Taken from, “Sin, The Plague of Plagues”
Written by, Ralph Venning
Sin is the transgression of a law, yea of a good law, yea of God’s law.
Sin presupposes that there is a law in being, for where is no law there is no transgression (Romans 4.15). But where there is sin, there is a law, and a transgression of the law. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law, for sin is a transgression of the law (I John 3.4). That this is the sin intended in our text is apparent from Romans 7.7.
Now the law not only forbids the doing of evil, whether by thought, word or deed, but also commands the doing of good. So to omit the good commanded is sin, as well (or ill) as is the doing of the evil that is forbidden. Against the fruit of the Spirit there is no law, but against the works of the flesh (for the antithesis holds) there is law, for they are all against the law, as the Apostle tells us (Galatians 5.19-24). Whatever, then, transgresses the law of God–in whole or in part (James 2.10)–is therefore and therein a sin, whether it break an affirmative or a negative precept i.e. whether it is the omission of good or the commission of evil.
We now proceed to lay open in what especially the sinfulness of sin consists, which is easily and readily known from the description or definition just now set before us. Sin is a transgression of God’s law, which is not only holy and just, as made and given by a holy and just God, but also good, as it respects man, for whom God made it, according to our text and its context, and as it is in Deuteronomy 5.29 and 6.24, and many other places. I say, sin being a transgression of God’s law, which was made for man’s good, the sinfulness of sin must needs lie in this, that it is contrary (1) to God, (2) to man. These then are the two heads I shall dwell upon, to declare the malignity and wicked nature of sinful sin. These are both evident from the law, for by it, as our text says, sin appears sin, and by the commandment sin, clearly and undeniably, becomes most exceeding, hyperbolically, or above measure sinful, i.e. extremely guilty of displeasing and dishonouring God, and of debasing and destroying man. On both accounts, it is justly obnoxious to, and deservedly worthy of the hatred of God and man. And I heartily wish that the outcome will be that man may hate it as God does, who hates it, and nothing else but it; or (to be sure) he hates none but for it.
The sinfulness of sin not only appears from, but consists in this, that it is contrary to God. Indeed, it is contrariety and enmity itself. Carnal men, or sinners are called by the name of enemies to God (Romans 5.8 with 10; Colossians 1.21); but the carnal mind or sin is called enmity itself (Romans 8.7). Accordingly, it and its acts are expressed by names of enmity and acts of hostility, such as, walking contrary to God (Leviticus 26.21), rebelling against God (Isaiah 1.2), rising up against him as an enemy (Micah 2.8), striving and contending with God (Isaiah 45.9), and despising God (Numbers 11.20). It makes men haters of God (Romans 1.30), resisters of God (Acts 7.51), fighters against God (Acts 5.39 and 23.9), even blasphemers of God, and in short very atheists, who say there is no God (Psalm 14.1). It goes about to ungod God, and is by some of the ancients called Deicidium, God-murder or God-killing.
Though all these things are not done by every sinful man, yet they are not only in the nature of sin, and that of every sin more or less, but are all of them in the heart of all sinners in their seed and root (Matthew 15.19) So what is done by any man would be done by every man, if God did not restrain some men from it by his power, and constrain others to obedience by his love and power (2 Corinthians 5.14; Psalm 110.3). Here then is the desperately wicked nature of sin, that it is not only crimen laesae Majestatis, high treason against the Majesty of God, but it scorns to confess its crime. It is obstinate and will not that he reign over it. It is not only not subject, but it will not be subject, nor be reconciled to God; such is its enmity! But to show this more particularly:
- Sin is contrary to the nature of God. God’s name is holy, and as his name is, so is he and his nature, all holy; he is so, and cannot but be so. Therefore God takes it worse that men should think him wicked like themselves (Psalm 50.I6-22), than that they think him not to exist (Psalm 14.1). It is said to weary him when men say that evil is good in his sight (Malachi 2.17). This is the thing God glories in, that he is holy, even glorious in holiness (Exodus 15.11).
Holiness is the attribute which frees God, not only from evil itself, but from all appearance or suspicion of evil. If God were not holy, many of the things which God does would look unlike him: his justice and judgments would look not only like severity, but tyranny, were not it and they holy; his love in its conduct and behaviour to some people would look like fondness and respect of persons, but that it is holy; his patience would look like a toleration, if not approbation of sin, but that it is holy patience. Thus many acts of God, were it not for holiness, would appear as seemingly evil as they are really good, and would be as much suspected by all, as they are unjustly censured by some.
