Man Sinning 36:18/19

When the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own way, and by their doings. - Ezekiel 36: 17.

I HAVE dreamed a dream, said Joseph, and behold the sun, moon, and eleven stars made obeisance to me. The earth was once supposed to occupy a place of no less honour in creation. Turning daily on its axis, and performing also an annual revolution round the sun, our globe is in incessant motion; and yet in old times men believed that its state was one of perfect rest; and that, like the small pivot on which some great wheel revolves, it formed a centre, around which the whole machinery of heaven went rolling, suns, and planets, and fiery comets, both the fixed and wandering stars. This dream of science met a happier fate than Joseph's. Believed in the credulous ages of the world's childhood, it was obstinately clung to as an article of faith down to no very distant period. It is not so long ago since the telescope of Galileo demonstrated that our earth - whatever the Pope might say to the contrary - is a satellite of the sun, and but one of many orbs that roll around him; and he but one of many suns, which, requiring millions of years to complete their circuit, revolve about some greater centre.
At a period preceding the philosopher's discovery, the throne of Spain was filled by a man who had acuteness enough to perceive, that if all these vast systems, suns, planets, and comets, were daily turning round this earth, then, in making the greater subservient to the less, the Creator of the universe had constructed a clumsy and very cumbersome piece of mechanism. History has preserved the profane language of his dissent from the science of that day. It was something to the effect that if God had consulted him when he made the universe, it would have been better planned. Far be it from us, under any perplexity felt in contemplating the mechanism of creation, or the mysteries of providence, to question the divine wisdom, to cherish a thought so daring, or utter an expression so profane. In his dealings toward us his way may be in the sea, his path in the mighty waters, and his footsteps not known; by terrible things in righteousness, he may answer us; but although he dash the cup of happiness from our hand, or fill it to the brim with wine of astonishment, we shall never deem it right to think that God has done wrong. Whatever appearance of error his works may present, be assured that the defect is not in the object, but in the spectator; in the eye that sees, not in the thing that is seen; in you, not in God; not in the plans of infinite wisdom, but in the finite mind, which has the folly to condemn what it has not the understanding to comprehend. Manifold are thy works, Lord God Almighty; in wisdom hast thou made them all.
Such is the judgment of the Psalmist. From this verdict no work of God so strongly tempts us to dissent as do the condition and character of man himself; and I am ignorant of any way by which so well to meet this temptation as by receiving into our creed the doctrine of the Fall. If we reject this doctrine, if we hold with some that the children are not in any sense implicated in their parents' sin, then, in the providence of God, and in the government of the world, there appears nothing, I shall not say so deficient in wisdom, but so obscure, so inscrutable, so painfully and fearfully mysterious, as the position and character of man. On the supposition that he has never fallen, that the vessel is as pure and perfect as when it passed from the potter's hand, these questions are ever rising, and, dismiss them as we may, are ever returning, - How could a good God make such a wicked creature? How could a kind God make such an unhappy creature? How could a wise God make such a foolish creature? How could a holy God make such a sinful creature? If it is impossible for a pure stream to be born of a polluted fountain, is it not as impossible that a pure fountain can be the parent of a polluted stream? If a clean thing cannot come out of an unclean, is not the conclusion as fair, as logical, as inevitable, that an unclean thing cannot come out of a clean?
Now let us shut the Bible, excluding every ray of inspired and celestial light. We stand in darkness; and yet the subject seems to me like the dead substance, the decaying wood, or the putrid animal matter which grows luminous through decay, and emits in death a phosphorescent light. By the help of man's very corruption we have light enough to discover his fallen, dead, degraded state. Indeed, I would a thousand times sooner believe that man made himself what he is, than that God made him so; for in the one case I should think ill only of man; in the other, I am strongly tempted to throw blame on his Maker. Just think, I pray you, to what conclusion our reason would conduct us in any analogous case. You see, for example, a beautiful capital still bearing a few of the flowers, and some vestiges of the foliage which the sculptor's chisel had carved upon the marble. It lies on the ground, half-buried under rank weeds and nettles; while beside it the headless shaft of a noble column springs from its pedestal. Would you not at once conclude that its present position, so base and mean, was not its original position? You say the lightning-bolt must have struck it down; or an earthquake had shaken its foundations; or some ignorant barbarian had climbed the shaft, and with rude hand hurled it to the ground. Well, we look at man, and arrive at a similar conclusion. There is something, there is much that is wrong, both in his state and character. His mind is carnal and at enmity with God; the imaginations of his heart are only evil continually. So says the Bible. His body is the seat of disease; his eyes are often swimming in tears ; care, anticipating old age, has ploughed deep furrows on his brow; he possesses noble faculties, but, like people of high descent who have sunk into the low estate of slaves or menial servants, they drudge in the service of the meanest passions. He has an immortal soul, but it is clogged by the infirmities, and imprisoned within the walls of a "body of death." His life is vanity. He is ever pursuing happiness, but, like the child who chases the rainbow, or climbs the hill-top to catch the silvery moon, he is doomed to disappointment; he never finds the object of his search. In some respects manifestly made for a sphere higher than he fills, he appears to us like a creature of the air which a cruel hand has stripped of its silken wings. How painfully he resembles this hapless object which has just fallen on the pages of a book that we read by the candle on an autumn evening? It retains the wish, but has lost the power to fly! Allured by the taper's glare, it has brushed the flame, and, dropping with a heavy fall, now crawls wingless across the leaf, and seeks the finger of mercy to end its misery.Compare man with any of the other creatures, and how directly we come to the conclusion that he is not, nor can be, the same creature with which God crowned the glorious work of creation!
