By S.D. Gordon
The second great result of that Eden break has been in the growth of sin. In the seventeenth century after that it was said that man's heart was a breeding place of thoughts whose pictured forms were bad, only bad, with no spots of good, nor spurts of good. A thousand years later, Moses giving the Hebrew tribes the ten commandments, adds a crowd of particulars, some of them very grewsome, which serve as mirrors to reveal the common practice of his age. The slant down of those first centuries has evidently been increasing in its downward pitch.
More than a thousand years later yet, there is a summary made by Paul that reveals the stage reached by sin in his day. Probably no one knew the world of his time, which has proved to be the world's crisis time, as did Paul the scholar and philosopher of Tarsus. Himself a city man, well bred and well schooled, a world traveller, with acute, disciplined powers of observation, and a calm scholarly judgment, he had studied every phase of life cultured and lowly.
He pitched upon the great city centres in his active campaigning, and worked out into the country districts. He was a world-bred man. He knew the three over-lapping worlds of his time: the Hebrew, with its ideals of purity and religion; the Greek, with its ideals of culture; and the Roman, with its ideals of organization and conquest. He is writing from Corinth, then the centre of Greek life, to Rome, the centre of the world's life. His letter is the most elaborate of any of his writings preserved to us. In its beginning he speaks of man, universally, morally, as he had come to know him. His arraignment is simply terrific in its sweep and detail.
Let me pause and be measuring the words cautiously and then put this down:--the description of the latter half of the first chapter of Romans is a true description of man to-day. At first flush that sounds shocking, as indeed it is. It seems as if this description can apply only to degraded savages and to earth's darkest corners. But the history of Paul's day, and before, and since, and an under view of the social fabric to-day, only serve to make clear that Paul's description is true for all time, and around the world.
There is a cloak of conventionality thrown over the blacker tints of the picture to-day in advanced Christian lands. It is considered proper to avoid speaking of certain excesses, or, if speech must be used, modestly to say "unnamable." And it is a distinct gain for morality that it is so. Better a standard recognized, even though broken. But commonly the conditions are not changed. The differences found in different civilizations to-day are differences only of degree. In the most advanced cities of Christendom to-day may be found every bit of this chapter's awful details, but properly cloaked. In European lands the cloaks are sewed with the legal-stitch, which is considered the proper finish. In lands where our Christian standards are not recognized the thing is as open as in this chapter.
In four short paragraphs containing sixty-six lines in the American Revision, Paul packs in his terrific philippic. He swings over the ground four times. Nowhere does he reveal better his own fidelity to truth, with the fineness of his own spirit. Here, delicacy of expression is rarely blended with great plainness. No one can fail to understand, and yet that sense of modesty native to both man and woman is not improperly disturbed, even though the recital be shocking.
Here is paragraph one: Man knew God both through nature and by the direct inner light. But he did not want Him as God. It bothered the way he wanted to live. The core of all sin is there. All its fruitage grows about that core. He became vain in his reasonings. He gave himself up to keen, brilliant speculation. Having cut the cord that bound him to God, unanchored, uncompassed, on a shoreless, starless sea, he drifts brilliantly about in the dense gray fog.
Then he befooled himself further by thinking himself wise. He preferred somebody else to God. Whom? Himself! Then--birds; then-beasts on all fours with backbone on a line with the earth, nose and mouth close to the ground; then--gray-black, slimy, crawling, creeping things. He traded off the truth of God for a lie; the sweet purity of God for rank impurity. He dethroned God, and took the seat himself. He bartered God for beasts and grew like that he preferred. God's gracious restraint is withdrawn when he gets down to the animal stage. Only here man out-animalled the animals. The beasts are given points on beastliness. The life he chose to live held down by the throat the truth he knew so well. That's the first summary.