God is holy, without spot or blemish, or any such thing, without any wrinkle, or anything like it, as they also that are in Christ shall one day be (Ephesians 5.27). He is so holy, that he cannot sin himself, nor be the cause or author of sin in another. He does not command sin to be committed, for to do so would be to cross his nature and will. Nor does he approve of any man’s sin, when it is committed, but hates it with a perfect hatred. He is without iniquity, and of purer eyes than to behold (i.e. approve) iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13).
On the contrary, as God is holy, all holy, only holy, altogether holy, and always holy, so sin is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, altogether sinful, and always sinful (Genesis 6.5).
In my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing (Romans 7.18). As in God there is no evil, so in sin there is no good. God is the chiefest of goods and sin is the chiefest of evils. As no good can be compared with God for goodness, so no evil can be compared with sin for evil.
- Sin is contrary to all the names and attributes of God. It sets itself in opposition to them all.
(1) It deposes the sovereignty of God as much as in it lies. It will not that the King of kings should be on the throne, and govern this world which he has made. It was by this instinct that Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know no Lord above me; I will not let Israel go (Exodus 5.2). The voice and language of sin is, ‘Our lips are our own, who is Lord over us?’ (Psalm 12.4). It was from hence that the Jews of old said, ‘We are lords, we will come no more to thee’ (Jeremiah 2.31). Thus it attempts to dethrone God.
(2) It denies God’s all-sufficiency. As if there were not contentment and satisfaction enough to be had in the enjoyment of God, but that vanity and wickedness had more of pleasure and profit than he, whose ways are all pleasantness, and whose service is the health of man! Every prodigal who leaves the Father’s house says in effect, It is better to be elsewhere.
(3) It challenges the justice of God, and dares God to do his worst (Malachi 2.17). It provokes the Lord to jealousy, and tempts him to wrath.
(4) It disowns his omniscience. Pooh! they say, God does not see, nor does the most High regard.
(5) It despises the riches of God’s goodness (Romans 2.4).
(6) It turns his grace into wantonness (Jude 4) It will make bold with God, and sin because grace abounds.
In short, sin is the dare of God’s justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, the contempt of his love…
…as one writer prettily expresses this ugly thing. We may go on and say, it is the upbraiding of his providence (Psalm 50), the scoff of his promise (2 Peter 3.3-4), the reproach of his wisdom (Isaiah 29.16). And as is said of the Man of Sin (i.e. who is made up of sin) it opposes and exalts itself above all that is called God (and above all that God is called), so that it as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing itself as if it were God (2 Thessalonians 2.4)
- Sin is contrary to the works of God. It works contrary to God, and it is contrary to God’s works, and is called the work of the devil (1 John 3.8). All God’s works were good exceedingly, beautiful even to admiration; but the works of sin are deformed and monstrously ugly, for it works disorder, confusion, and everything that is abominable. Sin may be arraigned for all the mischiefs and villainies that have been done in the world; it is the master of misrule, the author of sedition, the builder of Babel, the troubler of Israel and all mankind. So contrary is sin to the works of God, that it sought and still seeks to undo all that God does, that there might be no seed, nor name, nor root left him in the earth. Everything works according to its nature; as the root is, so is the fruit; and thus every tree is known, whether it is a good tree or a bad (Matthew 7.17-I8). God is good, and does good (Psalm 119.68). Sin is evil and does evil, indeed, it does nothing else. So sin and its works are contrary to God and his works.
- Sin is contrary to the law and will of God, to all the rules and orders of his appointment. There is not one of his laws which it has not broken, and endeavoured to make void and of none effect. It is not only a transgression of, but also a contradiction to the will of God. When the Son of God came into the world to declare and do his Father’s will, he was encountered by, and underwent the contradiction of sinners (Hebrews 12.3) who would have made men believe that neither he nor his doctrine was of God.
Sin is an anti-will to God’s will; it sets itself to oppose preaching, prayer, and all the institutions of God. And it does this, not only out of envy to man, that he should not be the better for them, but out of enmity to God, that he should not be worshipped in the world. Now to act contrary to the will and statutes of God is to act contrary to God himself, as may be seen by comparing Leviticus 26.14,15 with verses 21,23, and 27 of the same chapter, and many other places. David, in fulfilling the will of God, was said to be a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13.22); and they who obey the will of sin are said to walk after the heart of sin (Ezekiel 11.21).
