"Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."Romans 5:20.
are two very powerful forces in the world, which have been here ever since the time when Eve partook of the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. Those two forces are sin and grace. A very great power is sin, a power dark, mysterious, baleful, but full of force. The sorrows of mankind, whence came they but from sin? We should have known no war, nor pestilence, nor famine, nor would aught of sickness or sorrow ever have smitten the human race had not sin sown its evil seed in this earth. Sin is the Pandora's box from which all evil has come to mankind. See what ravages death has made; its hillocks are everywhere. Its mighty scythe mows men down as the mower cuts down the grass of the field; but death came by sin and after death comes judgment, and, to the ungodly, the doom that never can be desired, the eternal wrath whose blackness the wildest tempest cannot imitate. Who digged this pit? It was the justice of God on account of sin, and sin must therefore be charged with the authorship of sorrow, disease, death, and hell. This is no mean power with which we have come into conflict; it is a veritable Goliath, stalking along and defyin the whole race of mankind.
The power that is to fight and overcome sin is ever described in the Word of God, as the natural goodness of human nature, Pshaw! That is but as wax before the fire, or as the fat of rams upon the altar; it is consumed in a moment in the fierce heat of sin. The force to combat sin is never described, in the truthful pages of God's Word, as the power of human endeavor to keep the law. Indeed, this has been tried, and it has utterly failed. The way to heaven is not up the steep sides of Sinai; that granitic mountain is too rugged and too high for unaided human feet to climb. Not there can be found the weapons with which a man may slay his sins, and fight his way to everlasting bliss.
The only counter force against sin is grace; so my text tells us, and we may learn the same truth from a hundred texts besides. And what is grace? Grace is the free favor of God, the undeserved bounty of the ever-gracious Creator against whom we have offended, the generous pardon, the infinite, spontaneous lovingkindness of the God who has been provoked and angered by our sin, but who, delighting in mercy, and grieving to smite the creatures whom he has made, is ever ready to pass by transgression, iniquity, and sin, and to save his people from all the evil consequences of their guilt. Here, my brethren and sisters in Christ, is a force that is fully equal to the requirements of the duel with sin; for this grace, of which I am going to speak, is divine grace, and hence it is omnipotent, immortal, and immutable. This favor of God never changes; and when once it purposes to bless anyone, bless him it will, and none can revoke the blessing. The gracious purpose of God's free favor to an undeserving man is more than a match for that man's sin, for it brings to bear, upon his sin, the blood of the incarnate Son of God, and the majestic and mysterious fire of the eternal Spirit, who burns up evil and utterly consumes it. With God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost united against sin, the everlasting purposes of grace are bound to be accomplished, sin must be overcome and my text proved to be true, "Where sin abounded, grace did more abound."
I. To illustrate the great principle of my text, I ask you to notice, first, that the context refers us to THE ENTRANCE OF THE LAW. "The law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
Instead of giving any historical statement concerning the introduction of the law in the days of Moses, I am going to speak about the experimental matter of the introduction of the law of God into our hearts. Those of you who have been converted remember the time when the law of the Lord first entered your heart. The law engraved on the two tables of stone, the law recorded in the Bible, does but very little for us; but when the law really enters our heart, is does much for us. What does it do?
The first thing the law does to most men is to develop the sin that is in them. Paul writes, "I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." But, as soon as he found that there was a law against a certain sin, by some unhallowed instinct of his unrenewed nature, he wanted to do the very thing that he was forbidden to do. It was like that with us, the first effect of the entrance of the law of God into our hearts was to develop the sin that was already within us. "That is a dreadful thing," says one Yes, it is; but look at the matter from another aspect. Here is a man who has within him a dire disease which will be fatal if it is allowed to remain, so the physician gives him some medicine which throws the disease out. The man used to have a beautiful complexion, but after he has taken that medicine, his face is covered with blotches. Is that a bad thing? Yes, the blotches are bad, but the hidden disease was worse. While that disease was concealed within his system, and was killing him, he probably did not even know that is was there. He knew that he was not well, and perhaps thought that he was dying as the result of some other complaint; but now he sees what the disease is, and everybody sees it, and now that which looked like an evil thing may turn out to be for real good to the man. So does it often happen mentally, morally, and spiritually. A man's wicked heart is full of enmity against God, yet he thinksand perhaps he is right in thinkingthat he is outwardly a strictly moral man; but, lo! the law of God, with its requirements of perfect purity and Absolute obedience, enters his heart, and he rebels against it, and now the sin is apparent, even to himself. It is likely now that this man will repent of sin, it is highly probable that this development of his latent sin will lead him to form a different opinion of himself from any that he ever had before; and therefore, though the sin is evil, and the development of it is evil, yet, where sin abounded, grace shall much more abound, and so good shall come out of the evil after all.
