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ROMANS vi. 23.
The wages of sin is death.
THE two great things which make such a disturbance in the world, are sin and death; the latter both the effect and punishment of the former. Sin, I confess, is an obvious subject, and the theme almost of every discourse; but yet it is not discoursed of so much, but that it is committed much more: it being like that ill custom spoken of by Tacitus in Rome, semper vetabitur, semper retinebitur.
But while the danger continues, we must not give over the alarm; nor think a discourse of sin superfluous, while the commission of it is continual, and yet the prevention necessary.
In the words, we have a near and a close conjunction between the greatest object of the world’s love, which is sin, and the greatest object of its hatred, which is death. And we see them presented to us in such a vicinity, that they are in the very confines of one another; death treading upon the heels of sin, its hateful, yet its inseparable companion. And it is wonderful to consider, that men should so eagerly court the antecedent, and yet so strangely detest the consequent; that they should pour gall into the fountain, and yet cry out of the bitterness of the stream: and lastly, which is of all things the 130most unreasonable, that a workman should complain, that he is paid his wages.
The scope and design of the words I shall draw forth, and prosecute in the discussion of these three following things.
I. I shall shew what sin is, which is here followed with so severe a penalty as death.
II. I shall shew what is comprised in death, which is here allotted for the sinner’s wages.
III. And lastly, I shall shew in what respect death is properly called the wages of sin. Of each of which in their order. And,
I. For the first of these, what sin is. And according to the most known and received definition of it, it is ἀνομία, a breach of the law; a transgression, or leaping over those boundaries which the eternal wisdom of God has set to a rational nature: a receding from that exact rule and measure which God has prescribed to moral actions. This is the general notion of it; but as for the particular difficulties, disputes, and controversies, which some have started upon this subject, and by which they have made the law of God almost as ambiguous and voluminous as the laws of men, I shall wave them all; and not being desirous to be either nice or prolix, shall speak of sin only under that known division of it, into original and actual.
1. And first, for original sin. It may seem strange perhaps, that sin bears date with our very being; and indeed, in some respect, prevents it. That we were sinners before we were born; and seem to have been held in the womb, not only as infants for the birth, but as malefactors in a prison. And that, if we look upon our interest in this world, 131our forfeit was much earlier than our possession: We are, says the apostle, by nature children of wrath, Ephes. ii. 3. Not only by depravation, or custom, and ill-contracted habits, but by nature; the first principle and source of action. And nature we know is as entire, though not as strong in an infant, as in a grown man. Indeed the strength of man’s natural corruption is so great, that every man is born an adult sinner. Sin is the only thing in the world which never had an infancy, that knew no minority. Tantillus puer, tantus peccator, says St. Austin. Could we view things in semine, and look through principles, what a nest of impurities might we see in the heart of the least infant! like a knot of little snakes wrapt up in a dunghill! What a radical, productive force of sin might we behold in all his faculties, ready upon occasion, and the maturities of age, to display itself with a cursed fertility!
There are some, I know, who deny that which we here call original sin, to be indeed properly any sin at all; and will have it at the most, not to be our fault, but our infelicity. And their reason is, because nothing can be truly and properly sin, which is not voluntary: but original corruption in infants cannot be voluntary; since it precedes all exercise of their rational powers, their understanding and their will.
But to this I answer, that original corruption in every infant is voluntary, not indeed in his own person, but in Adam his representative; whose actions, while he stood in that capacity, were virtually, and by way of imputation, the acts of all his posterity: as amongst us, when a person serves in 132 parliament, all that he votes in that public capacity or condition, is truly and politically to be esteemed the vote of all those persons for whom he stands, and serves as representative. Now inasmuch as Adam’s sin was free and voluntary, and also imputed to all his posterity; it follows, that their original corruption, the direct and proper effect of this sin, must be equally voluntary; and being withal irregular, must needs be sinful.
Age and ripeness of years does not give being, but only opportunity to sin. That principle, which lay dormant and unactive before, is then drawn forth into sinful acts and commissions. When a man is grown up, his corruption does not begin to exist, but to appear; and to spend upon that stock, which it had long before.