Who has not had this truth borne in upon his mind when he wandered forth into the beauteous realms of nature? I pass out among her sylvan scenes; and here, on the spray of the tasselled broom, sits a little bird. He sings, filling the glen with melody. From throat and throbbing breast, hear how he rings out the sweetest music, as with keen bright eye he now looks up to heaven and next down on the bush where his mate is seated, with wings spread over their unfeathered nestlings; with lightsome song he cheers her cares, and now is away on untiring wing to cater for the mother and her young. Next, I turn my Steps to the open moor; and so soon as the intruder appears on her lonely domain, the lapwing comes down upon the wind. Brave and venturesome she sweeps me with her wing, and shrieking out her distress, wheels round and round my ‘heath Her homeless brood are cowering on that naked waste; nor does she rest till my foot is off the ground; and even then, when the coast is clear, I hear her long wild screams, like the beating of a mother's heart when her child is saved - like the mournful dash of waves on the shore long after the wind is down.
Next I climb the mountain, when snow drifts thick from murky heavens, and, emblem of Satan taking advantage of a believer's trials, the wily fox has left his cairn and prowls abroad for prey. Every mother of the flock lies there with a tender lamb behind her; her body screens it from the rudeness of the storm and with her head to the wind, and expanded nostril, snuffing the distant danger, she lies ready, so soon as her eye catches the stealthy foe, to start to her feet, receive him on her horns, and die like a true mother, in her lamb's defence. Such are God's creatures. And though the shock of the Fall has been felt throughout all this lower creation, which "groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now," yet the work is to a great extent immarred, and the workmanship such as it came from the Maker's hand. Away among these old hoar hills, remote from man, his cities, his sins, his works, his sorrows, we are out of hearing of the groans of creation. But for the corruption we carry within us, we might forget the Fall. Stretched on a fragrant bank of thyme, with the hum of bees, the song of birds, and the chirp of the merry grasshopper in our ear, a cloudless sky overhead, and beneath us the placid lake, where each flower and bush and birch-tree of the rock looks down into the mirror of its own beauty, the murmur of the waterfall sounds to us, like an echo from the crags of the Creator's voice, All is very good?
But let us retrace our steps from the bosky glen where the little bird sings, or the moor where the lap-wing screams out her fears, or the hill where the timid sheep faces the fox to die for her offspring, or the forest den, where the bear with her cubs behind her offers her shaggy bosom to the hunter's spear. Enter this town. Look at that wretched mother, as we saw her when Sabbath bells rang worshippers to prayer, and God was calling sinners to a throne of mercy. Her back rests against the church wall; she has sunk down on the cold pavement; her senses are steeped in drink; and on her lap - pitiful sight! lies an emaciated, half-naked, dying infant, with the cold rain soaking its scanty rags, and lashing its pallid face. Is this mother God s handiwork? Is this the clay as it came from the potter's wheel? Was it in such shape as this that woman came from her Maker's hand! When Adam awoke, was Eve such as this her daughter? If so, better he had never awoke; if so, it had been good that the man should be alone. Reason, to say nothing of religion, revolts from the impious thought.
