S. Luke xix, 42.
"If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."
INTRODUCTION. -- I spoke to you the other day about the measure of sin, and showed you that there was a certain limit allotted to every man, beyond which he could not go and still expect forgiveness, a point in the downward course at which the Holy Spirit will cease to strive to hold him back. We see in this day's Gospel that there is also a Day of Grace, a period, that is, during which God is ready to give pardon and strength and guidance, and that if this Day of Grace be wasted, then those things belonging to our eternal peace which were offered are withdrawn, or hidden from the eyes. This is, in fact, the same thing as what I said about the measure of sin; after a time of sin and neglect, the opportunity for redeeming the past is lost beyond recall, and that time is measured out by the amount of the transgressions of the person or the people with whom God is dealing.
SUBJECT. -- I am not, however, going to speak to you again on this subject from another aspect, but of sin itself, and the consequences it brings. Those consequences we overlook. We believe that God for Christ's sake pardons sin and wipes away transgressions, but we forget altogether that He does not deliver us from the consequences of sin, or, at least, not from all of them.
I. Sin is the transgression of God's commandment. And it entails three consequences. 1. It separates from God. 2. It entails punishment. 3. It leaves a stain.
God has given His Commandments for the good of men. They are the maxims by which they must rule their conduct, in order that the world may go on in peace and orderliness, and that they may remain in communion with Him. Sin is the violation of this law, the break-up of order, the disturbance of peace, and the interruption of communion.
II. It separates from God. When mortal sin has been committed, the flow of divine grace is arrested, just as when something gets into a pipe it chokes it, so that the stream of water can no longer run till the stoppage is removed. Thus the presence of mortal sin in the conscience at once cuts off from the favour of God, and prevents growth in the spiritual life. The sinner is guilty in the sight of God, and if he die in unpardoned deadly sin, stands in great danger of being lost.
Now, here it is that Christ intervenes. He reconciles the sinner to the Father, and He takes away the barrier which separates them. He removes the stoppage which interferes with the flow of Grace. In one word, He removes the guilt. That is the work of the Atonement. For this Christ died. But for the Cross of Calvary, man, once alienated from God by sin, must remain in alienation. "Christ," says S. Paul, "having made peace through the blood of the Cross, hath reconciled all things unto Himself. And you, that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in God's sight."
It entails suffering. God's law is that all sin must be punished -- that is, where there is transgression, suffering must follow. When a man squanders his fortune by extravagance, he may bitterly repent, but he continues to suffer for his folly. When a man has got drunk, he may be full of sorrow for what he has done, but he has a headache next day all the same. When a woman has lost her character, she may weep tears of bitter repentance, and God may pardon her as He pardoned Magdalen, but she can never recover her character, and must suffer the consequences of her act. In this world or in the next, all sin must be expiated by suffering. Christ by His death removed the guilt of sin, but not the suffering for sin. S. Peter bids us remember that suffering remains a consequence, for he exhorts us, "Forasmuch as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin." That is, the sin is wholly expiated only when the suffering it brings after it has been undergone.
It leaves a stain or scar. No man is the same after sinning as he was before. The sin may be forgiven and suffered for, but the scar remains on his soul. The soul as it leaves the hand of God is white and innocent, in its passage through life it meets with many self-inflicted wounds, these wounds of the soul are sin. Thus it suffers till the wound is healed, and the medicine of the soul is the blood of Christ. The blood heals, but the scar remains. The soul, as seen by God and angels, is marked all over with the traces of the sins which have torn it. The baptized child is given a robe of innocence white as snow. Every sin is a stain upon it, and if you could see now, as angels see, your baptismal garment, you would find it spotted and smeared all over. Suppose I were to take this surplice and splash it over with ink, I might with much labour take out the ink stains, but never so entirely cleanse it that no trace remains. Or I might walk in it through the bushes, and get it torn with the thorns and brambles. Then all the rents might be carefully darned up, but -- the surplice would never look as sound and beautiful as when new.
This is precisely like the state of the soul after sin, it is torn and stained, and although the sins may be forgiven, and the stains washed, and the rents healed, yet to the end of life the marks remain of where they have been, the effects are uneffaced.
III. Now what are some of these effects? In the first place, every sin weakens the soul. It takes from it not only its innocence, but its power of resistance. Just as a wound weakens you by the loss of blood, so a sin weakens you by loss of resisting power. You are not so strong to fight against evil after sinning as you were before.
In the second place, you have become more careless and even hardened about sin than you were before. When you have a new coat or gown, you are very careful of it that it be not spotted and torn, but once it loses its first newness, you are not so particular, and the more spotted and torn it becomes, the less you care for the injuries done it, you say, "It is an old dress and very much used, another stain or patch does not matter." So with the soul, when you have become accustomed to sinning, you no longer dread sin.
CONCLUSION. -- And now remember, in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace, and dread sin for its consequences, lest by over much confidence you may exceed your measure, and then the chance of recovery will be gone from you for ever.