Pelagius indeed tells us, that the sons of Adam came to be sinners only by imitation. But then, I would know of him, what those first inclinations are, which dispose us to such bad imitations? Certainly, that cannot but be sinful, which so powerfully, and almost forcibly inclines us to sin.
We may conclude therefore, that even this original, native corruption renders the persons who have it obnoxious and liable to death. An evil heart will condemn us, though Providence should prevent its running forth into an evil life. Sin is sin, whether it rests in the inclinations, or shoots out into the practice; and a toad is full of poison, though he never spits it.
2. The other branch, or rather sort of sin, is that which we call actual. This is the highest improvement of the former: the constant flux and ebullition of that corrupt fountain in the course of a vicious 133 life: that abundance of the heart declared in expressions, and made visible in actions. It is that which St. John calls the works of the devil, 1 John iii. 8, and the apostle Paul, the deeds of the flesh, Rom. viii. 13, and a walking and living after the flesh; with other such like descriptions.
Now actual sin may be considered two ways.
(1.) According to the subject-matter of it.
(2.) According to the degree.
For the first; considered according to the subject-matter of it, it is divided into the sin of our words, the sin of our actions, and the sin of our desires; according to that short, but full account given of it by the schools, that it is dictum, factum, aut concupitum contra legem Dei. Something said, done, or desired against the rule of God’s law.
(1.) And first, for the sin of our words; the irregularity of them is, no doubt, sinful, and imprints a guilt upon the speaker. We cannot say in that lofty strain of those in Psalm xii. 4, Our tongues are our own: who is lord over us? No; we have both a lord and a law over us; and our tongues are not so much our own, as to privilege the greatest princes and the most illustrious drolls from being responsible for their extravagance. A word is quickly spoke, but the guilt of it abides; like an arrow, it flies swift, and it sticks fast. And our Saviour assures us, that every idle word stands upon record to be one day accounted for. And that word is such, which is either directed to no end, or not to a right one. A defect in either of which leaves an immorality behind it. For, as it is in Matthew xii. 37, By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. Thy own tongue shall 134give in evidence against thee; and thy soul shall pass to hell through thy own mouth.
(2.) The second sort of actual sin is the sin of our external actions; that is, of such as are performed, not by immediate production or emanation from the will, but by command of the will upon some exterior part or member of the body, as the proper instrument of action. Such as are the acts of theft, murder, uncleanness, and the like. To prove which to be sins, no more is required but only to read over the law of God, and to acknowledge its authority. They being wrote in such big, broad, and legible characters, that the times of the grossest ignorance were never ignorant of the guilt and turpitude inseparably inherent in them. And where the written letter of the law came not, there, according to the apostle’s phrase, men, as to these particulars, were a law to themselves, and by perusing that little book, which every man carried in his own breast, could quickly find enough, both to discover and to condemn those enormities.
(3.) The third sort of actual sin is the sin of our desires. Desires are the first issues and sallyings out of the soul to unlawful objects. They are sin, as it were, in its first formation. For as soon as the heart has once conceived this fatal seed, it first quickens and begins to stir in desire: concupiscence is the prime and leading sin, which gives life and influence to all the rest, so that the ground and principal prohibition of the law is, Thou shalt not covet. And in Matthew v. we see how severely the gospel arraigns the very first movings of every irregular appetite, making them equal to the gross perpetration of the sin. And indeed action is only a 135consummation of desire; and could we imagine an outward action performable without it, it would be rather the shell and outside of a sin, than properly a sin itself.
Now all these three ways, namely, by word, action, and desire, does sin actually put forth itself. And this is the division of it, as considered according to its subject-matter.
The other consideration of actual sin is according to the degree or measure of it; and so also it is distinguished into several degrees and proportions, according to which it is either enhanced or lessened in its malignity.
