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Communion Sunday
Discources: IV. The Folly of Sin


The foolishness of man perverteth his way.—Prov. XIX. 3.

AND so here is sin traced to its right source. It is the foolishness of man that perverteth his way. And I believe that to certain classes of sinners, this theory of the true origin of the transgressions that stain their daily life, is just the most disagreeable that could well be presented. A bad man would rather be thought a rogue, than a fool. He would rather you should hate him, than despise him. He would rather be the object of universal indignation, than of universal contempt. There are weak minds that see something grand and romantic about a high-handed reprobate, who boldly outrages public opinion and ignores the law of God, and dares to be recklessly bad. There is something like courage and manliness there, some people are ready to think if they would not venture to say: but about the fool there is no redeeming feature. There is nothing fine and dashing in that quarter. The emptiest idiot that ever idolized muscular blackguardism, thinks of such a one with mere contempt. How strange, then,—and not less mortifying than strange, must it appear to many, to find it stated in the text, and assumed as certain in a hundred passages of Holy Scripture, that the two classes are mainly identical: that every man whose sin merits our reprobation, is by his folly entitled to our contempt: that every wicked man is a weak man; and that every rogue is a fool!

A very moderate acquaintance with the literature of the day will suffice to show us how thoroughly hat divine teaching is forgotten by many, which ets forth the folly, and the contemptibleness, of in. It need not be said that it is not asserted hat sin and folly are different names for the same hing: we assert (of course) that all sin is folly, lot that all folly is sin. What we mean is that very wicked man is of necessity a weak man: not that every weak man is a wicked man. What we maintain is that it is a delusion,—and a lost groundless and irrational one,—to think that n ever can be other than a vile, mean, contemptible thing:—a thing as much below the reason, as it is contradictory to the conscience, of man. It was a falsehood to say that vice loses half its guilt when it ceases all its grossness: and no less is it mischievous tendency, and false in fact, to represent that any association with what would otherwise be noble and reasonable can take sin out of the class of extremest by. God's Word recognizes no such distinction as worldly men draw between those transgressions which are despicable as well as wrong, and those other which they hold to be wrong on such a grand scale as to have ceased to be despicable. God’s Word propounds its unflattering theory of the origin of all sin; and tells us that (co-operating doubtless with the depravity of man) it is the foolishness of man that perverteth his way. When a man commits sin (that is), the fact is proof that he is foolish as well as wicked. And there are sinners to whom the first part of the inference is far more distasteful than the second. They would rather be set down as wicked than as weak. But it will not do. Their sins prove not merely the badness of their heart, but also the weakness of their understanding. AH sin is folly. Every sinner is a fool. It is not  The high spirit of man perverteth his way Not 'The warm heart of man perverteth his way:' These are complimentary ways of explaining the fact, and incomplete ways. The text goes deeper: and it tells us the sorry truth, that ‘The foolishness of man perverteth his way.'

