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THE EVIL OF SIN.
BY REV. H. KNOTT.
PROVERBS viii. 36 :
“He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul.”
Sin is no foreign malady, no distant evil. There are many views taken of it which are correct so far as they go, but which are, from their partial character, apt to dim our vision as to the complete state of the case. Sometimes sin is described as a violation of the law of God, and nothing can be more true in itself than this solemn declaration. It is necessary, however, that we should understand that men can inflict no injury upon Deity, and that the law is not established for itself, but for the benefit of those who are governed by its requirements. Popular language speaks of pleasing and offending God, nor can such phraseology be dismissed from religion without depriving it of its warmth and adaptation to the popular mind. Still all who are capable of a more severe mode of thought should remember that God is a Being without variableness or the shadow of turning. But the effects of our volitions are the same, according to their character, as though God were offended or pleased, although in reality nothing can affect his blessedness or disturb his repose. We can, strictly speaking, neither add to nor take from the Divine bliss. Yet, in pity to our weakness, when the intellectual faculty is feeble and undeveloped, the personality of Deity occupies a very prominent place in sacred song and record. He smiles and frowns, His
anger grows and subsides, His pity relents, and His love abounds yet more and more. A severe logic cannot reconcile such statements with an unchangeable Being, and it is also difficult for humanity to conceive of a Being who sits outside all human sympathies and cannot be affected by the weal or woe which penetrates so deeply into human hearts, and adds so much to the brightness or the bitterness of human lives. Yet far beyond the margin of humanity we must look for Deity, and expect to find much which no human sympathy can explain, no human intellect understand. Humanity is often thrown back upon itself, and must seek self-knowledge as the only practical attainment. Hence in all religions which lay hold of the popular mind and heart, we find the practical element existing with the imaginative; and indeed, rightly viewed, they are no rival elements, but each has a mission and a work which fits with the other. The older Scriptures abound with both forms of spiritual life, and alternately lift man into the highest sphere of thought and feeling, and bring upon him the lowliest duties which spring from and fill the passing hour. Even the dark and sombre fact of sin has both aspects. Its dark outlines stretch into another world, and seem to lose themselves in the grander relations which limit human freedom, and, still connecting the soul with the Parent Spirit, give it so much of its greatness and solemn importance. We cannot help thinking that sin strays far beyond mere human boundaries, and casts its deadly shade even upon the Divine throne itself. It seems to be one of those solemn facts which must affect even Divine deliberation, and colour even supernatural councils. Has sin a freedom which holiness does not claim ? Can the vicious pursue their course without the Divine eye flashing upon them with indignation, or the Divine voice smiting the ear of the sinner and causing him to pause and tremble in his guilty career? The philosophies of the few and the refined have never yet been able to set the many
free from the popular idea of a sympathizing personal Deity. The atonements and sacrifices of all faiths clearly shew how sin
has entered into man's religious imagination, and how difficult it is for him to think of it as an evil that begins and ends with himself. This may be explained by the fact, that man in thinking of Deity cannot set himself free from the subjective influences of his nature, and according to the phase of his progress will be his conception of his God. Hence we frequently find very gross ideas relating to Deity, where He acts a resentful part, and takes a full and ample revenge for the injuries inflicted upon Him by His creatures.
We fear that traces of this idea may be found even in modifications of Christianity still received in our own day, where we find the imaginary element much more powerful than the intellectual. Such is unquestionably the case where sin is regarded as an injury inflicted upon God. Sin is undoubtedly a violation of God's law; but that law exists for the good of the governed, is no cold abstraction, and is, rightly understood, an interpretation of man's moral constitution. That constitution tells us that no wrong-doing can yield man any permanent happiness or satisfaction. We need not look beyond the nature of man to discover the evil of sin ; it is enough that it closes with deadly certainty upon the sinner himself, and wrongs his own soul.
This brings us at once to the tangible, practical view of the evil, where we get the stubborn certainty of fact. And when we look steadily at sin in its ascertainable results, we need not draw upon imagination, but shall find enough to make us thoughtfully anxious about an evil that dwells not in the clouds, but speaks by our words, designs by our thoughts, plots by our skill, rages by our passions, lives in our deeds, and grows into an influence by our character. Nor can any evil influence go forth without returning to the fountain from which it has issued. It is a great law that no man can injure another without at the same time wronging his own soul. When a man corrupts other minds, he poisons the atmosphere he must breathe, he corrupts the food by which his own mind must live, he kindles the flame which will ultimately wrap
around him with destructive force, he arouses a demon which will become henceforth his own tormentor. Such is the great law of our moral nature, and its wisdom is as evident as its certainty. Rightly viewed, it points to something greater than
Here we must discover the working and the arrangement of an unseen spiritual Force, who has built and designed this moral constitution, which is thus brought home to every individual mind. Sin wrongs a man's own soul, but then it is constituted to feel the wrong by a Power beyond itself and greater than itself. No soul can escape into a land of perfect freedom, where there are no checks and restraints, and where sinful inclination meets with no counteracting force, no penal results. Clearly we may see the proof of a just and holy God in the dark and sombre fact of sin, with its reacting energy, its indirect retributions proving in a thousand ways that the sinner must in every evil act wrong his own soul, and, like Samson, perish in the ruins which he creates.
Many are the aspects of this great moral truth, all illustrative of what God has designed and man must manifest in the unfolding of his nature. Can we doubt for a moment that all evil action mars the beauty of the soul ? Sin and deformity are sure at last to meet. This is brought before us even as a matter of sense. Look at this picture of intempe
“ Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions ? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause ? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the
cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” In this picture of one of the grossest of our vices, we have not only solid, tangible evils as the results of wrong-doing, but we have a revolting, disgusting aspect ;-an incoherent babbler, wounded without cause ; not the honourable wounds of the soldier, but the disgraceful injuries of the brawler engaged in contentions beneath the consideration of a man, with the organ of vision
robbed of its ethereal light and beauty, and falling at last not by an honourable foe, but by a crawling serpent, the emblem of everything deceitful and mean. It is true that we have here a very gross vice, that must from its nature be gross in its aspect. But every possible form of moral evil has a tendency to rob the soul of its beauty. Is there any melody in the tones of mere sentimental grief, any true pathos in the murmurs of discontent? Is there any grandeur in the discordant voice of anger, any awful beauty resembling the lightning's fierceness in the flashing eye of resentment? Is there any real beauty in selfishness, when it wraps itself in the robe of elegance, and reclines upon the couch of comfort, and surrounds itself with everything graceful in form and brilliant in colour, but has failed to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and provide for the forlorn and destitute ? Is there any beauty in pride, with its high looks, its scornful gait, its cold insensibility to kindness of heart, its base ingratitude for benefits received ? Is there anything attractive in covetousness, with its tenacious grasp of its own, its exactions, its small anxieties, its punctilios of settlement, its contracted sympathies, its narrow range of usefulness ? Is there any real fascination in irreligion, with its aimless, rambling life without great purpose, its conversation without great thoughts, its tendencies all downwards, its aspirations never straying beyond the mere conventionalisms of the day, and even its upward looks too much fixed upon the social idols of the present world to have any reverence ? In all these things we find not only real evils, but repulsive aspects, clearly proving that there is no true beauty apart from what is right and true. Nor is this a mere fact with no moral bearing, and admitting only of an æsthetic explanation. Not only in the hidden depths of things is there truth to reward the profound inquirer, but the very surface life which is quickened by the breath of God is equally · true. The granite mountains are as strong as they appear; and the crystal stream, when it lures the traveller by its murmur to drink of its waters, mixes no deadly poison with