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Romans vii. 13.
* But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good;
that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful."
That there is a principle at work in the world which is in opposition to the reason of our own minds, to the peace and comfort of society, and to individual happiness, bas in every age of the world been the experience and the acknowledgment of all descriptions of persons. Heathen philosophers equally with Christian moralists and professors of religion, bave united in one unvarying testimony to a state of disorder in the moral world—the mind and affections of man-as plainly marked as that which is displayed in the world called natural. This principle, under the personification of a power or agent working in us, is denominated sin, and is set forth in the Scriptures as the true and only cause of all the disorder and misery known and suffered in this world, and of all that can be anticipated by the conscious objects of its influence in that which is to come.
This knowledge, however, of the cause and of the connexion of the state of disorder in the natural and moral world, was hid from the Heathen philosopher. He could conjecture and reason, and an occasional gleam from traditionary revelation would bring him to the confines of the truth; but certainty and satisfaction were beyond his reach. Alas! that so many Christian moralists, especially the more modern ones, by preferring the rush-light of human reason in matters beyond their experience, to the clear and decisive discoveries of revealed truth, should be in no better case. But to the Christian, and to the Christian only it is given, to trace these acknowledged effects to their cause, to account for the connexion between them, to understand their bearing upon himself, and to give to the cause
itself its true and genuine character, colour, and operation. And happy had it been for Christian lands, had this their privilege and advantage been duly estimated and rightly applied; yea, happy will it be for that Christian land, for that individual Christian, who will yet make this improvement of what is so freely bestowed upon them.
That it may be thus considered and applied by that portion of Christian people who are now present, is my desire and design. And, as we cannot rightly appreciate the advantages of revelation and the obligations of religion, without considering deeply what it is that has rendered revealed religion and instituted means of grace necessary to us, and an interposition of heaven's mercy in our behalf, whatever is calculated to bring our thoughts to act upon so essential a part of our religious and moral condition, must be helpful to us—must be profitable to our souls.
To this end nothing, in my judgment, can contribute so effectually as a serious consideration of the nature, influence, and consequences of sin as a component part of our fallen frame, exerting a constraining power over us, and operating to our ruin now and for ever. And though this is a subject on which most will suppose that they need nothing, either to inform or impress them, I am well persuaded of the contrary. I am fully convinced, that there is no one subject, religion itself excepted, on which there are such vague and unsettled notions, or on which men so readily content themselves with admission in the gross, and with disregard in the particulars.
What, let me ask, is more universally admitted as existing and operating to our destruction ? And yet, how few in comparison, are engaged in breaking its chain and escaping from its snare? What more common with all classes of men, even with those who make the service of sin their daily occupation as it were, than to admit in words, its dangerous and destructive nature, and yet the next minute go in pursuit of some of its miserable deceits? What more common with those who call themselves Christians, with professors of religion, than to find even them parleying and tampering with it in some unlawful conformity to the world, in its vain and
vicious pursuits, and manifesting little or no anxiety respecting its influence on their children, their friends, and their neighbours, like the Pharisees of old, limiting sin to the letter of the law, and if not forbidden in the decalogue, shutting their eyes to the spiritual extent of that holy law.
But could this be so, were the real malignity, the damning nature, the universal influence, and the dreadful consequences of sin felt, and considered, and realized as they ought to be ? Could it be thus if the very purpose of a law against sin in particulars, was borne in mind? And yet Christians are instructed that by the law is the knowledge of sin ; and St. Paul tells us that he had not known lust, that is, the existence of sin in this shape within him, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. This opened up to him a mine of iniquity within, far beyond the specific prohibitions of the law, and made bim feel what a wretched man he was without the gospel. This explains to us how it is that without the law sin was dead, that is, dormant, not felt in its stirrings. How, without the law, that is, the law not recognised, not considered, not realized in the extent of its obligation, and, therefore, as if there was no law, St. Paul says, he was once alive, at one period without fear or apprehension from the sanctions of the law denounced against sin. Under this view we come to understand how it is, that when the commandment came, when the law of God was seen in the purity and extent of its precepts, sin revived and he died. Sin, before dormant and quiet, because not interrupted by positive prohibition, was thereby roused into active resistance, and showed by prevailing against the precept, that however holy, and just, and good the law was in itself, it was nevertheless powerless, weak through the flesh to subdue and conquer sin, and, therefore, could only confirm the death due to and denounced against it, and against him as under its power and dominion.
