Sin-Part 2 of 3

 

Originally published in 1841 as a chapter in The Way of Life. Edited slightly for modern spellings.

The Sins of Men Are Numerous and Aggravated
The Bible not only teaches that all men are sinners and that the evil is deeply seated in their hearts, but moreover that their sinfulness is very great. The clearest intimation which a law-giver can give of his estimate of the evil of transgression is the penalty which he attaches to the violation of his laws. If he is wise and good, the penalty will be a true index of the real demerit of transgression, and in the case of God, who is infinitely wise and good, the punishment which He denounces against sin must be an exact criterion of its ill-desert.

If we are unable to see that sin really deserves what God has declared to be its proper punishment, it only shows that our judgment differs from His, and that it should thus differ is no matter of surprise. We cannot know all the reasons which indicate the righteousness of the divine threatening. We can have no adequate conception of the greatness, goodness, and wisdom of the Being against whom we sin; nor of the evil which sin is suited to produce; nor of the perfect excellence of the law which we transgress. That sin therefore appears to us a lesser evil than God declares it to be is no evidence that it is really undeserving of his wrath and curse.

There is a still more operative cause of our low estimate of the evil of sin. The more depraved a man is, the less capable is he of estimating the heinousness of his transgressions. And the man who in one part of his career looked upon crimes with abhorrence comes at last to regard them with indifference. That we are sinners, therefore, is a sufficient explanation of the fact that we look upon sin in a very different light from that in which it is presented in the Word of God. Nothing then can be more reasonable than that we should bow before the judgment of God, that we should acknowledge that sin really deserves the punishment which he has declared to be its due. That punishment is so awful that nothing but a profound reverence for God, and some adequate conception of the evil of sin, can produce a sincere acquiescence in its justice. Yet nothing can be more certain than that this punishment is the proper measure of the ill-desert of sin.

The term commonly employed to designate this punishment is death; death not merely of the body, but of the soul, not merely temporal but eternal. It is a comprehensive term therefore to express all the evils in this world and the world to come, which are the penal consequences of sin. In this sense it is to be understood in the threatening made to our first parents: "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). And when the prophet says, "The soul that sinneth it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). And when the apostle says, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).

The same general idea is expressed by the word "curse": "As many as are of the law are under the curse; for it is written cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:16). And also by the word "wrath": "We were by nature the children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3), "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Rom. 1:18).

Those and similar passages teach that sinners are the objects of the divine displeasure, and that this displeasure will certainly be manifested. As God is infinitely good and the fountain of all blessedness, His displeasure must be the greatest of all evils.

The Scriptures, however, in order to impress this truth more deeply upon our minds, employ the strongest terms human language affords, to set forth the dreadful import of God's displeasure.  Those who do not obey the Gospel, it is said, "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess. 1:9). Our Savior says, "The wicked shall be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43-44). At the last great day, He tells us, "the judge shall say to those upon His left hand, Depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels'" (Matt. 25:41). In the last day, "all that are in their graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29), or as it is expressed in Daniel, "to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12:2).

Whatever explanation may be given of the terms employed in these and many similar passages, there can be no doubt that they are intended to convey the idea of endless and hopeless misery. Whence this misery shall arise, or wherein it shall consist, are questions of minor importance. It is sufficient that the Scriptures teach that the sufferings here spoken of are, in degree, inconceivably great and, in duration, endless.

The most fearful exhibition given of the future state of the impenitent is that which presents them as reprobates, as abandoned to the unrestrained dominion of evil. The repressing influence of conscience, of a probationary state, of a regard to character, of good example, and above all of the Holy Spirit, will be withdrawn, and unmingled malignity, impurity, and violence constitute the character and condition of those who finally perish. The wicked are represented as constantly blaspheming God while they gnaw their tongues with pain (cf. Rev. 16:10). The God who pronounces this doom upon sinners is He who said, "As I live I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezek. 33:11). The most fearful of these passages fell from the lips of the Lamb of God, who came to die that we might not perish but have eternal life.

It must be remembered that it is not against the chief of sinners that this dreadful punishment is denounced. It is against sin, one sin, any sin. "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written into the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:19). "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). As far as we know, the angels were punished for their first offense. Adam and his race fell by one transgression. Human governments act on the same principle. If a man commits murder, he suffers death for the one offence. If he is guilty of treason, he finds no defense in his freedom from other crimes. Sin is apostasy from God; it breaks our communion with Him, and is the ruin of the soul.

The displeasure of God against sin and His fixed determination to punish it are also manifested by the certain connection which He has established between sin and suffering. It is the undeniable tendency of sin to produce misery, and although in this world the good are not always more happy than the wicked, this only shows that the present is a state of trial and not of retribution. It affords no evidence to contradict the proof of the purpose of God to punish sin, derived from the obvious and necessary tendency of sin to produce misery. This tendency is as much a law of nature as any other law with which we are acquainted.

Men flatter themselves that they will escape the evil consequences of their transgressions by appealing to the mercy of God and obtaining a suspension of this law in their behalf. They might as reasonably expect the law of gravitation to be suspended for their convenience. "He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption" (Gal. 6:8), as certainly as he who sows tares shall reap tares. The only link which binds together causes and effects in nature is the will of God, and the same will, no less clearly revealed, connects suffering with sin. And this is a connection absolutely indissoluble save by the mystery of redemption.

To suspend the operation of a law of nature (as to stop the sun in his course) is merely an exercise of power. But to save sinners from the curse of the law required that Christ should be made a curse for us; that He should bear our sins in His own body on the tree; that He should be made sin for us and die, the just for the unjust. It would be a reflection on the wisdom of God to suppose that He would employ means to accomplish an end more costly than the end required. Could our redemption have been effected by corruptible things, as silver or gold, or could the blood of bulls or of goats have taken away sin, who can believe that Christ would have died? The apostle clearly teaches that it is to make the death of Christ vain to affirm that our salvation could have been otherwise secured (Gal. 2:21).

Since, then, in order to the pardon of sin the death of Christ was necessary, it is evident that the evil of sin in the sight of God must be estimated by the dignity of Him who died for our redemption. Here we approach the most mysterious and awful doctrine of the Bible. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth" (John 1:1, 3, 14).

God therefore was manifested in the flesh. "He who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:6-7).

He then-who is declared to be the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of His person, upholding all things by the Word of His power; whom all the angels are commanded to worship; of whom the Scriptures say, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, Thou Lord in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands; they shall perish, but thou remainest; they shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail" (Heb. 1:8-12)-even He, who is God over all and blessed forever, inasmuch as the children were partakers of the flesh, Himself also took part of the same; that through death He might destroy Him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Charles Hodge (1797-1878) was Presbyterian theologian and leading proponent of historical Calvinism in America during the 19th Century. He taught for most of his career at Princeton Theological Seminary, serving as its principal from 1851-1878. He was the founder and first editor of The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, using the publication as a platform to address many controversial issues in his day. Among his best known books are numerous commentaries on New Testament books, his Systematic Theology, The Way of Life, and What Is Darwinism. He is remembered as a great defender of the faith who articulated the ageless doctrines of Christianity in an age when they were being called into question from many quarters. He argued strongly that the authority of the Bible as the Word of God had to be understood literally. His teaching and writings continue to be a significant influence on today's evangelical believers.

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