for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
I. THERE IS NO DISTINCTION AMONGST MEN IN RESPECT OF THEIR NEED OF THE GOSPEL. Men are declared faulty in two respects.
1. By positive transgression. They "sinned," they have done wrong, and they wander continually from the right way. They are not adjudged criminal merely on the ground of Adam's fall, but they themselves cross the line which separates obedience from disobedience. Scripture, history, and conscience testify to this fact.
2. By defect. They "fall short of the glory of God." Their past behaviour has been blameworthy, and their present condition is far below what was intended when man was formed in God's image, to attain to his likeness. Compare the best of men with the example set by the Saviour of love to God and man, and of conformity to the highest standard discernible. Now, unless perfect, man cannot claim acquittal at the bar of judgment. Perfection is marred if one feature be distorted or one limb be missing or weak. This is not to be taken to signify that all men are equally sinful, that there are no degrees of enormity, and that all are equidistant from the kingdom of God. But it means that, without exception, all fail in the examination which Divine righteousness institutes, though some have more marks than others. Left to themselves, all men would drown in the sea of their iniquity, though some are nearer the surface than their fellows. The misunderstanding of this truth has done grievous harm to tender minds, fretting because they had not the same sense of awful misdoing that has been felt by notorious malefactors. We need not gauge the amount of contrition requisite; it suffices if the heart turn humbly to God for forgiveness. Thus the gospel does not flatter men. Soothing messages may comfort for a while till the awakening comes. Then we realize that it is of no use to be in a richly decorated cabin if the ship is sinking. To reveal the true state is the necessary preliminary to reformation. There is a down-rightness about the gospel assertions which, like the deep probing of the surgeon's lance, wounds in order to thorough healing. Alas! that the disease of sin should so frequently produce lethargy in the sick! they feel no need of a physician! Lax notions of sin lessen our sense of the necessity of an atonement. We fail to discern a rebellion against the government of God, and an offence against the moral universe. We treat it as if it only concerned ourselves and our neighbours. No sprinkling of rose-water can purge away the evil; it can be cleansed only by the blood of the Lamb.
II. THERE IS NO DISTINCTION IN RESPECT OF THE MEANS OF SALVATION.
1. Justification comes in every case as a gift, not as a prize discovered or earned. "Being justified freely." Part of the beneficial influence of the gospel is the blow it administers to human notions of desert, and pride is a chief obstacle to enrichment by this gift of God.
2. To all men the kindness of God is the source of their salvation. God first loved and sought the sinner, not contrariwise. His "grace" is the fountain of redemption. 3. The same Divine method of deliverance is employed for all.
3. The same Divine method of deliverance is employed for all."Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." There is but one way to the Father, whether men walk thereon consciously or unconsciously, in heathen twilight or gospel noontide, in Jewish anticipation or Christian realization. The one atonement can cover all transgression.
4. The same human mode of entrance into the kingdom is open to all, viz. by faith. Weakness, ignorance, degradation, cannot be pleaded as obstacles to salvation. The study of the philosopher is no nearer heaven than the cottage of the artisan. The capacity of trusting is possessed by every man; the remedy is not remote, therefore, from the reach of any of the sin-sick race. - S.R.A.
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.I. THE NECESSITY OF A CLEAR SENSE OF SIN.
1. The gospel is a glorious remedy for a universal and otherwise incurable disease; and the first step must ever be to make us sensible of that disease. For one of its most dangerous symptoms is, that it makes men insensible of it. And, seeing that the remedy is not one which can be simply taken once for all, but requires long application, a man must be very thoroughly persuaded that he has the disease before he will take the necessary trouble to be cured of it. Let us try and see what "all having sinned" means.
2. When any of us looks cut upon mankind, or within himself, one thing can hardly fail to strike him. It is the presence of evil. From the first, man's history has been a history of going wrong and doing wrong. From the first, our own personal history has been a history of interrupted good and interfering bad.