In this experimental delineation of the awakenings of the SPIRIT we learn to understand, my brethren, in what sense the law is the strength of sin. How it comes to pass that prohibition actually increases the desire to transgress, and stirs up the carnal mind to resist the authority and the reason of the law, and the conscience and interest of the sinner. We are prepared to meet the apostle in the question preceding the text, to perceive a purpose in the law itself which, otherwise, we should not have thought of, and thus to find the law our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ for that grace, without which sin must continue its mastery over us ; shutting us out forever from God, and delivering us over to his wrath. Was, then, that which is good made death unto me ? says the apostle. Was it the purpose of the law of God to increase our misery, by showing the utter hopelessness of fulfilling its requirements and escaping its penalty ? God forbid. No. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful—that, being shown in its true colours by an express command against it, the guilt of its commission might be aggravated, and men, deterred from its hateful and ruinous practice, might be awakened to the danger, and drawn to the only remedy against its power, in the grace of God through Jesus Christ our LORD.
The text being thus explained, in connexion with the context, and the apparent difficulty, from the manner of expression, removed, I will now proceed to enforce the weighty warning and instruction contained in it, by considering,
First, the nature of sin.
Sin, in its nature, is opposition to God, actual hatred of and enmity to his purity and holiness. It must, therefore, be the chief evil, and, as such, the abhorrence of the Chief Good. No, language can express it more truly, no delineation can describe it more exactly, or enable us to realize more fully its detestable qualities, in all the darkness of their malignity.
Again, sin, in its nature, is an internal principle, seated in the heart.
In this view, sin is not so properly an act or series of actions, as a habit or disposition of the soul. We are told, indeed, in the word of God, that sin is the transgression of the law, and it is so most certainly; but it is this in such wise, as the breach of
the law is conclusive evidence of the sinsul principle existing within us. Sin and transgression stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect; was there no sinsul principle there would be no sinful practice.
This may be illustrated by the principle which obtains in the administration of civil laws.
In the case of unlawful killing, the overt act of murder is evidence of the malus animus, the malice aforethought, which constitutes the crime. In like manner of theft, profaneness, and any other forbidden act. Human laws, indeed, concern themselves mainly to repress the outward action, and when this is not committed, they have no operation. The divine law, on the contrary, takes cognizance of the intention, the disposition which gives birth to the action; it most pointedly forbids and condemns the sinful act, but reserves a deeper condemnation for the hostile principle to God and goodness thereby manifested.
Once more, sin in its nature is a unit, and is, therefore, independent of more or less in the outward evidences of its existence. It is not the number or the magnitude of transgressions which constitutes sin, these are only the evidences of the greater or less degree of the power it has over us. The principle of opposition to God is as truly manifested by one as by one hundred trangressions, just as one murder as completely determines the presence of malice, as any number could do ; not that the degree of guilt from one transgression, either in the sight of God or man, is as great as from many, but that it is sufficient evidence of the fact. And this is the ground and the reason of the Scripture declaration, whosoever shall keep the whole. law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
II. Secondly, I am to consider the extent of its influence.
Alas! my hearers, where, in the boundary of this poor world, shall we find the spot free from the influence of sin? We shift from place to place, we change occupation and pursuit, we flee to new and unexplored countries ; but we cannot escape from ourselves,-sin goes with us—we carry it in our hearts-it follows us like a shadow. Alas! that it should be so favourite a companion.