Religion, Or Ruin
Adapted From A Sermon By
Lest iniquity be your ruin. Ezekiel 18:30
In Ezekiel Chapter 18 verse 30 we find these solemn words: Lest iniquity be your ruin.
If we believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, we are bound to evaluate every religious subject from them; and in doing so we will find a wonderful difference between the doctrines of God and the opinions of men.
This difference will appear in a most striking manner on the subject of sin: the representations which are made of it in the Bible are totally different from those which are made of it by sinners themselves. It is common for sinners to think and speak of sin as a light and trifling affair; it does not at all bother them; it excites no alarm; they seek no remedy; but can make plausible excuses for it, turn it into a joke, and even glory in their shame.
But if we consult the word of God, we will find that sin is the worst of all evils: that it is extremely hateful to our Maker; extremely harmful to ourselves; that it is the dreadful source of all the miseries we feel, and the root cause of unspeakable and eternal sufferings in the world to come.
Look at sin in the flattering mirror that Satan and the world present to us, and it takes on the appearance of bewitching pleasure, freedom, and advantage; but look at it in through the faithful glass of the divine truth, and you see a deformed and loathsome object; vile and base in itself, and full of unspeakable danger and harm to the sinner.
Our text describes its tendency in one all encompassing word—RUIN —a word of tremendous meaning, even when applied to worldly concerns: it is to subvert, demolish, impoverish, and utterly destroy; applied to the soul, it is to demolish the image of God; it is to become miserably poor; it is to destroy all true happiness; and to insure a long eternity of inconceivable sorrows and sufferings.
But the text also opens to us a door of hope; while it points out the ruinous effect of sin; it offers the most gracious advice in order to avoid it; and this is the principal purpose of the Gospel; it is good news; information how we may be delivered from eternal misery, and made partakers of everlasting life. There are two things therefore which now call for our serious attention.
1. Sin is certainly ruinous to the souls of men; and,
2. The Gospel directs us how to avoid the impending ruin.
We are first to prove, that “Sin is certainly ruinous to the souls of men.”
“The wages of sin is death.—desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (Rom 6:23, James 1:15) By sin, we mean any lack of conformity to the law of God, or any transgression of it; not coming up to what it requires, or doing anything that it forbids.
God has an undoubted right to our obedience; he made us; he gave us all the powers we possess; he preserves us and provides for us, and bestows innumerable comforts upon us. How reasonable then is it, that we should obey his will, abstain from what would hurt us, and do the things which are pleasing and acceptable in his sight!
But such is the perverseness of our hearts, that we refuse to do this. We set up our own carnal will as our law; and practically say, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us” (Psalm 2:3) —“As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you.” (Jeremiah 44:16) “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?” (Exodus 5:2)
This is the daring language, this is the provoking practice of men in general. But is it not totally reprehensible? Can we reasonably suppose that a God of unspotted holiness and purity will put up with such conduct? Would the rulers of this world permit their subjects to disobey their laws with impunity! No: every human law has its proper penalty, or it would be merely a piece of advice, and not a law; and if the law is broken, punishment naturally follows.
Even in private life, those very people, who flatter themselves that God will not punish their sins, are frequently disposed to severely resent the little injuries done to themselves. The parent thinks it right to keep his child in subjection, and sometimes punish him for a fault. He is extremely angry with a negligent and undutiful worker, and perhaps dismisses him for a single failure in duty. If he is deceived and defrauded by a neighbour, he will forever turn away from him; and perhaps prosecute a thief even to death if he could, for the loss of a dollars and yet, —what strange inconsistency!— these very persons will deny that the God of infinite justice means to take any notice of the numberless offences they have committed against him for many years together.
In human governments, when there is a conspiracy against the king or the state, the culprits are diligently sought for, and, when convicted, are punished with the greatest severity; and it is necessary that it should be so: but is rebellion against heaven the only innocent rebellion; is it a crime of the greatest magnitude to aim at dethroning an earthly monarch, and is it no harm to live a life of open rebellion against God; violating his laws, opposing his authority, submitting to another prince, and, as far as the sinner can, aiming to dethrone the eternal majesty?
The rebellion of a child against a parent is still more vile, as in the case of Absalom, who would have dethroned and murdered his indulgent father David. But this is a crime justly chargeable upon every sinner. Listen carefully to the indictment, in the words of God himself: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me!” (Is 1:2) This crime is justly chargeable on each of us; in the ingratitude of an undutiful child we are united with the rebellion of a wicked subject; we have despised the laws of God; (some have gone so far as to try and prove they are not his laws, but all fables and forgeries;) we have denied that God requires any submission: we have obeyed another prince, an imposter, even “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph 2:2)
And shall we yet say, what harm have I done? We have insulted the God of heaven: we have abused his justice, as if he would not punish sin; we have abused his power, as if he could not punish it; we have abused his omniscience, as if he did not see our sin; we have abused his truth, as if he would misrepresent himself; and we have abused his patience, which has borne so long with us; and will we abuse him still further, by saying that all the following threatenings mean nothing at all?