(1.) As first, when a man is engaged in a sinful course by surprise and infirmity, and the extreme frailty of his corrupt nature; when the customs of the world, and the unruliness of his affections, all conspiring with outward circumstances, do, like a torrent, beat him out of the paths of virtue, and, as it were, whether he will or no, drive and bear him forward in the broad road to perdition: which I take to be frequently the condition of the dangerous, unwary, hardy part of a man’s life, his youth; in which generally desire is high, and reason low; temptations ready, and religion afar off. And in such a case, if a strict education, and an early infusion of virtue, does not prepossess and season the heart, and thereby prevent the powers of sin in their first and most furious eruptions; how is a desperate wretch drawn forth into open rebellion against his Maker, into a contempt of all goodness, and a love of those ways that can tend to and end in nothing but his confusion? And yet this is the most tolerable condition that sin designs to bring the sinner 136 into. I call it the most tolerable, because sin, left to its natural course and tendency, would and may plunge him into a much worse. Nevertheless, if a remedy does not maturely interpose, this must certainly prove fatal, and the end and wages of it will be death.
(2.) The second degree of actual sin is, when a man pursues a course of sin against the reluctancies of an awakened conscience, and the endeavours of his conversion: when salvation waits and knocks at the door of his heart, and he both bolts it out and drives it away: when he fights with the word, and struggles with the Spirit; and, as it were, resolves to perish in spite of mercy itself, and of the means of grace. This we may see exemplified by several instances both in the Old Testament and the New. Thus God upbraids the house of Israel, Isai. i. 5, Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt yet more and more. And is there any thing more frequent than complaints of their backsliding, their playing fast and loose with God; and their sinning against all God’s methods of reclaiming sinners? Isai. lvii. 17, I was wroth, says God. and smote him: I hid myself, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his own heart. Here we see God angry, and the sinner unconcerned; God smiting, and yet the sinner still proceeding.
And the like examples we find of the Jews sinning in our Saviour’s time: they sinned against clear light and irresistible conviction; with an hard heart and a daring hand. If ye were blind, says our Saviour, John ix. 41, ye should not have had sin. No, they sinned knowingly and resolutely, 137 with an open eye and a bare face, as if they would even look conscience itself out of countenance. If our Saviour did wonders and miracles before them, they encountered miracle with miracle, and were as miraculous in their obstinacy as he in his mighty works.
Now this is a more robust, improved, and confirmed way of sinning, than any sinner, upon his first entrance into and engagement in the service of sin, ever rises to; and it takes in many grains of guilt and malignity which were not in the former; it inflames the sinner’s reckoning; it alters the nature and changes the colour of his sin, and sets it off with a deeper stamp and a more crimson die.
(3.) The third and last degree of actual sin is, when a man sins, not only in opposition, but also in defiance to conscience; so breaking all bonds, so trampling upon all convictions, that he becomes not only unruly and untractable, but finally obstinate and incorrigible. And this is the utmost, the ne plus ultra of impiety, which shuts the door of mercy, and seals the decree of damnation.
For this we are to reckon upon, that there is a certain pitch of sin, a certain degree of wickedness, though known to God himself alone, beyond which, God never pardons; (not that it is in its nature impardonable, but that God, according to the wise and unsearchable economy of his dealing with sinners, after such an height of provocation, withdraws his grace, and surceases the operations of his Spirit, by which alone the heart can be effectually changed or wrought upon.) So that these being thus withdrawn, the sinner never actually repents or returns; but being left to himself, and the uncontrolled sway 138of his own corruptions, he still goes on sinning, till he ends his wretched course in final impenitence.
And this, no doubt, is the true sense of all those scriptures that represent God limiting his grace to a certain day: the neglect of which (like the last and fatal line drawn under the sinner’s accounts) leaves him nothing more to expect, but a dreadful payment; or, as the apostle calls it, a fearful looking for of judgment. For as soon as ever the sinner has filled the cup of God’s wrath, the next infusion makes it run over.
And thus I have shewn the several degrees of actual sin, the several steps and descents by which the sinner goes down into the regions of death and the bottomless pit.
Now this differs from original sin thus, that that is properly the seed, this the harvest; that merits, this actually procures death. For although as soon as ever the seed be cast in, there is a design to reap; yet, for the most part, God does not actually put in the sickle, till continuance in sin has made the sinner ripe for destruction.
II. Come we now to the second general thing proposed; which is, to shew what is included and comprised in death, which is here allotted for the sinner’s wages.
Death is the great enemy of nature, the devourer of mankind; that which is continually destroying and making havock of the creation: and we shall see the full latitude of it, if we consider it as it stands divided into temporal and eternal.