No doubt it is because of that fatal warp, and twist, of our entire nature, which is expressed in the familiar statement that man is fallen, that the understanding is weak as well as the heart evil-inclined. But, not forgetting this, I believe it may prove a most useful subject for our present meditation, to look round for considerations that come in proof of the statement in my text, and that tend to convince us that sin is folly. For this is one of those truths which we all fail to take home. Not merely are professed Christians slow to believe that fools, and such only, will make a mock at sin, and reject the Saviour from it; but many unrenewed men seem actually to fancy that the fact is reversed, and that it is rather a mark of weakness of mind, and pliancy of character, to evince anything like earnest anxiety about eternity, and the soul's well-being throughout that awful duration. It is long since an inspired Apostle, as he spoke with the warmth his subject deserved concerning a Redeemer and a Judgment-day, was called mad by one who was incapable of understanding his thoughts, or entering into his feelings. And sad as it may be to think so, we cannot choose but believe that there are too many who entertain a notion which they would hardly put in words, but which really comes to this, that Religion is a thing not adapted to the manly and masculine-minded; but fitted exclusively to weak souls, to morbidly-con-scientious people, to women, and to the aged and infirm. It is a thing, they think, that really lies outside the range of mature men, who are battling with the realities of life: and they leave it, accordingly, to the idle, and the weak, and (in short) to those who feel they need it. And to find evidence that such notions are entertained, we need go no farther than to many of our churches in our great cities. You will find there, in the comparison, not many of those who are involved in the greater affairs of this world. Fifty years ago, in the metropolis of this country, you would hardly have found a man of high professional standing in the house of God. And perhaps the great Deceiver may have so misled his victims, as to make them fancy that their empty place in church is rather a proof of their superiority to the pusillanimous and narrow-minded and half-educated who are regular in their attendance there. I will grant such, if it pleases them, that the majority of too many Christian congregations does consist of women, and the young and the aged: but it would be strange logic that should infer from this that therefore these congregations consist of the weak-minded of the community. No: Before you infer that, you must take it for granted that Christianity is a silly and a senseless thing. Prove that: and then tell us it argues strength of mind to despise and coolly set aside its claims! Prove that: and then tell us that the congregation that gathers day by day to the house of prayer is made up of the foolish and weak-minded! But if Christianity be, as we know it is or we know nothing, a message from God to man :—if it set out the one way of being good and useful and hopeful on earth, and tells us of the single path that leads to peace when we have passed through all these troubles:—if our Maker and Judge commands that we give it our earnest heed, and our weal or woe for the long eternity depends on our solemn consideration and hearty acceptance of it: tell me whether the weakness and the folly lie with those who receive, or with those who reject it! Let us stand out before the wide universe: and let God and angels and all intelligent beings say which is the fool!

Not only, too, are some of our race so blinded, as actually to fancy that as proof of strength of mind which (rightly regarded) is evidence of the most unworthy weakness : but you know, besides, it has ever been a favourite excuse with fallen men, while with a certain frankness owning how great have been their errors, to lay these rather to the impulse of the heart than to the miscalculation of the head. You will think at once of one great genius, who all but justified himself before his Maker for the wanderings of a life that was often wildly wrong, by setting them all to the witching voice of passion, that coloured his conduct, and carried captive his will. But he did not remember that there was something more than passion needed, to lead him wrong: he forgot that God gave reason to curb its wild dictates and restrain its reckless impulses: he forgot that the weak head was at fault no less than the fiery heart; and that the miscalculation must go hand-in-hand with the mere pressure to act. Doubtless, it sounded finer to put the case as did Burns: Rather the bounding pulse than the erring judgment: For nowhere in God's Word or elsewhere is sin set in a light that goes more against the grain, than when we strip it of the fair colours of the erring poet's art, and show it in the pitiable guise of folly.

Now let us look more particularly at the lines of evidence which prove that the truth is so.

That the sinner is a fool appears broadly in this: That he systematically prefers things of less value to those which are of incalculably greater. Every act of sin amounts to a declaration on the part of him who does it, that he prefers the immediate gratification which it will yield, to the favour of God which by committing it he must lose. He knows perfectly that whatever enjoyment he may get by any sinful deed, he will not get for nothing. He knows perfectly that if not in this life, then in the next, he will pay in bitter anguish and bitter remorse the tenfold price of whatever he grasps at now. And if this be so, what is every act of sin but an act of outrageous folly: and by what name but that of fool shall we call the man whose whole life is a succession of such acts? Worldly prudence may suffice to convince that it is not the part of a reasonable being to purchase even the perfect happiness of the present, by burdening the future with an incomparably greater amount of trouble and toil: And what can we say,—what can we think of him, who knowingly and deliberately buys hours or years of this world's pleasure or this world's good, with the misery of his endless eternity, and the loss of his immortal soul!