Observe what he says in these quotes from the Scriptures, “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezek. 18. 4.) “The wicked shall return to Sheol.” (Psalm 9. 17.) “Sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1. 15.) “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell;—where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Matt. 10. 28, Mark 9:48) “Every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution.” (Heb. 2. 2.) “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Rom. 2. 8, 9.) Now are all these dreadful threatenings nothing? Do they not prove that sin is certainly ruinous to the souls of men?
But as general threatenings do not affect as much as those particular ones which are denounced against particular sins, observe the following.
What does the holy God say against the unclean sinner “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous;” (Heb. 13, 4.) and again “He who commits adultery … destroys himself.” (Prov. 6. 32.)
What does God say to the drunkard? “Who has woe? Who has sorrow?… Those who tarry long over wine—In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.” (Prov. 23. 32.) What does he say to the swearer! “The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exod. 20. 7.)
The same may be said of every one who lives in any other known sin; they are ruining themselves—they are heaping up wrath against the day of wrath; like a man building a pile on which to burn himself to death; every time a man commits a new sin, he is bringing another log to enlarge the heap and increase the flame.
Sin has already ruined its thousands, and its millions. When sin got into heaven, it ruined multitudes of angels, and pulled them down from their thrones into endless perdition. Sin ruined our first parents, and dragged them out of paradise into a wilderness of woe. Sin ruined the world of the ungodly, and brought a destructive deluge of wrath upon them all. Sin ruined Sodom and Gomorrah, and brought down showers of fire and brimstone upon them. Sin ruined the nation of Israel, by bringing Philistines and Assyrians upon them; and when they filled up the measure of their iniquity by the murder of the Son of God, it completely ruined them, both in church and state, and dispersed them among all nations, a standing monument of the ruinous nature of sin.
And, could we draw aside the veil, which conceals from our view the awful dwelling place of damned spirits, where God's mercies are completely absent, and he will never again be favorable, what a terrific proof should we have of the truth of our text! one and all would say, “We are filled with the fruit of our own ways; we are reaping the wages of our own sins; O mortals, sin is indeed a ruinous thing!”
Consider that while we are sitting here, at our ease, and calmly contemplating the evil of sin, they are screaming out with unspeakable torture: living; ever-living witnesses of the awful evil of sin. We can imagine one of them say, “Ah, indeed! sin has proved my ruin. I paid no attention to the offers of the Gospel. I indulged my laziness—I occupied all my time with business or pleasure —I would have my pleasant walks and rides, and company—I despised the house of God—neglected the salvation of my soul; and now I am ruined for ever.”
Another cries, “Sensuality has destroyed me. My heart was full of uncleanness. I sacrificed, for the delights of a moment, the pleasures of an eternal world; and find by awful experience, that the “house (of the adulteress) is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death!”
And this is the sad lamentation of a third. “I was a lover of that wretched world and its pleasures. It was my god. I strived to experience all its delights to the fullest. I would have travel, and friends, and business, at any cost; I succeeded. I got a good experience, but lost a good God. I got friends, but made Christ my enemy. I enjoyed myself with countless adventures and activities, but ruined my soul!” Sadly there is not a miserable man or woman in hell who does not say— “Sin has been my ruin!”
Well then: will you learn from their ruin, so as to avoid the same? Has sin not ruined enough souls already? Must you, who know all this, be added to the dreadful number? Would that there were a heart in you to say—“I see, I plainly see, that sin is a ruinous thing. It is of God’s infinite mercy that it has not destroyed me long ago; and now I want to forsake it, I want to flee from the wrath to come; but to where must I flee? What must I do to escape this threatening ruin?”
To answer this important question will be our next business; for in the second place, let us see how
2. The Gospel directs us to avoid the impending ruin.
It s the Gospel, and only the Gospel that tells us how to avoid it; nothing but the Gospel can do this. Nothing in nature could ever have enlightened us as to the terms by which an offended God would be merciful, or whether he would even be merciful at all. The law of God can do us good only by convincing and alarming our consciences, and exciting in us an earnest desire to flee from approaching wrath. But in the most pressing question, the Gospel of Christ offers us the fullest satisfaction; and tells us, in three words, what must be done so that iniquity may not prove our ruin, We must “believe”—We must “repent”—We must “lead a new life.”
i) We will begin with faith;
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God: and the Savior of the world. It was in this way that the apostle Paul began with the trembling jailer at Philippi when, afraid of being ruined forever, he cried aloud, in the consternation of his soul—“What must I do to be saved!” The servant of God directed him to the only refuge for a sinner, even to Jesus, that benevolent friend of sinners, who came to “seek and to save that which was lost.”