1. And first, for death temporal. We must not take it in that restrained sense, as it imports only the separation of the soul from the body: for that 139is rather the consummation of death, than death itself; it is properly the ending stroke, the last blow given to the falling tree.
But we must take it in a larger compass and comprehension; as it is a summary and compendious abridgment of all those evils which afflict human nature; of all those calamities and disasters, which by degrees weaken, and at length dissolve the body.
Look upon those harbingers and forerunners of death, diseases; they are but some of the wages of sin paid us beforehand. What are pains and aches, and the torments of the gout and of the stone, which lie pulling at our earthly tabernacle, but so many ministers and under-agents of death? What are catarrhs and ulcers, coughs and dropsies, but so many mementos of an hastening dissolution, so many foretastes of the grave? What is a consumption, but a lingering, gradual rotting, before we are laid under ground? What is a burning fever, but hell in a shorter and a weaker fire?
And to these diseases of the body we may add the consuming cares and troubles of the mind; the toil, and labour, and racking intention of the brain; all made necessary by the first sin of man; and which do as really, though not as sensibly impair and exhaust the vitals, as the most visible, corporeal diseases do, or can do; and let in death to the body, though by another door.
Moreover, to these miseries, which reach us in our persons, we may subjoin those which attend our condition; those which we are liable to in our names and estates; as the shame and infamy, which makes men a scorn to others, and a burden to themselves; which takes off the gloss and air of all 140other enjoyments, and damps the quickness, the vigour, and vivacity of the spirit. Also the miseries of poverty and want, which leave the necessities and the conveniencies, that is to say, the second necessities of nature unsupplied: when a man shall be forced to make his meals upon hunger and expectation; to be clothed with rags, and to converse with filth; and to live only upon those alms which the covetousness or the surfeit of other men can spare.
Now all these things are so many breaches made upon our happiness and well-being, without which life is not life, but a bare, thin, insipid existence; and therefore certainly we cannot deny them to be parts of death, unless perhaps from this reason, that upon a true estimate of things, they are indeed much worse.
And thus we have seen death in the first fruits of it; how by degrees it creeps upon us, how many engines it plants against us, how many assaults it gives, till at length it ends its fatal progress in the final divorce which it makes between soul and body, never resting, till it has abased us to our primitive earth, and to the dishonours of stench, rottenness, and putrefaction.
2. But secondly, the grand payment of the sinner’s wages is in death eternal: in comparison of which, the other can scarce be called death; but only a transient change, a short darkness upon nature; easily borne, or at least quickly past.
But when eternity comes into the balance, it adds an infinity to the weight, and sinks it down to an immense disparity. Eternal death is not only the sinner’s punishment, but his amazement: no thought, 141no created reason can take the length of an endless duration.
But there are also some other concomitant properties of this death, which vastly increase and aggravate the horror of it, besides the bare considerations of its eternity.
(1.) As first, that it bereaves a man of all the pleasures and comforts which he enjoyed in this world; the loss of which, how poor and contemptible soever they are in themselves, yet surely must needs be very afflictive to him who had placed his whole entire happiness in them: and therefore to be stript of all these, and to be cast naked and forlorn into utter darkness and desertion, cannot but be infinitely tormenting, though a man should meet with no other tormentors in that place. For to have strong, eager, immense desires, and a perpetual bar and divorce put between them and their beloved objects, will of itself be hell enough, though the worm should die, and the fire should be quenched.
For how will the drunkard, the epicure, and the wanton bear the absence and removal of those things that alone used to please their fancy and to gratify their lust! For here will be neither ball nor masks, plays nor mistresses, for the gallant to entertain himself with; here will be company indeed good store, but no good-fellowship; roaring enough, but no ranting in this place. With what a killing regret must the condemned worldling look back upon his rich manors and his large estate, his parks and his pleasant gardens! to which there is now no return for him, but only by thought and remembrance; which can serve him for nothing, but to heighten his anguish by a bitter comparison of his 142past and present condition. And this is some of the fruit of sin, which by carrying out the heart to a vicious, irregular enjoyment of the things of this life, which quickly have an end, treasures up in the same heart materials for such a sorrow as shall have none.
