WHAT, then, is the cause of the Wilderness Experience of the Christian, and what is the cure? These questions lead us at once into the heart of our theme. Briefly, we may say, the cause of the continual struggles and constant defeats after conversion is the Satanic poison of sin. And the Divine antidote for the Satanic poison of sin is Holiness. But what is sin?
The origin of sin is wrapped in obscurity; the Scriptures throw little light
on the subject. Its introduction into the human race, however, is recorded
in the third chapter of Genesis. It came in a fourfold way, viz.,
Sin is a sad and terrible reality. This fact may be proved in three ways, namely: the teaching of Scripture, the testimony of mankind, and the witness of consciousness.
The teaching of the Scriptures is clear and unmistakable; for example:
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John i. 29.)
"For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans iii. 23.)
"But the Scriptures hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith might be given to all them that believe." (Galatians iii, 22.)
The testimony of mankind to the fact of sin has been enacted into governmental legislation, has found recognition in every false religion, and is reflected in secular literature. The Roman philosopher Seneca said: "We have all sinned, some more and some less." The Roman poet Ovid wrote: "We all strive for what is forbidden." Goethe, the German poet and philosopher, confessed, "I see no fault which I myself might not have committed." A Chinese proverb runs, "There are two good men; one is dead, and the other is not yet born."
Consciousness gives no uncertain witness to the existence of sin. Every one knows that he is a sinner. No one of responsible years has ever lived free from the sense of personal guilt and moral defilement; remorse of conscience for wrong doing hounds all the sons and daughters of Adam; while the sad and terrible consequences of sin are seen in the mental, moral, and physical deterioration of the race.
But men do not agree with the testimony of God that sin is exceeding sinful." There are those who go so far as to deny the very existence of sin. Others regard it as an accident or as an infirmity or disease. Some indeed call it "an amiable weakness." Others still, consider it as fatalism-a dread necessity to mortal existence. And not a few look upon sin as not altogether undesirable-as a sort of means of grace which is an aid to humility.
Now, in order to get a clear understanding of what sin is, let us examine the Scriptures.
I. Words for Sin in the Old Testament.
1. The most common Hebrew word for sin signifies, literally, to miss the mark. In the original sense it is found in Judges xx. 16:
"Among all this people there were seven hundred chosen men, left-handed, every one could sling a stone at a hair breadth, and not miss." With its derivative forms this word means any moral deviation from the Divine goal a going beyond, a coming short, or a falling aside.
"If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth (literally, croucheth like a wild beast) at the door." (Genesis iv. 7.)
Not only wilful and ignorant acts of sin but also evil states and dispositions are included within the scope of this Hebrew word.
2. Another word signifies bent or twisted (see Isaiah xxi. 3), and means moral perverseness or iniquity--"the distortion of nature caused by evil doing." Our English word wrong, i. e. that which is wrung out, of course, expresses the idea exactly.
"I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." (Psalm xxxii. 5.)
3. Another word, whose root signifies stormy excitement, means the habit of evil; sin in the disposition. It is the opposite of righteousness.
"But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." (Isaiah lvii. 20, 21.)
4. Another word is used for a revolt against rightful authority; that is, apostacy, or rebellion. It is commonly translated in the A. V. by the word "transgression."
"For I acknowledged my transgression; and my sin is ever before me." (Psalm li. 3.)
5. Another word means to cross over a line; or, go beyond. It is usually rendered in the A. V. "transgress."
"Thou hast proved mine heart; Thou hast visited me in the night; Thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress." (Psalm xvii. 3.)
6. Another word, which literally signifies to blow, represents sin in the aspect of vanity or nothingness.
"Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing; their molten images are wind and confusion." (Isaiah xli. 29.)
7. Still another word refers to the hardening of the heart-the highest degree of sin; stubbornness, obduracy.
"And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return unto Egypt, see that thou do all these wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand; but I will harden his heart, that he will not let My people go." (Exodus iv. 21.) That is, the Lord gave Pharaoh up to the hardening of his own heart. See also Joshua xi. 20; I. Samuel vi. 6; Psalm xcv. 8; Proverbs xxviii. 14; Mark viii. 17; John xii. 40; Romans ix. 18; Hebrews iii. 8, 1, iv. 7.
