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most rebellious wanderer. It was long before a personal application of these glorious truths took place in John's heart: a deep conviction of sin was for many months the prevailing sentiment of his stricken soul; but in God's own time the whole saving truth of the gospel found entrance there. Under its blessed influence his heart grew soft, his conscience tender; and the child of the widow's prayers became the child of the widow's God.
"Be sure your sin will find you out."—Numb- xxxii. 23.
Here can be no truer words. The circumstances in which they were spoken were simply these. When tejj the people of Israel were drawing near to the promised land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad, who had, we are told, a very great multitude of cattle, were struck with the fitness of the land of Gilead, east of the Jordan, for pastoral purposes, and asked Moses to give it to them for their inheritance. Moses asked them, in effect, whether it was right that the other tribes should have all the labour and peril of crossing the Jordan, and conquering the nations on the western side of it, while they sat down at their ease to enjoy a region which cost them neither toil nor danger. He warned them at the same time against following the example of their fathers, whose unbelief and moral cowardice had brought on them the displeasure of God. They replied that they would build folds for their cattle and cities for their children, but that those of them who were fit for war would accompany their brethren across the Jordan, and aid in subduing the land, and that they would not return to their homes till all the other tribes had acquired possession of their inheritance. Moses now consented to their proposal, but warned them solemnly of the conse
* From "Sermons for Sunday Evenings," just published by the Religious Tract Society.
quences of failing to fulfil their engagement. "If ye will not do so," he said, "behold ye have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out." His words are as true to-day as they were three thousand years ago, and I propose to show how it is so very certain that sin will find out the sinner.
i. No sin is ever committed without the presence of two witnesses. Many forget this. They choose the darkness for their evil deeds, and think no one sees them. Or, if they are in the light, they look around eagerly and carefully to see if there is any one near, and if they can see no one they think they are all safe, they may do as they like. But this is a great mistake. You have never thought a thought, or done a deed, but in the presence of two witnesses; and in every instance these witnesses make an exact record of the deed, and attest it as certainly as if they signed it with their hands. These witnesses are God and your own conscience. You may go where there shall be no living thing but yourself—solitude the most complete—but God is there. His eye is full upon you. And every emotion of your heart, and every thought of your mind, and every deed of your hand, lies as exposed to His view as if you stood before His throne in heaven. He is a witness to everything.
And so is your own conscience. You may bribe it to shut its eyes, or to be silent, or to forget. And your bribe may succeed for a time. But conscience is apt to repent of its unfaithfulness in shutting its eyes when it should look, and in holding its tongue when it should speak. And you can never be safe from being found out by any sin of which conscience has at any time, or in any circumstances, been the witness.
With such witnesses as these to everything, you may be sure that no sin, however secretly committed, will fail to find you out. When Achan stole the wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment from the spoils of Jericho, he believed that no one saw him, and he had no fear of the consequences. And no one but God did see him—God and his conscience. But that was enough. When Gehazi followed after Naaman, and said that two young men of the sons of the prophets had just arrived from Mount Ephraim, and begged him to let him have a talent of silver and two changes of raiment for them, he thought himself beyond the possibility of discovery, quietly deposited the gifts of Naaman in his house, and then went and, like an innocent man, without a blush or a guilty look, stood before his master, Elisha. "Whence comest thou?" said Elisha to him; and he pretended he had been nowhere. But God had seen him, and had miraculously enabled the prophet to follow him with his mind's eye, though not with his body's eye. And Elisha said to him: "The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow." His sin found him out. When Ananias and Sapphira told that lie about the value of their property, they thought it would never be found out, for no one knew anything of it but themselves. But God knew it; He heard their lie; He revealed it; He punished them. Their sin found them out. So, depend on it, will it be with every sin committed before two witnesses; God and your own conscience will be sure to bring you to account some day or other.
2. Very many sins are of a kind to produce their own punishment, and this adds to the certainty that our sins will find us out. Just as seed, when sown in the ground, produces its own proper fruit, so does sin. You may let the seed alone after you have sown it, never look after it, never think of it, even forget that you have sown it, but it will spring up, day and night will it grow, and in due time the fruit will be seen. Just so is it with many sins: sins of the body—for example, drunkenness, and gluttony, and other bodily sins—are as sure to produce disease as if you deliberately took poison. Mental sins work out their own punishment just as certainly. Selfishness, envy, covetousness, hatred, malice—these, by their own natural action, are sure to make a man miserable. In all the universe it has never been found that these mental lusts and happiness have gone together. The production of tares from tare-seed is not more certain than the production of misery, real soulmisery, from them.
Indeed, instead of saying that many sins are of a kind to produce their own punishment, we may say with confidence, that all sin produces its own punishment. Let men banish God from their hearts, and walk after the light of their own eyes, in their own evil ways, sin is sure to find them out sooner or later; sure to involve them in misery here or hereafter, from which there is no escape. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
3. There is another thing that adds to the certainty that sin will find out the sinner—and that is the great judgment day which God has appointed to wind up the affairs of this world. Many things are not punished in this world according to their deserts. In fact, nothing is punished here according to its deserts. There is just enough of earthly punishment to teach men that they are under the government of a holy God, to whom sin is very displeasing. The fruits of sin are just enough in this world to let' men know that it is an evil and a bitter thing to depart from God. But in the great day there will be made the full disclosure of the dreadfulness of sin and of God's indignation against it.
In this world, so far as appearances go, you would sometimes suppose that sin escapes punishment altogether. That is, you cannot see how it has been punished. But even if it did escape in this world, the two witnesses of all our deeds are sure to meet us at the judgment-seat, to tell the tale of our sins, and to convict us. God and our own conscience will be there, and by their testimony our sin is sure to find us out at last.
Then in this world the seed we sow seems to spring up very slowly. The man that knows nothing of how slowly the acorn, or even wheat grows, might visit the spot where he has deposited his acorn or seed, morning after morning, and seeing nothing above ground, might conclude it was never to grow. And so it is with men in regard to their sins. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."* But the harvest is sure to come. If it does not come before, it will come at the judgment-day. Well may Moses, and well might we say—" Be sure your sin will find you out."
What then should you do in view of these things? You should dread sin, and treat it as your enemy—your worst, and indeed your only enemy. In whatever guise it comes, whether as an angel of light or in all the hideousness of its true nature, whether it tempts you with promises of good or threatenings of evil, treat it as your enemy. Its enmity to you, its opposedness to your true interests, is hellish and unmixed. Don't listen to it. It is evil, and only evil. And never by any process can you extract good from it.
Would you be safe you must oppose and resist its very beginnings. Let it gain one advantage over you, and it will soon gain a second and a third.
But it is not enough that we should dread sin as our enemy, and do constant battle with it all our life. We are already sinners. This fact we cannot undo. The Bible says it. Our own consciences say it. We have not loved God with all our heart. We have done ten thousand things that are contrary to God's will. What shall we do? If we were warning pure angels in heaven against sin by telling them that sin is sure to find out the sinner, we know what they would do—just avoid it, never do it. But we have done it already. And the awful truth stares us in the face that sooner or later sin finds out the man that is guilty of it . Then what shall we do?
But for the mercy of God, we could do nothing but weep tears of bitter despair, and lie down in eternal sorrow. But God lias had mercy upon us. He willeth not that any should perish, for He hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He has sent His Son to die for us, and by the virtue of His
* Ecclesiastes viii. II.