The next two paragraphs are devoted to that particular sort of unnatural sin first suggested to man after his disobedience, and which in all time and all lands has been and is the worst, the most unnatural, the most degrading, and the most common. It came first in the imagination. It came early in the history of actual sin. It is put first by Paul in his arraignment here. He gives it chief place by position and by particularity of description. First was the using of a pure, natural function to gratify unnatural desires. Then with strange cunning and lustful ingenuity changing the natural functions to uses not in the plan of nature. Let it all be said in lowest, softest voice, so sadly awful is the recital. Yet let that soft voice be very distinct, that the truth may be known. Then lower down yet the commercializing of such things. Unconcerned barter and trade in man's holy, most potent function. Putting highest price on most ingenious impurity.
Then follows the longest of these paragraphs running up and down the grimy gamut of sin. Beginning with all unrighteousness, he goes on to specify depravity, greedy covetousness, maliciousness. Oozing out of every pore there are envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity. Men are whisperers, backbiters, God-haters, and self-lovers, in that they are insolent, haughty, boastful. They are inventors of evil things, without understanding, breakers of faith, without natural affection, ruthlessly merciless.
The climax is reached in this, that though they know God, and what He has set as the right rule of life, they not only do these things named, but they delight in the fellowship of those who habitually practise them. The stage of impulsiveness is wholly gone. They have settled down to this as the deliberate choice and habit of life. Man is still a king, but all bemired. He is the image and glory of God, but how shrivelled and withered; obscured, all overgrown with ugly poison vines.
Let it be remembered at once that this is a composite picture of the race. Many different sorts of men must be put together to get such a view. Sin works out differently in different persons. A man's activities take on the tinge of his personality. So sin in a man takes on the color and tone of his individuality.
One man has the inner disposition against God, accompanied by no excesses at all. These things disgust him. He is refined in his tastes, perhaps scholarly and intellectual in his thinking. That inner disposition may be a sort of refined ignoring of God either defiant or indifferent. In another, the animal nature swings to the front, stronger perhaps by heredity, and, yielded to, it runs to the excess of riot. Then there is the man with the strange yellow fever, whose love for the bright-colored precious metal burns in his blood and controls every impulse and purpose. And the man with intense love of power, of controlling men and things for the sake of the immense power involved, with himself as the centre of all.
There is every imaginable degree of each of these, and every sort of combination among them. The lines cross and re-cross at every possible angle in various persons. A man is apt to get money-drunk then society-drunk (with a special definition for the word society in this connection), then lust-drunk. Or, he may swing direct from money-intoxication into power-intoxication. Please notice keenly that each of these four grows up out of a perfectly normal, natural desire. Sin always follows nature's grooves. There is nothing wrong in itself. The sin is in the wrong motive underneath, or the wrong relationship round about an act. Or, it is in excess, exaggeration, pushing an act out of its true proportion. Exaggeration floods the stream out of its channel. Wrong motive or wrong relationship sends a bad stream into a good channel.
But sift down under the surface and always is found the same thing. The upper growth is varied by what it finds on the surface to mingle with, but the sub-stuff is ever the same. The root always is self. The whole seed of sin is in preferring one's own way to God's way; one's self to God. The stream of life is turned the wrong way. It is turned in. Its true direction is up. The true centre of gravity for man is not downward, nor inward, but upward and outward.
God's Treatment of Sin.
God's treatment of sin lets in a flood of light on the sort of thing it is. Three times over in this summary Paul says that God "gave them up." As they cast out all acknowledgment of God, He gave them up to an outcast mind. When they turned God out-of-doors, God left them indoors to themselves. It was the worst thing He could do, and the best. Worst--to be left alone with sin. Best, because the sin would get so vile that the man in God's image would want to turn it out, and get God back. Man never turns from sin until he feels its vileness to the sickening point. When things get to the acute stage, and a sharp crisis is on, then as a rule there will be an eager turning to the One who can cleanse and make over new; but usually not until then.
Sin has a terrific gait. Give it a loose rein and man will get winded and ready to drop. Only then is he ready to drop it. Sin can't be patched up or mended. Nursing only helps it to its feet for a fresh start. The whole trouble is in the nature of the thing. The heart pumps the hot blood of rebellion. Its lungs can breathe only self-willed air. The worst punishment of sin is that left alone it breeds more sin, and worse sin. The worst of sin is in its brood. It is very prolific. Every sin is a seed-sin. The breeding process gets the sort more refined in its coarseness.
