beseech you, once more, to make "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus"
your own. The instant you plead the merit of Christ's oblation, in simple
confidence in its atoning efficacy, that instant the heavy burden is
lifted off by an Almighty hand, and your curved, stooping, trembling,
aching form once more stands erect, and you walk abroad in the liberty
wherewith Christ makes the human creature free.

[Footnote 1:
"She in vice
Of luxury was so shameless, that she made
Liking to be lawful by promulged decree,
To clear the blame she had herself incurr'd."
DANTE: Inferno, v. 56.]

[Footnote 2: Romans vii. 13, 14.]

[Footnote 3: KANT: Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft (Beschlusz).--De
Stael's rendering, which is so well known, and which I have employed,
is less guarded than the original.]

[Footnote 4: Compare the fine apostrophe to Duty. PRAKTISCHE VERNUNFT,
p. 214, (Ed. Rosenkranz.)]

[Footnote 5: "Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow
down their back alway." Rom. xi. 10.]

[Footnote 6: DANTE: Purgatory x. 126-128.]


Matthew xix. 20.--"The young man saith unto him, All these things have I
kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?"

The narrative from which the text is taken is familiar to all readers of
the Bible. A wealthy young man, of unblemished morals and amiable
disposition, came to our Lord, to inquire His opinion respecting his own
good estate. He asked what good thing he should do, in order to inherit
eternal life. The fact that he applied to Christ at all, shows that he
was not entirely at rest in his own mind. He could truly say that he had
kept the ten commandments from his youth up, in an outward manner; and
yet he was ill at ease. He was afraid that when the earthly life was
over, he might not be able to endure the judgment of God, and might fail
to enter into that happy paradise of which the Old Testament Scriptures
so often speak, and of which he had so often read, in them. This young
man, though a moralist, was not a self-satisfied or a self-conceited
one. For, had he been like the Pharisee a thoroughly blinded and
self-righteous person, like him he never would have approached Jesus of
Nazareth, to obtain His opinion respecting his own religious character
and prospects. Like him, he would have scorned to ask our Lord's judgment
upon any matters of religion. Like the Pharisees, he would have said, "We
see,"[1] and the state of his heart and his future prospects would have
given him no anxiety. But he was not a conceited and presumptuous
Pharisee. He was a serious and thoughtful person, though not a pious and
holy one. For, he did not love God more than he loved his worldly
possessions. He had not obeyed that first and great command, upon which
hang all the law and the prophets, conformity to which, alone,
constitutes righteousness: "Thou shalt _love_ the Lord thy God with all
thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy mind, and all thy strength." He
was not right at heart, and was therefore unprepared for death and
judgment. This he seems to have had some dim apprehension of. For why, if
he had felt that his external morality was a solid rock for his feet to
stand upon, why should he have betaken himself to Jesus of Nazareth, to
ask: "What lack I yet?"

It was not what he had done, but what he had left undone, that wakened
fears and forebodings in this young ruler's mind. The outward observance
of the ten commandments was right and well in its own way and place; but
the failure to obey, from the heart, the first and great command was the
condemnation that rested upon him. He probably knew this, in some
measure. He was not confidently certain of eternal life; and therefore he
came to the Great Teacher, hoping to elicit from Him an answer that would
quiet his conscience, and allow him to repose upon his morality while
he continued to love this world supremely. The Great Teacher pierced him
with an arrow. He said to him, "If them wilt be perfect, go and sell that
thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:
and come and follow me." This direction showed him what he _lacked_.

This incident leads us to consider the condemnation that rests upon every
man, for his _failure_ in duty; the guilt that cleaves to him, on
account of what he has _not_ done. The Westminster Catechism defines sin
to be "any _want of conformity_ unto, or any transgression of, the law of
God." Not to be conformed, in the heart, to the law and will of God, is
as truly sin, as positively to steal, or positively to commit murder.
Failure to come up to the line of rectitude is as punishable, as to step
over that line. God requires of His creature that he stand squarely
_upon_ the line of righteousness; if therefore he is off that line,
because he has not come up to it, he is as guilty as when he
transgresses, or passes across it, upon the other side. This is the
reason that the sin of omission is as punishable as the sin of
commission. In either case alike, the man is off the line of rectitude.
Hence, in the final day, man will be condemned for what he lacks, for
what he comes short of, in moral character. Want of conformity to the
Divine law as really conflicts with the Divine law, as an overt
transgression does, because it carries man off and away from it. One
of the Greek words for sin [Greek: (amurtanein)] signifies, to miss the
mark. When the archer shoots at the target, he as really fails to strike
it, if his arrow falls short of it, as when he shoots over and beyond it.
If he strains upon the bow with such a feeble force, that the arrow drops
upon the ground long before it comes up to the mark, his shot is as total
a failure, as when he strains upon the bow-string with all his force, but
owing to an ill-directed aim sends his weapon into the air. One of the
New Testament terms for sin contains this figure and illustration, in
its etymology. Sin is a want of conformity unto, a failure to come clear
up to, the line and mark prescribed by God, as well a violent and
forcible breaking over and beyond the line and the mark. The _lack_ of
holy love, the _lack_ of holy fear, the _lack_ of filial trust and
confidence in God,--the negative absence of these and other qualities in
the heart is as truly sin and guilt, as is the positive and open

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