|RPM, Volume 12, Number 42, October 17 to October 23, 2010|
Sin Brings a Person Low
The Desperateness of Sinners
The Last and Great Change
The Furnace Heated Hotter!
"And were brought low for their iniquity." Psalm 106:43
If the Scripture is a spiritual garden, as Chrysostom said, the book of Psalms is a choice knoll in this garden, set with fragrant flowers. Luther called the Psalms, "a little Bible". The Psalms make sweeter music, than ever David's harp did. They are calculated for every Christian's condition—and may serve either for illumination or consolation.
In this Psalm, David sets down the SINS of the people of God.
First, their sins in general. Verse 6, "We have sinned with our fathers." The examples of fathers are not always to be urged. Shall we not be wiser than our fathers? Fathers may err. Sometimes, it is better for a son to take his land from his father—than take his religion from his father, 2 Chronicles 29:6. Second, David makes a particular enumeration of their sins.
1. Their forgetfulness of God. Verse 13, "They soon forgot His works." Or, as it is in the original—they made haste to forget his works. The Lord wrought a famous miracle for them, verse 11. He drowned Israel's enemies—and Israel drowned His mercies. Our sins and God's kindnesses, are apt quickly to slip out of our memory. We deal with God's mercies as with flowers. When they are fresh, we smell them and put them in our bosom. But within awhile, we throw them away and mind them no more. They made haste to forget His works.
2. Their inordinate lusting. Verse 14, "They lusted exceedingly in the wilderness." They were weary of the provision which God sent them miraculously from heaven. They grew dainty. They wept for quails. They were not content that God should supply their needs—but they would have Him satisfy their lusts also. God let them have their requests. They had quails—but in anger. "He sent leanness to their souls." In other words, He sent a plague whereby they pined and consumed away.
3. Their idolatry. Verse 19, "They made a calf in Horeb." They framed for themselves a god of gold and worshiped it. The Scripture calls idols "a shame," Hosea 9:10. For this, God disclaimed them from being His people. Exodus 32:2, "Your people have corrupted themselves." Formerly God called them His people—but now He does not say to Moses "My people," but "your people."
4. Their infidelity. Verse 24, "They did not believe His Word—but murmured." They did not think that God would subdue their enemies and bring them into that pleasant land which flowed with milk and honey. And this unbelief broke forth into murmuring. They wished
they had made their graves in Egypt, Exodus 16:3. When men begin to distrust God's promise—then they quarrel at His Providence. When faith grows low—murmuring grow high. For these things, God stretched out His hand against them, as it is in the text, "And they were brought low for iniquity."
The words branch themselves into two parts.
1. Israel's misery. "They were brought low." Some expositors translate it, "They waxed lean." The Hebrew and Septuagint render it, "They were humbled."
2. The procuring cause of it, "for their iniquity."
Doctrine. The proposition resulting from the text—is that sin brings a person low. Psalm 147:6, "The wicked, He casts down to the ground." Jeptha said to his daughter when she met them with timbrel and dancing, Judges 11:35, "Alas my daughter, you have brought me very low." So a man may say to his sin, "Alas, my sin—you have brought me very low!"
Sin is the great leveler. It brings a family low. It cuts off the pillars of the family. 1 Samuel 2:29, "Why do you scorn my sacrifices and offerings?" Verse 31, "I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will live to a ripe old age." Which threatening God made good when He cut off Eli's two sons and took the other sons from the priesthood.
Sin brings a kingdom low. 1 Samuel 15:19, "Why did not you obey the voice of the Lord—but did evil in His sight?" Verse 28, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day!"
Sin breaks the foundation of church and state. Hosea 13:1, "When Ephraim spoke, men trembled; he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died." The tribe of Ephraim carried a majesty with it and was superior to the ten tribes. When Ephraim spoke, he struck an awe and terror into others—but when he became guilty of Baal worship—he died. When once he fell from God by idolatry, he degraded himself of his honor. His strength and glory came to nothing. Now every puny adversary insulted him, as the timid rabbit will tread upon a dead lion.
Among the many threatenings against sin, is Deuteronomy 28:43, "You shall sink lower and lower." And in the text this threatening is exemplified and made good, "They were brought low for their iniquity." That I may amplify and illustrate the proposition, I shall show:
How many ways sin brings a man low.
Why sin must bring a man low.
That you may see how low a sinner is fallen in God's account, the Lord compares him to dross, Psalm 119:119; to chaff, Psalm 1:4; to a pot boiling with scum, Ezekiel 24:6; to a dog, 2 Peter 2:22, which under the Law was unclean; to a serpent, Matthew 23:33, which is a cursed creature. Nay, he is worse than a serpent, for the poison of a serpent is what God has put into it—but a wicked man has that which the devil has put into him! Acts 5:3, "Why has Satan filled your heart?"
A sinner has a high opinion of himself. But if he knew how loathsome and disfigured he was in God's eye—he would abhor himself in the dust!
2. Sin brings a man low in his intellectual parts. Sin has ruined the rational part. Darkness is upon the face of this deep. Since the Fall, the lamp of reason burns dim. 1 Corinthians 13:9, "We know but in part." There are many knots in nature, which are not easy to untie. Why should the Nile overflow in summer when, by the course of nature, waters are lowest? Why should the loadstone rather draw iron than gold—which is a more noble metal? "Where is the path to the origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind? Who created a channel for the torrents of rain? Who laid out the path for the lightning?" Job 38:24-25. "How do the bones grow in the womb?" Ecclesiastes 11:5. Many of these are mysteries which we do not understand. The key of knowledge is lost in the tree of knowledge.
We are especially enveloped with ignorance in sacred matters. "The sword is upon our right eye," Zachariah 11:16. What a little of the sea will a nutshell hold? How little of God will our intellect contain? Job 11:7, "Can you find out the Almighty unto perfection?" Who can fully unriddle the mystery of the Trinity or fathom the mystery of the the divine and human natures of Christ? And alas, as to the plan of salvation, and heart-transforming knowledge—we are totally blinded—until God's Spirit lights our lamp! 1 Corinthians 2:14.
3. Sin brings a man low in affliction. That is the meaning of Psalm 107:39, "They were brought low for their iniquity." Adam's sin brought him low; it banished him out of paradise. 2 Chronicles 28:18, "In those days, God cut Israel short." Sin makes God cut a people short in their spiritual and civil liberties. Sin is the womb of sorrow—and the grave of comfort! Sin turns the body into a hospital. It causes fevers, ulcers, and cancers.
Sin buries the name, melts the estate, pulls away near relations like limbs from our body. Sin is the trojan horse out of which a whole troop of afflictions comes. Sin drowned the old world—and burnt Sodom. Sin made Zion sit in Babylon. Lamentations 1:8, "Jerusalem bath grievously sinned, therefore she is removed." Sin shut up God's affections. Lamentations 2:21, "You have killed and not pitied." Israel sinned and did not repent—and God killed and did not pity. Sin is the great humbler. Did not David's sin bring him low? Psalm 38:3, "There is no rest in my bones because of my sin." Did not Manasseh's sin bring him low? It changed his royal crown into fetters, 2 Chronicles 33:11. For sin, God turned great King Nebuchadnezzar into an animal, "He ate grass like a cow—and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles' feathers and his nails were like birds' claws!" Daniel 4:33.
Sin is like the Egyptian reed—too feeble to support us—but sharp enough to wound us. Jeremiah 2:16, "Egyptians have utterly destroyed Israel's glory and power." The Egyptians were not a warlike but a womanish people, imbecilic and weak, yet these were too hard for Israel and made a spoil of her. Verse 17: "Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God?" Is it not your sin, which has brought you low?
Nay, sin not only brings us low—but it embitters affliction. Sin puts teeth into the affliction. Guilt makes affliction heavy. A little water is heavy in a lead vessel—and a little affliction is heavy in a guilty conscience.
4. Sin brings one low in melancholy. This is a black humor seated chiefly in the mind. Some have dreadful and dismal forebodings. Melancholy clothes the mind in sable. It puts a Christian out of tune, so that he is not fit for prayer or praise. Lute strings will not sound when wet, nor can one under the power of melancholy make melody in his heart to the Lord, Ephesians 5:19. When the mind is troubled, it is unfit to go about work.
Melancholy disturbs reason—and weakens faith. Satan works much on this temper. It is the bath of the devil. He bathes himself with delight in such a person. Through the black spectacles of melancholy, everything appears black. When a Christian looks upon sin, he says, "This Leviathan will devour me!" When lie looks upon ordinances, these will serve to increase his guilt. When he looks upon affliction, his gulf will swallow him up! Melancholy creates fears in the mind. It excites jealousies and imprisons. I may allude to Psalm 53:5, "They were overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread."
