Why I will yet plead with you, said the LORD, and with your children's children will I plead.…
There is something unaccountable and unnatural about sin, which, if we were not the victims of its power every day, would startle and make us horribly afraid. If we merely heard of it as existing in some other of God's worlds, we should doubt whether the report could be true. We should demand more than the usual amount of testimony before believing so unnatural a story, and when it was proved, should not cease to wonder, and to ask what cause beyond our experience had brought to pass a thing so marvellous.
I. IT PREVENTS MEN FROM PURSUING WHAT THEY OWN TO BE THE HIGHEST GOOD. There is a passage of Ovid where a person in a conflict between reason and desire is made to say, "Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor"; and in a like strain we hear Paul, or rather the man made aware of the bondage of sin saying through him, "That which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not, but what I hate, that I do." So true to human nature such words are, that no one ever thought of them as being misrepresentations of the real state of man. Everywhere we see examples of this sacrifice of a higher good to a lower, of acknowledged greater happiness to less, of the improvement of the mind to the enjoyments of the body, of future hopes to present pleasure, of an object of desire felt to be praiseworthy and exalted to one which is base and low and sure to be followed by remorse. We find this cleaving to the best of men and to the wisest: the influences of the Gospel may weaken but never remove this tendency. It belongs to mankind. Is there not, now, something very strange in this fatal proclivity toward the low, in this constant, wide-spread, unalterable folly of choosing wrong within the moral sphere of action. Suppose we found the same obliquity of judgment and choice elsewhere — that, for instance, a scholar, aware what was the right meaning of a passage according to the laws of thought and language, deliberately chose a wrong meaning; or a merchant, acquainted with the laws of trade, undertook an adventure with his eyes open, from which only ruin was to be expected; or a general, patriotic and discerning, adopted a plan of battle which all his experience had condemned as sure to end in his defeat: should we not regard such a person as a kind of moral prodigy, as fit to be put away in a museum of morbid psychology among the deranged men who have believed themselves to he two persons, or that their souls had gone from their bodies?
II. IT IS NOT DEPENDENT ON A WEAK CAPACITY, BUT THE VERY HIGHEST INTELLECTS ARE OFTEN EMPLOYED IN ITS SERVICE. It is indeed true, that sagacity and folly will differ in their ways of sinning and of escaping detection. An absurd, or ill-contrived, crime will be committed by a boy or a half-witted person, and not by a man of shrewdness. Whence it may happen that the criminals in a penitentiary may be, in the average, below the ordinary range of intellect. In other words, the vigour of mind will show itself, either by abstaining from certain crimes, or by committing them in such a way that they will not be brought to light. But we do not find that the highest abilities keep men from sinning, from a life of pleasure, from deadly selfishness, from feelings which carry with them their own sting. Great minds lie like wrecks all along the course of life; either they disbelieve against evidence, or give themselves up to monstrous pleasures, or destroy the welfare of society by their self-will, or gnaw upon themselves with a deadly hatred of others.
III. ITS EXISTENCE INVOLVES THE CONTRADICTION OF THE FREEDOM AND THE SLAVERY OF THE WILL. This is but another aspect of the truth which we have already considered — that the soul steadily chooses in some strange way an inferior good before a superior; but it is too important a view of our nature not to be noticed by itself. Mankind, in choosing the evil, have been an enigma to themselves and to the philosophers who have studied human nature. We see our nature exercise its freedom in various ways, — choosing now a higher good in preference to a lower, and now a lower before a higher, — doing this over and over within the sphere of earthly things, yet when it looks the supreme good full in the face unable to choose Him, unable to love Him, until, in some great crisis which we call conversion, and which is as marvellous as sin is, we find the soul acting with recovered power, acting out itself, and soaring in love to the fountain and life of its being. It is as if a balance should tell every small weight with minutest accuracy, and when a large weight was put on, should refuse to move at all. It is as if the planets should feel each other's attraction hut be insensible to the force of the central sun. Is not sin then as unaccountable as it is deep seated and spreading in our nature?
IV. IT HAS A POWER OF RESISTING ALL KNOWN MOTIVES TO A BETTER LIFE. This, again, is only another form of the remark, that we are kept by sin from pursuing our highest good; but under this last head we view man as opposing God's plan for his salvation, while the other is more general. Here we see how causeless and unreasonable are the movements of sin, even when its bitterness has been experienced, and the way of recovery been made known. The way in which the Gospel comes to us is the most inviting possible — through a person who lived a life like ours on earth, and came into tender sympathy with us; through a concrete exhibition of everything true and good, not through doctrine and abstract statement. It has been the religion of our fathers, and of the holy in all time. It is venerable in our eyes. It is God's voice to us. Where else can so many motives, such power of persuasion be found; and yet where else, in what other sphere where motives operate, is there so little success? Even Christians who have given themselves to the Gospel confess that all these weighty considerations often fail to move them; that they stand still or turn backwards a great part of their lives rather than make progress. So marvellous is the power of sin to deaden the force of motives to virtue, even in the minds of the best persons the world contains.
V. IT CAN BLIND THE MIND TO TRUTH AND EVIDENCE. Of this we see numberless examples in daily life. We see men who have been accustomed to judge of evidence within the same sphere in which religion moves, that of moral and historical proof, rejecting the Gospel and afterwards acknowledging that they were wilfully prejudiced, that their objections ought to have had no weight with a candid mind. We see prejudice against the Gospel lurking under some plausible but false plea, which the man has never taken the pains to examine, although immense personal interests are involved. We see men rejecting the Gospel unthinkingly, repeating some stale argument scarcely worth refutation, as if a great matter like the welfare of the soul might be trifled with, and made light of. It is strange, too, how quick the change is, when for some reason the moral or religious sensibilities are awakened after long slumber, how quick, I say, the change is from scepticism, or denial of the Gospel, or even hostility, to a state of belief. Multitudes of intelligent men have passed through such a conversion, and have felt ever afterwards that truth and evidence were sufficient, but that their souls were in a dishonest state. Now, how is this? Is this a new prejudice which has seized upon them, at their conversion, and has their candid scepticism given way to dishonest faith; or did sin, — that which in a thousand ways, through hope and fear, through indolence, through malignity, through love of pleasure, blinds and stupefies, did sin destroy their power of being candid before?
VI. THE INCONSISTENCY OF SIN IS MARVELLOUS IN THIS RESPECT THAT WE ALLOW AND EXCUSE IN OURSELVES WHAT WE CONDEMN IN OTHERS. Men seem sometimes to have no moral sense, so open are their violations of morality, and so false their justifications of their conduct. And yet, when they come to pass censure upon others, they show such a quickness to discern little faults, such an acquaintance with the rule of duty, such an unwillingness to make allowances, that you would think a new faculty had been imparted to their minds. These severe critics of others are all the while laying up decisions and precedents against themselves, yet when their cases come on, the judges reverse their own judgments. They condemn men unsparingly for sins to which they are not tempted, although the radical principle in their own and in others sins is confessedly the same. Marvellous inconsistency! Strange that the same mind balances between two standards of conduct so long. Why does not the man, whose own rules condemn himself, begin to sentence himself, or to excuse and pardon others? Is not this an unnatural state of mind; impossible, save on the supposition that it is effected by some strange perversion of its judgments?
(T. D. Woolsey.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the LORD, and with your children's children will I plead.
WEB: "Therefore I will yet contend with you," says Yahweh, "and I will contend with your children's children.