"The servants of sin."
There is no existence in the world so sad as that of a slave; and there is no slavery so hard as that of sin, no taskmaster so bitter as the devil. There was a tyrant in the old times who ordered one of his subjects to make an iron chain of a certain length, in a given time. The man brought the work, and the tyrant bade him make it longer still. And he continued to add link to link, till at length the cruel taskmaster ordered his servants to bind the worker with his own chain, and cast him into the fire. That hardest of tyrants, the devil, treats his slaves in like manner. At first the chain of sin is light, and could easily be cast off. But day by day Satan bids his victims add another link. The servant of sin grows more hardened, more daring, more reckless in his evil way. He adds sin to sin, link to link, and then the end comes, and the tyrant binds him hand and foot with his own chain, and casts him into outer darkness, where there is weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Very often the slaves of sin do not know that they are slaves. They talk about their freedom from restraint, they tell us they are their own masters, they would have us believe that the godly, who try to keep the commandments, and walk in the narrow way, are slaves, but they are free! Oh! fools, and slow of heart! As well might a prisoner cover his irons with a cloak, and try to pass as a free man. We can hear the clank of the chains. So is it with the slave of sin. Once I visited a madhouse, and talked with some of the poor patients. Some had one delusion, some another. One thought he was a king, another fancied himself the heir to a fortune. But one thing they all believed, that they were in their right minds.
My brothers, the slaves of sin are like these poor mad folk, they do not understand that what they call freedom is slavery, that what they style pleasure is misery, that instead of being the clever, reckless, free people they think themselves, they are only mad people possessed of the devil. First, then, we have seen that the servants of sin do not know that they are slaves. The tyrant, Satan, blinds their eyes before he binds them in the fetters of his prison house, even as the Philistines blinded the strong man of old. Next, the servants of sin bear about the marks of their master I have seen gangs of convicts working on Dartmoor. You could not mistake them for anything else if they were dressed in the best of clothing. The word convict is stamped upon every grey face, as plainly as the Government mark is stamped upon their clothing. The servants of sin have their marks also. Look at the shifty eyes, and downward glance of the knave and the false man; mark the flushed brow and cruel eyes of the angry man; see the weak lips and trembling hand of the drunkard; they bear the marks of their slavery very plainly. So, too, the sensualist who lives for his body, the impure man, the slave of lust, the criminal, haunted by a guilty secret, the selfish worldling, who cares only for this life; these all bear the traces of their sin upon them, these show whose they are, and whom they serve. Again, the servants of sin have their so-called enjoyments, these are the baits with which the tyrant gets them into his power. For a time the way of transgressors is made easy and pleasant. The broad road is shaded, and edged with fair fruits and flowers. The down-hill path is strewn with glittering jewels, the booths of vanity fair are fitted with all manner of delights, and the poor slave goes on, scarce feeling his chains, or knowing of his slavery, till the day of reckoning comes. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." A saint of old once saw a man leading a herd of swine, which followed him willingly. The saint asked whither he was taking them, and he answered, to the slaughter. When the saint marvelled that the swine should go so readily to their death, the man showed him that they followed him for the sake of the sweet food in his hand, and knew not whither they were going. My brothers, the servants of sin follow Satan for the sake of the sweet things which he offers, and know not that they are going to their death, even the living death of a lost soul. Some of you remember the old German legend of doctor Faustus. It is a terrible parable of the fate of all those who become the slave of sin. Faustus is represented as a man of great learning, who used his knowledge for evil instead of good. Being filled with pride, he refused to bow down to God, and made a bargain with Satan that he was to have his own way, and every wish gratified for a certain term of years, and then he was to pay the price -- his own soul. During those years he had all the health and strength of youth, he enjoyed all the pleasures of the body, the world, the flesh, and the devil were his servants. But one thing he lacked, he had not God, and so he had no hope. There were times when he thought of the horrible bargain which he had made. He desired to see Paradise and Hell, and he was shown a glimpse of both. His servants found him in deep sorrow, and asked him what he had seen, and what the sorrows of Hell were like. But he answered that he remembered not, one thing only he recalled, the peace and beauty of that Paradise which he had forfeited for ever. This is the story of every slave of sin.
My brothers, there are many who have bargained with Satan, offering the price of their own souls. When the Tempter came to the Saviour in the wilderness, he offered Him the glory and splendour of the world if Jesus would fall down and worship him. It is the same with us. Satan offers us this world instead of the world to come. He offers us our own way, so dear to all of us. He offers us the pleasures of the body, "let us eat and drink." He offers us self-indulgence in all the lusts of the flesh. He offers us all the flash and glitter of the world, but he does not let us see the foulness and rottenness which they cover. To the man of science he comes, as to Faustus in the legend, and tries to induce him to set up his knowledge against the All-wise, and to drive God out of His own fair universe. He does not show him how sad life must be without the knowledge of God: how miserable death must be without a Saviour. He comes to the man of business, and shows him visions of vast wealth. He whispers, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." And that implies false dealing, sharp practice, trickery, knavery. It implies loss of self-respect, loss of honour, the reproaches of an ever-accusing conscience. The tempter comes to the young man or woman, and shows them all the delights of a life of pleasure. They see the sparkle of the wine cup, the glitter of the ball room, the pomp and vanities of this wicked world. But they do not see the other side of the picture. They do not see the grey, cold morning of sorrow which follows the night of dissipation and sin. The young woman looks on the tempting dress, the flash of jewels, the gay company. She does not see the price she must pay. She cannot see herself disgraced and ruined, and cast aside like a broken toy. She can hear the music of the revel, but not the reproaches of a broken-hearted dying mother. The young man sees only the bright side of the picture, Satan keeps the dark side hidden. He fancies himself his own master, free from the restraints of home and parents, walking in his own way, in the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Ah! brother, the way seems very charming now -- it will be hard enough one day. The cup of pleasure seems very sweet now, the dregs thereof will be bitter enough one day: as for the ungodly, they shall drink them and suck them up. The food which the world offers seems as honey and the honeycomb now: the day is coming when it will be as ashes. You will come one day to the husks -- the sick room, the dying bed, -- and you will know that you gained this world and lost the world to come: like the rich man, you will in this life have had your good things, but you will have paid the price. And those old words will have a terrible meaning for you then, "What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Yes, the servants of sin must fulfil their contract and receive their wages, and the wages of sin is death. Ah! brethren, be serious; are these things nothing to you? Are there none of you who know that you are the slaves of some besetting sin? Look into your lives, see whose marks are upon you, whose servants you are. Are you still tied and bound with the chain of your sins? If so, turn you to Him who can alone set you free; to Him who drove the strong man armed from his palace; to Him who conquered Satan in the wilderness, in the garden, on the cross; to Him who can make the weakest strong, the most sorely tempted able to triumph; Who can wash the foulest life till it shall be whiter than snow. Brothers, dare we turn away and carry our chain of slavery longer? No, let us make a struggle to be free, and let our prayer be, "O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive, receive our humble petitions; and though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of Thy great mercy loose us, for the honour of Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate."