The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin


In his little book dealing with man's place in the universe, Sir Oliver Lodge expressed the view that the modern man is not worrying about his sins nowadays. Whether that be so or not, the grim and terrible fact of sin continues to be a moral reality, carrying with it both a temporal and eternal penalty, and a subtle and persistent power.

   So impressed were Old Testament writers with the malignity and widespread nature of sin, that they used no few than three separate Hebrew words to describe its ramifications. A very good example of this is found in the Thirty-second Psalm, where we find three words employed in the first two verses. There is the word translated "transgression," which conveys the idea of rebellion and lawlessness; there is the word "sin," which supplies a picture of the bad aim of the slinger who thereby misses the mark; and there is the word "iniquity," which

Page 18

describes a course which is at once crooked and perverse.

   A perfect illustration of the word translated "transgression" is supplied by our system of traffic signals. If a motorist crosses a road when the red light is showing, he has done exactly what the word "transgression" suggests. He has gone too far: he has become a law unto himself: he has acted in a state of rebellion to his fellow-users of the road. Such a course, if persisted in, must end in crookedness and perversity, with the result that the final judgment on such a man's life is that of failure to hit the mark of right and proper conduct.


   In the Gospel message to sinners we are concerned, primarily, with the penalty of sin. A just and holy God can by no means clear the guilty. He cannot come to terms with sin. It is an outrage upon His holy law, and as such must receive fitting punishment: otherwise the righteous balance of the universe could not be preserved.

   It is at this stage that the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ presents us with the glorious Gospel of justification by faith. Because of His pure and sinless offering, it is possible for believers in Him to be counted

Page 19

righteous in the divine eyes, and thereby to be acquitted of sin's just penalty.

   It is frequently pointed out that the Keswick Convention is not an evangelistic mission; that is to say, the primary message of Keswick is not concerned with the penalty of sin. It is assumed that those who attend the Convention are sinners saved by grace. They have passed from death unto life. Their sins — which were many — are all forgiven. They are rejoicing in the fact that God has taken all their sins, and put them behind His back, to be remembered against them no more for ever. In other words, the Keswick message assumes the glorious truth of justification. We are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.


   But, alas! when the penalty of sin has been dealt with, there is its deadly power with which to reckon: and it is here that the Keswick message begins its healing ministry. Following the teaching of St. Paul, it is seen that sin becomes exceeding sinful (Romans 7:13). While the penalty of sin may be remitted, the power of sin may be unbroken. Christian experience has decreed that the more closely a man walks with God, the more painfully aware does he become of sin's terrible persistence.

Page 20

How many a spot defiles the robe
That wraps an earthly saint!

Under the searchlight of God's Holy Spirit, acting upon the Word, hidden faults are disclosed, and presumptuous sins are made manifest: unsuspected weaknesses and follies are laid bare. As the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, there is not only the sin "which doth so easily beset us," but, also, there are encumbrances to the progress of holy living which, having been revealed, must be renounced.

   An excellent illustration may be found in the story of Lazarus. It will be remembered that Lazarus had been dead for four days, and the Lord Jesus, as He stood by the graveside, sounded for the word of life: "Lazarus come forth." In response to that summons, Lazarus came forth from death to life. He was born again; but in what a strange condition he found himself, for he was bound, hand and foot and face, with grave-clothes! In other words, Lazarus had life, but not liberty. He was manacled and bound in the relics of the old life. Consequently, the One who had called him unto life, summoned him unto liberty: "Loose him, and let him go."

   It is that kind of experience with which the Keswick message is concerned. It is addressed to those who are born again, who have been called by divine grace out of sin's dark sepulchre,

Page 21

but who are still in bondage to the old grave-life. Have we not discovered in personal experience that sometimes, even after conversion, we find ourselves still hindered and hampered by various habits which were formed in our unregenerate days! Our habits are the grave-clothes of the old life, but they are only seen as bad habits when they are thus revealed to the believer by the Spirit of God.


   A modern translation of that great autobiographical statement of St. Paul in Romans 7:15-19, would seem to illustrate, in a graphic way, the desperate problem we are considering: "I cannot understand my own actions; I do not act as I desire to act; on the contrary, I do what I detest. Now, when I act against my wishes, this means I agree that the Law is right. That being so, it is not I who do the deed, but sin that dwells within me. For in me (that is, in my flesh) no good dwells, I know; the wish is there, but not the power of doing what is right. I cannot be good as I desire to be, and I do wrong against my wishes."