3. Some have said, "Don't tell people about it; forget that there is evil in yourself; and you and they will become good. It may be true that there is such a dark spot in nature; but gazing upon it is painful and useless; look at the bright side." But do you suppose that evil in our nature can be thus got rid of? Try it for a day — for an hour; then take strict unsparing account. And if more time is wanted, try it for a year; then retire and trace your path during the time. Does not every man see that it would be simply the tale of the silly ostrich over again, which imagines itself safe from the hunter by hiding him from its sight? No; a man who wants to get rid of evil must open his eyes to it, stand face to face with it, and conquer it.
II. SIN IS DISTINGUISHED FROM EVERY OTHER EVIL.
1. There are bodily pain, discomfort, misery, common to us and to all. Now, if we can manage to flee away from them, we thereby get rid of them. We need not study their nature. But the man who wishes to avoid evil in this world must be awake and alive to the forms and accesses of evil. His very safety consists in it. Therefore evil is a matter of a totally different kind from bodily pain, misery, or death.
2. Evil is not by any means our only inward source of annoyance and hindrance. Everyone has defects and infirmities. But none of these do we look upon as we look upon evil. Let it be shown that we are dull, or feeble, or inferior to some others, we put up with it, we excuse it, we make ourselves as comfortable as we may under it; but let it be once shown that we have wished, said, done, that which is evil, and we know at once that there is no excuse for it. We may try to show that we did it inadvertently, or by force of circumstances, or in some way to lessen our own share in it, but the very labour to construct an excuse shows that we hold the evil itself, as evil, to be inexcusable. So far, then, this evil is something which our nature itself teaches us to revolt from and abhor. No son of man ever said or could say, from his inmost heart, "Evil, be thou my good." It requires more than man ever to say this.
III. SIN IS THE TRANSGRESSION OF LAW.
1. What we have said shows that there is a law implanted in our nature by which evil is avoided and good desired. All our laws, public opinion, even our ways of thinking and speaking, are founded on this.
2. Now, when man says or acts evil, what sort of a thing does he do? Is it a necessary condition of our lives that we must enter into compact with evil? Certainly not. Every protest against, resistance to, victory over it, proves that evil is not necessary to our being. But true as this is, the freedom from and victory over evil is not that after which all men are striving. One man seeks sensual gratification; another wealth; a third power; a fourth reputation, etc., etc.; and so, not man's highest aim to be good, but an aim very far below this is followed by even the best of mankind sometimes. Now every one of these lower objects, if followed as an object, does necessarily bring a man into contact and compromise with evil. Greed, intemperance, injustice, unkindness, overweening opinion of self, and a hundred other evil things beset everyone in such courses of life.
3. When a man lives such a course he is disobeying that great first law of our being by which we choose the good and abhor the evil. Now, whenever we do this we sin. "All sin is transgression of law."
4. Now, sin is committed against a person. And this law of good and evil of which we have been speaking, springs from that Holy and Just One who hath made us and to whom we are accountable. All sin is against Him.
IV. ALL HAVE SINNED. And in dwelling on this, the fact that all men have inherited the disposition to sin, necessarily comes first. And, inheriting this disposition, but with it inheriting also the great inward law of conscience warning us against evil, we have again and again followed, not the good law, but the evil propensity. In wayward childhood this has been so; in passionate youth; in calm, deliberate manhood. Now, then, this being so, can sin be safe? Can a sinner be happy? Sin is and must be the ruin of man, body and soul, here and hereafter.
(Dean Alford.)I. THE CHARGE here brought is that of having sinned, and a most solemn and awful charge it is. "Fools," indeed, "make a mock at sin"; and that they do so, is a proof of their folly. God is love; and consequently His law requires love. To love God with all the heart, and their fellow beings as them. selves, is the essence of that law. To break this law is sin; and sin produces only misery and ruin. To charge a person with having sinned is to charge him with having acted contrary to the purpose for which he was made; with having failed to love and obey the best and greatest of beings; with being guilty of the same conduct with that which cast the angels out of heaven, and man out of Paradise. Surely this is a solemn charge. Do we want other examples of the evil of having sinned? Why the Flood? why the fire upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? etc. Because they had sinned. Or, to give a more awful and decisive example, why did the Son of God die on the Cross? Because He had taken upon Himself the nature and the cause of sinners.
