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THE MYSTERY OF SIN.
“By one man sin entered into the world.”
PERHAPS there is no more awful thought than this: that sin is all around us and within us, and we know not what it is. We are beset by it on every side: it hangs upon us, hovers about us, casts itself across our path, hides itself where our next foot step is to fall, searches us through and through, listens at our heart, floats through all our thoughts, draws our will under its sway, and ourselves under its dominion; and we do not know what it is. It is a pestilence that walketh in darkness; nothing stays its advance; it passes through all barriers, pierces all strongholds; the very air seems to waft it into our dwellings. Now it is very awful to know this, and yet not to know what is this malign and deadly power. We read, that in the beginning sin was not in the world; that “by one man sin entered;” that here it has ever since abode; that 2it brought death with it; that “death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
Thus much,, however, we do know, that it is a will opposed to the will of God. To make this more clear, let us consider, that whatsoever or whencesoever be the origin of sin, its home or dwelling is the moral nature of God’s creatures. So far as we can understand, none but moral beings are capable of sin, because none but moral beings are responsible; that is, know good from evil, are on trial, are able to make choice, and are responsible for choosing. In this, we are only saying that the chief feature, or power, or endowment of a moral being, is a sense to discern, and a will to choose; and that, as to choose the good is holiness, so to choose the evil is sin. Consider next, that a will which chooses the evil is a will opposed to the will of God. Sin, therefore, is a quality, or inclination, or posture of the will of God’s creatures, at variance with His own; or, to speak less exactly, but more simply, it is a will opposed to His.
St. Paul says, “By one man”—that is, by the wilful act of one man—“sin entered into the world.” And from this we may draw the following truths:—
1 . First, that the entering in of sin proves the 3presence of an Evil Being. We talk of powers, and qualities, and principles, and oppositions, and the like; but we are only putting words for realities. They do not exist apart from beings create or uncreate; they are the attributes and energies of living spirits. Sin entered in through and by the Evil One; that is, the Devil. There is working in the world something which is not of God. All that He made was good; all was holy, and full of life, and immortal. The world was a manifestation of God, of His wisdom and His goodness; man was an image of His being and of His will. All was one; all moved in harmony, having one supreme and universal law. Things are now divided by a twofold movement, and are full of diversity and opposition, discord and warfare. An Evil One has entered, and spread his enmity throughout the world. For wise ends, God suffers this rebellion to smoulder in His kingdom. Though He might have girdled the world about with the precinct of His own holiness, so that sin should have never entered; though at a breath of His, even now, all should once more stretch out its hands without sin unto God; yet, for some unsearchable purposes of wisdom, He has, by the entering of the Evil One, permitted the unity of His works to be troubled, and the harmony of His creatures to be marred. It is most necessary for us ever to bear in mind the personality of 4Satan; for we are often wont to speak of sin, as we do of sicknesses or plagues, as if it were an impersonal thing; and we thereby lose all distinct perception of its power, deceitfulness, and malignity. Let us always remember that there is, in the world, as it were, a new law, opposed to the law of God; and administered by an Evil Being, who has entered and gained a hold in God’s creation, and is therefore called “the prince of this world,”11 St. John xiv. 30. “the prince of the power of the air,” “the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.”22 Eph. ii. 2.
2. Another truth to be learned is, that, by the entering in of sin, a change passed upon the world itself. I am not now speaking of physical evil, such as dissolution and death, and the wasting away of God’s works, and the like; but only of moral evil. A change passed upon the condition of man. His will revolted, and transferred its loyalty from God to the Evil One. By casting off his obedience to God, he lost his government over himself. So long as he was subject to the Divine will, he wielded an absolute power over his own nature. The passions and lusts of the flesh were then pure affections held in a bond of unity and subordination. When he rebelled against God, they rebelled against man; and the bond of their unity being broken, they warred against each other, and 5his will was dragged away into bondage by each in turn. And by this it came to pass that he lost his innocence; the presence of God, wherewith he was encompassed, departed from him, leaving him naked; fear cast out love; from thankful he became thankless; the lusts of the flesh soiled his spiritual being; his will caught the manifold taint of a world of evil; and through these dark avenues the wicked one gained a free entrance into his soul. He lay open to incursion on all sides. There were as many breaches as there were impure affections. And thus man’s will became one with the will of the Evil One; and was so drawn to it as to move with it; and became a part of the evil which entered into the world. Thenceforward man was the representative of the alien and antagonist power which had broken the unity of God’s kingdom; and his will was bent in a direct opposition to the will of God. Such, then, as I said before, is sin.