It is common enough to call such spectacles brutal The language is a libel on creation, and a blasphemy against the Creator. These scenes are not brutal. My very argument lies in this, that the inferior animals never present themselves in such an unnatural and revolting aspect. Under the impulse of instincts necessary for their well-being, for the due balance of the different races, and for the general welfare of the world, they may, and indeed must prey upon each other. They do destroy each other; but were they ever found committing self-destruction? Range the wide fields of nature, travel from the equator to the poles, rise from the worm that wriggles out of its hole to the eagle as she springs from the rock to cleave the clouds, and where shall you find anything that corresponds either to our scenes of suicidal dissipation, or the bloodstained fields of war? Suppose that, on his return from Africa, some Park, or Bruce, or Campbell, were to tell how he had seen the lions of the desert leave their natural prey, and, meeting face to face in marshalled bands, amid roars that drowned the thunder, engage in deadly battle. Would he find one man so credulous as to believe him? The world would laugh that traveller and his tale to scorn. But should anything so strange and monstrous occur, or, while the air shook with their bellowings, and the ground trembled beneath their hoofs, should we see the cattle rush from their distant pastures, to form two vast, black, solid, opposing columns, and, with heads levelled to the charge, should these herds dash forward to bury their horns in each other's bodies, we would proclaim a prodigy, asking what madness had seized creation.
But is not sin the parent of more awful prodigies? Look here, turn to the bloody horrors of this battlefield. This is no fancy picture, but a fact; a sad, sickening fact. The trampled ground lies thick with the mangled brave; the air is rent with the most horrible sounds; every countenance expresses the passions of a fiend. Fiercer than the cannon's flash, flames of wrath shoot from brothers eyes. They draw; they brandish their swords, they sheathe them in each other's bowels; every stroke makes a widow, every ringing volley scatters a hundred orphans on a homeless world. Covering her eyes, humanity flies shrieking from the scene, and leaves it to rage, revenge, and agony.
Sooner would I be an atheist and believe that there was no God at all, than that man appears in this scene as he came from the hand of a benignant Divinity. Man must have fallen. Nature, society, the state of the world, are so many echoes of the voice of Revelation; they proclaim our fall, that the gold has become dim, that the most fine gold has changed; and, in words to which we again turn your attention, that we have defiled the land in which we dwell, by our ways and by our doings. Now, leaving the subject of Original, to speak of Actual Sin, we remark

I. Apart from derived sinfulness, we have personal sins to answer for.

Dispose of the doctrine of Original Sin as you please; suppose that you could disprove it; when that count of the indictment is cancelled, what advantage have you gained? Enough, more than enough, remains to convict us of guilt, and to condemn all both within and without these walls. You may deny original, but can any man in his senses deny actual sin? You may as well deny your existence. It sticks to you like your shadow. If we should say that we have no sin, we make God a liar, and the truth is not in us. Let me address you in the words of God himself, Come, let us reason together. Do you mean, on the one hand, to affirm, that you have never been guilty of doing what you should not have done? or, on the other, that you were never guilty of not doing what you should have done? Lives there a man so happy as to look back on the past and feel no remorse, or forward to the future, and feel no fear? What! is there no page of your history that you would obliterate, no passage that you would erase, no leaf that, with his permission, you would tear from the book of God's remembrance? Is there neither work, nor word, nor wish of days gone by, that you would not, if you could, recall? To David's prayer, "Lord, remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions", have you no solemn and hearty Amen? Could you be carried back to life's starting post, leant you again an infant against the cradle, stood you again a child at your mother's knee, sate you again a boy at the old school-desk, with companions that are now changed, or scattered, or dead and gone, were you again a youth to begin the battle of life anew, would you run the self-same course; would you live over the self-same life?
What! is there no speech that you would unsay? no act that you would undo? no Sabbath that you would spend better? are there none alive, or mouldering in the grave, none now blest in heaven, or with the damned in hell, to whom you would bear yourself otherwise than you have done? Have none gone to their account whose memory stings you, and whose possible fate, whose everlasting state fills you with the most painful anxiety? Did you never share in sins that may have proved their ruin, nor fail in faithfulness that might have saved their souls? Oh! if every thread of life' s web were yet to weave, what man would make the future a faithful, I will add, a fearful copy of the past? I will make hold to say no man living would; and that the Apostle therefore has universal conscience on his side, when he declares, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. No sin! Our sins are more in number than the hairs upon our head; nor do I know of language or attitude so becoming us as those of Ezra, when, rending his mantle, that holy man fell upon his knees to cry, Oh, my God, I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face to thee; for our iniquities are increased over our heads, and our trespass is gone up into the heavens.