When the law enters a man's heart, it also brings his sin out in very strong relief. He never saw his sin to be so black as he now sees it to be. A stick is crooked, but you do not notice how crooked it is until you place a straight rule by the side of it. You have a handkerchief, and it seems to be quite white; you could hardly wish it to be whiter; but you lay it down on the newly-fallen snow, and you wonder how you could ever have thought it to be white at all. So the pure and holy law of God, when our eyes are opened to see its purity, shows up our sin in its true blackness, and in that way it makes sin to abound; but this is for our good, for that sight of our sin awakens us to a sense of our true condition, leads us to repentance, drives us by faith to the precious blood of Jesus, and no longer permits us to rest in our self-righteousness; and so it can be said of us that, though the entrance of the law has made our sin to abound, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
The entrance of the law of God into the heart very generally causes great anguish. Well do I remember that experience, and so do some of you. When the law entered our hearts, it came not merely with a straight rule, and with a perfect pattern of whiteness, to show us our deformity and our blackness, but it also came with a heavy whip; and it laid that whip about our shoulders, and every time it fell it stung us to the quick. A little while ago, I met with a brother who said to me, "You cannot too forcibly describe the anguish of a convicted conscience; for," said he, "I remember when I reckoned how long it would be before I must, in the ordinary course of nature, be in hell. I said to myself, 'Suppose I live to be eighty years of age, yet how short a time it will be before I must be enduring the infinite wrath of God.'" Yes, that is the effect that the law of the Lord often produces upon a man when is enters his heart. It brings a mirror before him, and says to him "Look in there, and see not only what you have done, but also what is the just consequence of your evil deeds." A man no longer cavils at God's justice when the law once gets inside his heart; it shuts his mouth except for graons and sighs, and he has plenty of them.
It may be thought, by some people, to be a very sad thing that the law should come into a man's heart to break it, and to cause him such sorrow and anguish as I am trying to describe. Ah, but it is not so; it is a very blessed thing. You cannot expect God to clothe you until he has stripped you, nor to heal you until he has cut the proud flesh out of your wounds. When a woman is sowing with a fine white silken thread, see must have a sharp needle to go first, to make a way for the thread to go through after it; and the anguish of spirit, which the law creates in the soul, is just the sharp needle which makes a way for the fine silken thread of the gospel to enter our heart, and so to bless us. Let us thank God if ever we have experienced the entrance of his law into our hearts: for, although it makes sin to abound, is makes grace much more abound.
When the law gets thoroughly into a man's heart, it drives him to despair of himself. "Oh!" says he, "I cannot keep that law." Once, he thought that he was as good as other people, and a little better than most; and he did not know but that, with a little polishing, and a little help, he might be good enough, to win the favor of God and go to heaven; but when the law entered his heart, it soon smashed his idol to atoms. The Dagon of self-righteousness speedily falls before the ten commands of God, and is so broken that it can never be mended. Men try to set the stump of it up on its pedestal again; but so long as the law of the Lord is in the same temple with self-righteousness, self-righteousness can never be exalted again. To some people, it seems to be a dreadful thing to give a man such a bad opinion of himself, but, indeed, it is the greatest blessing that could come to him, for when he despairs of himself, he will fly to Christ to save him. When the last crust is gone from his cupboard, he will cry to the great Giver of the bread of life, whereof, if a man eat, he shall live for ever. You must starve the sinner's self-righteousness to mane him willing to feed on Christ; and thus the very depths of his despair, when he thinks that he must be lost for ever, will only lead him, by God's abundant love, to a fuller appreciation of the heights of God's grace.
Once more, when the law of God enters a man's heart, it pronounces a curse upon him. That was a singular scene which was beheld over against mount Ebal, and over against mount Gerizim, where one company read the curses, and another company read the blessings out of the book of the law. Now the law can do nothing for a sinner but say to him, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them;" but the gospel comes in, and it replies to the curse of the law with such words as these, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord impuneth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." Let the law curse as is may, the gospel's blessing is richer and stronger, for the gospel says, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;" and "there is therefore now no condemnation to them, which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
II. Now I change our line of thought, and come closer home to Christians, by noticing that the great principle of our text is also illustrated in THE AFTER-EXPERIENCE OF THE BELIEVER.
