Exposing Sin (Whitefield)

Whitefield-300x243The following excerpt is taken from The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steven Lawson.

Whitefield was convinced that any presentation of the gospel must begin by exposing the listener’s sin and his dire need for salvation. This necessitated the preacher’s confronting his hearers’ rebellion against God and warning of the eternal consequences of their rejection. Whitefield plainly understood that none rightly desire the gospel of Christ until they know of their own condemnation before God. Whitefield preached those truths that reveal sin, namely, the holiness of God, the fall of Adam, the demands of the law, the curse of disobedience, the certainty of death, the reality of the final judgment, and the eternality of punishment in hell.

When addressing the unregenerate masses, Whitefield sought to ensure that their depravity was fully laid bare. Martyn Lloyd-Jones aptly stated, “No man could expose the condition of the natural unregenerate heart more powerfully than George Whitefield.” Only when confronted with their sinfulness, Whitefield insisted, would unbelievers seek to embrace Christ as their Savior and Lord. He peeled back the outer layers of people’s self-righteousness in order to bring about self-awareness of their sinful hearts.

The work of evangelism mandated that he address the eternally devastating effects of sin in his preaching. Whitefield, like a watchman on the tower, warned of sin, death, and judgment. He sought to disturb his listeners with their lost condition before a righteous Judge in heaven. “The sin of your nature, your original sin, is sufficient to sink you into torments, of which there will be no end,” he preached. “Therefore unless you receive the Spirit of Christ, you are reprobates, and you cannot be saved.” He believed the lost must be driven to the brink of utter desperation before they will come to faith in Christ.

Whitefield was a master at sweeping away all useless rhetoric in order that the unconverted would recognize their desperate need to repent. He implored them, “You are lost, undone, without Him; and if He is not glorified in your salvation, He will be glorified in your destruction; if He does not come and make His abode in your hearts, you must take up an eternal abode with the devil and his angels.” None who heard Whitefield were put to sleep with a false sense of security.

Pointing back to Adam’s transgression, Whitefield emphasized that all are born with an inherited sin nature from the first man. He declared, “We all stand in need of being justified, on account of the sin of our natures: for we are all chargeable with original sin, or the sin of our first parents.” It was this strong belief in original sin and total depravity that caused his every sermon to drive his listeners to grasp a sense of their desperate condition in sin. All humanity is born spiritually dead, he believed:

Can you deny that you are fallen creatures? Do not you find that you are full of disorders, and that these disorders make you unhappy? Do not you find that you cannot change your own hearts? Have you not resolved many and many a time, and have not your corruptions yet dominion over you? Are you not bondslaves to your lusts, and led captive by the devil at his will?

Whitefield’s sermons were filled with vivid warnings of the horrific dangers of remaining in a state of sin. In his sermon “Walking with God,” he warned that hell may be but one step away for them: “For how knowest thou, O man, but the next step thou takest may be into hell? Death may seize thee, judgment find thee, and then the great gulf will be fixed between thee and endless glory for ever and ever. O think of these things, all yet that are unwilling to walk with God. Lay them to heart.” Whitefield understood that gospel preaching must include the threat of hell, which is intended to drive men to flee to Christ and escape His terrors.

By such strong statements, Whitefield shined a sin-exposing spotlight into the dark crevasses of depraved hearts. Only then would sinners flee to the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ to hear about a Savior who died for their guilty souls.

The Origin of Sin

EdenFrom REFORMED DOGMATICS – Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ by Herman Bavinck

The fallen world in which we live rests on the foundations of a creation that was good. Yet, it had scarcely been created before sin crept into it. The origin of sin is a mystery; it is not from God, and at the same time it is not excluded from his counsel. God decided to take humanity on the perilous path of covenantal freedom rather than elevating it by a single act of power over the possibility of sin and death.