II. THE PERSONS against whom it is brought. "There is no difference; for all have sinned," in their progenitor and representative, and in their own persons also. But this is a truth unpalatable to the pride of man. And under the influence of this principle he will be disposed yet further to ask, "What! is there no difference? no difference between righteous Abel and wicked Cain? between impenitent Saul and contrite David? Are they all equally guilty before God?" In one sense all these persons are not alike. They have not all sinned in the same manner, in the same measure, to the same degree. Here there is a wide difference between them. But in the sense spoken of in the text they are all alike. They have all sinned; and here there is no difference. Though they may not be equally guilty, yet they are all guilty before God.
III. THE EXTENT of the charge here brought. "All have sinned, and," by so doing, "have come short of the glory of God." This expression signifies —
1. To fall short of rendering to God that glory to which He is entitled. He requires that all His creatures shall glorify Him. He has created them for His glory; and when they fulfil the purpose for which He created them, then they do glorify Him. Thus "the heavens declare the glory of God." What, then, was the end and purpose for which man was made? To love, obey, and serve his Maker. By opposition to His will he comes "short of the glory of God." Man, a living, rational being, is placed, not like the other works of creation, under a law of necessity which he cannot break, but under a moral restraint, by which he ought to be kept in the path of duty. But he is not so kept by it. He dishonours God in his very gifts, and endeavours, according to his power, to introduce confusion into His works, and to defeat His great and gracious designs.
2. The failing to obtain that glory which God originally designed for man. God originally designed man for a glorious immortality. But by sin he fell short of that glory; he forfeited and lost it. This, indeed, was the consequence of not rendering to God the glory due to Him. Having been unwilling to glorify God, he could no longer expect to be glorified with God. Conclusion: Perhaps you say, "Why, this doctrine takes away all hope. Would you drive us to despair?" No, not to a despair of salvation, but to a despair of justifying yourselves before God. But in Christ there is a full and gracious pardon for all your sins; there is glory offered to you again.
(J. B. Gough.)I. IT IS UNIVERSALLY ADMITTED THAT THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG IN MAN'S NATURE.
1. In every one of us there is a something good which perceives a something bad; also something which whispers of an ideal state — a kind of reminiscence of a lost condition.
2. To account for this it suffices if we think of our nature as having had, originally controlling it, a supreme love which has been largely but by no means entirely lost. That in us which accuses us when we do wrong and commends us when we do right cannot be sinful, but must be holy. And so there is in us all a viceroy asserting kingship in the name of the true Sovereign of our souls. As a matter of fact we look upon one another as beings not entirely trustworthy. If man be not a depraved creature, why this universal suspicion? And yet we are not so depraved as not to know that we are depraved.
3. It is often argued that we are here in a state of probation. But man as man has had his probation and has fallen. Adam's "tree of knowledge of good and evil" tested his obedience. Our Tree of Life — Jesus Christ — tests our obedience. Only with a difference. The first man, knowing only good, wanted to know what evil was. We, having in ourselves the knowledge of good and evil, are put upon trial, whether we will adhere persistently to that which is good — good personalised in Christ.
II. WHAT DOES THIS CONDITION MEAN?
1. There is suggested the explanation of incompleteness. Our nature, say some, is moving on gradually towards perfection. Give it time and it will come out according to the highest idea that the best and most intelligent man has of it. Unhappily, except under certain conditions, and in a certain environment, man as he grows older does not grow better. And this idea does not account for our sense of guilt. It leaves out too much. There are too many facts which lie outside of it. It only covers a part of the ground.
2. It needs along with it the idea of depravation. The sense of not being right, of being wrong, is in us all. And it is an internal trouble which men would get away from if they could. But no man can get away from himself. No external condition can eradicate it. Men try all sorts of devices to rid themselves of it. Sometimes they change their opinions, but that does not alter the inward condition. The bad consciousness is there all the time, and there is no other word but sinfulness which will express its nature. For it is certain that there are in man not only defects which mean weakness, but also a parent defect which means guilt.