(2.) Eternal death bereaves the soul of that infinite, inexpressible good, the beatific fruition of God. The greatest and the quickest misery of a condemned sinner is the sense of loss. And if the loss of those puny temporal enjoyments make so great a part of his punishment, as I have shewn it does, what then shall we say of the loss of that, which was the only thing which gave life and spirit to all those enjoyments! which gave them that substance, and suitableness to our nature, as to render them properly felicities! For all the comfort that God conveys to the creature, comes from the sensible, refreshing discoveries of his presence. In thy presence, says the Psalmist, there is fulness of joy, Psalm xvi. 11. This is the reviving light which scatters all the darknesses and dismal blacks of sorrow; that wipes off all tears; the happy sunshine, which dries up those disconsolate dews. For as it is the presence of the king which makes the court; so it is the peculiar presence of God which makes heaven; which is not so much the name of a place, as of a state or condition.
But now there is an everlasting cloud drawn between this and a sinner under damnation. God hides himself for ever; so that this is the sum and height of the sinner’s doom, that he is condemned eternally to feel God’s hand, and never to see his face.143
(3.) And lastly, eternal death fills both body and soul with most intense pain, and the highest torment and anguish which can be received within a created, finite capacity. All the woes, griefs, and terrors which humanity can labour under, shall then, as it were, unite, and really seize upon the soul at once. I am tormented in this flame, says the rich man, Luke xvi. 24. And surely a bed of flames is but an uneasy thing for a man to roll himself upon to all eternity. The sufferings which shall attend this estate, no tongue can express, no heart can conceive. Pain shall possess the body; horror, agony, and despair, shall rack the mind: so that the whole man shall be made the receptacle and scene of misery, the tragical scene for vengeance to act its utmost upon, and to shew how far a creature is capable of being tormented without the loss of its being; the continuance of which, under those circumstances, is but a miserable privilege, and would gladly be exchanged for annihilation. For every lash which God then gives the sinner shall be with a scorpion; every pain which he inflicts shall be more eager than appetite, more cruel than revenge; every faculty, both of soul and body, shall have its distinct, proper, and peculiar torment applied to it, and be directly struck there, where it has the quickest, the tenderest, and the sharpest sense of any painful impression.
God seldom punishes or afflicts in this world, but it is with some allay of mercy; some mixture of clemency, which even in the midst of misery may yet support hope. But when sin has lodged the. sinner in hell, the cup which God then administers shall be all justice without mercy, all wrath and 144 venom, all dregs and yet no bottom; a cup never to be drank off, inexhaustibly full, inconceivably bitter.
But I shall use no other argument to evince the greatness of those torments but only this, that the Devil shall be the instrument of their execution. And surely a mortal enemy will be a dreadful executioner; and the punishment which an infinite justice inflicts by the hand of an implacable malice must needs be intolerable.
And thus I have despatched the second general thing proposed; which was to shew, what is included and comprised in death, which is here allotted for the sinner’s wages. I proceed now to the
Third and last; which is to shew, in what respect death is properly called the wages of sin. I conceive it may be upon these two following accounts.
1. Because the payment of wages still presupposes service and labour. And undoubtedly the service of sin is of all others the most painful and laborious. It will engross all a man’s industry, drink up all his time; it is a drudgery without intermission, a business without vacation.
We read of the mystery of iniquity; and certainly the mystery of no trade can be attained without a long and a constant sedulity. Nemo repente fit turpissimus. It is the business of a life to be a complete sinner.
Such as are the commands of sin, such must be also the service. But the commands of sin are for their number continual, for their vehemence importunate, and for their burden tyrannical.
Sin is said to conceive and to bring forth; and there is no birth without pain and travail. God 145condemned Adam upon his transgression to the turmoils of sweat and labour: but one would have thought, that he might have spared this malediction, when labour is not only the consequent, but the very nature of sin. To dig the earth is man’s punishment; but the sin which deserves it, is the greater labour.
For is there any work so toilsome, so full of fatigue and weariness, as to be always at the call of an unlimited appetite, at the command of an insatiable corruption? The Greek is emphatical, and describes the nature of sin in its name; for πονηρία, which signifies sin or wickedness, takes its derivation from πόνος, which signifies labour. So that the readiest way, it seems, to fulfil the apostle’s precept in 1 Thess. iv. 11, of studying to be quiet, is to study to be innocent.