Some young converts imagine that, as soon as they believe in Christ and find peace with God, they will be perfect; and have no more sin within them. Such an erroneous idea will only prepare them for a great disappointment, for conversion is not the end of the battle with sin, it is only the beginning of that battle. From the moment that a man believes in Jesus, and is thereby saved, he begins his life-long struggle against his inbred sins. I hear that, there are some brethren and sisters who have become perfect, and I am pleased to hear it if it is true: but I am glad they are not members of my family, I do not think I could live with them very peaceably, as I have generally found that the so-called "perfect." People are usually not at all pleasant people to be associated with those of us who do not profess to be perfect. We wish we were perfect, and we wish that other people were perfect; but, hitherto, our investigations have led us to believe that the perfection which is claimed by certain persons is in every case a mistake, and in many cases is a delusion and a sham.
Our opinion is that men, after they are converted, and begin to examine themselves in the light of God's Word, if they are at all like us, find sin everywhere within them;sin in the affections, so that the hearts lusteth after evil things;sin in the judgment, so that it often makes most serious mistakes, and honestly puts bitter for sweet, and sweet for bittersin in the desires, so that though we try to curb them, they wander hither and thither, whither we would not;sin in the will, so that Lord Will-be-will proves that he is still very proud, and wants to have his own way,and is not willing to bow submissively to the will of God;sin in the memory, so that the most godly people can often recollect a snatch of a bad old song which they used to hear or to sing, far more readily than they can remember a text of Scripture; which they wish to treasure up in their memories, for memory has become unhinged, like all the rest of our faculties, and is quick to retain evil, and slow to retain that which is good. Brethren and sisters in Christ, in what part of our body does sin not dwell? Is there any single faculty, or power, or propensity that we have which will not lead us astray if we will let it do so? Are we not obliged to be always upon our guard against ourselves, and to watch ourselves as a garrison of soldiers would have to watch the natives of a country whom they had subdued, but who were anxious to throw off the yoke of the foreigners who had overcome them. In a similar fashion, grace is a foreigner in possession of our nature, and it holds by its own superior force what it has won; and only by its supernatural strength are we kept from regaining our former position.
Thus you see how sin abounds, even in the heart of a believer; but, blessed be God, grace doth much more abound there; for, although the will is still strong, there is a higher power that subdues and controls it so that our will is being gradually conformed to the will of God. Our affections, though they are apt to grovel here below, do soar towards Christ, for he really has won our hearts. Our desires do go astray, yet their main tendency is towards holiness. Blessed be the name of the Lord, unless we are awfully deceived, we do desire to do that which is well-pleasing in his sight. Our memory, too, though I have already confessed its faultiness, does often enable us to remember Jesus Christ, and it never will forget him whoever else it may forget. Ay, and our whole nature, though I have truly spoken of its faults, is a new nature, which God has wrought within us,a nature that is akin to the divine, and in this nature grace triumphs over sin, so that where sin aboundeth, grace doth much more abound.
The same truth may be learned in another way. Sin abounds in the believer, not merely in the shape of the original sin in which he was born, and in the tendency to sin which is ever present with him, but sin mars the best thing he ever does. Did you ever examine one of your own prayers, did you ever look at it critically after it was finished? Shall I tell you what it was like? It was like something that man had manufactured, and which, when observed by the naked eyed, looked very beautiful. Put a microscope over it, and look at it. Take a needle if you like, for that seems to be one of the most polished pieces of metal conceivable; and as soon as you place it under the microscope, you say, "Why, I have got a rough bar of iron here! Surely it cannot be a needle." Yes it is, but you are looking at it now with a power far beyond your ordinary sight; and, in like manner, when the grace of God opens a man's eyes to see his best actions as they appear in God's sight, he sees that those actions are marred by sin. There is not anything that he has done which appears to him to be what it ought to be when he looks at it aright in the light of God's Word. The most consecrated action of his life, the most devout communion with Christ, the most intense ardor after God, falls far short of what it ought to be, and has something in it which ought not to be there. When the grace of God is strong within us, it makes sin appear to abound even to our own vision; we see it in every hymn we sing, in every prayer we pray, in every sermon we preach.