III. THIS DEGENERATION IS TOTAL. It affects the whole nature. Our nature is so connected, part with part, that degeneration in one region means degeneration in every region. If a man be unjust in his feelings he will be unjust in his thinking and action. It is the merest rubbish to talk of a man being good at heart and bad everywhere else. Whatever affects the centre of our nature affects also every part of it to the outermost extremities. If there be impure blood in the heart there will be impure blood in every vein. And there is no kindness in any teaching which leads men to assume that sinfulness is only an eruption on the skin and not a disease of the heart. Only "fools make a mock at sin."
IV. THE VIEW WE TAKE OF THIS FACT OF SINFULNESS WILL INFLUENCE OUR ESTIMATE OF EVERY OTHER VITAL TRUTH. If sinfulness be only ignorance we need only a Teacher; if only disease, a Physician; if only error, an Example. But if it be something more, we need in Him who is to deliver us from it a power other than that possessed by the Teacher, etc. Sinfulness means ignorance, error, disease; but it means a great deal more. In many a case it means that state of heart in which the idea of God is more hateful than the idea of the devil. I have known fallen men and women who never ceased praying "God be merciful to me a sinner," and I cannot forget Christ's words — "The publicans and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you." There are sins of the flesh which destroy reputation, which bring misery, social degradation, and much else. There are sins of the spirit which bring none of these, and yet which put men and women at even a farther distance from God. Of what condition of heart is he who is amiable and placid until someone speaks to him such a truth as "God is Love," "God is Light," "God so loved the world"? etc. To err is human, but to contemn and reject the claims of Deity, that is not human, but fiendish. No one has ever taken a true measure of what sinfulness is until he has considered it in this, its most terrible form. I want you to feel "the exceeding sinfulness of sin," for only then will you be able to appreciate the exceeding goodness of God who "willeth not the death of a sinner, but that all should come to repentance." "Where sin abounded grace did superabound." No man who looks away from his sin to his Saviour need despair, but then he must look to Him as Saviour. If a man can grow out of this condition of sinfulness by natural development; if every old man be nearer to the ideal of manhood than when he was young, then a Teacher, etc., is needed; but if man is helpless to deliver himself from sinfulness, then he who is to meet the necessities of the case must be human to understand him, but more than human to deliver him from an enemy stronger than man himself.
(Reuben Thomas, D. D.)
I. GOD MEASURES SIN BY THE DEGREE IN WHICH THE ACT, OR THE WORD, OR THE THOUGHT, INJURES OR GRIEVES HIM. This must be so. The only true rule for the estimate of any sin must be taken from the mind of Him whose mind is law, and whom to offend against constitutes sinfulness. Do not say, "Are not we forbidden to seek our own glory? How, then, can God seek His own glory?" For the reason why no creature is to seek his own glory is because all glory belongs to the Creator. What does it mean to "come short of the glory of God"? It may mean to come short of heaven, or to be unworthy of any praise from God, or to come short of that which is indeed God's glory — His perfect image and likeness; to fail to reach, in its purity, the only motive which God approves — a desire for His own glory. It appears to me that though all the other senses are included in the words, yet that their great primary intention is the last.
II. This brings me to THE MOTIVE OF HUMAN ACTION.
1. You who can read only what speaks to the outward senses, think most of words and actions. And, as naturally, God will look at the sources more than at the streams of every man's moral being. So it will be at the last great account. All the deeds and sayings of a man will then stand forth to give evidence to a certain inward state of the man, according to which everyone will receive his sentence.
2. And yet even we judge of things by their motives. Why do we value the most trivial gift, the act of a moment, a smile, a glance of the eye, more than all the treasures of substance?
3. Note some of the legitimate motives which may actuate us.(1) It is legitimate to wish to be happy. Therefore God stirs us up by promises, and lifts us up by beatitudes. It would be contrary to common sense to say that we may not do anything for the sake of going to heaven.(2) It is a step above that — to do or bear with the desire that we may become holier.(3) But higher, because less selfish, ranges the motive of a true ambition to make others happy.(4) And still higher the lofty, Christ-like focus, concentrating the whole will upon this — "Father, in me glorify Thyself."