There are one or two further remarks to be made on this subject.
And first, that this awful principle of sin has been ever multiplying itself from the beginning of the world. It so clave to the life of man, that as living souls were multiplied, sin in them was multiplied also. Adam “begat a son in his own likeness.” And every several will born into this 6world, is born at variance with God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”33 St. John iii. 6. “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”44 Rom. viii. 7. Every several man contains in him the whole mystery of the fall, the whole principle of evil. It may be said, that at the birth of every man sin enters into the world. All along the line of these six thou sand years, every one of the countless generations of mankind bears the full dilated image of the first fallen man. So was the earth peopled, from the first-born of Adam to the great family of all nations and languages and people and tongues, ever multiplying, ever replenishing itself. As sin, through the power of death, withers off generation after generation, so does it by its fearful hold in the being of man, perpetually reproduce itself. And here it still abides in God’s world, carrying on unceasing, universal warfare against Heaven. In the beginning there was one man at variance with his Maker. Now there is an untold array of disobedient wills. Even the blessing of fruitfulness, which God breathed upon the earth, has become the channel through which the mystery of evil perpetuates, distributes, and multiplies itself. Such is the fall of the world, and such by nature are we ourselves. Well may we stand in awe of our 7mysterious being, and pray to be delivered “from the body of this death.”
Another remark is this, that as sin has multi plied in its extent, so it would seem also to have become more intense in its character. It is plain, that in every man born into this world there is the whole of Adam’s fallen nature. The fault and corruption is in us; so that we are every one “very far gone from original righteousness/ and are of our own nature inclined to evil. We are born out casts from God’s presence, sullied, alienated, and opposed. Such we are, I say, by nature: but we become (except through God’s grace we repent) far worse in act. When the living powers which are in us become unfolded into energy, the evil that cleaves to them unfolds with them. What we were before only in bias or inclination, we afterwards become in consciousness and will; what we were only in a leaning, we become after wards in a habit; and a habit of sin is original sin full grown, and multiplied both in the manifold kind and energy of evil. It is plain to all, that (except, as I said, in penitents) the whole life of a man from birth to death is a deterioration. He is ever becoming worse. Time, opportunity, temptation, are necessary to quicken and unfold all that lies wrapped up in his birth-sin; and all these are ministered to him day by 8 day. The faults of childhood grow into the sins of boyhood, and these grow vivid and intense, and burst out into the manifold guilt of after-life; and as the heart throws up new lusts continually, so does the perverted reason complicate itself into crookedness and cunning. Who does not see that, except a man day by day grows better, he must needs grow worse? Even they whose sins do not grow more open and profligate, are nevertheless deteriorating. They grow impure in thought and will, if not in act; or hard, worldly, selfish, and unthankful; or irreverent and consciously alienated from God; or they live on in the world without love to God, and every year chills and deadens them more and more. Now what is all this but original sin multiplying in kind and energy, and ever growing more exceeding sinful? Better were it for us that we had never been born; or, if born, that we had passed with no more than the taint of our birth-sin to the tribunal of Christ, than that we should live on only to become two fold more the children of hell than before.