   The Apostle confesses that there is an inward conflict which can only be resolved through the mighty power of Jesus Christ our Lord. He says that he agrees with God's law, so far as his inner

Page 22

self is concerned, but he finds another law in his members which conflicts with the law of his mind, and makes him a prisoner to sin's law that resides in his members. "Thus, left to myself, I serve the law of God with my mind, but, with my flesh, I serve the law of sin."

   There, stated in a brief sentence, is the persistent malady of sin, so far as the believer is concerned. Many young Christians have discovered, shortly after their conversion, that things which did not trouble them in the old days, now become issues of first-rank importance. Not only so, but they find that the power of temptation is increased ten-fold. A new sensitiveness has been created, which makes them vividly aware of the approach of evil. Things which did not disturb the conscience in the unconverted days, now stand out in hideous clearness. The old excuses are no longer valid: there are no little sins: no white lies. This explains why those whose walk is close with God are growingly reluctant to be critical of the lives of others. Their one prayer is the petition of David, who cried: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any way of wickedness in me."

   How easy it is to condemn in other people what we are so pathetically willing to condone in ourselves! We know how it was with David in that dramatic moment when Nathan the prophet, having told a story of shameless cruelty, aroused David's fierce indignation; and then, with deadly accuracy, Nathan cried: "Thou art the man!"

   The Keswick message must begin at this point. Whatever may be the cost, the believer seeks to have revealed to him the exceeding sinfulness of sin: —

Search all my sense, and know my heart,
Who only canst make known,
And let the deep, the hidden part
To me be fully shown.

Throw light into the darkened cells,
Where passion reigns within;
Quicken my conscience till it feels
The loathsomeness of sin.

This explains why, very often at the beginning of a Convention, those who come for the first time feel deeply wounded, and not a little ill at ease. They had journeyed to Keswick, maybe, with the expectation that devotion would be deepened, zeal quickened, and power imparted. They were hardly prepared for the searching diagnosis of the great Physician. Indeed, on many occasions after the early addresses there have been those so deeply convicted of inward uncleanness that they have felt there could be no half-way house between deliverance and death. It cannot be emphasized

Page 24

too strongly, therefore, that before a deeper work of grace is possible, this primary fact must be faced with unflinching courage and honesty.

   Dr. W.Y. Fullerton noted the tendency on the part of some to refuse to face facts because they set up moral disturbances. "Loyola the Jesuit, after a trial, refused to read the New Testament of Erasmus, because, he said, it interfered with his religious emotions. He was afraid of fact. Some communities of Jews skip the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah in their reading in the synagogue. They are afraid of fact. Of quite a different temper was a man in the West Country, of whom they told me when I was there. He had died a little while before — and somebody asked him concerning his religion. He answered: 'It is a fact that I am a sinner. It is a fact that Christ died for sinners. It is a fact that Christ died for me. And I die on that fact.' "

   Evan H. Hopkins delighted to say that the Keswick message was a crisis with a view to a process. There are many people who are eager for the process to be inaugurated, but who are inclined to shrink from the preliminary crisis. There are those who seek the fullness of God's Spirit, with a view to more effective service, who would wish to avoid the heart-searching crisis which is concerned with the revelation of sin's power. But such a revelation precedes subsequent victory. Cleansing must prepare the

Page 25

way for fullness of blessing; so that even before we proceed to our next chapter, which deals with the response which a believer must make to such a revelation, we must be willing to submit to the revelation itself.

   In general practice, that revelation comes in three ways. In the first place, there is the infallible disclosure made by the Word of God: "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:12-13).

   In the second place, there is the direct and immediate revelation of all harboured sin, through the action of the Holy Spirit upon the mind and conscience of the believer. Doubtful things are invested with a new certainty, which involves a subsequent act of obedience. Many and many a time, in the course of a Convention, the Holy Spirit has made plain to an individual that a certain line of conduct, or a certain course of action, is not in harmony with the mind of Christ. And when such a revelation is accepted and heeded, the way is prepared for fullness of blessing.

Page 26

   In the third place, the power of indwelling sin is revealed to the believer as he surveys the particular circumstances of his life. Every heart knoweth its own bitterness: every prodigal has his own memories of some far country: every sinner saved by grace can look back to the pit from which he was digged, and the rock from which he was hewn.

   This means, in the nature of the case, that the Keswick message is primarily of a personal character. We cannot hear nor receive truth for other people. For this reason, it is impossible to gloss over the solemn truth with which the Keswick message must for ever begin. Until we are willing, with a broken heart and a humble and contrite spirit, to receive God's revelation of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, no progress in spiritual blessing is possible.

Chapter 2  ||  Table of Contents