4. To all these principles of action, except the last, there attaches a shadow. The wish to be happy, even where the things we desire are spiritual, may degenerate into religious selfishness. The longing to be holy will often turn into morbid self-examination and a restless disquietude. The ambition to be useful easily becomes vitiated with — I will not say the love of human applause — but a desire to be liked. But the motive to do anything for God's glory has no shadow, and is that which makes all the other motives right. It is right to endeavour to be happy, mainly because our happiness gives glory to God as the result of the finished work of Christ. It is right to study to be holy, because where God sees holiness He sees His own reflection, and He is satisfied. It is right to set ourselves to be useful, because it extends the kingdom of God. Here, then, lies the wrongness of everything that is done on any inferior principle — it "comes short of the glory of God."
(J. Vaughan, M. A.)
I. THE MARK, THE CENTRE, THE BULL'S EYE, THAT MAN IS TO MAKE HIS AIM THROUGH LIFE, IS "THE GLORY OF GOD."
1. And what is that? The outshining of God's attributes; Christ is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person. We can, at best, be but broken images, interrupted rays of His light. But still that is what we are to aim at — becoming ourselves, and reflecting to the world around us some images of the holiness, goodness, and love of God.
2. In this shooting we are a spectacle to men. See us they will, and judge from us the character and the worth of the religion we profess. The various professions or trades we may follow are but the courses which our bullets take amidst the various influences to the right or to the left, to be allowed for by the shooter. Our bullets must pass through them without erring, and in all alike the aim is to be one — to manifest the character of the God we serve. Those occupations are not in themselves the true centre to be aimed at — they are but the means of reaching the glory of God.
II. MISSING THIS MARK IS SIN. St. Paul lays it to the charge of all alike.
1. The standard is a high one — to aim directly and always at God's glory. But, then, man occupies a high position, made above all creation, blessed with faculties above all creatures for being the glory of God; placed with opportunities of being so now, and the promise of being more so hereafter.
2. Shall we complain that we are so high in the creation, or complacently stoop down from it and forfeit the crown held out for us to take, like Bunyan's man with the muck rake? Was not he missing the mark of life? He took up, as many do, a handful of dirt — he lost the crown of gold. We speak of men having made a good hit when they have succeeded in a telling speech, or a successful speculation, or a fortunate match, but what have they hit if they have not sought to honour God? Certainly not the glory of God, nor have they advanced the true purposes of life.
3. Now a rifle is made to shoot straight; if it will not do so, however perfect the polish of its barrel, or the finish of its lock or stock, it is useless, and you throw it on one side or break it up. The more complete it seems the more vexed you are with it for its utter failure in the one work for which you had it made. God has made us for the one object of glorifying Him, and if we fail in that, then whatsoever else we have which decorates us — intellect, politeness, science, art, position, wealth — all tend not to diminish but to increase our condemnation.
4. What our condemnation may be I do not pretend to fathom; but if the words mean no more than that having been made for the highest purpose, and then having utterly failed, we are henceforth cast on one side as useless, our powers broken up, and our opportunities taken from us, they will mean enough to stir us to redeem the time. We should not like to meet the exposure of such a shame. Pindar describes the return of a combatant from the great National Games. He speaks of him as hiding himself along the byways, not venturing to enter by the gates into his city, or to be seen in any public place. Why? Because he had missed the mark. He went out in the name of his city, equipped by his fellow citizens, to win honour for their name, and to give them glory. But he has failed, and he dare not meet them. We have failed, and we must "all appear before the judgment seat, that everyone may receive the things done in his body."
III. TO WHAT DOES THIS LEAD US?
1. We must realise more and more our condition as sinners. Let any man solemnly ask himself, How much of God has the world seen in me? How much of His glory have I reflected?
2. We must go back to the same butts and shoot again for a truer aim. Go to your seat in Parliament, or your books, or your shop, and there aim afresh at rising to the glory of God, "forgetting those things which are behind," etc. True, it will not be so easy now that one's hand is unsteadied by neglecting to aim aright; true, it will not be so simple now that many Ere looking on and wondering what in the world you are changing for, to shoot straight under their critical eye; but such sense of sin, such turning from it to God in Christ again, such trusting hope that with His aid we may succeed, will bring with it His forgiveness for the past and His guidance for the future; and we may yet, with His encouragement, hit the mark and glorify Him.
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