5. Sin brings a man low in spiritual plagues. It brings many a one to a seared conscience—and to spiritual lethargy. Isaiah 29:10: "The Lord has poured out upon you the spirit of a deep sleep—and has closed your eyes." Men are brought low indeed when the sound of Aaron's bell will not awaken them. No sermon will stir them. They are like the blacksmith's dog—which can lie and fast sleep near the anvil when all the sparks fly about. Conscience is in a lethargy. Once a man's speech is gone and his feeling lost—he draws on apace to death. So when the checks of conscience cease and a man is sensible neither of sin nor wrath—you may ring out the death bell. He is past hope of recovery. Thus some are brought low, even to a reprobate sense. This is the threshold of damnation.
6. Sin brings a man low in temptation. Paul began to be proud—and he had a messenger of Satan to buffet him, 2 Corinthians 12:7. Some think it was a visible apparition of Satan tempting him to sin. Others, that the devil was now assaulting Paul's faith, making him believe he was a hypocrite. Satan laid the bomb of temptation—to blow up the fort of his grace! And this temptation was so sore that he called it "a thorn in the flesh." It put him to much anguish. Such temptations, the godly often fall into. They are tempted to question the truth of the promises—or the truth of their own graces. Sometimes they are tempted to blasphemy, sometimes to self-murder. Thus, they are brought low; they are almost gone and ready to give consent. The devil nibbles at their heel—but God wards off the blow from their head.
7. Sin brings one low in desertion. This is a deep abyss indeed. Psalm 88:6, "You have laid me in the lowest pit." Desertion is a short hell. Song of Solomon 5:6, "My beloved has withdrawn himself and was gone." Christ knocked—but the spouse was loath to rise off her bed of sloth and open to Him immediately. When the devil finds a person sleeping—he enters. But when Christ finds him sleeping—He is gone. And if this Sun of righteousness withdraws His golden beams from the soul, darkness follows.
Desertion is the arrow of God shot into the soul. Job 6:4, "For the Almighty has struck me down with his arrows. He has sent his poisoned arrows deep within my spirit. All God's terrors are arrayed against me." The Scythians, in their wars, used to dip their arrows in the gall of asps that their venomous poison might torture the enemy all the more. So the Lord shot His poisoned arrows of desertion at Job, under the wounds whereof his spirit lay bleeding.
God is called a light and a fire in Scripture. The deserted soul feels the fire—but does not see the light. So dreadful is this that the most tormenting pains—are but a pleasure, compared to it. All the delights under the sun, will administer no comfort in this condition. Worldly things can no more relieve a troubled mind—than a silk stocking can ease a broken leg. Psalm 88:15, "I have suffered your terrors and am in despair." Luther, in desertion, was close to dying. "He had no color seen in his face, nor was heard to speak—but his body seemed dead," as one wrote in a letter to Melancthon.
8. Sin brings many low in despair. This is a gulf which none but reprobates fall into. Jeremiah 18:11, "You said, there is no hope." Despair is a devouring of salvation. It is a millstone tied about the soul—which sinks it in perdition. Despair looks on God not as a Father—but as a judge. It refuses the remedy. Other sins need Christ; despair rejects Him. It closes the orifice of Christ's wounds—so that no blood will come out to heal. This is the voice of despair, "My sin is greater than the mercy of God can pardon!" It makes the wound broader than the plaster.
Despair is a God-affronting sin. It is sacrilege; it robs God of His crown jewels—His power, goodness, and truth. How Satan triumphs to see the honor of God's attributes laid in the dust, by despair! Despair casts away the anchor of hope—and then the soul must sink. What will a ship do in a storm without an anchor? Despair locks men up in impenitency. I have read of one Hubertus who died despairing. He made his will after this manner, "I yield my goods to the King, my body to the grave, my soul to the devil." Isaiah 38:18, "They that go down into the pit, cannot hope for Your truth." They who go down into this pit of despair cannot hope for the truth of God's promise. And this despair grows at last, into horror and raving.
9. Without repentance, sin brings a man into the bottomless pit—and then he is brought low indeed! Sin draws hell at its heels. Psalm 9:7, "The wicked shall be turned into hell." Not to speak of the punishment of loss, which divines think is the worst part of hell: the being separated from the beatific sight of God, "in whose presence is fullness of joy," Psalm 16:11. The punishment of sense is bad enough. The wrath will come upon sinners to the uttermost, 1 Thessalonians 2:16.
If when God's anger is kindled but a little—and a spark of it flies into a man's conscience in this life, it is so terrible—what will it be when He stirs up all His wrath? Psalm 78:38. How sad was it with the infidel Spira, when he only sipped of the cup of wrath. He became a madman. His flesh wasted away—and he became a terror to himself. What is it then to lie steeping in hell?
Some may ask, "where is hell?" But as Chrysostom said, "Let us not be inquisitive where it is—but rather let our care be to escape it." But, to satisfy curiosity, hell is some infernal place. It lies low. Proverbs 15:24: "Hell beneath."
The PLURALITY of hell torments. In bodily sickness, it is seldom that more than one disease at a time, troubles the patient. But in hell, there is a diversity of torments. There is:
1. Darkness, Jude 13. Hell is a dark region.
2. There are bonds and chains, 2 Peter 2:4. God has golden cords, which are His precepts tying men to duty. But He also has iron chains, which are partly His decree in ordaining men to destruction; and partly His power in bridling and chaining them up under wrath. The binding of the wicked in chains, notes that the damned in hell cannot move from place to place, which might perhaps a little alleviate and abate their misery; but they shall be tied to the stake never to stir. The wicked could go from one sin to another—but in hell they shall not move from one place to another.
3. The worm which never dies, Mark 9:44. This is a self-accusing conscience, which is so torturing, as if a worm full of poison were gnawing at a man's heart! Such as would not hear the voice of conscience—shall be made to feel the worm of conscience!
The SEVERITY of hell torments. It is expressed by a lake of fire, Revelation 20:15. Fire is the most torturing element.
Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace was but a painted fire—compared to hell-fire! It is called a "prepared fire," Matthew 25:41, as if God had been sitting down to devise some exquisite torment. Dives cried out, "O I am tormented in this flame!" Luke 16:24.
1. The torments of hell shall be in every part of body and soul. The BODY shall be tormented. That body which was so tender and delicate, that it could not bear heat or cold—shall suffer in every part! The eyes shall be tormented with sights of devils, the ears with the hideous shrieks of the damned. The tongue that was fired with passion, shall now have fire enough! Luke 16:24: "Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue!"
All the powers of the SOUL shall be tormented. The mind will comprehend divine displeasure. The memory will remember what mercies have been abused, what means of grace have been slighted—and what a heaven is forfeited! The conscience shall be tormented with self-accusations. The sinner shall arraign himself for stifling and resisting the motions of the blessed Spirit.
The wicked shall not only be forced to behold the devil—but shall be shut up in the den with this roaring lion—and he shall spit fire in their faces!
The wicked shall hear the language of hell. Revelation 16:9: "Men were scorched with heat—and blasphemed the name of God." To hear reprobates cursing God and have one's ears chained to their oaths and blasphemies—what a hell will this be!
2. The torments of hell have no end put to them. Origen falsely imagined a fiery stream in which the souls of sinful men, yes, devils and all, were to be purged—and then pass into heaven. But the Scripture asserts that whoever is not purged from sin by Christ's blood (1 John 1:7) is to lie under the torrid zone of God's wrath to all eternity! Revelation 14:11, "The smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever!" The word "forever" burns hotter than the fire! At death, all our worldly sorrows die—but the torments of hell are as long-lived as eternity! Revelation 9:6, "They shall seek death—and shall not find it." Always dying—but never dead. Here on earth, the wicked thought a prayer was long, a church service long, Amos 8:5—but how long will it be to lie in hell forever!
3. The pains of hell are without intermission. If a man is in pain, yet while he is asleep he does not feel it. There is no sleep in hell. What would the damned give for one hour's sleep? Revelation 4:8. "They have no rest, day nor night." In outward pain, there is some abatement. The burning fit is sometimes off and the patient is more at ease than he was. But the damned soul never says, "I have some ease." Those infernal pains are always acute and sharp; there is no drop of water to cool the tongue, in the agony of this fire!
4. In hell, the wicked shall see the godly advanced to a kingdom—and themselves bound up to eternal misery! Luke 13:28, "Then shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God—and you yourselves thrust out!" When sinners shall see those whom they hated and scorned—set at Christ's right hand and crowned with glory—and themselves cast out to the devils; nay, when the ungodly shall see those whom they abused and persecuted sit as their judges—and join with Christ in condemning them. How will this aggravate the misery of this hellish crew—and make them gnash their teeth for envy? 1 Corinthians 6:2, "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?"
