The Superaboundings of Grace over the Aboundings of Sin - Part 1
Preached at North Street Chapel, Stamford, on Lord s Day morning, October 12, 1862.
WHEREVER we go, wherever we turn our eyes, two objects meet our view-sin and misery. There is not a town nor a village, nor a house, nor a family, no, nor a human heart, in which these two inseparable companions are not to be found; -sin the fountain, misery the stream; sin the cause, misery the effect; sin the parent, misery the offspring.
But some of you may perhaps be inclined to say, "I do not altogether see with you here; I think you take much too gloomy, too melancholy a view of the case. But this is just like you. You are always telling us what sinners we are, and what we feel, or ought to feel, on account of our sins, just as if we were some of the basest, blackest characters in England. I admit there is a great deal of sin in the world; but I do not see so much sin in myself as you represent, nor do I feel so much misery and wretchedness in consequence of it as you are continually talking about." That may be the case, but may it not arise from your want of sight or from your want of feeling? The fact may be the same, though you may not see or feel it. A blind man might be led through the wards of a hospital, and say, amidst all the pain and suffering on well-nigh every bed around him, "I see no disease; where is the disease they speak of? People are always talking about the sickness and suffering in the hospitals; but I don t see any." Or a person in full health and strength might be struck suddenly down with apoplexy, or fall into an epileptic fit, and be really a most pitiable object, yet himself feel no pain or misery. So your not seeing sin may arise from want of light, and your not feeling it may arise from want of life. You must not, therefore, judge of the non-existence of sin by your not seeing it, or conclude there is no evil in it because you do not feel it. There are those who do see it, there are those who do feel it; and these are the best judges whether such things as sin and misery exist.
But a question may arise, "How came sin and misery into this world? What was the origin of sin?" That is a question I cannot answer. The origin of evil is a problem hidden from the eyes of man, and is probably unfathomable by human intellect. It is sufficient for us to know that sin is; and it is a blessing of blessings, a blessing beyond all value, that we know also there is a cure for it.
Let me give you two illustrations of this. A poor woman has, she fears, a cancer in her breast. She goes to a surgeon and says, "I have a hard lump here, and such sharp, darting pains, just, it seems, as if I had knives driven into me." "O," the doctor says, "my good woman I am afraid indeed that you have a cancer. How did it originate? Had your mother one or any of your family? Have you had a blow there? O," she says, "I cannot tell you: I can only tell you what I have felt and what I feel. Never mind how it came. Here it is, Can you cure it?" Or a young man loses strength and flesh, becomes pallid, is worried with a hacking cough and flying pains by day, and is restless and feverish all night. He goes to a doctor and says, "I am afraid I am ill, my chest feels so bad." "O, my young friend," the doctor replies, after due examination, "I fear there is some disease in your lungs. Was your father or your mother consumptive? Did any of your brothers or your sisters die of decline? Have you been living in close rooms without air and exercise? How do you think your disease originated? Well, I cannot tell you anything about its origin, or whether I got it from my father or my mother. My chief concern is whether it can be cured."