Not only do we see sin in our best things, but we also discover sin in our omissions. We were never troubled about that matter before, but now we recollect that what we do not do is often sinful;not merely the wrong that we commit, but the good that we omit, the good that we neglect or forget to do. There is much sin there. Then we begin to examine our thoughts, and our trivial utterances, and we see them all crusted over with sin. Tested under the light of God's Word, everything seems to be honeycombed through and through with sin, so that sin indeed aboundeth. Well, what then? Why, then, this blessed text comes sweetly home to our hearts. "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." And now, how gloriously grace abounds! Now we prove the power of that precious blood which can wash us whiter than snow, so that God himself shall say to each one of us, "There is no spot in thee." Beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, I do firmly believe that a deep and clear sense of sin is necessary to a right estimation of the power of pardoning love. I am sure that it is a great blessing to us when we have a deep sense of our sinnership. God forbid that we should ever pray as the Pharisee did, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are." Far better would it be for us to imitate the publican, and cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner." None but those who are lost prize the Savior who came to seek and to save that which was lost, none but those who feel that they are foul and vile rightly value his cleansing blood. O beloved, when your sin abounds, then is the time to recollect that grace much more abounds. Sinner as you are, you are forgiven, you are "accepted in the Beloved," you are saved, you are a child of God, you shall be in heaven ere long, to praise for ever the grace that shall be crowned with glory.
Once more on this point. I believe that many of you have had an experience similar to mine, and that there have been times when you have been living specially near to God, and walking in the light of his countenance, when, on a sudden, the sin that dwelleth in you has seemed to attack you just when you least expected it. I know that my fiercest temptations often come to me immediately after my highest enjoyment of communion with God. They seem to come like a sharp draught of cold air the moment you step out of a warm room, and you hardly know what to do for the best, you are scarcely prepared for it. It will sometimes happen that a tempter, which you thought you had quite overcome, will rush upon you like a lion out of a thicket; or a passion, which you thought had been most eventually conquered, will come sweeping down upon you like a hurricane from the hills, and your poor little skiff upon the lake seems well-nigh overwhelmed with its furious onslaught. Then, as you look at yourselves, and are surprised to find so much sin in yourselves, you know that sin abounds; what do you do then? Well, I believe that, at such times, Christians try to nestle closer than ever under the wings of God, and they feel humbler, and they go to the precious blood of Jesus with a more intense desire to prove again its cleansing power; and they cry to the Strong for strength, and they feel more than ever they did before their need of the Holy Spirit's sanctifying power. Ralph Erskine said that he was more afraid of a sleeping devil than of a roaring devil, and there was good reason for his fear, for when the devil was roaring, the saints would be more on the watch than when he was quiet. The worst temptation in the world is not to be tempted at all; but when there is a strong temptation, and your soul is fully aware of it, you are on your guard against it. The wave of temptation may even wash you higher up upon the Rock of ages, so that you cling to it with a firmer grip than you have ever done before, and so again where sin abounds, grace will much more abound.
III. Now I must close with a few general observations upon another matter. The great truth revealed in our text is not only illustrated by the entrance of the law into the hearts of believers, and in the after-life of Christians, but also IN ALL THE BLESSINGS OF SALVATION.
It is very wonderful, but it is certainly true, that there are many persons in heaven in whom sin once abounded. In the judgment of their fellow-men, some of them were worse sinners than others. There was Saul of Tarsus, there was the dying thief, there was the woman in the city who was a sinner,a sinner in a very open and terrible sense. These, and many more of whom we read in the Scriptures, were all great sinners, and it was a great wonder of grace, in every instance, that they should be forgiven; but did they make poor Christians when they were converted? Quite the reverse; they loved much because they had been forgiven much. Amongst the best servants of God are many of those who were once the best servants of the devil. Sin abounded in them, but grace much more abounded when. It took possession of their hearts and lives. They were long led captive by the devil at his will, but they never were such servants to Satan as they afterwards became to the living and true God. They threw all the fervor of their intense natures into the service of their Savior, and so rose superior to some of their fellow-disciples, who did not so fully realize how much they owed to their Lord. I trust that any here present, who have gone far in sin, may be saved by the immeasurable grace of God ere they leave this building, and that, throughout the whole of their future lives, they may love Jesus Christ better, and serve him more than others who have not sinned as deeply as they have.
The same truth comes out if we think of what sin has done for us. O brethren, sin has infected the nature of man with a foul leprosy, a deadly disease, but Jesus has cured the disease, and given us a life of a holier kind than we ever knew before. Sin has robbed us; but Christ has restored to us more than sin ever took away from us. Sin has stripped us; but Christ has clothed us in a better robe than our natural righteousness could ever have been. Well do we sing of Jesus,
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