We do not say that the sinner gets nothing,—no enjoyment or advantage,—in exchange for that which he gives away. All we say is that what he gains bears no proportion whatsoever to what he loses. A straw is nearer the value of an earthly kingdom, than any conceivable gain, in worldly pleasure or profit, is to the value of the soul. Even if there were no dark forebodings as to what the awful Future might be bringing,—forebodings that would turn every cup to gall and every prospect to blank misery,—even if there were none of these,—and I doubt not there may be people by whom they are comparatively unfelt: even if sin and sinful pleasure could make life one long dream of delight: it would still be a dream that would issue in a tremendous waking. With the mighty force of argument that proves the worldling's folly, it needs not that we abate one jot of the earthly price for which he is content to lose his soul. We will not speak of the graceless plea-sure-seeker's distempered rest and accusing conscience : we will not deny that worldly wealth may be attained by means directly unjust, or at the least questionably honest: we will admit that worldly wealth brings worldly comforts and advantages beyond number, and (however got) will secure the obsequious respect of some. But we will say that for all this, the graceless pleasure-seeker and the dishonest man have made a madman's bargain: They have written themselves down as in God's judgment fools. And though the world may point to the worldling as one who is reaping, perhaps in the calm decline of life, the reward of active industrious days that are gone, we must say to that, No: Not reaping yet. Not on this side of time. He has sown, and will reap, and reap as he has sown: We all must, God help us: but the crop to be reaped is waiting in the country beyond the grave. And when we think what we must reap there, if we sow to the Flesh, or sow to the World,—how the awful words of Christ come in, spoken of one who did the less grossly evil, ‘ Thou fool!9 Prudent,— and got the good of this short life by incurring incalculable loss and woe in a life that must run on for ever! Prudent,—and used up, in three-score years and ten, all the * good things9 to be reached in a being that will be only beginning untold ages hence! Ah, if that be prudence, what must folly be!

So much for the general bearing and result of a wilfully sinful life. As a whole, it is one long madness. It is a systematic choice of Time in preference to Eternity. It is a systematic buying of a short and troubled span of enjoyment such as it is, by paying for it the price of endless misery. It is a deliberate choosing the finite before the infinite. It is gaining a little of the world; and flinging away the soul. But let us look closer into this matter, and regard the wilful sinner’s conduct in various points of view.

My brethren, if it be true that we are placed in this world chiefly to prepare for a world to come: and if in that coming world there be no neutral ground,— not one inch of space to rest in unless in perfect happiness or in insufferable misery: and if upon our conduct here depend the decision of the momentous question whether we are to dwell in that happiness or that misery for ever and ever : what shall we call the conduct of the man who passes through this life without one earnest endeavour to place himself in that condition in which alone (he knows) he can hope to gain that bliss and escape that woe? Is not this folly?

If it be true that the single way in which we can obtain salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, the only Redeemer of sinners: if it be true that every deed which has not its origin in that faith, is sin; and that every step which is not taken in dependence on that Redeemer is a step towards absolute ruin: what shall we call the conduct of the man who never earnestly sees to it how that faith in that Redeemer may be obtained ? Is not this conduct folly?

If it be true that a Divine Spirit is promised to all who ask Him, to work in them that repentance towards God and that faith in Christ and that great change in the aspirations of the soul without which there is no ordinary salvation: and if it be further true that this repentance, this faith, this regeneration, cannot be, without the working of that Divine Spirit; what shall we call the conduct of the man who passes through life without one earnest prayer for that Spirit, or one anxious inquiry whether that Spirit has ever yet breathed upon his soul? Is not this folly?

If it be true that at death the wicked are turned into a state which the merciful Saviour called the outer darkness, where are weeping and wailing, the worm that never dies and the fire that is not quenched: and if it be true that this death, that cuts off all change, may arrest any mortal before to-morrow:—what shall we call the conduct of the man who is content to live on, day after day, still in that condition that if he should die, the moment of his death would be the moment of his entering upon the final woe? Is not this folly?

If it be true that our life here bears to our life hereafter absolutely no proportion: if the days in the cradle be an infinitely larger part of the life of the oldest man that ever lived, than that longest life would be of the never-ending life of every man : if it be an exaggerated idea of the life on earth, to say it is our being's infancy: what shall we call the conduct of the man who lives as if his span on earth were his entire life-time? Is not this folly?

If it be true that we are helplessly in the hands of some Being Who can do with us and make of us what He will: what shall we call the conduct of the man who is content to live on in life, and to live through it, in utter heedlessness of the Nature and Purposes of that Mysterious Stranger? Is there no folly here?