5. In hell, the wicked shall have none to sympathize with them. It is some comfort to have friends condole us in our sufferings—but the damned have none to compassionate them. God's mercy will not pity them. God's mercy abused—turns to fury. God the Father will not pity them; He will laugh at them. Proverbs 1:26, "I will laugh at your calamity!" Is not this sad, for a damned soul to lie roaring in flames and have God sit and laugh at him! Jesus Christ will not pity the wicked. They slighted His blood—and now His blood cries against them! The angels will not pity them. It is a desirable sight to men, to see God's justice glorified. The saints in heaven will not pity them. They were continually persecuted by them—and "The righteous will be glad when they are avenged!" Psalm 58:10.
Nay, such as were their nearest relations on earth, will not pity them. The father will not pity his child in hell; nor will the wife pity her husband. The reason is, because the glorified saints have their wills made perfectly subject to God's will—and when they see His will is done—they rejoice, though it is in the damning of their near relations.
Does not sin, then, bring men low—when it brings them to hell! Ezekiel 32:27, "They are gone down to hell." Thus I have shown you how many ways sin brings one low.
2. Sin must bring a man low, because the sinner enters into war with God. He tramples upon God's law and crosses His will. If God is of one mind, the sinner will be of another. He does all he can to spite God, Jeremiah 44:16, "We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want. We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and sacrifice to her just as much as we like!"
The same Hebrew word for sin, signifies rebellion. Now, can the Lord endure to be thus saucily confronted by proud dust? God will never let his own creature rise up in arms against Him. He will pull down the sinner's plumes—and bring him low! God is called El Elim, the mighty of mighties. When the angel wrestled with Jacob, he touched only the hollow of his thigh, Genesis 32:25. But when God wrestles with a sinner, He will tear them apart, "Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open. Like a lion I will devour them; a wild animal will tear them apart!" Hosea 13:8. The Apostle said, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" Hebrews 10:31. It is good to fall into God's hands, when He is a friend—but it is dreadful falling into His hands, when He is an enemy.
3. Sin must bring a man low because the sinner labors to do what he can to bring God low. He has low thoughts of God. He slights His sovereignty, questions His truth, looks upon all God's promises as a forged deed. The sinner, therefore, is said to despise God, Numbers 11:20.
Again, the sinner lessens God and brings Him low in the thoughts of others. Ezekiel 8:12, "Have you seen what the leaders of Israel are doing with their idols in dark rooms? They are saying, The Lord doesn't see us; He has deserted our land!" Do but secure yourselves from man's eye—and as for God's taking notice of sin—you need not trouble yourselves. "The Lord doesn't see us; He has deserted our land!" Zephaniah 1:12, "I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem's darkest corners to find and punish those who sit contented in their sins, indifferent to the Lord, thinking he will do nothing at all to them." That is—you need not fear punishment.
Malachi 2:17, "You say—Everyone who does evil is good in the Lord's sight—and He is pleased with them. Where is the God of justice?" Here they blemish God's sanctity. That is, "God is not so holy—but He bears as much favor to the wicked as to the good." "Where is the God of justice?" Here they tax His justice. It is as if they had said, "God does not order things rightly. He does not weigh matters impartially in an equal balance." "Where is the God of justice?" Thus a sinner eclipses the glory of the Godhead—and labors to bring God low in the thoughts of others.
And besides, he does what he can—to extirpate God. He wishes there were no God. He says, "Get out of the way! Rid us of the Holy One of Israel!" Isaiah 30:11. A wicked man would not only unthrone God—but "kill" God. If he could help it, God would no longer be God. Now, if a sinner is this impious as to endeavor to bring God low, no wonder if God brings him low. Nahum 1, "I will prepare your grave, for you are vile!" That is, "I will bring you (O Sennacherib) from the throne to the tomb. I will kick you into your grave." And Obadiah 4, "Though you soar as high as eagles and build your nest among the stars, I will bring you crashing down. I, the Lord, have spoken!"
4. Sin must bring a person low, because sin is the only thing God has an antipathy against. The Lord does not hate a man because he is poor or despised. You do not hate your friend because he is sick. But that which draws forth the keeness of God's hatred is sin. Jeremiah 44:4, "Do not do this abominable thing which I hate." Now, for anyone to espouse that which God's soul hates, it must undo him at last. Is that subject likely to thrive, whom his king hates? The cherishing and countenancing of sin makes the fury come up in God's face, Ezekiel 38:16. And, if His wrath is once kindled, it burns to the lowest hell. The Psalmist said, "Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?" Isaiah 33:14.
5. Sin must bring the sinner low, because it exposes him to God's curse—and God's curse blasts wherever it comes. "If you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out." Deuteronomy 28:15-19 The curse of God haunts the sinner wherever he goes. If he is in the city, it spoils his trade. If he is in the country, it destroys his crop.
God's curse drops poison into everything. It is a moth in the closet, a plague among the cattle, rot among the sheep. If the flying scroll of curses enters into a man's house, it consumes the timber and walls of it, Zechariah 5:4. When Christ cursed the fig-tree, it immediately withered, Matthew 21:19. Men's curses are insignificant—they shoot without bullets. But Numbers 22:6 says, "I know that those You bless are blessed—and those You curse are cursed." God's curse kills, Psalm 37:22, "those cursed by Him will be destroyed." If all God's curses are leveled against the sinner—then he must be brought low!
Use #1. Information
Branch 1. See then from this that God's punishing either a person or a nation is not without a cause. A father may chastise his son out of a bad temper, when there is no cause—but God never punishes without a just cause. He does not do purely to show His sovereignty, or because He takes pleasure to bring His creatures low. Lamentations 3:33, "He does not willingly bring affliction," or, as it is in the Hebrew, "from the heart." But there is some impellent cause. "They were brought low—for their iniquity."
Cyprian writes this concerning the persecution of the Church under the Emperor Valerian. "We must confess that this sad calamity, which has, in a great part wasted our churches, has risen from our own internal wickedness—for we are full of avarice, ambition, emulation, etc." Jeremiah 4:17, "They surround her like men guarding a field, because she has rebelled against Me." As horses or deer in a field are so enclosed with hedges and so narrowly watched that they cannot get out, so Jerusalem was so besieged with enemies and watched that there was no escape for her without danger of life. Verse 18, "Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!"
As we used to say to children when they were sick, "This is because of the green fruit you have eaten, or from your going out in the snow," so God says, "This is because of your wickedness." Jeremiah 30:15, "Why do you cry out about your affliction? Your pain has no cure! I have done these things to you because of your enormous guilt and your innumerable sins!" The sword which wounds you is of your own whetting! The cords that pinch you are of your own twisting! Thank your sin for all this! 1 Corinthians 11:30, "For this cause many are sick, and weak, and many fall asleep." The Church at Corinth was punished with physical death, because of coming unworthily to the Lord's Table and profaning the body and blood of the Lord.
The abuse of holy things incenses God. Nadab and Abihu found the flames of wrath hot about the altar! Leviticus 10:1-2. So that there is still a cause why God brings any person low. There is no reason why God should love us—but there is a great deal of reason why God should punish us. "They were brought low—for their iniquity."
Branch 2. See from this what a mischievous thing sin is—it brings a person and a nation low. Hosea 14:1, "You have fallen by your iniquity." Sin lays men low in the grave—and in hell too, without repentance. Sin is the Achan which troubles. It is the gall in our cup and the gravel in our bread, Proverbs 20:17. Sin and punishment are linked together with adamantine chains! Sin sets the world on fire. It is a coal which not only blackens—but burns! Sin conjures up all our afflictions. All the crosses which befall us, all the storms in conscience—sin raises them! Never let anyone think to rise by sin, for the text says that sin brings him low.
Sin first tempts—and then damns! It is first a fox—and then a lion! Sin does to a man—as Jael did to Sisera. First she brought the milk and butter to Sisera—then she pounded the tent peg through his head! Judges 5:26. Sin first brings us pleasures which delight and charm the senses—and then comes with its hammer and nail! Sin does to the sinner, as Absalom did to Amnon. When his heart was merry with wine—then he killed him, 2 Samuel 13:28. Sin's last act is always tragic!