Genesis 2:9 speaks of two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both are integral to the Genesis narrative, and attempts to discount one or the other destroy narrative meaning. Similarly, efforts to explain the meaning of either of the trees in terms of progress and development (tree of life as awakening of sexuality) ignore the plain reading of prohibition and punishment associated with eating the trees’ fruit. No, the story is a unity, and it is about the fall of humanity and the origin of sin. Genesis 3 is not a step of human progress but a fall.

This fall, however, is not simply human effort to achieve cultural power as a means of becoming independent from God. The Bible does not portray human cultural formation as an evil in itself so that rural simplicity is preferable to a world-dominating culture. The point of the “fall” narrative in Genesis is to point to the human desire for autonomy from God. To “know good and evil” is to become the determiner of good and evil; it is to decide for oneself what is right and wrong and not submit to any external law. In short, to seek the knowledge of good and evil is to desire emancipation from God; it is to want to be “like God.”

The entry into sin comes by way of the serpent’s lie. The serpent’s speaking has often been mistakenly considered an allegory for lust, sexual desire, or errant reason. The various mythical interpretations and even attempts to explain the narrative in terms of animal capacity for speech before the fall all fail to meet the intent of the passage and the teaching of Scripture as a whole. The only appropriate explanation is to recognize, with ancient exegesis, the entrance of a spiritual superterrestrial power. The rest of the Bible, however, is relatively silent about this, though its entire narrative rests on this spiritual conflict between the two kingdoms. Sin did not start on earth but in heaven with a revolt of spiritual beings. In the case of humanity, the temptation by Satan resulted in the fall. Scripture looks for the origin of sin solely in the will of rational creatures.

The Christian church has always insisted on the historical character of the fall. In our day this is challenged by historical criticism as well as evolutionary dogma. Those who would challenge this notion attempt instead to accommodate it by demonstrating the reality of the fall from experience, thus validating Genesis 3 as a description of reality rather than as history. This rests on a misunderstanding; it ignores the fact that we need the testimony of Scripture in order to “read” our experience aright. Neither the Genesis account nor its historical character can be dispensed with. In fact, objections to the reality of the fall are themselves increasingly under review by more recent trends in the biblical and archeological/anthropological sciences. The Genesis account, especially of the unity of the human race, speaks positively to our conscience and our experience.

Though no true parallel to the biblical account has been found, it is clear from the myths of other ancients that underlying the religious and moral convictions of the human race are common beliefs in the divine origin and destiny of humanity, in a golden age and decline, in the conflict of good and evil, and in the wrath and appeasement of the deity. The origin and essence of sin, however, remain unknown to them. The origin of sin is sometimes found in the essence of things, its existence even denied by moralists and rationalists, treated as illusion or desire as in Buddhism, or dualistically traced to an ultimately evil power. Philosophers have treated sin as hubris that can be overcome by human will, as ignorance to be overcome by education in virtue, or even as a fall of preexistent souls. However, outside of special revelation sin is either treated deistically in terms of human will alone or derived pantheistically from the very necessary nature of things.

Both views also found their way into Christianity. The British monk Pelagius rejected all notions of original sin and considered every person as having Adam’s full moral choice of will. The fall did not happen at the beginning but is repeated in every human sin. Though the church rejected Pelagianism in its extreme form, Roman Catholicism maintained the notion of a less than completely fallen will, limiting the fall to the loss of the donum superadditum, which can only be restored by sacramental grace.

When the Reformation rejected Roman Catholic dualism, streams within Protestantism, notable rationalist groups such as the Socinians as well as the Remonstrants robbed Christianity of its absolute character by dispensing with the need for grace in some measure. The image of God is regarded as the fully free will, which, like that of the pre-fall Adam, remains intact. While we are born with an inclination to sin, this inclination is not itself culpable; atonement is needed only for actual sin. Suffering is not necessarily linked to sin; it is simply part of our human condition.