And if this be true of individual men, must it not also be true of all mankind? Must not the world, in its long life of six thousand years, have grown worse than it was in the beginning? Has not the birth-sin of the world, so to speak, unfolded itself into the variety and energy 9of a fuller and maturer wickedness? I think it is plain, from reason and from holy Scripture, that such a process of deterioration has been going on: that the mystery of evil, no less than the mystery of godliness, has been strengthening and unfolding itself. Now we must not be led astray by illustrations. The life of the world is not like, but analogous to, the life of an individual man. Three generations of men are not like the yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow of a single being. We carry on with us from day to day the whole moral context of the day gone by. We are to-day all we were yesterday, and something more. We have no breaks in our personal identity—no new beginnings of our moral life. We do not revert continually to our first original. But all this is true of the world, and of mankind as a living race. The mystery of original sin is begun over and over again with each successive generation. Men grow up to a certain height of the moral stature, and are cut down and laid in the earth: their children rise up more or less to the same standard, within certain limits which are the conditions of our being and of our probation. The days of our age are threescore years and ten; though some men be so strong that they come to fourscore years. And in this short race every man has his own beginning and ending of moral life.10
All this indeed is very true; but it is no less certain, that there is a growth and accumulation of evil which in the life of the world is analogous to the deterioration of character in an individual man. What we read in the book of Genesis is proof enough. We no sooner read that “men began to multiply upon the face of the earth/ than we also read, “and God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually; and it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.”55 Gen. vi. 5, 6. Now the whole history of the Bible shews us a continual unfolding of the sin of man. To the first act of a disobedient will, were added the shedding of a brother’s blood, the great and unexplained fall of “the sons of God,” and the sins which called down a decree rescinding the law of creation, and brought the flood upon the earth. Then through Ham, who was as the original sin of the new world, came again transgression; and Noah sinned, and idolatry filled the earth, and God gave men up to a reprobate mind. Then again in Abraham began a new age; and once more the line of sin reappeared through Abraham, Jacob, Aaron, Moses, David, even the chief of God’s saints; after a while the people fell into idolatry, 11and then into unbelief, and crucified the Lord of Glory. And then, again, began the new creation; and among the Apostles there was Judas, the fore runner of sin in the world of the regenerate. And it was expressly foretold by the Spirit, that in the latter days there should be perilous times, and a falling away from God. And what holy Scripture thus declares to us, we see actually fulfilled. The history of the Catholic Church shews that there has been a deterioration analogous to the earlier declensions of mankind. I am not now speaking of the work of regeneration, which also has been going on in the midst of this unfolding of evil. The saints have been each one growing holier; and the Church has been edified continually, and is rising towards its perfection. I am speaking not of the Church, but of the world, and only notice it lest it should seem to be an objection which has been overlooked. From all this it is plain that there have been four great ages of the world; that is, from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to the coming of our Lord, and from the coming of our Lord to this day. Scripture tells us that in the first three there was a declension from God. It foretells it of the fourth, in which we live; and the history of Christendom already shews the partial fulfilment of the prophecy. From these great facts, let us look to 12the laws on which they rest. These broad declensions of mankind are the direct and necessary consequence of the progressive deterioration of the individual character; the manifold inventiveness of sin; the universal contagion of moral evil; the infinite multiplication and refinement in the forms of disobedience, arising from the interchange of personal or national corruptions; the accumulating power of tradition, which gathers up and embodies the characteristic sins of every successive generation, and creates a new moral world—a world of wrong and darkness and deceit—into which the next generation enters at its birth. Sin is born in us; and we are born into a world of its own creating. There is hanging between the soul of man and the realities of God, a veil wrought up of lying visions: upon it are traced the dazzling forms which allure the sin that is in him to put itself forth in wilful acts of evil. Who can doubt that they who were born in the later times of a declining age,—as, for in stance, a generation before the flood,—were born into a darker, more inveterate, and therefore a more wicked world, than they who followed soon after the first sin of man? St. Paul, in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, teaches us how the sins of the heathen world little by little reached their height; how they began in a shrinking of the heart from God, and then through pride men fell into ignorance, 13and through ignorance into the most horrible rebellions against the laws of nature—of laws, that is, which are written even in the passive and lower nature of man—instincts obeyed by the beasts that perish. Idolatry, again, was a sin of slow and subtle growth. A long course of sin was needed, so to deaden and blind the heart of man as to make idolatry possible. Age after age gave in its contribution: there was a sort of tide, an unseen cur rent, swelled by many feeding streams, which bore along every generation, as one followed another, in the same line; so that, besides the original sin of each man, there was a sinful tradition of man kind, which excited, and unfolded, and ripened, and carried it to a maturity and strength which it would not otherwise attain; and every generation contributed somewhat to this onward tide, and bequeathed to the next a further measure of declension from God.
