Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet…
We seldom hear sin spoken about now as the old prophets spoke about it. We do not think about sin as the defiance of God, the attempted overthrow of his authority, the expression of the soul's hatred of God, and therefore calling for terrible vindications of the Divine power and claims. In reading biographies of very holy and devoted Christians, we have observed that they had deep and overwhelming impressions of the evil of sin - impressions quite beyond the reach of our sympathy. Perhaps we have inclined to call them morbid, and to think such views were the result of diseased imaginations. The truth, however, is that these holy men and women had visions of the infinite holiness of God. They saw the "sapphire throne," and they trembled and veiled their faces before the exceeding majesty of the Divine purity. They saw themselves and sin truly and worthily, because they saw these things in the full clear light of God. We do not so see them, because we do not live near enough to God. Take as a specimen the following sentences of John Bunyan - surely as honest and sincere a man before God and his fellows as ever lived: "My original and inward pollution - that was my plague and affliction. That I saw at a dreadful rate, always putting forth itself within me. That I had the guilt of to amazement. By reason of that I was loathsome in my own eyes, and I thought I was in God's eyes too. Sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart as water out of a fountain. I thought that every one had a better heart than I had; I could have changed hearts with anybody. I thought none but the devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell, therefore, at the sight of my own vileness, deeply into despair." Making all allowance for the quaintness of this language, and for the spirit of the age in which Bunyan lived, do we not feel that his Christian life became so noble because his foundations had been laid so low? And we need more worthy apprehensions of the essential hatefulness and evil of sin to lie as the foundation-stones on which we may rear our godly life.
1. All the great truths and doctrines of Divine revelation rest upon the fact of human sin. Repentance, justification, atonement, redemption, sanctification, all assume the fact of our sin. It is too much the habit to discuss these doctrines as if they were merely questions of science, having a general intellectual interest; but with the smitings of guilt on our hearts, and the avenger of blood at our heels, they become intensely real; they are no less than the conditions of the soul's safety in the city of refuge. We should understand them so much better if we had more soul-moving impressions of the evil and the guilt of our state before God.
2. All the Christian graces depend on deep views of sin. That possesses our souls with pity and charity and long-suffering towards others. That makes and keeps us bumble. The believing man is he who, in his self-helplessness, has learned to lean wholly. The hopeful man is he who has cried "out of the depths unto the Lord. The man who feels for others is he who "knows the plague of his own heart."
3. All the earnestness and zeal of Christian work depend on worthy views of sin. Are men perishing in sin? then we must rescue and save them. John Howe says, "Shall-our Redeemer be left to weep alone over perishing souls? Have we no tears to spend upon this doleful subject? Oh that our heads were waters, and our eyes fountains! Is it nothing to us that multitudes are sinking, going down to perdition, under the name of Christian, from under the means of life and salvation - perishing - and we can do nothing to prevent it? We know they must perish that do not repent and turn to God, and love him above all; that do not believe in his Son, and pay him homage as their rightful Lord." We are guilty before God in neglecting to keep vivid in our hearts humbling convictions of sin; and we may trace to this neglect our imperfect impressions of the holiness of God, of the majesty of his Law, and of the necessity for atonement by blood-shedding. We may also trace to this neglect our easy subjection to the pleasures and vanities of the world; our indifference in the pursuit of Christian virtues, and our coldness and deadness to the claims of Christian work. To see sin rightly we must see it -
I. IN THE CONSEQUENCES TO WHICH IT LEADS. We wonder why these stern writings of the old prophets are preserved, and make up so large a portion of God's Word. They are needed to keep before us the connection between sin and suffering, to show the wickedness of sin by the bitterness of its consequences. We do not need either old prophets or new ones to convince us of the fact of sin. Conscience and observation suffice for that. Nor do we need old prophets or new ones to convince us of the fact of suffering. But we do need them to convince us of the connection between the two. And that was just the mission of the old prophets. In vigorous language they describe dreadful famines, devouring pestilences, the march of myriad locusts, frightful scenes of battle-fields and siege, the desolation of fair countries, the exile and captivity of nations. But they never leave us to imagine for a moment that such things are mere calamities. They are consequences of sin; the whirlwind which those reap who sow the wind. They try to make us see behind the apparent order of cause and effect, and they say, "Ye have provoked the Lord your God to anger, therefore hath all this evil come upon you." Sin is invisible. Sin is pleasing to our corrupt nature, and we will not see its true character. So God writes it up before our eyes in bodily, social, national, hereditary woes. Illustrate from the end of the avaricious man, the drunkard, the presumptuous, etc., as given in this chapter.
II. IS THE CONTRAST OF GOD'S MERCIFUL DEALINGS WITH US. It is mostly in this way that God is accustomed to present sin to us. See the opening parable of this chapter. Sins and vices look hateful indeed, as staining and debasing poor Africans. Drunkenness is hideous, corrupting the poor islanders of the Southern Seas. But what do such things look like, putting to utter shame the enlightened islanders of Christian Britain? Are not lust, and passion, and greed, and drunkenness, and down-treading the poor, and neglecting the offered salvation, aggravated immensely by God's abounding mercy to us? God pleads his mercy (see 11:3, 4). We plead thus: Do you think, if you had lived in Christ's days, you could have gone on sinning on the very knoll of Calvary, under the very shadow of the cross on which your Savior died? Could you have cast lots for his raiment with those rough gamesters, danced a merry round about his cross, and done the deeds beneath his very agony which now stain your life? It may be that very thing which you are, in spirit, doing now. The shadow of the cross has never passed away; it lies right across Christian England today. We live through our daily lives beneath it. It is not really a dark shadow; it is transformed; it is the Lord's rainbow of love shining through tears. It arches our whole sky. Its presence glorifies all goodness; but its presence also aggravates all sin, all self-indulgence, all neglect of God. The issue, the final issue, for all who sin under the very shadow of the cross - that no human lips can describe, as no human imagination can conceive. That must be the woe unspeakable, the dreadful day of God. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!