And were there nothing else in sin but the discomposing and ruffling of that serene quiet, and undisturbed frame of spirit, which naturally attends a true and steady virtue, it were enough to endear the one, and to discommend the other. For sin seldom acts, but in the strength of some passion: and passion never moves but with tumult and agitation: there being scarce any passion but has its contrary to thwart and to encounter it; so that still the actings of them represent a kind of little war in the soul: and accordingly, as the prophet Isaiah says of every battle of the warrior, so we may say of every stirring of an high passion, that it is with confused noise. The still voice of reason is drowned, the sober counsels of religion are stifled, and not heard. And must not that man, think we, needs be very miserable, who has always such a din and hurry in 146 his breast? His passions raging, and his vicious appetites haling and pulling him, sometimes to this object, sometimes to a contrary! So that what through the clamour, and what through the convulsion of exorbitant clashing desires, the soul is in a rent, distracted condition; like Actaeon amongst his dogs, that first bawl about his ears, and then tear him to pieces.
The truth of this is sufficiently manifest, from the general theory of the thing itself; but the same will appear yet more evidently by running over particular instances.
And first, take the voluptuous, debauched epicure. What hour of his life is vacant from the slavish injunctions of his vice? Is he not continually spending both his time and his subsistence to gratify his taste? and, as it were, to draw all the elements to his table, to make a sacrifice to the deity of his belly? And then, how uneasy are the consequences of his luxury! when he is to grapple with surfeit and indigestion, with his morning fumes and crudities, and other low and ignoble distempers, the effects of a brutish eating; thus having his stomach always like a kitchen, both for fulness and for filth.
And next, for the intemperate drinker: is not his life a continual toil? To be sitting up when others sleep, and to go to bed when others rise; to be exposed to drunken quarrels and to sordid converse; to have redness of eyes, rheums, and distillations; a weakened body, and a besotted mind?
And then for the adulterer and unclean person: upon what hard employments does his lust put him! first to contrive, plot, and compass its satisfaction, and then to avoid the furies of an enraged jealousy, 147and to keep off the shame of an infamous discovery. We find the adulterer, in Job xxiv. 16, digging through houses, till at length, perhaps, he digs his own grave too; and by a laborious pursuit comes to an ignominious end.
And lastly, for the covetous, scraping usurer. It is a question whether he gathers or keeps his pelf with most anxiety: he is restless to get, and fearful to lose; but always solicitous, and at work. And perhaps those who labour in the mines are not so busy as those who own them. But I need say no more of such a person but this, that his business is as vast and endless as his desires; and greater it cannot be.
And thus I have shewn the toil of sin, in several particulars, to which many more might be added. In short, if idleness were not a sin, there was scarce any sin but what is laborious.
So that now the retribution of death following such hard and painful service, may properly bear the denomination of wages; and be reputed rather a payment than a punishment.
2. The other reason why death is called the wages of sin, is because wages do always imply a merit in the work, requiring such a compensation. Sin and death are compared together as sowing and reaping: and we all account it a thing of the highest reason and equity in the world, that he who sows should also reap: He who sows to the flesh, says the apostle, Gal. vi. 8, shall of the flesh reap corruption. The evil of sin is every way commensurate to the evil of death; retaliation is the very nature and spirit of justice; and that a man who does an action contrary to another’s good, should be made 148 to expiate it by a suffering contrary to his own, is but proportion.
But to this, some make that trite and popular objection; that since the same is the measure and extent of things contrary; and since our good works cannot merit eternal life; it should follow also, that neither can our sins, our evil works, merit eternal death.
But to this I answer, that the case is very different in these two. For to the nature of merit, it is required that the action be not due: but now every good action being enjoined and commanded by the law of God, is thereby made due, and consequently cannot merit: whereas, on the contrary, a sinful action being quid indebitum, altogether undue; and not at all commanded, but prohibited, it becomes properly meritorious; and, according to the malignity of its nature, it merits eternal death.