So you see it is not the origin of a thing, whether bodily disease or moral evil, which we have to look to. We may not be able to tell how evil originated, but, like the poor woman with a cancer, or the consumptive youth, may be able to tell from our feelings that it exists. This, indeed, is the first step in religion, for as the Lord said, "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Mt 9:12,13 When, then, the deep-seated malady of sin is opened up to our view, and we begin to feel that there is no soundness in us, and nothing but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, then arises the anxious inquiry, "Is there a cure?" Now, through God s unspeakable mercy, I can assure you, from His word and in His name, that there is a cure for the malady of sin, and that there is a remedy for the misery and distress which are the sure consequences of it when laid with weight and power upon the conscience. Yes, there is "balm in Gilead-there is a physician there;" there is One who says of Himself, "I am the Lord that healeth thee" Ex 15:26; One to whom the soul can say, when the healing balm of a Saviour s blood is made effectually known: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases." Ps 103:2,3
To unfold the malady and discover the remedy, is the grand purpose of the Holy Ghost in the Scriptures of truth; but I do not know any single passage of God s word in which malady and remedy are more powerfully and more closely brought together than in the words of the text. What sin is and what grace is, are there indeed clearly depicted by the Holy Ghost, written by His unerring pen as with a ray of light. I despair of being able fully or even adequately to open up to your view the depths of truth contained in it, for who can fathom the measureless ocean of abounding sin or lay bare the treasures of superaboundlng grace? But as the text is one dear to my heart, and one which I wish not to lose sight of for a single day of my life, I shall endeavour, with God s help and blessing, to bring before you something of what I have been led to see and feel in it; and as sin and grace are here so vividly contrasted and brought, as it were, to meet each other face to face, I shall attempt from it to show,
I.- First, Sin as an abounding flood; Sin as a despotic tyrant; Sin as a cruel executioner.
II- Secondly, Grace as a superabounding tide; Grace as a reigning monarch; Grace as a sovereign giver of eternal life.
III.- Thirdly, how all these inestimable blessings are "through righteousness" and "by Jesus Christ our Lord."
I.-You will find all that I have stated, and much more, in our text. In fact, language can never utter, as heart can never conceive, the depths of infinite mercy which are stored up in it. It has been a feast for millions. The Lord enable me to spread the table with some of the choice provision revealed in it, and give you an appetite to feed upon it-an appetite well sharpened by a feeling sense of your sin and misery; for it is only those who painfully know the aboundings of sin, and blessedly know the superaboundings of grace, who can sit at this table as hungry guests and hear the Lord s words, "Eat, O friends, drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved." So 5:1
1. I said I would show you sin as an abounding flood -"where sin abounded," and I shall take as a figure, to illustrate my meaning, an occurrence which caused a great deal of temporal suffering and distress in an adjoining county, and indeed, from its nature and consequences, produced much apprehension through the country generally. Last Spring, if you recollect, there was a flood in Norfolk, which devastated at least six or seven thousand acres of some of the finest land in England, just at a season when everything seemed to promise fair for abundant crops. I shall use that figure to show you the abounding flood of sin. But I must first explain the circumstances to make my figure more perspicuous, for most of you, probably, are but imperfectly acquainted with them. A low lying tract of land, of many thousand acres, called the Bedford Level, besides a large portion of adjoining country, is artificially drained by the River Ouse, and from its naturally low situation is below the level of the sea at high tide. It is, therefore, necessary that there should be strong, high banks, with flood-gates at the mouth of the river, that it may discharge at low tide the drainage of the surrounding country, and then before the tide again rises that these gates should be closed to keep out the sea. But it so happened, through negligence or some other cause, that a breach was made in this dyke. And what was the consequence? The German ocean, at high tide, entered through this breach, and every successive tide made it deeper and wider, until at last it burst over the whole country, and flooded more than 6 acres of land, the salt water destroying all the crops and carrying consternation and peril through the whole district.
I shall take that figure, therefore, to illustrate my first point-sin viewed as an abounding flood; and, in so doing, I shall consider the German ocean to represent sin; the land smiling in beauty and verdure the soul of man in its primitive state as created in the image of God; and the dyke that kept out the waters man s innocency in Paradise. Look, then, at sin raging in the bosom of Satan as the German ocean tossed its angry billows in wild confusion upon the Norfolk coast. Wave after wave beat upon the shore; but not one drop could get in so long as the dyke stood. But when a breach was made, though in itself but small, then burst in the German ocean. So as long as man stood in his native purity and uprightness, sin might rage in Satan s boiling breast, but it could not enter into man s bosom. But when temptation came and was listened to, giving heed to the tempter made a gap in the dyke of man s innocency, and then through the breach sin rushed in, as the German ocean into the fair fields of Norfolk. And what was the consequence? It flooded the soul of man; defaced and destroyed the image of God in him, utterly ruined his native innocency, and left upon his conscience a whole mass of ooze and sludge, under which he has ever since lain as a guilty sinner before God. This was not like the flood in Norfolk, to be drained off by pumps and carried back to the ocean whence it came. There was no re-constructing of the dyke, no re-building of the floodgates. When once sin had burst in, no power of man could ever throw it back.
