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whereof ye are now ashamed? No benefit, no real pleasure is derived from the practice of iniquity, notwithstanding it is so eagerly pursued by multitudes. Sin is a deceitful thing; it promises much, but performs little for those who commit it. It causes them perpetual disappointment and vexation of spirit." It brings shame and disgrace upon them also in many instances, to which they are in continual fear of being exposed. When the Christian thinks of the sins which he had committed in times past, he is heartily ashamed of them, and of himself, for having sought his happiness in that which is so polluting to the soul, and so displeasing to God. And when it is considered that the end of those things is death, that sin brought death into the world; and often occasions premature death to the body; and is assuredly the cause of eternal death; we may well be ashamed and afraid of that which is so tremendous in its consequences.
The state of the believer in Christ is then described. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. The believer is made free, not from the infirmity of the flesh; this he will carry about with him as long as he is in the body; but he is set free from the dominion of sin; so that sin shall not reign in his mortal
17 Ecclesiastes ii. 26.
body, that he should obey it in the lusts thereof. He is at war with sin, and is enabled to obtain daily victory of it, through Christ who strengtheneth him.18 He is a servant of God, who worships Him in spirit and in truth,19 and seeks help from Him continually against the enemies of his soul. He is in a state of holiness; separated in heart and spirit from the world that lieth in wickedness, set apart to the service of God, to be holy in all manner of conversation, or in the whole course of his behaviour and conduct in life. And he bears fruit corresponding with this holy state, the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.18 He serves Christ in righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; and in these things is acceptable to God, and approved also of men.20 He has happiness in walking with God as his heavenly Father, such as the world cannot give; and which it cannot take away; and the end of the blessed and holy course which he is pursuing, will issue in everlasting life, when he has done with all things here below.
With these observations the apostle introduces the important declaration in the text, The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us consider the import of these statements, with prayer that
18 Phil. iv. 13; i. 11.
19 John iv. 24.
20 Rom. xiv. 17, 18. 21 1 John iii. 4.
by the blessing of the Spirit of God, we may have a right understanding of Divine truth, and may avoid the misery consequent upon sin, and obtain the eternal blessedness which will be the portion of the children of God.
The first declaration of the apostle in the text is, The wages of sin is death.
Two questions naturally arise here, What is sin ? and, What is death? To the first question an answer is given by the apostle John, when he says that Sin is the transgression of the law. God has been pleased to give to mankind His holy, just, and good law, to be a directory to us how we ought to walk so as to please Him. Sin is the transgression of this law. It is a breach of our duty towards God, and our duty towards our neighbour; and the former naturally leads to the latter. He who observes his duty towards his neighbour, is esteemed a good member of society; he who disregards it, so far as to break the laws which have been made for the benefit of the community, exposes himself to punishment from his fellow creatures for his disobedience. And he who is unmindful of his duty towards God, however useful and exemplary a member of society he may be in other respects, is liable to the just judgment of God. The chief characteristic of the ungodly is, God is not in all his thoughts.
22 Psalm 8. 4.
He has no supreme regard for the will of God. The love of God is not in his heart. He is not anxious to please God in all things, and above all others. Gratitude to God does not possess his soul; so that the command, Thou shalt have none other gods but Me, has no practical influence over him. This first and great commandment of the law is explained by our Saviour to mean, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind 23 which denotes that every faculty of soul and body is to be engaged wholly and constantly in the service of our Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor. And surely it is reasonable that He in whom we live and move and have our being, 24 who is the Author of every comfort we enjoy, should be the object of our utmost affection, and our unreserved obedience. Sin is a refusal to love God, a refusal to obey Him. It is a disregard of His authority, a manifestation of ingratitude for His benefits. It is giving to inferior objects the love and devotion of heart which belong of right to God alone. This is the essence of sin. Its overt acts are idolatry, profaneness, and sabbath breaking, as exhibiting a disregard for the nature and attributes, the name and the worship of God; and all those evils with which the world is overrun, to the subversion of the peace and
23 Matthew xxii. 37, 38.
24 Acts xvii. 28.
good order of society. This is what is meant by sin. And in the various works of sin, how laboriously are the multitude of mankind employed; living as if there were no God, pursuing the objects of time and sense with the utmost ardour; using all their energies in fulfilling the evil desires of the flesh and of the mind ,25 forgetful of God, and unconcerned about their eternal happiness.
These persons are represented in the text as working for wages, or for what a labourer earns for his subsistence, the food which he must necessarily receive for his support in his work. The wages for which the sinner is working, and which he will receive as a matter of course, when he has accomplished as a hireling his day, 26 is death. Dreadful wages indeed! The end of those things is death. This is what he earns by his labour, this is what he is working for, and cannot fail of receiving. And what is death?
Is it merely the separation of the soul from the body, so that the person whom we one day behold in life and health, in vigour of mind and body, the pleasant companion, the dear friend, the affectionate relative, becomes an inanimate mass of putrefaction, which we are compelled to move out of our sight, and consign to the silent tomb? The death of the body is the consequence of sin.
25 Ephesians ii. 3.
26 Job xiv. 6.