It may be objected, that, nevertheless, there has been an advance both in the moral and intellectual state of mankind, and that this view, therefore, cannot be true. To which it may be said, first, that such an advance would not prove, that the tendency of sin is not to multiply itself and to grow more intensely sinful; but that God, in His mercy, is working even more mightily, counteracting all, both the original and accumulated powers of evil. 14And that is most certainly true. “Where sin abounded, there did grace much more abound.” But this is not our subject: we are speaking of the unfolding of the power of sin in the world, which is no less certain than the gracious unfolding of the mystery of godliness, which shall overcome and cast it out at the last. And so, again, it must be said of the alleged advance of the moral and intellectual state of man. It is certain that in Christendom there is neither the blind idolatry nor the gross corruptions of the heathen. Be it so; but there are sins both of the flesh and spirit such as the heathen never knew. The form may be changed; the outward grossness may be purged off. There may be sins having less that is akin to the unreasonable creatures of God, but a nearer fellowship with Satan. The personal guilt may be no less; the opposition of the will to the will of God may be greater. And this is the true life and malignity of sin. Adam’s sin had in it little of grossness, but it was intensely guilty—the more so because he was fresh from the hand of his Maker: he was nigh to God, and God held converse with him. Even so it is with Christendom: the sins of Christians, though they are refined and reduced to never so small a measure, are greater and guiltier far than the sins of Tyre and Sidon. It is Capernaum that shall be thrust down to hell. Christendom, as 15Adam was, is new from the hand of God. He is in the midst of it; He has filled it with the light of His presence; His mercy, His truth, His Spirit, are revealed in it. We are near God, and He has brought us to an awful fellowship with Himself. As the mystery of godliness has unfolded in the midst of us, and the light of it has been forced into the conscience of Christendom, so do even the lesser sins of men become far guiltier. They are committed against more light, more grace, greater mercies, louder warnings—in despite of the inward pleadings and drawings of the Spirit of life. It may be, that in Christians a common lie is guiltier than the sin of Achan, and the visions of the imagination than the sin of David; and if so, then it may be a more conscious, naked, wilful act of disobedience in Christians to oppose the law of God in the least, than in the blind unconverted heathen to transgress it in the greatest. And therefore it may be that a multitude of sins, in deed and in thought, which are deemed to be consistent with the context of a refined life, are far more intense provocations of the Divine Majesty, and express a far more resolute opposition to the Divine will, than the impure idolatries of the Gentiles, or even the backslidings of the Jews. And, once more, what shall we say of heresy; that is, obstinate resistance to the light of truth? And, above all, of infidelity? What must 16be the intensity of spiritual evil in such a sin! How pure from all grossness; how keen and disembodied, so to speak, and yet how nearly akin to Satan! And these are sins, I may say, peculiar to Christendom—characteristic, above all, of what is called an enlightened or intellectual age. What were the heresies of the Docetae, or the Cerinthians, or the Montanists, compared with the scoffing, ribald infidelity which reared itself up in the bosom of the Church a hundred and fifty years ago? Even where infidelity did not issue (which was seldom enough) in the lowest sensuality, yet what a temper of cold, proud resistance—what an energetic variance of will to the mind of God was there in the heart of an infidel! What a prodigy in God’s world is a professing atheist! These are fruits not of the green tree, but of the dry. They were not put forth in the beginning of the new creation; but in the latter days, when, according to prophecy, there have come “scoffers walking after their own lusts:” when we see on every side the words of St. Paul coming to pass: “This know also that in the last days perilous times shall come; for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, 17high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.”66 2 Tim. ii. 1-4. One more fact will be enough. If any man would see the multiplying power and intensity of spiritual evil, let him compare the unity of the Church in the beginning with the schisms of Christendom now. “The same sin which entered and destroyed the unity of the whole creation, has reentered and broken up again the restored unity of the new. But, to leave both the past and the present, let us remember that the time is not yet come. The full unfolding of sin has ever been at the close of the dispensations of God; it has been at its worst when He was nearest. So, we are taught, it shall be again. All God’s Word foretells it; all the face of the world bespeaks the working out of the prophecy. The day of Christ shall not come, until there “come a falling away first, and that wicked be revealed.” The mystery of evil, which by one man entered into the world, is now teeming with its mightiest birth. Men have sinned long and sinned greatly against Heaven; but there is a warfare coming, a strife of man’s will against the will of God, in the surpassing tumult of which shall all former disobedience be forgotten. The Evil One shall be loosed upon the earth, having great wrath, “because he knoweth he hath but a short time.” And all things are making ready for him: the 18powers of spiritual wickedness marshalling themselves in secret, unfolding their legions, and unrolling their banners around the camp of the saints. Hell is moving itself to meet his coming. And then shall the sin which by one man entered into the creation of God be at its full, and the world-long growth and gathering of this awful mystery be accomplished. It shall at last stand forth in the earth, at the full stature of its hate and daring against heaven; and by the coming of the Son of Man in glory shall be cast out for ever.19
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