"This is the very curse of evil deed,
That of new sin it becomes the seed."
And the plain statements of the Book, and the inevitable working of man's nature, reveal all the bad results of sin intensifying indefinitely in the after-life. Jesus is God letting sin do its worst, upon Himself, that man might see its utter, stubborn damnableness, and eagerly turn from it, and back to Him.
A Bright Gleam of Light.
Yet be it keenly marked, there is a very bright gleam of light across this dark picture. In going over the story of sin with its terrific results now and afterward, one needs to be very tender, for he is talking about men--his brothers. And to be very careful not to say things that are not so. Some good, earnest people have been thinking that the whole race except a small minority were given over to eternal misery. The vast majority of men has never heard the name of Jesus. And some very godly people have seemed to think that these are lost forever.
Yet the old Book of God speaks very plainly here. Its meaning can be gotten without any twisting of words. Neither the Jewish nation nor the Christian Church can be regarded as favorites of God. God has no favorites for salvation. The Jewish nation was chosen for service' sake. Through it there came a special after-revelation of God. Through it came the world's new Man. The Church is the repository of God's truth to-day, with its window panes not always quite clear. Its great mission is to tell the whole race of Jesus. Both were chosen for service.
Every nation knew God directly at the first. And be it said thoughtfully, every man has enough of revelation and of inner light to lead him back to God. A man's choice in this life is his choice always. Any student of the ordinary working of man's mind can certify that. Whatever sort of being a man deliberately, persistently chooses to be here and now, he will be always. The only change possible in the after-life will be in the degree. Never in the sort.
The Gospels speak of believing on Jesus, and of the bad results for those who decline or refuse to have anything to do with Him. Of course it is speaking of those who have heard of Him. There can be no believing on Jesus without hearing, and of course in simple fairness no condemning on any such grounds. The gospel message is wholly concerned with those who hear.
But there is clear and plain teaching about the great outside majority of past generations and of our own who have never heard. It was a member of both Jewish nation and Christian Church, whose tongue, touched by the Spirit of God, said, "God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him." That is a simple standard, yet a searching one. Anybody, anywhere, with a truly reverential thought upward, and a controlling purpose to be right in his life, will find the door swinging wide. No other badges or tickets required. This would include that remarkable woman of India, Chundra Lelah, all those weary years before the simple story of Jesus brought its flood of light and peace, and all of her innumerable class.
Paul puts it as simply and a little more fully in the letter to the Romans, that careful treatise which sums up with marvellous fulness and brevity the gospel he preached to the world. In chapter two, he says, "to them who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption (He will give) eternal life." Note that in his review thus far he has not yet gotten to Jesus the Saviour.
These people of whom he is now speaking have never heard of Jesus. They are the great majority. Mark keenly the simple description of them. It is a description, not of an achievement, but of a purpose. The absorbing aim in their lives is seeking upward. The seeking controls the life. The mastering spirit of these seekers is patience, steadfastness. They are seeking for the highest thing. They are doing what seems to them to be right, while seeking. They are doing right patiently.
Patience! What a world of conflicting experiences in a word! Misunderstandings, breaks, slips, stumblings, failures, falls; but in all, through all, patience, steadfastness. Taking a fresh hold at every turn. And the gripping fingers ever learning a new tenacity. Pulling steadily up a steep mountain side, in a blazing hot sun, blinded by dust, struck by loosened rocks above rolling down, but--patiently, steadily, with dust-blinded eyes, tugging up. To such is given the heart's desire--eternal life. Ah! God judges a man by his direction, by the set of his face. He may not be far up, but his face is turned up. His heels show their backs. His toes point toward the top. That reveals the purpose, the desire of the man inside. His choice is to be up. And it is choice that makes character as well as revealing it. And the one thing that concerns God is the character as revealed in the purpose.
