Date: November 6, 1930?
Fools make a mock at sin, but among the righteous there is favor. – Proverbs 14:9
ON a certain Monday morning, not so long ago, the four morning newspapers of New York City devoted an aggregate of 16,000 words to present summaries of fortyone sermons that had been preached on the preceding day from the pulpits of that metropolis. A close examination of these sermon summaries reveals the astounding fact that with but one exception the word sin was used neither directly nor indirectly. A visitor from Mars, reading these newspaper items, listening to the many “inspirational” sermons of our day, or taking the current issue of a well known magazine and finding in the index an article on “The Vanishing Sinner” would doubtless come to the conclusion that here on this North American continent and in our large metropolitan areas the Utopia of the golden age had been found in which sin was outlawed and crime tabu.
Indeed, sin is the most unpopular of all subjects for discussion today, when people love to dwell lingeringly on the inherent goodness of man or try to disguise the hideousness of sin, sugar-coat its bitterness, and explain away its vicious nature under the masquerade of dishonest phraseology. Thus today psychological theories are often substituted for the Ten Commandments. In our current vocabulary a man who uses profanity and abuses the high and holy name of God is said to show “bad taste.” A “racketeer” whose ruthless machine gun sweeps down an innocent pedestrian suffers under a series of “complexes.” A child that refuses to obey its parents is coddled as a “self-expressionist.” Young people who disregard the requirement of premarital chastity claim to enjoy the “new freedom of our new age,” while those who do observe this chastity are said to suffer from “inhibitions.” It’s Not Our Fault, a recent book, is one of the latest literary attacks on the stark reality of personal sin. “Priests Discover Sin, and Theologians Give It Names” is the title of one of the chapters; and the burden of this “handbook for the militantly intelligent” is that there is no absolute basis on which any specific act can be labeled “sin.” It is, the reader is assured, the animal inheritance of animal origin. And behind all of these new and sometimes formidable theories and expressions by which sin often appears “as an angel of light,” to use the words of St. Paul, lies the unwillingness to accept the plain, unswerving statements of the Bible.
Our text tonight speaks out in sharp protest against this palpable perversion and tells us in the inspired wisdom of Proverbs, “Fools make a mock at sin.” And truly, the denial or the ridicule of sin is one of the supreme follies of that farcical philosophy of unbelief that disfigures our modem existence. For the Scriptures, the highest of all high authorities, indeed the only authority in matters of doctrine and morals, employ the most clear and definite tones in rejecting this damnable delusion that there is no sin, or that, if there is, it is not of very great consequence.
THE STARK REALITY OF DAMNING SIN.
Looking to the Bible, we find that in the pages of the Old Testament alone there are more than a dozen different terms that describe sin and wrong, that these words altogether occur more than 2,000 times in the Hebrew sacred writings, and that in the New Testament there is a long array of words in frequent occurrence which similarly express sin. Now, if we remind ourselves that the Bible in thousands of passages thus definitely refers to sin in its various forms as to a hideous reality, who is there that can rise up to shake his puny little fist against this mountain of truth and insist that there is no sin? Who is there that can raise his quavering voice against the reverberating thunder of these words of Scripture to prove that man is naturally good and noble and pure? Our text answers, Only a fool can thus “make a mock at sin”; only one who stubbornly contradicts the truth and to whom, because of this wilful contradiction, the denunciation of St. John applies, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
How thoroughly do our everyday experiences illustrate this Biblical truth, that men are “the servants of sin”! The strange irony in this denial and belittling of sin is seen in the glaring contradiction that just at the time when men have ruled sin out of existence, we find such flooding crime waves, such wide-spread lawlessness, such increasing disregard of authority, that for the first time in our national history a President of the United States has officially called into being a national crime commission. More divorces, more robberies, more murders, more deeds of impurity, more small and large thievery—more sin than ever before in the glittering, golden age in which we live! Again, only a fool can mock at the rushing, sweeping force of such compelling evidence.
But many people readily admit the existence of sin and yet mock at it by following the Pharisee into the temple of their own self-sufficiency and arrogantly thanking God that they are not “as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers”; by engaging in that wide-spread pastime of patting themselves on their shoulders, asking themselves, “What is the matter with me?” and answering with cool complacency and smug self-satisfaction, “I am all right.” But, again, what does the Bible say? Listen to this: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”; “They have all gone aside, they have all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” There you have the Biblical statements, penned in the strongest and most direct language in which human thought may be clothed, statements that leave no room for exemption or exception, but which include every man, woman, and child that ever lived or that ever will live upon the face of this wide earth. Indeed, the Scriptures tell each one of us directly and unhesitatingly that we are burdened by a twofold kind of sin: first, the original and hereditary sin, of which our Lord speaks when He declares, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,”—that is, the consequence of the sin committed by our first parents, who disobediently rose up against God; and then, the sins that men commit of themselves, which the great apostle enumerates in his long catalog under the heading, “The Works of the Flesh” and which he describes as “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.”
To emphasize the truth of the Scriptures when they call you and me and all our fellow-men sinners, there is that unmistakable voice of conscience that heaps up before our mind’s eye all the sins of omission and commission which abound in every human existence. One day they brought to our Lord a woman taken in the act of adultery. But when Jesus challenged her self-righteous accusers, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” we read that the hard-hearted, stiff-necked Pharisees were “convicted by their own conscience” and left without hurling their stones. And today the conscience, that restless, assertive monitor, is both direct and personal testimony to the folly of mocking at sin.