If it be true that every man bears within him an immortal soul, whose capacities and longings find here neither scope wide enough for them nor objects fit for them: what shall we call the conduct of the man who permits an endless succession of trifles to engross all his thoughts, while his mind hardly ever goes out upon those grand and dread realities that compass us about, and bear upon our eternal prospects and destiny? Is there no folly in narrowing to a point the regards of a soul that could have embraced the universe: in bending energies made for God and immortality upon things fleeting as the insects of a summer day?

If it be true that wherever you go, there is a greater Being present than any who is seen : if it be true that God is every; man's most constant companion : what shall we call the conduct of him who, go where he may, quite forgets 'the Greatest Inhabitant of every place where men are living': and suffers his character to take an incomparably stronger and deeper impress from his occasional intercourse with the worthless and wicked, than from the never-ceasing companionship of the Almighty? Is there no folly here?

But you will readily see that by taking a sinful and worldly life in different points of view, and by looking at the various parts and relations of it, we might swell to almost any extent the humiliating catalogue of the follies implied in it. Enough has been said to prove, beyond all question, that every deed of sin, and every life of sin, has a two-fold origin a spring at once in the impulses of an evil heart, and in the blindness of an erring judgment. And thus, apart from that mysterious essential badness, for which sin will receive its punishment at the hand of God, we believe it is stamped with a character, often forgot, of extravagant foolishness, which makes it not only the worst thing that exists, but the most contemptible. If a man lives in habitual transgression, or if a man holds back from accepting the salvation offered in Christ, it must be because he has made a calculation which is fearfully wrong, and arrived at a conclusion which you would think no sane creature could draw. It is because he thinks that the favour of God is a thing to be bartered away at the price of that worthless pleasure or that empty good which is to be found in sin: It is because he judges that a life of forgetfulness of God, a life wherein the Saviour is rejected, for threescore years and ten, is a thing so pleasant and desirable as to be worth the price of an eternity of woe: It is because he cares not how he burdens the Future wkh misery, if only he can make the Present pass lightly and gaily by : It is because he has fairly calculated that it will profit a man to gain ever so little of this world, though he lose his soul. Or, if in truth he has drawn no such inferences: if in truth he acts on no such

principles: if be verily believes that time and eternity cannot be compared, and that the happiest life on earth would be too dearly bought at the cost of ultimate perdition: does not all this only stamp him with a character of ten-fold folly? He drinks the cup, knowing it is poison: he treads the path, knowing it ends in destruction: he acknowledges it is madness to choose endless ill when offered endless good; yet he says: Endless ill for me! I know, he says, I am burdening my soul with shame and ruin: I know that this conscience, so seared and deadened now, will yet be made to quiver with intensest perception and feeling. I know that in a few years, a few days, I must go,, through my own election, where is only blank despair: I know all this,—I would not be worried with expostulation on the subject: I am content it should be so!

Now this is God's truth. That is what is practically said by every man who lives on, contented to think he has not believed in Christ. And if it be so, what words can utter the fearful foolishness that perverts his way? I know, that as far as your reason goes, you must admit all this: Oh that God's Spirit may make each one of us feel it as of ourselves we could never do! Would that all here present, old and young, were taught by that heavenly Teacher, that in sober truth, 'The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding/ The only thing in all our life on which we shall look back with entire approval on our dying bed, will be what we did, by God's kind grace, to win Christ and be found in Him. We can see already, that we have all done many foolish things; that our life has indeed been a long, sad series of errors, sins, and follies: and perhaps when we come to die, we may discern that many doings which we thought at the time showed great worldly wisdom, were in truth as foolish things as ever were done by man. In the light of near Eternity, how vain and idle all our labours and schemings for worldly ends will seem ! The fire will try our works: and very much may prove to be wood, hay, stubble. There is nothing surer than this : that the human being who goes through his years on earth without working out his salvation, will feel in his soul, looking back from the gate of the other world, Oh what a madly wasted life was mine! But there is hope yet for every one here, If there be one, who knows that to this day he has not sought the Saviour, let him bless God that the door of mercy is open yet, though it may shut so soon. And all of us, dear friends, pray more constantly to be filled with that Blessed Spirit, Who is, as God's Word tells us so significantly, the Spirit ‘ of power, and of love, and of a sound mind!'


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