There is a simple, pathetic story from mission lands, variously told, and well vouched for, of a missionary pausing long enough in a village to tell the story of Jesus to the crowd that gathered, and then pushing on. This was the first visit of a missionary to this place and so the first news of Jesus. The crowd listened eagerly with various results. There was one listener, an old man, held in repute for his wisdom, who at once accepted the missionary's story, and announced his acceptance of Jesus. His neighbors expressed their surprise at his prompt acceptance of such a new thing. The old man's quiet answer in effect was this: "Oh, I have long trusted this Jesus, but I never knew His name before." There was no change of purpose with this man, but, in the story of Jesus, the burst of light that brought unspeakable peace as he kept on in his upward tug.
Yet all this will not hold back from glad sacrifice, from free giving, from eager going to foreign mission lands a single man or woman who has been caught by Jesus' Spirit. The Master said, "Go ye." That's enough. For the largest wealth that may be given, for the keenest sacrifice that may be endured, for the strongest life that may be devoted--that is quite enough. And if more were needed--then to go, to give, to sacrifice for the sake of helping our struggling brothers yonder know Jesus, and His wondrous sacrifice and His great peace. To make them conscious of the disgustingness of sin, to bring to them a vision of Jesus' face to allure, and enchain, to give a man's will an earnest boost, when he -would choose, but cannot seem to for the suction of sin, inherited and ever growing upon his choosing powers. God sent His best. Jesus sacrificed His all in going. We'll gladly follow in such a train. Jesus is God sending His best, sacrificing His dearest, giving His most, going Himself to get men started up the hill out of the bog.
The Broken Tryst.
Man's break back in Eden was very hard on God. That evening early, in the twilight, God came walking in the garden to have the usual talk with His friend. He came to keep tryst. It was the usual trysting place and trysting hour, and God had the trysting spirit. We may think He came early for this bit of fellowship. He was prompt. Nothing would be allowed to disturb this appointment. But God was disappointed. It was His first disappointment. The first one to be disappointed on this earth was God. Adam had always met Him before. We may easily think met Him eagerly, jubilantly, with glad, free, open face and clinging hands.
But the man was not there this time. He failed God. He broke tryst. He stayed away. Indeed he had gone away. God didn't fail. He was there. The man failed. They had a long distance talk. God called Adam. He was not content to come to the trysting place. He must find the missing tryster. Some folk would make God a sort of hard and dry keeper of His word: A sort of trim syllogism, dry as punk. Some seem to think Him to be as they seem to be. How our poor God has been slandered by His supposed defenders! God was not satisfied to keep the appointment. He wanted the man. He hungered for His friend, upon whom He had imprinted His own image. His heart was hungry for fellowship. He wanted the comfort of a bit of talk. So He starts at once eagerly, insistently to find the man.
That voice of God spoke out, tender, gentle, plaintive, pleading. You can just hear the soft, very soft woodsman's cry, "Hello-alo, hello, Adam, A-a-dam--here I am--waiting for you--I've kept my tryst--where are you?--hello-o--hello--where--are--you?" The voice that spoke worlds into being, that brought life and beauty to all creation, that brought instant reverence and adoration from myriads of the upper world, that voice now speaks to one, two: two who were one. All the heart of God, all the power of God, in the soft voice talking to one man. God has always been after the one man, and still is.
And the breezes hushed to hear that voice with its new pleading tone. The birds stilled their song for this new music in minor mellowing tone. Silence for a moment, the breezes hushed, the birds stilled, the creation near by held its breath, God held His heart still, that He might catch the first response to its cry. The twilight of that day had a pathetic sight. It saw a broken tryst; a lonely God; words of fellowship unspoken. A man and woman hiding. Skulking behind trees. Trees served a new purpose that evening, not a good purpose. They never were meant to hide behind. Sin perverts the use of all things.
All these weary years God has been standing wherever men are: standing, waiting, calling man back to his tryst. Among the trees, in the crowded city of man's making, He is ever calling, and eagerly, wondrously, helping every one who answers. He is so near that a reaching hand always touches Him. The voice of the heart never misses His ear. But His love and grief shine out most on that bit of a hill, outside a city wall, on the east coast of the middle-of-the-earth sea. That is earth's tallest hill. It can be seen farthest away of any. Jesus up on that hill is God calling man back to his broken tryst.
