For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;