Interesting attempts have been made to reconcile Pelagius with Augustine. Ritschl agrees with Pelagius that the human will and actual sin precede the sinful state or condition. But he also then insists that these singular sinful acts mutually reinforce each other and create a collective realm of sin that exerts influence on us, a reinforcing reciprocity that enslaves all people. Others combine Ritschl’s approach with evolutionary theory. When this is envisioned in strictly materialistic and mechanistic terms, all notions of good and evil, the possibility of a moral life, vanish behind physical and chemical processes. A more acceptable route is to see the evolution of moral life as one in which human beings rise above their primitive animal nature as they become more humanized, more civilized. From this evolutionary viewpoint, sin is the survival of or misuse of habits and tendencies left over from our animal ancestry, from earlier stages of development, and their sinfulness lies in their anachronism. The remaining animal nature is shared by all people; sin is universal, but so is moral responsibility and guilt. Continue reading

Degrees of Sin

From an article at Ligonier Ministries:

“Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’” (Jn. 19:11).

James 2:10 tells us that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” In other words, if through our own efforts we expect to be accounted righteous in God’s sight apart from Christ, then we must be perfectly obedient. To fail in one point is to fail utterly and completely, for our Creator’s perfect holiness demands justice for even the slightest transgression. We need the righteousness of another to be put on our record because none of us has ever kept the standards of the Lord flawlessly. When we trust Christ alone, His record of perfection is imputed to us, and so we can enter into eternal life as those who have a record of obedience to the Father (2 Cor. 5:21). This is wholly by grace since Jesus credited our account with His obedience and we have done nothing to deserve it.

That one sin is enough to condemn us to hell, however, does not mean that all sins are evil to the same degree and that the consequences for our errors are all the same. God may condemn even the smallest sin, but the punishment of the “virtuous pagan” will be less severe in hell than the one who puts every immoral thought and desire into practice, because the scope of the former person’s sins is not as large as the latter one’s. To be sure, hell will be awful for both, but as one theologian has noted, all the sinners in hell would move heaven and earth if they could remove but one transgression from their record and have their punishment even barely alleviated.

Many portions of Scripture, including today’s passage, tell us there are degrees of sin, guilt, and punishment. The Jewish authorities who turned Jesus over to Rome were guilty of a greater evil than Pilate was because they had greater access to God’s revelation and had less reason for refusing to acknowledge Christ’s identity (John 19:1–16). Punishments under the old covenant civil law were meted out according to the circumstances of the crime (for instance, see Ex. 21:28–32). Those who are ignorant of the Master’s will receive fewer lashes in the end than those who know the Master’s will and are disobedient (Luke 12:35–48). Note, however, that even though ignorance may alleviate the consequences for sin, it cannot excuse sin entirely. Our representative, Adam chose his path — apart from the knowledge of God — and we all follow suit. Thus, we are culpable for our ignorance (Rom. 1:18–32; 5:12–21).

Coram Deo

That there are degrees of punishment in hell according to the extent of one’s sin means that there are also degrees of reward in heaven according to how we obey. Our obedience, to be sure, cannot earn eternal life, but once we are admitted into the kingdom by grace alone through faith alone, what we do in service to Christ earns for us, by His grace, rewards in heaven. Let us serve Him that our rewards might be even greater (1 Cor. 3:1–15).

Dr. R. C. Sproul in his book “The Holiness of God” explains why the concept that all sins are equal in God’s sight, is actually incorrect. He writes:

“The sins listed (in Galatians 5:19-21) may be described as gross and heinous sins. The New Testament recognizes degrees of sins. Some sins are worse than others. This important point is often overlooked by Christians. Protestants particularly struggle with the concept of gradations or degrees of sin. . . we tend to think that sin is sin and that no sin is greater than any other. We think of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that to lust after a woman is to be guilty of adultery. We are aware that the Bible teaches if we sin against one point of the Law, we sin against the whole Law. These two biblical teachings can easily confuse us about the degrees of sin.

When Jesus said that to lust is to violate the Law against adultery, He did not say or imply that lust is as bad as the full act of adultery. His point was that the full measure of the Law prohibited more than the actual act of adultery. The Law has a broader application. Continue reading