God seems to have fairly outdone Himself to get man to turn toward the old trysting place. For when a man will turn around enough to get even a glimpse of that God-Face, and a whisper of that God-Voice, he can withstand no longer.
God has taxed all the ingenuity of His love to let man know about Himself. He revealed Himself directly to the whole race at the start. He has in every generation, and in every clime, on every hilltop and valley, in every village and crowded city, been revealing Himself to the heart of every man. There cannot be found one anywhere who has not heard the quiet inner voice drawing up, and away from wrong.
In this world of wondrous beauty God is speaking. The glory-telling heavens, the winsome coloring of trees and all growing things, the soft round hills, the sublime mountains, the sea with its ever-changing mood but never-changing beneficence upon the life of the whole earth, the great blue and gray above, the soothing green below, the brighter colors in their artistic proportion, the wondrous blendings--surely every bush and other green thing, every bright twinkler in the blue, everything is aflame with the presence that burns but in great love consumes not. His eyes are indeed badly bothered that cannot see; his ears in queer fix that do not hear. Yet sometimes the empty shoes seem few enough. But they are ever increasing, and will yet more and more, by retail method, with wholesale result.
But God comes closer yet in His wooing. The web of life's daily run, with its strange mixing and blending, shadings and tints, is of His weaving. He sits at life's loom ever watching and weaving. Were He but recognized oftener and His hand allowed to guide the skein, how different the weaving!
"Children of yesterday,
Heirs of to-morrow,
What are you weaving--
Labor and sorrow?
Look to your looms again;
Faster and faster
Fly the great shuttles
Prepared by the Master.
Life's in the loom,
Room for it--room!
"Children of yesterday,
Heirs of to-morrow,
Lighten the labor
And sweeten the sorrow:
Now--while the shuttles fly
Faster and faster,
Up and be at it--
At work with the Master.
He stands at your loom,
Room for Him--room!
"Children of yesterday,
Heirs of to-morrow,
Look at your fabric
Of labor and sorrow.
Seamy and dark
With despair and disaster,
Turn it--and lo,
The design of the Master.
The Lord's at the loom,
Room for Him--room."
When men's eyes seemed unable to see clearly these revelations of Himself, God picked out a small tribe, and through long, patient, painstaking discipline, gave to it, for the whole world, a special revelation of Himself. In it, in the Book which preserves its records, in the Man who came through it, God came nearer yet.
In Jesus, God told out His greatness most, and His love most tenderly. Man is the fairest flower of earth's creation. It was love's fine touch that to him God should reveal Himself best and most in the fairest flower of the eternal creation. Only man could fully appreciate Jesus, God's Man, and man's Brother.
But Jesus was known only to one generation--His own generation--to one narrow strip of country, one peculiarly exclusive tribe, the very small majority of all to whom He had come. So there came to be a Book that all after-generations might know Him too. We of later generations know of Jesus through the Book, in some shape or other, before we can come to know Himself direct. And so we prize the Book above all others. Not for the Book's sake, at all, of course, but because through it we come to know Jesus. With loving reverence we handle it, for it tells of Him, our God-brother.
Some learned folk have been much taken up with the make-up of the Book, its paper and type, and punctuation, and binding. And they have done good service in clearing away a lot of dust and cobwebs that had been gathering on it for a long time. But we plain folk, absorbed in getting things done, do not need to wait on their conclusions. If in those pages we have found Jesus, and God in Jesus, the Book has fulfilled its mission to us.
To all directly, in nature's voice, and in our common daily life; to a nation chosen for the special purpose, and through that nation and its books; through Jesus to those who knew Him, and, by a Book telling of Him, to all following, God came, comes in His wooing, and looked, looks tenderly into man's face. Each of these paths leads straight to God, and each comes to include the others.
But chiefly in Jesus God came. Jesus is God going out in the cold black night, over the mountains, down the ravines and gullies, eagerly hunting for His lost man, getting hands, and face, and more, torn on the brambly thorn bushes, and losing His life, in the darkness, on a tree thrust in His path, but saving the man.