- Sin is contrary to the image of God, in which man was made. God made man in his own likeness, viz. in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4.24). Now sin is clean contrary to this image, as much unlike it as deformity and ugliness is unlike handsomeness and beauty, as darkness is to light, as hell to heaven. Yes, and there is more too: sin is the Devil’s image. When God made man, he made him in his own image; so when the Devil made man sin, he thereby made him his own image and likeness. In this sense I conceive the Devil meant that phrase, ‘Ye shall be like gods’, Elohim (Genesis 3.5). He did not say or mean that he should be like the Elohim, the Creators, as the word is in Job 35.10 and Ecclesiastes 12.1, the God who made them; but like Elohim, gods, viz. such as I and my angels are, who once knew good, but now know evil, both by doing it, and suffering the sad effects of it. The word Elohim is used not only of God and good angels, but of fallen angels or devils (1 Samuel 28.13). And under the covert of this ambiguous word, he craftily abused our first parents; for he well knew that by sinning they could not become like Elohim, God above, but would become like Elohim, the gods below. And alas! are we not like Elohim-devils, knowing good by loss, and evil by its sad and dismal effects? Thus he that runs may read the picture, image, and likeness of the Devil in sin; sinners are as much like the Devil as anything. He that sinneth is of the Devil (1 John 3.8), not only a servant but a child of the Devil: ‘Ye are of your father the devil’ said holy Jesus to the sinful Jews (John 8.44). Never was child more like the father than a sinner is like the Devil; sin has the nature, the complexion, the air, the features, the very behaviour of the Devil.
- Sin is contrary to the people and children of God. It is true, sin cannot hate them as much as God loves them, nor do them as much hurt as God can do them good. Yet, out of spite and envy, it will do its worst, and hate them because God loves them. God’s children are his darlings and favourites, as dear to him as the apple of his eye. In all their afflictions he bears a part, and is afflicted, and looks upon it as if he himself were treated as they are in this world (Acts 9.4-5; Matthew 25.41-45). Now the nearer and dearer they are to God and the more God’s heart is set upon them for good, the more sin sets its heart against them for evil. Sin is always warring against the seed of God in them, the flesh lusts against the spirit (Galatians 5.17) and wars against their souls (1 Peter 2.11). So, by sin’s ill-will, God’s people should neither enjoy nor do any good in this world. It is always provoking the serpentine race to make war upon, to imprison and persecute, even to destruction, the little flock and remnant of the holy seed. It will not, further than it is rebuked by grace, let them have one quiet day. It disturbs and interrupts them, so that they cannot attend upon God without distraction. When they would do good, evil is present with them, either to keep it undone, or to make it ill done. It endeavours to spoil all they take in hand, and to turn their holy things into iniquity, by reason of which they cry out as greatly oppressed: ‘Wretches that we are! Who shall deliver us from this body of death?’ (Romans 7.24).
This evil and envious sin is bent also on hindering, all it can, the comfort, welfare and happiness of the saints. Sin, like the Devil, has not such an evil eye or aching tooth at all the sinners in the world, as it has at the saints in the world. It is true, the Devil is a man-hater, but more a saint-hater. Watch! for your adversary the Devil seeks whom (of you) he may devour, as St. Peter tells us (1 Peter 5.8). And this he does to cross and thwart God and his design, who and which is set upon the happiness of his people.
- Sin is contrary to, and set against the glory of God, and all that should and would give glory to him, or has any tendency to do so. Confession of sin and repentance gives glory to God (Joshua 7.19), and sin endeavours to obstruct and hinder this. It began to practise upon Adam and Eve, and still carries on this trade among the children of men (Revelation 16.9). Faith would give glory to God; so, in order that men may not believe, sin employs the Devil to blind their eyes (2 Corinthians 4.4). Good men would do all they do to the glory of God, but sin will let them do nothing at all, and is ever throwing one dead fly or another into their most precious boxes of ointment. Sin is so malicious, that it will not only displease and dishonour God itself, but labours to defeat and frustrate the endeavours of all who attempt to do otherwise. If sin’s desires might take place, there should not be a person or thing by whom and by which God should be pleased or glorified. It gives out false reports of God and goodness, lays prejudices and rocks of offence and stumbling in men’s ways, that they may be out of love with all that is good. So desperately is it bent against the honour of God.
- Sin is contrary and opposite to the being and existence of God. (This was hinted at before.) It makes the sinner wish and endeavour that there might be no God, for sinners are haters of God (Romans 1.30). As he who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15), so, as much as in him lies, he who hates God is a murderer of God. Sin keeps garrisons and strongholds against God (2 Corinthians 10.4,5). It strives with and fights against God, and if its power were as great as its will is wicked, it would not suffer God to be. God is a troublesome thing to sinners, and therefore they say to him, Depart from us (Job 21.14), and of Christ Jesus, Let us break his bands in sunder, and cast his cords far from us (Psalm 2.3) And when the Holy Ghost comes to woo and entreat them to be reconciled, they resist and make war with the spirit of peace (Acts 7.51). So that they are against every person in the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. In short, and for a conclusion, sin is contrary to God and all that is dear to him or has his name upon it; and though it is against all good, yet not so much against any good as against God, who is, and because he is the chiefest good.