Actual Sin
Psalm 51:4
Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight: that you might be justified when you speak…

When speaking of Original sin we had to prove its existence; but there is no need of that here. No one denies actual sin. But the readiness of this admission is our great difficulty in dealing with this subject. Its familiarity has bred indifference. But in spite of this, let us come to its consideration, and we speak —

I. OF ITS GUILT. Take the very smallest sin and see its guilt in the fact that it has been committed against God. Thus David viewed his sin. "Against Thee, Thee only," etc. This swallows up all other considerations. We are ever saying that we have net been a great sinner, never injured any man. As if the guilt was great only when man was wronged: the wrong to God being of little moment. But that a sin is against God — is that in which consists the greatness of its guilt; for, even among men, we measure the guilt of crimes not by the actual injury resulting from them, but by their injurious tendencies. The traitor who has attempted the life of his sovereign — the rebel who has tried to overthrow his authority — are rightly held as guilty when they fail as if they had succeeded. They are punished, not for the harm that their rebellion or their treason has done, but for the harm which rebellion and treason must do if not repressed. Now, what is a sinner but a rebel? He who sins has defied the sovereign authority of his God — he has set the will of the creature against the will of the Creator. But in this, your one small sin against God, you are guilty not only of rebellion, but of ingratitude. You have sinned against a Father who has made you, and preserved you, and blessed you with blessings innumerable. But more than this, there is in your sin against God not only rebellion and ingratitude, but insult. He who sins against God has been guilty of first making to himself an idol god whom he may offend with impunity, one who has eyes that see not, ears that hear not, and hands that smite not him that goeth on still in his wicked way. But you will say you never thought there could have been any harm in such a trifle. But has it ever occurred to you that this very thing that you allege in your excuse is an aggravation of your guilt? For ignorance, such as you plead, is an excuse for sin only where there is no law; where there is a law, there ignorance of that law is a sin, and a great one; it is the sin of refusing to hear God when He speaks. And if it were not so, if sins of ignorance were always guiltless, then there would be a direct bounty upon ignorance; this would be to give a revelation, and, at the same time, to give men the strongest inducement not to read it. But you will plead the force of habit, that you did it unconsciously. But this shows you have gone on in sin, and the plea is rather an aggravation of your guilt.

II. THEIR NUMBER — how incalculable. There are three kinds of sin, — sins, namely, of thought, word and deed; and each of these may be committed in two ways — by omission or by commission; and, further, that every sin of commission involves one of omission — that we can never do what we ought not to have done without having left undone what we ought to have done. And now, remembering the searching and comprehensive character of that law of which every transgression is a sin, try and form some remote idea of the number of your offences. And we ask you to compare sin as it appears in God's sight, with sin as it appears in the sight, and as it is pictured in the language of men. How do men generally speak and think of sin? There are some who boast of it. But these are the exceptions, these are open profligates, whom moral and respectable society excommunicates. How, then, do morality and respectability think and speak of sin? Why — provided it offends not against the decencies and the proprieties of life — gently, indulgently, almost respectfully; there is no lack of polite phrases by which society can cloak sins, which, in their native and undisguised grossness it professes to repudiate. Adultery is gallantry; and profligacy is wildness; and profanity is a light way of speaking; infidelity is unsettled ideas about religion; and revenge is high spirit; and drunkenness is conviviality; and heartless and frivolous dissipation is innocent gaiety. And then morality and respectability have favourite vices which they will introduce to you as virtues — avarice is carefulness; and selfishness is prudence; and deceit is politeness; and wasteful luxury is hospitality; and pride is becoming self-respect — until, if you would believe them, you would be persuaded that sin was almost banished from good society, and that certainly there was no such thing to be found there as a "miserable sinner."

(Archbishop Magee.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

WEB: Against you, and you only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight; that you may be proved right when you speak, and justified when you judge.

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