Amo_5:12. I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins.
MANY passages of Holy Writ appear to refer to a particular people only; whilst in reality, they are applicable to all mankind. Whoever shall consult the passages cited by St. Paul in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, in confirmation of the total depravity of mankind, and compare them with the places from whence they are taken, will be particularly struck with the truth of this remark. The Prophets David and Isaiah speak of certain individuals whose iniquities were of a most enormous kind; but St. Paul proves from them the depravity of human-nature in general: and this he does with great propriety: for, though all persons do not run to the same extent of wickedness, all have the same propensities within them: and if persons enjoying all the advantages of revelation abandoned themselves to such wickedness, it must arise, not from the peculiarity of their trials, but from the inward depravity of their hearts. This observation was applicable to the passage before us. The prophet, or rather God by him, is addressing a people who violated all the duties of social and civil life; and is denouncing his judgments against them for the sins which they so openly committed: but the same address may be justly made to every child of man: for all are corrupt and abominable in their doings; “all of which are naked and opened before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
Let us consider,
The information here given us—
Men conceive of God as not noticing their sins: “They say in their hearts, The thick clouds are a covering to him, that he cannot see.” But he does see the sins of all mankind: he sees them,
In all their extent and variety—
[From infancy to age his eye is upon us. Scarcely do we draw our breath, before we begin to shew what fallen creatures we are; how irritable, how self-willed, how querulous, how addicted to every evil which we are capable of committing. As our powers of acting are enlarged, our habit of sinning is proportionably increased; every faculty displaying those corruptions which are most suited to its powers, and to the exercise of which it can most easily contribute. As reason expands, we might hope that it should assume the government of our lives: but it is soon overpowered by passion; and its voice, if heard at all, is lost amidst the pleasures and vanities of a tempting world. So universal is this, that all expect, as a matter of course, to behold increasing corruptions with increasing years; the exhibition of them varying with the successive periods of life: in the young, the passions pleading for indulgence; in maturer age, the desire of distinction urging and impelling us; and, in our latter years, the cares of this life, or the deceitfulness of riches, occupying all our time and thoughts. All this has God beheld; and not a disposition or desire has been hid from him.
The sins of body and of mind have been alike open to him. Each of these has its appropriate lusts: there is a “filthiness both of the flesh and of the spirit,” from which we are alike concerned to “cleanse ourselves.” Intemperance, lewdness, sloth, have, in different men, their sway, according as education or constitutional propensity incline them. And in the mind, what an inconceivable mass of iniquity resides, ever ready to start forth into action, as occasion may require! Oh the pride, the envy, the malice, the wrath, the revenge, the uncharitableness, which shew themselves in our daily life and conversation! Add to these the murmuring, and discontent, and covetousness; the self-confidence and self-dependence; and the entire devotion to self-gratification in the whole of our conduct. What an accumulation of wickedness must arise from a life so spent, when, in fact, “every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts is evil, only evil, continually!”
Of omission, too, as well as of commission, does he behold our sins. He tries us by the standard of his perfect law, which requires that we should love him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength; and that we should live in an entire dependence on his care, and for the purpose only of advancing his glory. But in our whole lives there has not been one single moment in which we have conformed to his law, or come near to the line which he has marked out for us. To his dear Son, also, what gratitude, what affiance, what devotion have we owed! Yet have we been almost strangers to these holy feelings; and, even at the present moment, possess them in no degree comparable to what his love to us requires. Nor have we obeyed the motions of his Holy Spirit, but rather have done despite to him every day we lived. What have the interests of our souls and of eternity demanded? Yet, in what way have we discharged the debt?
Surely, if we put together these things, we must confess that our “transgressions” have been “manifold;” yea, more in number than the hairs of our head, or “as the sands upon the sea-shore innumerable.”]
In all their heinousness and aggravations—
[Our sins have been committed against light and knowledge. Though we have not known the extent of our duty to God, we have known far more of it than we have ever practised. No one of us has been so ignorant, as not to see the importance of eternal things, when compared with the things of time and sense; and, consequently, the duty of giving them a precedence, both in our estimation and pursuit. But have we felt the same ardour in relation to them that we have in prosecuting the vanities of this present world? Alas! If we had paid no more attention to our temporal concerns than we have to those which are spiritual and eternal, we should have had very little prosperity to boast of; or rather I should say, there would have been but one sentiment respecting us, among all who knew us.
Against vows and resolutions, too, we have proceeded in this mad career. I conceive there is not any one amongst us so obdurate, as not to have formed some purposes of amendment. At the death of a friend or relative, or in a time of sickness, when our own dissolution seemed to be drawing near, or perhaps after an awakening sermon, we have thought that to humble ourselves before God, and seek acceptance with him, was our duty: but the impression has soon worn away, and, like metal that has been fused, we have soon returned to our wonted hardness. Possibly we may have begun and made some progress in religion, and given to our friends hopes that we would really turn unto our God: but we have been drawn aside by temptation, and have “turned back with the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”
Above all, we have sinned against all the mercies and the judgments of God. We have seen his judgments upon others, yet have not returned unto him ourselves. We have perhaps felt them in some measure ourselves, yet have made no suitable improvement of them. As for mercies, they have followed us night and day, from our youth up: yet to how little effect, as it regards our souls! That greatest of all mercies, the gift of God’s only-begotten Son to die for us, one would suppose that that should have altogether constrained us to live unto our God. But that stupendous mystery has appeared to us only as a cunningly-devised fable, which might amuse us awhile, but which merited no practical regard. Indeed, if Christianity had been altogether false, few of us would have materially differed from what we have been; for we have neither been allured by its promises, nor alarmed by its threats, so as to comply with its dictates in any essential point.
Is this matter over-stated? Do we not know it to be true? and has not God witnessed it in all its parts? Yes: as he has seen “our manifold transgressions,” so has he also known “our mighty sins,” and recorded every one of them in the book of his remembrance.]
Such is the information given us in our text: and it becomes us to consider,
The use we should make of it—
Certainly, in the first place,
We should beg of God to discover to us the real state of our souls—
[We know it not, though it is so plain and palpable. We are ready to account ourselves, if not positively good, yet far from bad. The sins of which we are conscious, appear only like the stars in a cloudy night, few in number, and at great intervals; whereas, if we saw ourselves as we really are, the whole extent of our lives would present to us but one continuous mass of sins, of a greater or lesser magnitude. But who can open our eyes? Who can shew us to ourselves? Who can bring us to a becoming sense of our extreme vileness? None but God. It is he alone who can open to our view “the chambers of imagery” which are in our hearts; and shew us, that instead of our being, as we vainly imagine, “rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing, we are indeed wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”]
We should entreat him to humble us in the dust before him—
[It is God alone who can “give repentance:” he alone can take away the heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh. Who was it that made the difference between Lydia and the other hearers of St. Paul? It was “the Lord, who opened her heart to attend to the things that were spoken by him.” And it is the same power alone that can turn us from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God. And let us remember, that humiliation for sin is necessary: it is indispensably necessary for our acceptance with God. God himself has declared, that “whoso covereth his sins shall not prosper; and that he only who confesseth and forsaketh them, shall find mercy at his hands.”]
We should look to our Lord Jesus Christ, as our only hope—
[If we conceive our sins to have been only light and venial, we shall easily persuade ourselves that we can make compensation for them by some works of our own. And it is owing to men’s ignorance of their own hearts, that they so generally hope to establish a righteousness of their own by the works of the law. But that vain thought must be discarded with abhorrence. We must renounce all hope in ourselves; and “flee for refuge to that hope which is set before us, even to the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that he might atone for our sins, and effect a reconciliation for us with our offended God. Be assured, Brethren, that there is no other way unto the Father than by Christ. If you were to shed rivers of tears, you could never wash away one sin; nor, if you could walk ever so holily in future, could you ever atone for the smallest sin. How then can you hope to wash away or make atonement for all your manifold transgressions, and your mighty sins? Indeed, you must look to Christ as your only hope, and transfer to his sacred head the sins you have committed, exactly as Aaron transferred to the head of the scape-goat the sins of all Israel. It is in this way alone that they can ever be removed from your souls: and if not so removed, they will sink your souls into everlasting perdition.]
We should walk with all possible circumspection before God—
[Having so long exercised the patience of our God, we ought to determine, through grace, that we will offend him no more. However careful we may be, imperfection will pervade our very best services. But let it be imperfection only, and not wilful sin, that God shall see in us in future. Let there be no allowed guile in our hearts. Let us search out our duty in its full extent, and endeavour to fulfil it; attending to it in all its parts, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Let it henceforth be the one labour of our lives to “keep a conscience void of offence before God,” if by any means we may approve ourselves to him, and “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”]