I said in my introduction that the origin of evil was a mystery unfathomable by human intellect. But you will observe that there is a distinction between the origin of sin and the entrance of sin. The origin of sin is not revealed to us, for it existed in the bosom of Satan before it came into this lower world. But its entrance into us we know. The Scripture is clear here. "By one man sin entered into the world." And the entrance of death is as plainly revealed as the entrance of sin, for the Holy Ghost adds "and death by sin." Nor are its universal consequences less plainly revealed: "And so death passed upon all men; for that [margin "in whom"] all have sinned." Ro 5:12 That sin at once flooded the whole heart of man is evident in the first man that was born of woman. What was he? His brother s murderer. How abounding, how fatal must have been the flood when, out of mere envy and jealousy, one brother should have shed another s blood, as if only just outside the very gates of Paradise!
But in order to gain some insight into the abounding of sin, let us look at it in a variety of particulars, because we must come to dose detail, to practical facts, to experimental feeling, before we can really be made sensible of the truth of God s word in so plainly and positively declaring that sin "abounded."
i. Look at it first, then, as abounding in the world at large. Who that has any eye to see or any heart to feel cannot but painfully realise the pressing, the overwhelming fact that sin awfully abounds there? What dreadful murders, what desperate suicides, what acts of violence and robbery, what hideous deeds of uncleanness, what Sabbath breaking, and that systematically encouraged by cheap excursion trains on the great leading railway lines; what neglect of all public and private worship; what contempt of God and man; what daring rebellion against everything holy and sacred; what awful ungodliness and infidelity are displayed to the most superficial view as running down our streets like water, not only in the metropolis, but in all our great towns. These are but waifs and strays thrown upon the shore by the waves of the sea of sin; mere passing specimens which come to light of thousands of unseen, undiscovered crimes. But even where the surface of society is unruffled by these waves of open sin, what a sea of iniquity is buried beneath the still water! What envy, hatred, malice, jealousy, cruelty, and sensuality lie hidden under smiling faces, and what a rooted dislike to everything spiritual and holy is covered up under an outward form of religion and morality!
ii. When we look at the professing Church are things really any better? Does not sin abound there? It is true there is thrown over it a vail which seems to give it a rather more decent appearance: but under that veil, could it be suddenly torn off, what sins we should see to lurk and work. What hypocrisy; what self-righteousness; what hatred of God s truth; what contempt of the saints of God; what pride and worldliness: what giving way to every sensual inclination; what contentment with the mere forms and shadows of religion and setting them up in place of the substance and the power; what ignorance of the true and spiritual meaning of the Scriptures; and what a deadly opposition to the inward life of God and to all who know it, preach it, or profess it!
iii. But come still nearer home. Look at the Church of God; the little flock, gathered out of a sinful world and a deceptive profession. Do we not see sin abounding even there? What strife, division, contention, suspicion, jealousy, hard thoughts and hard words do we see often rending asunder the Church for which Christ died. What little living to the glory of God; what little walking in humility, simplicity, sincerity, godly fear, spirituality of mind, and godly obedience do we see in many who, we hope, after all, are really partakers of distinguishing grace.