But very often there is only a vague and hazy idea as to what sin is. People will readily grant that deeds of violence, highway robbery, murder, and sexual perversions are sinful; but they often overlook the finer and less violent forms of wrong-doing, particularly the thoughts and words that spring from impure and sinful motives. This is one of the most popular of all modern mockeries, which leads men to parade themselves as paragons of virtue, because, not being severely tempted to despicable acts of sin, they have refrained from indulging in overt and scandalous fractures of the moral code. But once again the Bible leaves no doubt as to the fact that even desires and impulses may be, and often are, sinful and wrong. The definition of sin in the Catechism, “Sin is every transgression of the divine Law in desires, thoughts, words, and deeds,” is entirely Scriptural; for Jesus uses a large part of the Sermon on the Mount to tell those who regard only the consummate act of murder and adultery as sin that even the thought of hate or impurity, even a glance of anger or lust, is a direct and complete fracture of the Law, so that anything that directly or indirectly militates against the holiness of God, anything that is destructive of our neighbor’s or of our own welfare, either in the expression of word or in the impulse of thought,—all this is sin, disgraceful, degenerating, damning sin.
I consciously say damning sin; for if men have been guilty of the folly of endeavoring to rule sin out of existence, they naturally have not shrunk back from the parallel mockery of attempting to eradicate the punishment of sin. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” is a text that fits very appropriately into the modern tendency to laugh away the specter of the punishment of sin. But there is not a more demonstrable fact than the stern reality of the terrifying devastation of sin. I could stand before this microphone for hours and cite to you cold and impartial figures which would show the terrific ravages of sin; I could quote the professional verdicts of physicians in regard to the fearful consequences of the sins of impurity; I could show you that sin robs a man of his self-respect, that it has shortened the life and blasted away the happiness of millions, that it has destroyed kingdoms and nations. The most blatant mockery cannot laugh away such evidence.
Yet all this, even in its most intense and horrifying form, shrinks into the infinitesimal when compared with the final disaster that always follows in the wake of unforgiven sin, and that is death,—not merely the inevitable end of life that awaits every one of us, but particularly the state of spiritual death in the hell that modern enlightenment frantically tries to destroy. What, then, is the result of sin? The Bible warns us, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” And again, “The wages of sin is death.” There, in plain and unmistakable terms, you have a direct expression of the appalling extreme to which sin, as a violation of the will and Law of a just and holy God, can lead—first of all, to a separation from God, then to punishment in the form of affliction and death, and finally to the despair of an endless, hopeless eternity of darkness. Who is there that can make a mock at such terrifying realities? Our text echoes, “Only a fool.”
THE FATHOMLESS FAVOR OF GOD.
We can understand, then, that men have sought both for the forgiveness of sins and for the power to counteract sin. And it is a wonderful and comforting message that we read in the second statement of our text, “Among the righteous there is favor.” Yes, as we know, not from man’s reason, but from the revelation of a gracious God in His Word, there is divine favor, there is forgiveness of our sins, there is the immeasurable love of God, that prompted Him to send the “one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus,” who “gave Himself as a ransom for all.” There, in that wondrous Gospelmessage, that “He became sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteoumess of God in Him,” in the record of that world-moving transaction, “He hath purchased us with His own blood,” in that promise of purification, that this blood, “the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin,” is the invitation that goes out tonight, addressed to all who may hear these words, to turn away from sin and to come to Christ, not in reliance upon your own accomplishments (for after all, how few and small and unworthy they are!), but trusting solely in the merit of Jesus’ blood and righteousness, in the fathomless favor of God.
It is in His Word that we find further favor—the power to check and restrain sin, that power for which anxious men have sought so long and so vainly. They look about them in this world of vice and crime; they read of the appalling increase in the penal population of our country and of the disastrous losses that follow in the wake of sin; and they ask, “How can we check sin? How can we limit and restrict its frequent and destructive occurrence?” One expert tells us that we need more laws; but the experience of the past years has shown that the more laws there are, the more there are broken. Another expert says we need more education; but experience again tells us that a college degree is no diploma for morality. An uneducated thief will go down to the freight-yard and steal a ride, but an educated thief will steal the whole railway system. Another tells us that we need gland operations and similar services of surgeons; but everybody knows that some of the most brutal criminals have been of almost perfect physique. No, something else is necessary if there is to be a really effective restraint of sin. The Bible tells us what that something else is: the favor of God, which offers the regenerating, reconstructing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is this dynamic, indescribable, miraculous power of which the great apostle speaks when he assures us, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
Thus, while sin has led us to behold the ugliest thing on earth, that which has engulfed human existence in immeasurable woes and made men suffer horror, misery, and anguish beyond computation, we have also been privileged to hold out to the world tonight the favor of God, the most sublime message that human ears can ever hear, the promise that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” the message of that all-embracing, never-failing, everlasting, and universal love of God in Jesus Christ. This is God’s gift, as our text puts it, to the “righteous,” to those who, coming to Jesus just as they are, find in His blood and righteousness their beauty and their glorious dress and thus are adjudged righteous by God. They are those who, spurning every claim to their own righteousness or to the righteousness of others, but believing, trusting, in Him whose promises never fail, pray with patient confidence: —
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!
Let the water and the blood
From Thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Can you pray that prayer? Are you hidden in the cleft Rock of Ages? Are you cleansed from the guilt and power of sin? God grant it for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.