How evil a thing is sin that it not only brings a people low—but it makes God delight in bringing them low. Ezekiel 5:13, "When My anger is spent and I have vented My wrath on them—I will be comforted." God does not take delight in punishing. Judges 10:16, "His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel." He is like a father who chastises his child with tears. But God was so provoked with the Jews, that it seemed a delight to Him to afflict. "When My anger is spent and I have vented My wrath on them—I will be comforted." Oh, what a venomous, accursed thing sin is—which makes a merciful God take comfort in the destruction of His own creature!
Branch 3. See, then, what little cause any have to wonder that they are brought low. As the Apostle said, 1 Peter 4:12, "Don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you." So do not think it strange if you are as full of eclipses and changes as the moon. Do not wonder if you are under the black rod. A sick man may as well wonder that he is in pain—as a sinful man wonder that he is afflicted. Do not vapors cause thunder? Is it a wonder to hear God's thundering voice after the hellish vapors of our sins have been sent up? Sin is a debt. It is set out in Scripture by a debt of millions, Matthew 18:24. Is it a wonder for a man who is in debt to be arrested? Never wonder that God arrests you with His judgments when you are so deeply in arrears.
Sin is a walking contrary to God. And if men walk contrary to God, is it any wonder if God walks contrary to them? Leviticus 26:17, "If you will walk contrary to Me—then I will also walk contrary to you—and I even I will chastise you seven times more for your sins."
Oh, sinner, do not wonder that it is so bad with you—but rather wonder that it is no worse! Are you in the deep of affliction? It is a wonder you are not in the deep of hell! If Jesus Christ was brought low, is it a wonder that you are brought low?
Christ was brought low in poverty. A feeding trough was His cradle. The cobwebs were His curtains.
He was brought low in temptation. Matthew 4:1, "He was led into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." No sooner was Christ out of the water of baptism—than He was in the fire of temptation! Only His Godhead was too strong a bulwark for Satan's fiery darts to enter.
He was brought low in His agonies. He sweat blood in the garden. He shed blood on the cross. If Christ was brought low, who knew no sin, do you wonder that you are brought low, who are so full of sin? Lamentations 3:39, "Why doth a living man complain—for the punishment of his sin?" What, a sinner—and you wonder or murmur that you are afflicted? Sin as naturally draws punishment to it—as the magnet draws iron!
Branch 4. See the text fulfilled this day in our eyes. Sin has brought our nation low. We are falling down—if not collapsed. We do not lack for sin. There is a spirit of wickedness in the land. Ours are mighty sins, Amos 5:12; bloody sins, Hosea 4:2. The sins of Denmark, Spain, France, and Italy—are translated into English. We have many Sodoms among us—and may fear to have the line of confusion stretched over us. By our impieties and blasphemies, we have sounded a trumpet of rebellion against heaven. Were our sins engraved upon our foreheads, we would be ashamed to look up!
Men invent new sins. Romans 1:30, "inventors of evil things." Some invent new errors; others invent new snares. This age exceeds former ages in sinning. As it is with trades, there may be old trades—but there are some new tradesmen now who have grown more dexterous and cunning in their trade, than they were in former times. So it is with sin. Sin is an old trade—but there are people now alive, who are more skilled in the trade—and have grown more expert in sin, than those who are dead and gone. In former times, sinners were bunglers at sin, compared to what they are now. They are skillful at self-damnation. Jeremiah 4:22, "They are foolish children, without understanding. They are skilled in doing what is evil—but they do not know how to do what is good."
The devil's mint is going every day—and sin is minted faster than money. People sin with greediness, "Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." Ephesians 4:19. "Man, who is vile and corrupt, who drinks up evil like water!" Job 15:16. They have grown rampant in wickedness, having laid aside the veil of modesty. Zephaniah 3:5, "The wicked know no shame." We read that Nebuchadnezzar had the heart of a beast given to him, Daniel 4:16. If all who have the hearts of beasts had the faces of beasts—men would be very scarce!
And if sin is so high, well may it bring us low. While the body is in a burning fever—it cannot thrive. Our nation, being in this burning fever of sin—must waste away. Has not sin brought us low? What wars, pestilences, and fires have broken out among us? The splendor and magnificence of the city has been brought low and laid in ashes! (Editor's Note: Watson is here referring to the great fire of London, which demolished much of the city.)
Sin has brought us low in our reputation. Proverbs 14:34, "Sin is a reproach to any people." Time was, when God made the sheaves of other nations do obeisance to our sheaf, Genesis 37:7. But our pristine fame and renown is eclipsed. Malachi 2:2, "I have made you base and contemptible." Trading is brought low. Many men's estates are boiled down to nothing—their gourd is withered. Their jar of oil fails. Ruth 1:21, "I went out full—but the Lord has brought me home empty!" Sin has brought other nations low—and do we think to escape better than they?
Salvian observes that in Africa, when the Church of God had degenerated from its purity—the land abounded in vice and was filled with sin. Then the Vandals entered Africa and the enemy's sword let them bleed. Numbers 32:23, "Be sure your sin will find you out!" Like a bloodhound, it will pursue you.
What are those sins which have brought this city and nation so low?
1. The first sin that has brought us low is PRIDE. Proverbs 29:23, "A man's pride shall bring him low." Pride runs in the blood. Our first parents aspired to Deity. They did not content themselves to know God—but they would be as knowing as God. Augustine calls pride, "the mother of all sin!" The Persian kings would have their image worshiped by all who came into Babylon. Sapor writes of himself—as brother to the sun and moon, and partner with the stars. Caligula the Emperor commanded himself to be worshiped as a god. He caused a temple to be erected for him. He used to have the most costly animals sacrificed to him. Sometimes he would sit with a golden beard and a thunderbolt in his hand, like Jupiter; and sometimes with a scepter with three prongs, like Neptune.
Some people would be better if, as Solon said, "we could pluck the worm of pride out of their head!" Pride ruins our virtues—and poisons our mercies. The higher we lift ourselves up in pride, the lower God casts us down. Proverbs 15:25, "The Lord will destroy the house of the proud."
There is a SPIRITUAL pride, which is three fold:
1. Some take pride in their abilities. The Lord enriches them with wit and abilities—and pride fumes from their heart into their head and makes them giddy. Herod was proud of the oration he made, and assumed that glory to himself which he should have given to God. His pride brought him low. "He was eaten of worms," Acts 12:23.
2. Some take pride in their duties. This worm of pride, breeds in sweet fruit. They have said so many prayers, heard so many sermons. Luke 18:12, "I fast twice a week, and give a tenth of all I get." Now they think they have made God amends—that He is indebted to them and they shall be accepted for their religious performances. What is this but pride? Is this not to make a Christ of our duties? The devil destroys some by making them neglect duty, and others by making them idolize duty. Better is that infirmity which humbles me—than that duty which makes me proud!
3. Some take pride in their graces. This seems strange, seeing grace is given to the humble, that any should be proud of their graces. But pride is not from the grace in us—but the corruption in us! It is not from the strength of holiness—but the weakness of holiness.
Christians may be said to be proud of their grace when they lay too much stress upon their grace. In Matthew 26:33, Peter says, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." Here was a double pride. First, that he thought he had more grace than the rest of the Apostles. Second, in that he laid much weight upon his grace. He leaned more on his grace—than on Christ.
Men are proud of their grace when they slight others whom they think are inferior to them in grace. Instead of the strong bearing the infirmities of the weak, Romans 15:1, they are ready to despise the weak. Our Savior saw this pride breeding in his own disciples; therefore He cautioned them against it. Matthew 18:10, "Take heed that you despise not one of these little ones."
There is a carnal pride. I call it carnal because it is conversant about carnal objects.
1. Some are proud of their BODIES. Pride is seen in long and meticulous dressings. People spend that time between the comb and the looking-glass, which should be spent in prayer and holy meditation.
Pride is seen in painting their faces, overlaying God's work with the devil's colors. But virtue is most beautiful to God. "Don't be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God." 1 Peter 3:3-4
Pride is seen in spotting themselves. Pimples in the face show that the blood is corrupt. Spots in the face show that the heart is corrupt. Cyprian said, "They who paint and spot their faces may justly fear that at the resurrection their Creator will not know them." Pride is seen in the outlandish fashions with which some people dress, or rather disguise themselves. They clothe themselves like the rainbow. Adam was ashamed of his nakedness; these should be ashamed of their clothing. They are so plumed and gaudily attired, that they tempt the devil to fall in love with them.
2. Some are proud of their ESTATES. Riches are fuel for pride. Ezekiel 28:5, "Your heart has become proud because of your wealth." Men's hearts rise with their estates—like the boats on the Thames rise with the tide. Now, all this pride will bring a person low. For this sin, God strikes many with frenzy, and so levels the mountain of pride. God has stained the pride of England's glory, Isaiah 23:9. He has stripped us of our jewels. Proverbs 16:8, "Pride goes before destruction." Where pride leads the van, destruction brings up the rear.