iv. But come nearer, closer still. Look to your own bosom; search and examine well the daily working of sin in your own heart. May we not say, I am sure I can for one, sin abounds? We hope that, by the restraining grace of God, sin does not indeed abound in our words or works-the Lord forbid it should! But if it be kept back and restrained there by the fear of God and the power of His grace, does not sin awfully abound in our thoughts, in our imaginations, in our desires, in the working of our carnal mind? Who that knows himself in the teaching of the Spirit can say that sin has not awfully abounded in him, not only before he was called by grace and made alive unto God by His quickening breath, but since he has known the truth of God in its power? What sins does conscience register against light, against conviction, against our better judgment, against the warnings of God in His word, and, what is still more painful, against mercies, blessings, privileges, and all that the Lord has done for us both in providence and in grace! What miserable unthankfullness; what base ingratitude; what reckless oblivion of all the Lord s mercies; what self-seeking; what pride; what lusting after evil things; what confusion often in prayer; what unbelieving thoughts; what want of fixedness and steadfastness in the ways of God; what lack of self-denial, crucifixion of the flesh, and doing the things which God has commanded, as well as professing them! Surely, when we take a view of what we are as sinners before the eyes of infinite Purity and Holiness, is there one who knows his own heart and is honest before God who must not say, "Sin has abounded in me?" It is our mercy if the Lord restrain by His Spirit and grace the outward acts of sin. But there is not a heart that knows its own bitterness which will not confess that sin hath abounded and still abounds in it.
But there are some other ideas connected with the figure of a flood which I do not wish wholly to pass by.
A flood penetrates. It does not merely flow over, but penetrates into every place where it comes. So sin has not merely rolled over the human heart with its polluting tide, but has penetrated into every faculty of body and soul. Into every look, every thought, every inclination, every imagination, every passion, and I may well say every principle of the human mind, has it deeply and thoroughly penetrated so as to defile and pollute them through their whole length and breadth. It has also filled our body with the seeds of sickness and disease, and carried mortality into every thread and fibre of our bodily frame.
But a flood comes down also with sweeping force. Such was the flood in Norfolk. Cattle, crops, fences, even houses were swept away by it. So sin, as an abounding flood, has swept away not only man s innocence, but all his strength; and still sweeps away all promises, vows, resolutions, attempts at reformation, and hurls them along in a tide of confusion.
But a flood, also, the more it is resisted the stronger it is. So with the flood of sin. It not only sweeps away all the dams and dykes which nature sets up, but is rendered more violent by opposition. This the apostle found: "But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead." Ro 7:8 He tells us here how sin "took occasion by the commandment:" that is, the very law set up against it only made sin work the more strongly, putting as if fresh life into it; for "without the law sin was dead," that is, was not stirred up into living activity and power.
II. But now let us look at sin under another character, as a despotic tyrant. "Sin hath reigned." Sin is not a passive thing in man s bosom. It is not contented to lie there as a stone, or even as subject to man s better thoughts. Nothing will satisfy it but the throne, nothing content it but to hold the reigns of government. The very nature of sin is to assert dominion over every faculty of man s body and mind. Nothing less than absolute authority over both will ever content the craving of this restless tyrant: The apostle therefore says "it hath reigned." How sin reigns in every worldly breast! What little check is put upon thoughts or words or works, of whatever kind they be, by natural conscience; or if it speak, what little heed is paid to its voice! Whatever sin bids natural men do, they do it eagerly. Sin leads them captive at its will. They have no will of their own, but obey eagerly, obey submissively, whatever sin commands. Sin has but to issue the word, and they do what it bids. Sin has but to lead, and they follow in the path Where it guides. Sin has but to show itself as king, and all knees bow before it; all hands are active to do its behests, and every foot is obedient to move in the directed path.