II. The guilt of these actual sins is our own.

Hast thou eaten of the tree? God puts the question, and man replies, The woman whom thou gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. Adam points an accusing finger at Eve; and turning round to the woman, God says, What is this that thou hast done? She in her turn lays the blame on the serpent, saying, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat; and, each repudiating the guilt, thus and thus they shift the sin. We have " eaten of the tree;" and, unless it be by faith to roll the guilt on Jesus Christ, we attempt in vain to fix the blame on others - to fasten the burden on any shoulders but our own. There are strong pleas which the heathen may advance in extenuation of their guilt; there are excuses which they, stepping forward with some confidence to the judgment, may urge upon a just and merciful as well as holy God. They may say, we knew no better; no man cared for our souls. Great God! when thy followers landed on our benighted shores, they brought no olive branch or Bible; they came with fire, and sword, and chains, and slavery. At the door of those who, bearing thy name, oppressed us, plundered us, enslaved us, and left us to die ignorant of thy love, we lay our guilt. Let them answer for us. Place these Christians at thy bar; demand of them, Where is thy brother Abel? and on their heads, not on ours, let thy dread justice fall.
Again, this wretched child, the victim of cruel neglect, who has left cold, and hunger, a bed of straw, or a bare floor to stand at the bar of God, may lift up his injured head at that august tribunal, and stand on his defence with more expectation both of justice and of pity than he ever met here below. In shivering cold and ragged nakedness, in gnawing hunger and parching thirst, in beggary and heathen ignorance, he was left to wander these streets, nor, among all the Christians of this city, was there one kind hand to guide his erring feet to Sabbath church or ragged school. Poor wretch! pity was not for him; kindness was not for him; the house of God was not for him; but now that he addresses one who will neither rudely order him away nor refuse to hear him, child of misfortune! how may he say, Merciful Lord! my mother trained me to steal, my father taught me to swear. How could I obey a Bible which I never learned to read? How could I believe in thee, whom no one taught me to know. How was I to avoid sins against which I was never warned? Saviour of sinners! condemn me not! No man cared for my soul. I did not know what I did. I throw myself at thy feet. Seizing thy cross, I claim the benefit of its dying prayer, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
What value may be given to these pleas, what weight they may carry at a tribunal where much shall be exacted of those who have received much, and little asked where little has been given, it is not for us to say, or even attempt to determine. The Judge of all the earth will do right. But this we know, that we have no such excuse to plead, nor any such plea to urge, in extenuation of our offence, of one of a thousand of our offences. Some, indeed, plead their natural proneness to sin, excusing themselves on that ground; or on this, that the temptation before which they fell, struck them with the suddenness and vehemence of a hurricane. The command, however, to watch and pray leaves you without excuse. You were fully warned. You should have been on the outlook for the white squall. The sentinel is righteously shot who is caught asleep upon his post.
Supposing, however, that the plea were accepted, more than enough remains to condemn us, and leave guilt no refuge out of Christ. We talk of the strength, or plead the suddenness of temptation; but how often have we sinned designedly, deliberately, repeatedly? We talk of a natural bias to sin; but who has not committed sins that he could have avoided; sins which he could have abstained from, and did abstain from, when it served some present purpose to do so? This reeling sot and slave of drunkenness keeps sober at a communion season; and that swearer, who alleges that he cannot refrain from oaths, puts a bridle on his tongue in the presence of his minister. It is useless for the sinner to allege that he is swept away by temptation; "he conceiveth mischief, and he bringeth forth falsehood;" and if swept away, it is as the suicide, who repairs to the river, stands on its brink, and, leaping in, is swept off to his watery grave. I know that Satan goes about seeking whom he may devour, but, while he tempts us, how often have we tempted him? Stealing on unawares, like a lion crouching to the leap, with sudden and unlooked for spring he may throw himself upon us; but how often have we cast ourselves in his way? ‘We have gone down to Delilah; we have stood in the way of sinners; we have sinned when we knew that we were sinning; we have repaired to scenes where we knew that we were to sin. In pursuit of its guilty pleasures - trampling conscience beneath our feet, and more than that, the body and blood of Jesus Christ - we have done what the heathen never did, what Sodom and Gomorrah never did, what Tyre and Sidon never did; we have rejected a Saviour, and insanely refused eternal life. There is hope for us in the blood of his cross, but none in its prayer. We knew what we did.