But some will yet further urge; that in regard a sinful action is in itself but of a finite nature, and withal proceeds from a finite agent; there seems to be nothing of proportion between that, and an endless, eternal punishment. For what is man but a weak, mutable creature at the best? And what is sin, but a vanishing action, which is performed in the compass of a few minutes, and not to be laid in the scale with the inexhaustible measures of perpetuity?
But to this also we answer, that the merit of sin is not to be rated, either by the substance of the act, or by the narrowness and poorness of the agent; but it is to be measured by the proportions of its object, and the greatness of the person against whom it is done. And therefore being committed against 149 an infinite majesty, it greatens, and rises to the height of an infinite demerit.
Nevertheless, because men are apt to think that God treats them upon hard terms, and to view sin with a more favourable eye, I shall in a word or two shew what there is in the nature of sin, which renders it so highly provoking, as to deserve the greatest evil that omnipotence itself can inflict upon the creature. And,
1st, Sin is a direct stroke at God’s sovereignty. Hence we read of the kingdom of Satan, in contradistinction to the kingdom of God: and in the conversion of a sinner, when grace is wrought in the heart, the kingdom of God is said to come into it: and the whole economy of the gospel is styled the kingdom of heaven. So that sin had translated God’s subjects into a new dominion: as amongst men, he who has committed a felony or a murder, usually flies the territories of his lawful prince; and so living in another kingdom, puts himself under the necessity of a new subjection.
Thus sin invades the throne of God, usurps his royalty, and snatches at his sceptre. But now there is nothing so tender, and sensibly jealous of the least encroachment, as prerogative; the throne admits of no partner, endures no competitor. Rule and enjoy all Egypt, says Pharaoh to Joseph, but still with this reserve, that in the throne I will be greater than thou.
No wonder therefore if God punishes sin, which is indeed treason against the King of kings, with death; for it puts the question, Who shall reign? It grasps at all, it strikes high, and is properly a blow given to the supremacy.150
2dly, Sin strikes at God’s very being. In Psalm xiv. 1, The fool, that is, the sinner, has said in his heart, There is no God; and if this be his belief, it is so, because it was first his desire. Sin would step not only into God’s throne, but also into his room.
And it matters not, that the infinite perfection of God sets him far above the boldest reaches of his rebel-creature. For it is enough to see the attempts of malice: God takes an estimate of the sinner by his will; he is as much a serpent now he hisses, as if he stung: for whatsoever a man has an heart to wish, if he had power he would certainly effect.
And now, if all this malignity lies wrapt up in the bowels of sin, let none wonder how it comes to deserve death; but admire rather, that God has not invented something greater than death, if possible, to revenge the provocation.
And thus I have finished the third and last general thing proposed to be handled from the words: from which, and all the foregoing particulars, what can we so naturally and so directly infer, and learn, as the infinite, incredible folly, which acts and possesses the heart of man in all its purposes to sin! still proposing to the sinner nothing but pleasure and enjoyment, advantage and emolument, from the commission of that which will infallibly subject him to all the miseries and killing sorrows that humanity is capable of. Sin plays the bait before him, the bait of a little, contemptible, silly pleasure or profit; but it hides from his view that fatal hook, which shall strike through his heart and liver, and by which that great catcher and devourer of souls shall hold 151him fast, and drag him down to his eternal execution The consequent appendant miseries of sin are studiously kept from the sinner’s notice; his eye must not see what his heart will certainly rue; but he goes on pleasantly and unconcernedly, and acts a more cruel, inhuman butchery upon his own soul, than ever any self-murderer did upon his own body.
I shall close up all with that excellent saying of the wisest of men, in Prov. xiv. 9, that fools make a mock at sin. Fools they are indeed for doing so. But is it possible, for any thing that wears the name of reason, to be so much a fool, as to make a mock at death too? Will a man play with hell, dally with a scorpion, and sport himself with everlasting burnings?
In every sin which a man deliberately commits, he takes down a draught of deadly poison. In every lust which he cherishes, he embraces a dagger, and opens his bosom to destruction.
In fine, I have endeavoured to shew what sin is, and what death is, the certain inevitable wages of sin; and so, have only this short advice to add, and to conclude with: he who likes the wages, let him go about the work.152
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