« PreviousContinue »
In proof, then, of the general proposition, That there can be no greater folly than to choose sin rather than af. fliction, let it be observed,
I. That sin separates us from God, the only source of real felicity. That man is not sufficient to his own happiness, is a truth confirmed by the experience of all who bave candidly attended to their own feelings. It is the consciousness of this insufficiency of the human mind for its own happiness, which makes men seek resources from abroad; which makes them fly to pleasures and amusements of various kinds, whose chief value consists in filling up the blanks of time, and diverting their uneasy reflections from their own internal poverty. But these are vain and deceitful refuges of lies. The want remains; and we have found out only the means of put. ting away the sense of it for a time. God alone can be the source of real happiness to an immortal soul, an adequate supply to all its faculties, an inexhaustible subject to its understanding, an everlasting object to its affections.
Sin bereaves the soul of man of this its only portion. “Behold," saith the Prophet, “God's hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is his ear heavy that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you,
that he will not bear.” Affliction, on the other hand, instead of separating the soul from God, is often the means of bringing it nearer to him. Let a man be ever so poor, diseased, reproached, persecuted, still if he hold fast his integrity, if he be a real saint, be is near and dear to God. The eyes of the Lord are upon him, and his ears are open to his cry. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about him, and a guard of angels wait to carry his departing spirit into Abrabam’s bosom,
Whereas sin renders us loathsome in the eyes of God. He is angry with the wicked every day; and even their prayers and sacrifices are an abomination to him. He hath bent his bow, and made it ready; he hath also prepared for him the instruments of death. God looks on them with abhorrence, and, when conscience is awake, they think of him with horror, and dare not come into his presence, knowing that he is a consuming fire to the workers of iniquity.
II. AFFLICTION may not only consist with the love of a father, but may even be the fruit of it. “ Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. By this,” saith the prophet Isaiah, speaking of affliction, “ shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit to take away sin." David could say, “ It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I have kept thy word." A good man may even glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him. But sin is always both evil in its own nature and pernicious in its effects. This contrast is very strikingly displayed by the apostle Paul. Of the one he speaks as a privilege, and a token for good to those who are exercised thereby. “Unto you," saith he, (writing to the Philippians, i. 29.) “it is given in the behalf of Cbrist, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." But what doth be say concerning the other, (Rom. vii. 24.) “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" If any had ever reason to complain of the burden of affliction, Paul had more-"in labours more
abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more fre. quent, in deaths oft.” But in the midst of these sufferings, we never hear him crying out, Who shall deliver me from this unremitting distress? His inward corruption gave him greater pain than the evils of his outward condition; and his captivity to the law of sin was worse to him thap prisons, and tortures, and death.
III. Sin is evil wbether we feel it or not, and worst when we are most insensible of it. To be past feeling, in this respect, is the greatest curse we can possibly bring on ourselves; and the most desperate condition in which a human creature can be placed before his erer. lasting doom be pronounced, is when God saith of him, as he did of Ephraim of old, “He is joined to his idols, let him alone."
Affliction, on the other hand, though a bitter, is yet a salutary medicine; and though no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby. Affliction is the discipline by which we are trained to glory, and honour, and virtue. If this world, indeed, were our only portion, there would be some reason, or at least some excuse, for choosing the pleasures of iniquity, rather than those sufferings wbich would embitter the sbort period of our existence in it. But the greatest error we can possibly fall into, is that of taking it for the place of our rest. To cure this fatal mistake, God visits us with afflictions. They are his messengers sent to teach us our true condition, what this world is, a fleeting scene of vanity and illusions; and wbat we ourselves are in it, pilgrims and strangers, hastening to another land of perpetual abode.
IV. In affliction we are commonly passive, but al. ways active in sin. The one is left to our choice; the
other is not. When we suffer in the cause of virtue, we are in the hand of our most faithful and everlasting friend; but when we sin in order to avoid suffering, we commit ourselves into the hands of that malicious, cunping, and eternal enemy, who goeth about seeking whom he may destroy. Affliction only hurts the body, but sin affects the health and well-being of that immortal principle, which is destined to survive the ruins of this earthly taberuacle, and to inherit happiuess or misery for ever. Which leads me to observe, in the last place,
That the evil of affliction is but of short duration, but that of sin perpetual. Weepivg may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning; and these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Sbould they continue throughout our whole lives, yet even that is but a moment compared with eternity. The evil of sin, on the contrary, goes beyond the grave, and lasts as long as the soul itself, which it has polluted. The delight of it is soon gone, but the sting remains; the guilt and punishment of it pass with us into the other world, and there constitute the worm that never dieth, and the fire which is not quenched.
These observations may sufice to illustrate the general proposition, that there can be no greater folly than to seek to escape from affliction, by complying with the temptations to sin; or, in other words, that the smallest act of deliberate transgression is infinitely worse than the greatest calamity we can suffer in this life.
What hath been said, ought, in the 1st place, to serve for reproof to those who, so far from considering iniquity as more to be dreaded as a greater eyil than affliction, will not refrain from their ungodly and vicious practices cven when their sin proves their affliction. To many,
alas! it seems to be as tbeir meat and drink to obey the commands of sin, by fulfilling the lusts thereof. In vain hath the word of God and providence admonished them, that nought but bitterness is to be found in the path of folly. They still pursue that path, in defiance of their own experience, and weary themselves with committing iniquity. They-break through all restraints, bot only when an angel stands in the way, but where ruin, mise. ry, and destruction, stare them broad in the face. How many are to be seen bound with the cords of their own sins, from which they have neither the iuclination nor power to free themselves? How many wasted and maimed by criminal indulgence? How many brought to poverty and rags, by riot and intemperance? “ Who hath wo? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? they that tarry long at the wine, they that go to seek mixed wine.” Sin bas had its martyrs as well as godli. ness, who, in premature old age, have been made to possess the transgressions of their youth, in all the bitter fruits of a body tortured with diseases, and a spirit wounded with remorse.
Let us then be warned, ere it be too late, against the fatal error referred to in the text; the preference of the momentary pleasures of sin, to the salutary discipline of affliction. Let us never allow ourselves to imagine, that any present pleasure or advantage of sin will compensate the dreadful evils which it carries in its train; but uniformly oppose, to every such suggestion of a deceived mind, that important and solemn question which our Lord addressed to the multitude, “ What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”