Some years ago, on a great public occasion, a distinguished statesman rose to address his countrymen, and, in reply to certain calumnious and dishonourable charges, held up his hands in the vast assembly, exclaiming, These hands are clean. Now, if you or I or any of our fallen race did entertain a hope that we could act over this scene before a God in judgment, then I could comprehend the calm, the unimpassioned indifference with which men sit in church on successive Sabbaths, idly gazing on the cross of Calvary, and listening with drowsy ears to the overtures of mercy. But are these, I ask, matters with which you have nothing to do? If indeed, you have no sins to answer for, if before this world's great assize you are prepared not only to plead, but to prove your innocence, if conscience accuses you in nothing, and excuses you in everything, then sleep on; in God's name sleep on, and take your rest. But when the heavens over men are clothed in thunders, and hell yawns beneath their feet, and both God's law and their own consciences condemn them, such indifference is insanity! Beware! Play with no fire; least of all, with fire unquenchable. Play with no edged sword; least of all, with that which divine justice sheathed in a Saviour's bosom. Play by the mouth of no pit; least of all, on the brink of that - the smoke of whose torment ascendeth up for ever and ever. Think of these things. What incalculable issues. are at stake? Your everlasting destiny may turn upon this hour.
Do you feel under condemnation? Are you really anxious to be saved? Be not turned from such a blessed purpose by the laughter of fools and the taunts of the ungodly. It is a very common thing with scoffers, and with those who use their religion as a cloak worn loosely, nor ever drawn closely round, save, so to speak, in inclement weather, when distress troubles, or death alarms them, to eye all men of zeal with cold suspicion, and represent them as either rogues or fools, fanatics or hypocrites. I might answer this charge. Fools! I could produce an array of brilliant and immortal names, names of men in whom a child-like piety was associated with the highest intellect, the loftiest genius, the most profound and statesmanlike sagacity, men beside whom most of your scoffers, sceptics, and worldlings were as dwarfs in the company of giants. Folly! If Christians really such are chargeable with any folly, it is with that of not being zealous enough, of being, not too much, but too little religious. In the name of common sense and religion also, I ask, is it possible, if there be a hell, to be too anxious to escape it? If men are perishing, with children, brothers, sisters, friends, in the burning, can I be too anxious to save them? The man who leaves his bed at mirk midnight to quench the flames in a neighbour's house, is no fool! But he who can coolly eat his meals beside the sea, or go singing about his common avocations on the shore, when a wreck is in sight, and the roar of the surf and the shrieks of the drowning are in his ear, is a fool, or something worse.
As to the insinuation of general hypocrisy, the wretched charge got up against religion, when some specious professor stands unmasked before the world, how absurd it is! Is there no sound grain in our barnyards, because there is so much chaff? Are all patriots - Wallace and the Bruce, Tell, Russel, and Washington - deceivers and liars, because some men have villainously betrayed their country? Is there no bright honour in our army, because some soldiers, the sweepings probably of our city streets, have deserted, left the lines, and gone over to the enemy? Is there no such virtue as integrity among British merchants, because now and then we hear of a fraudulent bankruptcy? Because some religious professors prove hypocrites, is all ardent piety hollow hypocrisy? To reason so, argues either a disordered intellect, or a very depraved heart. The conclusion is as contrary to logic as to love. When or where were hypocrites ever known to suffer for principle? Yet is there a country within the bounds of Christendom that has not been strewed thick with the ashes and crimsoned with the blood of martyrs? Have not their heads in ghastly rows stood spiked above our own city gates? Two hundred gears ago, and the windows of the very houses that still stand beside this church were crowded with eager faces taking their last look of men who went with firm step and lofty carriage to the death, loving Christ more than their lives, and, as one said before they threw him off, ready, had they as many lives as they had hairs on their head, to lay them all down for Christ.
Religion has fairly won her honours, and stands before you an honest thing, and the highest wisdom. Whatever you be, be religious. God working in you and with you, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. The way to the refuge lies open. With the feet of an Azahel haste to Jesus. Once in him, you can turn on the avenger, saying, Man-slayer, I fear thee not; here thou comest, but no further; this blood-red line thou canst not pass, There is no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus.
Do you see sin staining your holiest services, defiling your head, heart, hands, feet - the whole man? Haste to the fountain where sins are lost, and souls are cleansed. With its base ingratitude to your heavenly Father, the wounds it has inflicted on a most loving Saviour, the grief it has caused, and the resistance it has offered, to a most gentle and Holy Spirit, the deep injuries it has done your own soul, and souls which, loving, you should have longed, and yearned, and laboured, and watched, and wept, and prayed to save - Oh, let sin be your deepest sorrow, your heaviest grief, the spring of many tears, the burden of many sighs, the occasion of daily visits to the Cross of Calvary.

Weep not for broad lands lost;
Weep not for fair hopes crossed;
Weep not when limbs wax old;
Weep not when friends grow cold;
Weep not that death must part
Thine and the best-loved heart:
Yet weep - weep all thou can - .
Weep, weep, because thou art
A sin defiled man."

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