2. Another sin which has brought us low, is neglect of family worship. Religion in men's families is brought low. There is little reading of Scripture. They more often look at a deck of cards, than a Bible. There is little praying. It is the mark of a reprobate that "he does not call upon God," Psalm 14:4. The atheist never prays at all. The Grecians asked counsel of their pretend gods—by their oracles; the Persians—by their Magi; the Galls—by their Druids; the Romans—by their Augures. Shall pagans pray—and not Christians? Creatures, by the instinct of nature, cry to God. Psalm 147:9, "The young ravens cry to Him for food." Prayer has no enemies, unless they are infernal spirits—and such as are near of kin to them.
Keys that are often used, are bright—but if they are laid aside and never used they grow rusty. So it is with men's hearts. If they are not used to family prayer, they will be rusted over with sin!
For this, God has brought us low. Why did He pull down many houses in this city—but because they were unholy houses. There was no prayer in them.
How can we think to have a blessing from God—if we never ask for it? God would be doing more for us than He did for His own Son. Hebrews 5:7, "In the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers, with strong cries and tears."
3. Another sin which has brought us low, is COVENANT violation. Psalm 78:10, "They kept not the covenant of God." Verse 50, "He prepared a path for His anger; He did not spare them from death but gave them over to the plague." The people of Carthage were noted for covenant breaking. Oh, that this sin had died with them! Does not this poisonous weed grow in our soil? Did we not make a vow in baptism to fight under Christ's banner—against the world, the flesh, and the devil? Did we not solemnly covenant to be the Lord's people, to shine in sanctity? Deuteronomy 5:28-29, "Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always!" We have much conforming to the world—but where is the conforming to Christ?
Is not Jesus Christ opposed in His kingly office? This is the great controversy: Who shall reign—sin or Christ? For this, God has been like a moth to us—and we may fear lest He makes good that threat, Leviticus 26:25, "I will bring a sword that shall avenge the quarrel of My covenant."
4. Another sin which has brought us low, is the ABUSE of the gospel. We are sick with Israel's disease. They despised manna. Numbers 21:5, "Our soul loathes this light bread." We have been nauseated by the Bread of Life. The gospel is the visible token of God's presence. It is the sacred conduit that empties the golden oil of mercy into us! It is the looking-glass in which we see the face of Christ! It is the celestial banquet with which God cheers and revives the souls of His people! Isaiah 25:6. But was there not a gospel glut in England? People had itching ears and did not know what to hear. And has not our curiosity brought us to scarcity? God has no better way to raise the price of the gospel—than by taking it away.
God surely brought us low, when darkness overspread our horizon—and the Lord allowed so many hundred lights to be put under a bushel at one time. (Editor's note: Perhaps Watson is talking about the "Great Ejection" when the British government persecuted godly pastors—and banned them from preaching.) The Egyptian priests of old told the people that, when any eclipse happened, the gods were angry and great miseries would follow. What sad catastrophies have ensued this spiritual eclipse, is not unknown.
5. Another sin which has brought us low, is COVETOUSNESS. "Covetousness, which is idolatry." Colossians 3:5. When men, with the serpent, lick the dust—then God lays them in the dust. Isaiah 57:17, "I was angry and punished these greedy people. I withdrew myself from them—but they went right on sinning!" Covetousness is the cancer of the soul. Men are set upon the world—when God is plucking it from them. Covetousness is a key which opens the door to further wickedness. 1 Timothy 6:10, "For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows!" A covetous man will stop at no sin. Covetousness made Absalom attempt to dethrone his father. Covetousness made Adhab murder the innocent Naboth.
And what is one the better for all his wealth—at death? 1 Timothy 6:10, "We brought nothing into the world—and it is certain we can carry nothing out." When the rich miser dies, what scrambling is there! His friends are scrambling for his money! The worms are scrambling for his body! The devils are scrambling for his soul!
This sin is most unlovely in those who profess better. They pretend to live by faith—and yet are as worldly and covetousness as others. These are spots in the face of religion. Jeremiah 45:5, "Are you seeking great things for yourself? Seek them not!" For this sin, God has brought us low. He has made our fig tree to wither—and allowed the caterpillars to eat our vine.
6. Another sin which has brought us low, is BARRENNESS under the means of grace. Hosea 10:1, "Israel is an empty vine." His juice runs out only into leaves. We have had much pruning and dressing. The silver drops of heaven have fallen upon us—but we have not brought forth the fruits of humility and repentance. We can discourse of religion—but this is only to bring forth leaves—not fruit. Barrenness has laid us low—and we may fear it will lay us waste. God may pull up the hedge—and let in a foreign wild boar!
Those who fled out of England in Queen Mary's days acknowledged that that calamity befell them for their great unprofitableness under the means of grace. What man will sow seed in barren ground? If the Lord lays out His cost and sees no good return—the next word will be, "Cut down the tree, why does it so uselessly occupy the ground?"
7. Another sin which has brought us low, is the sin of SWEARING. Christ said, "Swear not at all," Matthew 5:34—and a godly man is said to fear an oath, Ecclesiastes 9:2. Truly it is a matter of tears—that we can hardly go out in the streets without having our ears crucified with hearing oaths and cursings. Chrysostom spent most of his sermons at Antioch against swearers. We need many Chrysostoms nowadays to preach against this sin. This may well be called "the unfruitful work of darkness," Ephesians 5:11, for it is a sin which has neither pleasure nor profit in it. How men shoot their oaths—as bullets against heaven!
I knew a great swearer, said Robert Bolton, whose heart Satan so filled that on his death bed, that he swore as fast as he could—and desired the bystanders to help him with oaths and swear for him. Will the Lord reckon with men for idle words? What will He do for sinful oaths? For every oath a man swears—God puts a drop of wrath in His vial. Nay, usually, God's judgments overtake the swearer in this life. I have read of a German boy who was given to swearing—and used to invent new oaths. The Lord put a canker into his mouth which ate out his tongue!
"But," you say, "it is my habit to swear, and I cannot help it."
Is this a good plea? It is as if a thief should plead for a judge not to condemn him, because it is his habit to rob and steal. The judge will therefore say, "Then you shall surely die!" This sin has brought us low. Jeremiah 23:10, "For because of swearing, the land mourns."
8. Another sin which has brought us low—and is likely to bring us yet lower, is IMMORALITY. The unchaste heart is a volcano—burning with lust! Immorality is the shipwreck of chastity—and the murder of conscience. It was said of Rome of old that it had become a brothel. I wish it might not be imitated of many parts of this land.
Immorality is a brutish sin. Jeremiah 5:8, "They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man's wife." Immorality is a branded sin. It not only stigmatizes men's names, Proverbs 6:33—but God makes them carry the marks of this sin in their bodies. Immorality is a costly sin; it proves a purgatory to the purse. Proverbs 6:26, "The prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life." "You will lose your honor and hand over to merciless people everything you have achieved in life. Strangers will obtain your wealth, and someone else will enjoy the fruit of your labor. Afterward you will groan in anguish when disease consumes your body!" Proverbs 5:9-11
Immorality is a foolish sin. "Why be captivated, my son, with an immoral woman, or embrace the breasts of an adulterous woman?" Proverbs 5:20. "But the man who commits adultery is an utter fool, for he destroys his own soul!" Proverbs 6:32. "Can a man scoop fire into his lap and not be burned? Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet? So it is with the man who sleeps with another man's wife. He who embraces her will not go unpunished!" Proverbs 6:27-29.
The immoral person hastens his own death. "She seduces him with her persistent pleading; she lures with her flattering talk. He follows her impulsively like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer bounding toward a trap until an arrow pierces its liver, like a bird darting into a snare—he doesn't know it will cost him his life!" Proverbs 7:21-23. By an early death--the immoral person takes a shortcut to hell! "Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral." Revelation 22:15. "Nothing impure will ever enter it." Revelation 21:27
Creatures void of reason will rise up in judgment against such. The dove is an emblem of chastisty. The stork comes into no nest but his own—and if any stork leaves his mate and joins with another, all the rest fall on him and pluck his feathers from him! God will chiefly punish those who walk in the lust of uncleanness, 2 Peter 2:10. This sin has brought us low. The fire of lust has kindled the fire of God's anger.
9. Another sin which has brought us low, is our unbrotherly animosities. Matthew 12:25, "A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand." The Turks pray that the Christians may be kept at variance. We have, in a great measure, fulfilled the Turks' prayer.