But the Hebrew words that are translated sin or that mean sin in one form or another are far too numerous to be considered separately. But among those that remain the following may be mentioned: fault, Leviticus iv. 3; go astray, Leviticus iv. 13; transgress through ignorance, Leviticus iv. 13; wander, Ezekiel xxxiv. 6; backslide, Psalm cxix. 21; guilt or guilt offering, Isaiah liii. 10; error, or failure, Leviticus xix. 17; trespass, Proverbs x. 12; mischief, Psalm xciv. 20; misery, Habbakuk i. 13; et., etc.
II. Words for Sin in the New Testament.
1. It is remarkable that in the New Testament Greek, as well as in the Old Testament Hebrew, the most common word for sin signifies, literally, to miss the mark. This word occurs one hundred and seventy-four times, seventy-one times in the writings of the Apostle Paul. It expresses the state of iniquity as well as the act of sin.
"For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans iii. 23.)
Thus, sin is a "coming short of the glory of God."
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." (Romans v. 12.)
2. Another word means the over-passing or over-stepping of a line of duty. It is always used of the "violation of a positive law, an express precept with an express sanction."
"And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (I. Timothy ii. 14).
3. Another word means a fall or failure-a falling where one should have stood.
"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." (Gal. vi. 1.)
This Greek word is variously translated in the A. V., viz., trespass, Matthew vi. 14; sins, Ephesians i. 7; faults, James v. 16.
4. Another word means lawlessness, or anarchy.
"Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is lawlessness." (I. John iii. 4.)
5. Another word means ignorance of what one should have known.
"But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of his people." (Hebrews ix. 7.)
6. Another word means the diminishing of that which one should have rendered in full.
Now, therefore, there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded ?" (I. Corinthians vi. 7.)
7. Another word means disobedience to a voice.
"For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation. . . " (Hebrews ii. 2,3.)
8. Still another word means a debt or an offense.
"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." (Matthew vi. 12.)
Instances of other New Testament words which describe various forms of sin are: ungodliness, unrighteousness, Romans i. 18; lust, Romans i. 24; fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, deceit, malignity, murder, Romans i. 29, 31; enmity, Romans viii. 7; flesh, adultery, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, drunkenness, revellings, Galatians v. 19-21; evil, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, malice, Ephesians iv. 31, etc., etc.
III. Scripture Definitions of Sin.
There are in the Scriptures seven definitions of sin.
1. Proverbs xxi. 4: "A high look, and a proud heart, and a sowing of the wicked is sin."
2. Proverbs xxiv. 9: "The thought of foolishness is sin." The word thought here has the force of pre-meditation.
3. John xvi. 8, 9: "And when He is come He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; Of sin because they believe not on Me."
4. Romans xiv. 23: "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin."
5. James iv. 17: "Wherefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin."
6. I. John iii. 4: "Sin is the transgression of the law." (R. V. lawlessness.)
7. I. John v. 17: "All unrighteousness is sin."
IV. Theological Definitions of Sin.
The following definitions of sin are based on the Scriptures.
I. Sin is the transgression of, or lack of conformity to, the law of God.
2. Sin is inordinate desire, or concupiscence.
3. Sin is deficiency of love to God and man.
4. Sin is preference of self to God.
5. Sin is insubordination.
6. Sin is lack of conformity to God or His moral law in act, disposition, or state.
V. Summary of Scripture Teaching Concerning Sin.
A careful review of the teaching of the Scriptures concerning sin, which has here been presented, discloses the fact that sin may be viewed in four aspects, namely: towards God, towards the Divine Law, towards man, and towards self.
First, towards God sin is either rebellion or failure to love Him supremely.
"For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry."
(I. Samuel xv. 23.)
b. Failure to love Him supremely:
"And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." (Deuteronomy vi. 5; see also Mark xii. 30.)
Second, towards the Divine Law sin is either wilful transgression or violation through ignorance.
a. Wilful transgression.
"But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously (literally, with a high hand), whether he be born in the land or a stranger, that soul shall be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him." (Numbers xv. 30; see also Psalm xix. 3.)
b. Violation through ignorance.
"And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering." (Numbers xv. 27; see also Hebrews ix. 7.)
Third, towards man sin is either injustice or failure to love him as one self.
"Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor, neither rob him; the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning." (Leviticus xix. 13; see also Micah vi. 8; Romans i. 18)
b. Failure to love him as oneself.
"But thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Leviticus xix. 18; see also Mark xii. 31.)
Fourth, towards oneself sin is either selfishness or corruption.
a. Selfishness. That is "selfness" or the self-life.
".....If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me." (Matthew xvi. 25.)
"He that loveth his life shall lose it." (John xii. 25.)
"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psalm 11. 5.)