Nay, we ourselves, who have, we trust, the fear of God in our bosom, and know something of the Lord Jesus Christ by a living faith, have melancholy evidence that sin "hath reigned," if it do not reign now. What were we in a state of nature? Had not sin then absolute and uncontrolled dominion over us? I don t know that I was worse in my carnal days than other young men of my age or station in life. Indeed, I was in some measure restrained by moral and honourable considerations from being altogether given up to gross abominations, and had a not altogether undeserved character at college for a respect for morality and religion. But if ever I was restrained from sin, it was not from any thought about God. If ever I was kept from positive, absolute evil, it was not because I had any sense in my conscience that there was a God above who watched my actions, and who would one day bring me to His bar. I certainly had no conscience about evil thoughts, or light and foolish words, or a general course of pride and worldly ambition. So I know from my own experience that where the fear of God is not, and the conscience is not made alive and tender, we sin eagerly, we sin greedily, we sin thoughtlessly, so far, at least, as regards any spiritual restraint. If we abstain from sin in outward action, it is from respect to our character, or from moral constraints, or from fear of man, or want of temptation and opportunity, or from not being entangled with bad companions, or from some apprehension of damaging our worldly prospects. God is not in our thoughts; nor do we abstain from evil either through a desire to please Him or a fear to offend Him. If, therefore, you have not been altogether abandoned to open crime, nor given way to every vile lust of your fallen nature; if your station in life, your sex, the warnings and example of careful parents, the restraints imposed by society upon general conduct, and other moral considerations have preserved you from outward evil, think not that sin has not reigned the less over you. It has reigned in your thoughts, in your inclinations, in your lusts, in your desires, in your pride, in your ambition, in your contempt of God and godliness, in your aspirations after earthly grandeur, your love of dress, fashion, and respectability, in the general neglect and contempt of everything gracious and spiritual, heavenly and holy; in building your hopes below the skies, roaming and revelling in a vain paradise of a gross and sensual imagination.
A man does not know himself who cannot look back through a long vista, sometimes of years, and see how in infancy, in boyhood, in youth, in manhood, up to the very time when grace set up a rival throne in his heart, sin reigned in him. He lived not to God, not for eternity, but for time. He lived not to please God, but to please himself or his fellow creatures. He lived not as one who had a soul to be saved or lost, but as one who had a body to feed and clothe, adorn and gratify, and a mind to please, I will even say, cultivate, but not to devote to the service of God and the good of His people. If this be not the reign of sin, tell me what is. Who is our King but he whom we obey? He is our Lord and master whom we serve; and if we serve him willingly, the stronger master he is. Is not this the apostle s argument, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" Ro 6:16 To be the servant of sin, is to acknowledge sin as our king.
But does not sin even now to a great extent reign even in the breasts of those who desire to fear God? It does not, indeed, reign as before, for its power is broken and checked; but still it is ever seeking to regain its further dominion. How suitable then the precept, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof" Ro 6:12; and how blessed the promise, "For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace." Ro 6:14
3. But sin is worse than this: it is a cruel executioner; for we read that "sin hath reigned unto death."
In one of the paintings in the tombs of Egypt-for they still retain their ancient pictures in all their freshness in that dry climate-there is represented an Egyptian monarch, of almost gigantic stature, supposed to be Sesostris, the Shishak of the Scriptures 1Ki 11:40, holding in his hand a drawn sabre, and pursuing a crowd of helpless victims, some of whom he is holding by the hair of the head, at the same time wielding the sabre to sever their necks asunder. Now this is just the picture which the Orientals drew of their despotic sovereigns, and much corresponds with a similar representation in the Nineveh sculptures, where a warrior king is represented in his chariot with his bow and arrow aiming at a crowd of wretched fugitives. Such is sin in our text; not merely a despotic monarch, as I have already brought him before your eyes, but himself a cruel executioner, for he reigns "unto death," and never spares a single victim the finishing blow. He is not satisfied with the life of his subjects; their obedience to his behests, their implicit acquiescence with all his demands: he craves their blood. He snuffs after it as a hungry tiger or famished wolf, for nothing can satisfy him but the death, the cruel death, of all his subjects. For this sanguinary thirst, this unrelenting, murderous disposition and determination, I call him not only a despotic tyrant, but I style him a cruel executioner.