What seeds of dissension are sown among us! How we have crumbled into parties! One is for Paul and another for Apollo—but few, I fear, are for Christ. Our divisions have given much advantage to the Popish adversary. When there is a breach made in the wall of a castle—the enemy enters there. If the Popish enemy enters, it will be at our breaches. These divisions have cut the lock of hair where our strength laid. Cut off the top of the beech tree and the whole body of the tree withers. Divisions have taken away unity and amity. Here is the top of the beech tree cut off—and this has made us to wither swiftly.
These are the sins which have brought us low—and, if the Lord does not prevent it, are likely to bring England's gray hairs to the grave with sorrow!
Branch 5. If sin brings a person low—then what madness is it for anyone to be in love with sin! 2 Thessalonians 2:12, "Who delighted in wickedness." The devil can so cook and dress sin—that it pleases the sinner's palate. But hear what Job said, Job 20:12, 14 "Though evil is sweet in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue—yet his food will turn sour in his stomach; it will become the venom of serpents within him!" Herodotus writes of the river Hypanis which, near the fountain, the water is sweet—but a short distance away—it is exceedingly bitter. Sin will bring one low—and who would love such an enemy! The forbidden fruit is sauced with bitter herbs. Sin is a poisonous viper along the path, which bites! Genesis 49:17.
When you are about to commit sin, say to your soul as Boaz said to his kinsman, Ruth 4:4, "The day you buy the field, you must have Ruth with it." So, if you will have the seed of sin, you must have the curse with it. It will bring you low. To love sin is to love a disease. A sinner is filled with madness. Solomon speaks of a generation of men thusly, "the hearts of people are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts," Ecclesiastes 9:3. It is true of those who love sin, that sin puts a worm into conscience, a thorn into death—yet that men should love sin shows that madness is in their heart. There is no creature who willingly destroys itself—but man. Sin is a silken halter—yet he loves it! Oh, remember that saying of Augustine, "The pleasure of sin is soon gone—but the sting remains!"
Branch 6. See what little cause we have to envy sinners. Proverbs 3:31, "Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways." Men are high in wordly grandeur. God has given them large estates—and they sin with their estates! But though they build among the stars, God will bring them down. Ezekiel 28:18, "I reduced you to ashes." Who would envy men their greatness—when their sins will bring them low? Deuteronomy 32:35, "Their foot shall slide in due time."
There is a story of a Roman who was condemned to die, for breaking his rank to steal a bunch of grapes. As he was going to execution, some of the soldiers were envious that he had grapes while they had none. He said, "Do you envy me my grapes? I must pay dearly for them." So the wicked must pay dearly for what they have!
The prosperity of the wicked is a great temptation to the godly. David stumbled at it and would likely have fallen. Psalm 73:2, "My feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray. For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked." We are ready to murmur when we see ourselves low—and envy when we see the wicked high.
Sinners may live in a serene climate, under a perpetual calm. Psalm 73:4-5, "They seem to live such a painless life; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They aren't troubled like other people or plagued with problems like everyone else." But this prosperous state of the wicked is matter for pity—rather than envy. Their sins will bring them low! Isaiah 14:12, "How are you fallen from heaven, Oh, Lucifer, Son of the Morning." This is spoken of the Chaldean monarch who, though high, had a sudden change befall him. Isaiah 47:1, "Come down and sit in the dust." Babylon was the lady of kingdoms—but God says, "Sit in the dust." Verse 2, "Take the millstones and grind." So will God say to the wicked, "Come down from all your pomp and glory, sit in the dust; nay, sit among the damned and there grind at the mill!" The Lord will proportion torment to all the pleasure which the wicked have had. Revelation 18:7, "She has lived in luxury and pleasure—so match it now with torments and sorrows!"
Branch 7. See the great difference between sin and grace. Sin brings a man low—but grace lifts him high. Sin tumbles him in the ditch—but grace sets him upon the throne. Psalm 91:14, "I will set him on high, because he has known My name." Grace raises a person in four ways.
1. Grace raises his AIMS and ASPIRATIONS. He does not look at things which are seen, 2 Corinthians 4:18. His eye is above the stars. He aims at enjoying God. When a clumsy country bumpkin goes to the court, he is greatly taken with the mirthful pictures and paintings—but when a member of the king's private council passes by those things, he looks at them as scarcely worthy of his notice. His business is with the king. So a carnal mind is greatly taken with the things of the world—but a saint passes by these mirthful things with a holy contempt—his business is with God! 1 John 1:3, "Our communion is with the Father and His Son Jesus." A Christian of the right breed, aspires after the things within the veil; his ambition is for the favor of God. He looks no lower than a crown; he is in the altitudes and trades among the angels!
2. Grace raises a man's REPUTATION. It embalms his name. 1 Samuel 18:30, "David's name became very famous," or, as the original carries it, "It was precious." Hebrews 11:2, "By faith the elders obtained a good report." How renowned were the godly patriarchs for their sanctity! Moses for his self-denial, Job for his patience, Phineas for his zeal! What a fresh perfume their names send forth to this day! A good name is a saint's heir. It lives when he is dead.
3. Grace raises a man's WORTH. Proverbs 12:26, "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor." As the flower of the roses in spring, as the fat of the peace offering, as the precious stones upon Aaron's breastplate, so is a saint in God's eye. Besides the shining luster of the gold, it has an eternal worth and is of great price and eternal value. So grace not only makes a man's name shine—it puts a real worth into him. "He is more excellent than his neighbor." A heart full of love to God, is precious. It is God's delight, Isaiah 62:4; it is the apple of His eye; it is His jewel; it is His garden of spices; it is His lesser heaven where He dwells. Isaiah 57:17, "I dwell with him that is of a humble spirit."
4. Grace raises a man's PRIVILEGE. It advances him into the heavenly kindred. By it he is born of God, 1 John 3:1. He is a prince in all lands, Psalm 45:16 (though in this world he is like a prince in disguise). He is higher than the kings of the earth, Psalm 89:27. He is allied to angels!
In short, grace lifts a man up where Christ is, far above all heavens. And grace raises a nation as well as a person. Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalts a nation."
Branch 8. If sin brings a man low, see what an imprudent choice they make—who commit sin to avoid trouble. Job 36:21, "Take heed, regard not inquity; for this have you chosen rather than affliction." This was a false charge against Job—but many may be charged with such folly. They choose iniquity rather than affliction. To avoid poverty, they will lie and deceive. What imprudence is this, when sin draws such dark shadows after it—and entails misery upon all its heirs and successors. By committing sin to avoid trouble, we meet with greater trouble. Origen, to save himself from suffering, sprinkled incense before the idol. Later, preparing to preach, he opened his Bible and accidentally fell upon that text in Psalm 50:16, "But to the wicked God says, what have you to do to declare My statutes, or that
You should take My covenant in your mouth?" At the sight of this Scripture, he fell into a passion of weeping—and was so stricken with grief and consternation that he was not able to speak a word to the people but came down from the pulpit. Spria sinned against his conscience to save his life and estate; he chose iniquity rather than affliction—but what a hell he felt in his conscience. He professed that he envied Cain and Judas, thinking their condition to be more desirable. His sin brought him low.
Oh, what unparalleled folly is it to choose sin, rather than affliction. Affliction is like a tear in a coat; sin is like a tear in the flesh. He who, to save himself from trouble, commits sin—is like one who, to save his coat, lets his flesh be torn. Affliction has a promise made to it, 2 Samuel 22:28—but there is no promise made to sin, Proverbs 10:29.
Surely, then, those do badly, who choose sin rather than suffering; who, to avoid a lesser evil, choose a greater evil; who, to avoid the stinging of a gnat—run into the teeth of a lion!
Branch 9. If God brings His own people low for sin (Israel was brought low), then how low will He bring the wicked! David was in the deep waters, and Jonah went down to the bottom of the sea. Jeremiah was in the deep dungeon. Then what a deep gulf of misery shall swallow up the reprobate part of the world?
God's people do not allow themselves in sin, Romans 7:15. They tremble at it. They hate it—yet they suffer. If they who blush at their failings are brought low, what will become of those who boast of their scandals? "If this is done to the green tree, what shall be done to the dry?" If the godly lie among the pots, Psalm 68:13, the wicked shall lie among the devils. "If judgment begins at the house of God, what shall be the end of those who don't obey the gospel?" 1 Peter 4:17. If God mingles His people's cup with wormwood—He will mingle the sinner's cup with fire and brimstone! Psalm 11:6. If God threshes the wheat—He will burn the chaff! If the Lord afflicts those He loves—how severe will He be against those He hates! They shall feel the second death! Revelation 21:8.
Use 2. Exhortation
Branch 1. If sin brings a person low—then let us fear to come near sin. It will either bring us into affliction—or worse. Its foul face may offend—but its breath kills! Sin is the Apollyon, the man-devourer. Oh, that we were as wise for our souls—as we are for our bodies! How afraid are we of that food which we know will bring the gout or stone, or will make our fever return. Sin is feverish food which will put conscience into a shaking fit—and shall we not be afraid to touch this forbidden fruit? Genesis 39:9, "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" When the Empress Eudoxia threatened to banish Chrysostom, he said, "Tell her I fear nothing but sin!" It was a saying of Anselm, "If hell were on one side and sin were on the other, I would rather leap into hell than willingly commit sin."
Love will be apt to grow wanton, if it is not poised with holy fear. No better curb or antidote against sin—than the fear of God. If we could see hell-fire in every sin—it would make us fear to commit it! The fiercest creatures dread fire. When Moses' rod was turned into a serpent, he was afraid and fled from it. Sin will prove to be a stinging serpent. Oh, fly from it! Most people are like the leviathin—a creature devoid of fear, Job 41:33. They play upon the hole of the asp. Sinners never fear hell—until they feel hell! Nothing will convince them—but fire and brimstone!
Branch 2. If sin brings a person low—then when we are brought low under God's afflicting hand, let us behave wisely and as befits Christians. I shall show:
What we must not do when we are brought low. When our condition is low—let not our passions be high. Murmuring against God is not the way to get out of trouble—but rather to go lower into trouble. What does the child get by struggling—but more blows? Oh, do not lisp out a murmuring word against God! Murmuring is the scum which boils off from a discontented heart. Psalm 39:9, "I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the one who has done this!" David's ear was open to hear the voice of the rod—but his mouth was not open in complaining. Christian, who should you complain of—but yourself! Your own sin has brought you low.
1. When we are brought low in affliction—let us search for the sin which is the cause of our trouble. Job 10:2, "Show me why you contend with me." "Lord, what is that sin which has provoked You to bring me low?" Lamentations 3:40, "Let us search and try our ways." As the people of Israel searched the cause when they were beaten in battle—and at last found out the Achan who troubled them, and stoned him to death, Joshua 7:18. Just so, let us search out that Achan which has troubled us. Perhaps our sin was censorious. We have been ready to judge and slander others—and now we lie under an evil tongue and have false reports raised on us. Perhaps our sin was pride and God has sent poverty as a thorn to humble us. Perhaps our sin was being remiss in holy duties. We had forgotten our first love and were ready to fall into slumbering fits—and God has sent a sharp cross to awaken us out of our security. We may oftentimes read our sin, in our punishment. Oh, let us search the Achan and say as Job, chapter 34:32, "I have done iniquity—I will do so no more!"
2. When we are brought low in affliction—let us justify God. God is just not only when He punishes the guilty—but when He afflicts the righteous. Let us take heed of entertaining hard thoughts of God, as if He had dealt too severely with us and had put too much wormwood in our cup. No, let us vindicate God and say as the Emperor Mauritius, when he saw five of his sons slain before his eyes by Phocas, "Righteous are You, Oh, Lord, in all Your ways." Let us speak well of God. If we have ever so much affliction—yet we never have one drop of injustice. Psalm 97:2, "Clouds and darkness are round about Him, righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne."
3. When we are brought low in affliction—let let us bring ourselves low in humiliation. 1 Peter 5:6, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God." When we are in the valley of tears—we must be in the valley of humility. Lamentations 3:19, "Remembering the wormwood and the gall, my soul has them continually in remembrance—and is humbled in me." If our condition is low—then it is time to have our hearts lie low.
4. When we are brought low in affliction—let let us be on our knees in prayer. Psalm 130:1, "Out of the depths have I cried to You, Oh, Lord." Psalm 79:8, "Let Your tenderhearted mercies quickly meet our needs, for we are brought low to the dust." Jacob never prayed so fervently as when he was in fear of his life. He oiled the key of prayer with tears! Hosea 12:4, "He wept and made supplication." One reason why God lets us be brought low—is to heighten the spirit of prayer.
But what should we pray for in affliction? Let us pray that all our hell may be here in this world. As Pilate said concerning Christ, Luke 23:22, "I will chastise Him and let Him go," so pray that God, when He does chastise us, will let us go—that He will free us from hell and damnation. Let us pray for the sanctification of affliction—rather than the removal of it. Pray that the rod of affliction may be a divine pencil to draw God's image more lively upon our souls! Hebrews 12:10. Pray that affliction may be a furnace to refine us—not consume us! Pray that if God does correct us, it may not be in anger, Psalm 6:1, that we may taste the honey of His love at the end of the rod of affliction. Let it be our prayer that God will lay no more upon us, than He will enable us to bear, 1 Corinthians 10:13—and that if the burden is heavier, our shoulders may be stronger.
5. When we are brought low in affliction—let our faith be high. Let us believe that God intends us no harm. Though He casts us into the deep, He will not drown us. Believe that He is still a Father. He afflicts us in as much mercy—as He gives Christ to us. By His rod of discipline, He fits us for the inheritance, Colossians 1:12. Oh, let this star of faith appear in the dark night of affliction. Jonah's faith was never more in heaven than when he lay in the belly of hell, Jonah 2:4. v6. When we are brought low in affliction—let us labor to be bettered by being brought low. Pick some good out of the cross. Get some honey out of this lion! The wicked are worse for affliction. Weeds crushed in a mortar are more bitter. 2 Chronicles 28:22, "When trouble came to King Ahaz, he became even more unfaithful to the Lord." But let us labor to be mended and made better by affliction. Christ learned obedience by what He suffered, Hebrews 5:8. If we are brought low in affliction, and get no good—then the affliction is lost.
Question. When are we bettered by affliction?
Answer 1. We are bettered by affliction—when our eyes are more opened and we are not only chastened—but taught, Psalm 94:12. Wormwood is bitter to the taste—but is good to clear the eyesight. Our spiritual eyesight is cleared:
1. We are bettered by affliction—when we see more of God's holiness. He is a jealous and sin-hating God. He will not allow evil in His own children to go unpunished. If they make light of sin—He will make their chain heavy! Lamentations 3:2.
2. We are bettered by affliction—when we have a clearer insight into ourselves. We see more of our hearts than we did before. We see that worldliness, impatience—and distrust of God—which we did not see before. We never thought we had such a mass of corruption, or that there had been so much of the old man in the new man. The fire of affliction makes that scum of sin boil up—which before lay hidden. When our eyesight is thus cleared and both the rod and the lamp go together—now we are bettered by affliction!
Answer 2. We are bettered by affliction—when our hearts are softened. Affliction is God's furnace, where He melts His gold. Jeremiah 9:7, "I will melt them in a crucible and test them like metal." We are bettered by affliction—when our eyes are more watery, our thoughts more serious, our consciences more tender, when we can say as Job, chapter 23:16, "God makes my heart soft." This melting of the heart whereby we are fitted to receive the impression of the Holy Spirit—is a blessed sign we are bettered by affliction.
Answer 3. We are bettered by affliction—when our wills are subdued. Micah 7:9, "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him." Why does God bring us low—but to tame our cursed hearts? When a wicked man is brought low, he quarrels with God. Therefore he is compared to a wild bull in a net, Isaiah 51:20. If you rub a piece of rotten cloth—it frets and tears. Just so, when God rubs a wicked man by affliction—he frets and tears himself with vexation! Isaiah 8:21, "They shall fret themselves—and curse their King and their God."
But when our spirits are calmed—and we are brought to a sweet submission to God's will—then we accept the punishment, Leviticus 26:41—and in patience possess our souls, Luke 21:19. When we say as Eli, 1 Samuel 3:18, "It is the Lord—let Him do what He thinks best." "I know this trial is in mercy. God would rather afflict me—than lose me. Let Him hedge me with thorns—if He will only plant me with flowers. Let Him do what He thinks best." Now we are bettered by the affliction.
Answer 4. We are bettered by affliction—when sin is purged out. Isaiah 27:9, "This is all the fruit—to take away iniquity." Our hearts are foul and sinful. Our gold is mixed with dross—our stars with clouds. Now, when affliction consumes pride, formality, hypocrisy, when God's lance lets out our spiritual abscess—then we are bettered by affliction!
Answer 5. We are bettered by affliction—when our hearts are more unglued from the world. What are all these earthly things! The cares of the world, exceed the comforts. The emblem which King Henry VII used, was a crown of gold hung in a bush of thorns. Many who have escaped the rocks of scandalous sins—have been cast away upon the golden sands. The Arabic proverb is, "The world is a carcass—and those who hunt after it are dogs." Has not love of the world become a disease of almost epidemic proportions? If the Lord bestows a plentiful estate upon men, they are apt to make an idol of it! Therefore, God is forced to take that out of their hand—which kept Him out of their heart. Now, when the Lord comes and afflicts any of us in that which we love most—He hits us in the apple of our eye and our hearts grow more dead to the world and love-sick for Christ. When God has been withering our gourd and our love for the world begins to wither—when He has been digging around our root and we are more loosened from the earth—then we are bettered by affliction!
Answer 6. We are bettered by affliction—when affliction has produced more appetite for the Word. Perhaps in health and prosperity—we and the Bible seldom met, or, if we chanced to read, it was but in a dull, cursory manner. But the Lord, by embittering the breast of the creature—has made us run to the breast of a promise! Now we can say with David, Psalm 119:103, "How sweet are Your words unto my taste; yes, sweeter than honey!" Solomon said, "Truly the light is sweet," Ecclesiastes 11:7. But we can say, "Truly the Word is sweet!" We have tasted Christ in a promise; the Word has caused an exuberance of joy, Psalm 19:8. This is the manna we love to feed upon. Every leaf of Scripture drops myrrh and, as a rich cordial, cheers our spirit. When it is thus, we are bettered by our trials, Psalm 119:50.
Answer 7. We are bettered by affliction—when our title to heaven is more confirmed. In prosperity, we are more careless in getting, at least in clearing our spiritual title. People would be afraid—if their evidences for their land were no better than their evidences for heaven. Many a man's evidence for heavenly glory—is either forged or blotted. He is not able to read any saving work of God's Spirit. He is wavering and hangs in a doubtful suspense—not knowing whether lie has grace or not. Now, when we are brought low by affliction and we fall to the work of self-examination, we see how matters stand between God and our souls. We turn over every leaf of the book of conscience. We make a critical examination upon our hearts and, after a thorough survey of ourselves, we can say, "We understood God's grace in all its truth," Colossians 1:6. "We have received the holy anointing," 1 John 2:27. Our grace will bear the touchstone, though not the balance. Certainly—then, we have made a good proficiency in the time of affliction and are bettered by it.
Answer 8. We are bettered by affliction—when we grow more fruitful in grace. A Christian should be like the olive tree, "beautiful to see and full of good fruit" Jeremiah 11:16. There is a tree in the Isle of Pomonia, which has its fruit folded and wrapped up in its leaves. This is an emblem of a godly Christian who has the fruits of grace wrapped up in the leaves of his profession. Now, after pruning, what fruits have we brought forth? Have we produced the fruits of obedience, love, self-denial, meekness, heavenliness, and longing to be with Christ? If the sharp frost of affliction has brought on the spring flowers of grace, which the Apostle calls the "peaceable fruits of righteousness," Hebrews 12:11—then we are bettered by affliction. A fruitful heart, is better than a full crop.
Answer 9. We are bettered by affliction—when we really commiserate and show pity to those who are in a suffering condition. Jesus Christ, having suffered—is touched with our infirmity, Hebrews 4:15. Having felt hunger and cold, He knows how to pity us. Before we have drunk of the bitter cup, instead of pitying others in misery, we are ready to despise them! Psalm 123:4, "We have endured much ridicule from the proud, much contempt from the arrogant." But when we have been under the harrow, and we can sympathize with our suffering brethren—and weep with those who weep—this is a sign we are bettered by the affliction. In music, when one string is touched, all the rest sound. "My heart laments for Moab like a harp, my inmost being for Kir Hareseth," Isaiah 16:11.
Answer 10. We are bettered by affliction—when we have learned to bless God in our affliction. Job 1:21, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised!" Many can bless God when He is giving. Job blessed Him when He took away! This is excellent, not only to praise God when we are upon the mountain of prosperity, but also in the valley of adversity. Deuteronomy 8:10, "When you eat and are full, you will praise the Lord your God." But it is a greater matter to bless Him when we are empty and in need. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks."
Question. But what should we bless God for, when we are in affliction?
Answer. We are to bless God that it is no worse with us. He might have put more gall in our cup, Ezra 9:14. We are to bless God that He will choose rather to correct us in the world—than to condemn us with the world! 1 Corinthians 11:32. We are to bless God that He has made affliction a means to prevent sin—that He has proportioned our strength to our trials—that He gives us needed support in our trouble, Psalm 112:4. Though He does not break our yoke—He lines our yoke with inward peace and makes it soft and pleasant. We are to bless God that He deals with us as children, setting His seal of affliction on us—and so marking us for His own. We are to bless God that Christ has taken the sting out of the affliction, that there is a hope of better things laid up for us in heaven, Colossians 1:5. When we can, upon these considerations, break forth into a holy gratitude and triumph in affliction—this is to be bettered by affliction; and it shows that the Spirit of God and glory rests upon us, 1 Peter 4:14.
To bless God in heaven, when He is crowning us with glory is no wonder. But to bless God when He is correcting us—to bless Him in a prison, to give thanks on a sickbed, not only to kiss the rod but to bless the hand which holds it—here is the sun in its zenith! This speaks a very high degree of grace, indeed—and very much adorns our sufferings.
If we can find these sweet fruits of affliction—we may assure ourselves that the affliction is sanctified. We may say with David, Psalm 119:71, "It is good for me that I was afflicted!" And then God will throw away the rod and will make us glad after the days of our mourning. Ezekiel 16:42, "Then My wrath against you will subside and My jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry."
Branch 3. If sin brings us low—let us labor to bring our sins low. Let all our hatred be at sin. Let us pursue it with a holy malice. Sin has brought us even to the dust—and would bring us lower into the abyss of hell! Let us then shed the blood of sin which would shed our blood. Colossians 3:5, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry."
We are apt to plead for sin, "Is it not a little one?" Who would plead for the one who seeks his life! We are ready to say to the minister concerning sin, as David said to Joab concerning Absalom, 2 Samuel 18:5, "Deal gently with the young man." So, we are ready to say, "Sir, deal gently with my sins. Oh, do not be too sharp in your reproofs!"
Why not? Does not the sin seek to take away your crown of glory, as Absalom did his father's crown? Would it not bring you low? If, therefore, you are wise—do not spare it! Do with your sin—as Joab did with Absalom. He took three spears and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, 2 Samuel 18:14. So take these three spears—the Word of God, prayer, and mortification—and strike through the heart of your lusts, so that they die! Do as Sampson did in dealing with the Philistines. They brought him low, and gouged out his eyes. He never left until he was revenged on them and brought them low. Judges 16:30, "Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it!" Sampson died—but we live by the death of our enemies. Oh, that every day, some limb of the old man may drop off!
What is the end of all a Christian's duties, praying, and hearing—but to weaken and mortify lust? Why is this spiritual medicine taken—but to kill the child of sin? Sin will insinuate itself and plead for a reprieve—but show it no mercy. Saul's sparing Agag lost him the kingdom—and your sparing sin will lose you the kingdom of heaven. Do with your sin, what Samuel did to Agag, "He hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal." 1 Samuel 15:33.
Branch 4. Lastly, let this make us weary of living in the world, for while we live in sin, sin brings us low. We eat the forbidden fruit—and then are sick afterwards. How should this make us to long to be gone and cry, "Oh, that we had the wings of a dove, to fly away and be at rest!" Only then, shall we forever shake off those vipers which leaped upon us! 1 Corinthians 3:22, "Death is yours." At death, we shall have an eternal jubilee—and be freed from all sins and troubles.
Sin shall be no more. Death smites a believer—as the angel smote Peter on his side—and made his chains fall off, Acts 12:7. So death smites a believer—and makes the chains of his sins fall off.
Trouble shall be no more. This world is full of storms. Troubles and vexations are some of the thorns, with which the earth is cursed. But in the grave, a believer has his quiet place. "There the wicked cease from troubling, there the weary are at rest," Job 3:17. God will shortly wipe away all tears, Revelation 7:17. How this should make the saints desire to depart—and be with Christ! Philippians 1:23. Israel's being so often stung with serpents—made them weary of the wilderness, and caused them to aspire after Canaan. The discourtesies a prince meets with in a strange land—make him long to be in his own country where the royal crown will be set upon his head. When we are with Christ, we shall be brought low no more. We shall never be fixed stars until we are in heaven.
Oh, the felicity of glorified saints! They have a full-eyed vision of God! Those refulgent beams of glory are darted from His blessed face and will delight, yes, ravish their hearts with ineffable joy! The birds of a certain island, are nourished with perfumes. After death, the saints shall be forever nourished with the aromatics and perfumes of their Savior's love!
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