It was to prevent our everlasting ruin that God sent his Son into the world; it was, “that they who believe in him, should not perish,” as they must have done without him, “but have everlasting life.”
Turn your eyes then to Jesus! see him descending from the bright region of glory; making himself of no reputation; taking upon himself the form of a servant; being made in the likeness of men: see him humbling himself, and becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross! Think of the poverty, the pain, the sorrow, the contempt, he endured on earth. See him in the garden of Gethsemane, lying on the cold ground; pouring out strong cries and tears; and, in the inconceivable agony of his oppressed soul, sweating great drops of blood!
Follow the patient sufferer to the unjust tribunals of Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate; falsely accused by his malicious enemies, abandoned by his dearest friends, and sentenced to an shameful punishment! “Behold the man!” crowned with piercing thorns, and torn with cruel floggings. See him bearing the heavy cross to the place of common execution. See him striped in the sight of the barbaric multitude; stretched as on rack; affixed to the cross with spikes; and lifted up, a pitiful spectacle, the object of public scorn and derision! Observe the ghastly paleness of death overspreading his sacred face. He dies! the friend of sinners dies! but not until he cried aloud—“It is finished!” And so indeed, “he finished transgression, made an end of sins, and brought in everlasting righteousness.”
You then, who by God’s grace are awakened and are eager to make sure that sin may not be your ruin, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:21) Believe that ‘he is able to save to the uttermost;” (Hebrews 7:25) able to save you; “His blood cleanses us from all sin;” (1 John 1:7) and saves from ruin every helpless creature that comes to him for life. Come to him then as your Savior. Cast your soul upon him so that iniquity will not be your ruin.
ii) In the second place, Repentance is, throughout the Scriptures, always represented as necessary to salvation, not as something which merits pardon or is a condition of pardon; but as that disposition of mind which suits a guilty sinner; which gives glory to God, and makes the deliverance from ruin unspeakably suitable and precious. Indeed, “repentance is a tear dropped from the eye of faith;” and who can behold the Savior bleeding and dying for him, without confessing, lamenting, and forsaking the sins which brought about his death?
Repentance is that reasonable service, to which the Lord is, in our text, exhorting the children of Israel: “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.” Our Savior himself insisted upon repentance, saying, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish;” (Luke 13:3) and all the apostles went out and preached that men should repent.
There is so much pride and ignorance in the hearts of sinners that, without the special grace of God, they are prone to conceal or excuse their sins. Some entirely deny them, and say, “they have done no harm;” others justify themselves by putting their good deeds in the opposite scale; others invent excuses for their sins; and instead of blaming themselves as they ought to do, lay the fault on their situations, circumstances, and temptations: the greater part add to their sins by attempting to lessen them; and gloss over the vilest iniquities by soft and favorable names; as being “a little free spirited,” “a little passionate,” ”a little wild,” and such; and boasting, notwithstanding all their vices, that they mean well, and have a good heart.
But the penitent soul, who dreads the deserved ruin due to his sins, will “not hide them or cover them up before the face of Almighty God; but confess them with an humble, penitent, and obedient heart;” he will be far, very far, from boasting of his integrity, his good heart, or his good works: he will have godly sorrow, grief, and shame; and will abhor himself, as the vilest of the vile, repenting in dust and ashes. To such a person will the God of mercy look with a compassionate eye, for he “is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) And it may justly be said to the humble penitent—“Iniquity will not be your ruin.” “Go your way and sin no more.”
iii) And lastly it is necessary that the believing and penitent sinner, who sincerely desires to escape from the wrath to come, should lead a new life;
It is necessary for God requires that he should lead a new life. The verse after our text gives this direction to Israel of old—“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (v.31) Now, these expressions do not suppose a natural or an inherent power in the sinner to bring this about: for it is most certain that “without Christ we can do nothing;” and we find that what is here directed to be done, as a matter of duty, is elsewhere proposed in a way of promise: as in Chapter 11 of Ezekiel: “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (11:19.) But by the grace of God accompanying the exhortations of his word, they become effectual to the sinner’s conversion: and, as the precept as somewhere been explained, “God does not command impossibilities: but by commanding, he admonishes us to do what is in our power, and to pray for that which is not.”
We can have no sufficient evidence that sin will not be our ruin, until sin becomes our burden; until it becomes the object of our sincere aversion and hatred; until we renounce the sinful delights of the world, and choose the things we once abhorred. The very bent and disposition of the heart must be altered; turned from sin to holiness, from vanity to godliness, from the creature to the Creator, from earth to heaven. This is truly a great and glorious change, and the very seal of God to this animating message is that—“iniquity will not be your ruin!”
And so this sermon has set out to prove the truth of the title with which we opened—religion, or ruin: and has it not made it clear? Is it not sufficiently plain from the word of truth, that there are two choices —Serious evangelical religion—or everlasting ruin? There are only two different roads to choose—The broad one that leads to destruction, or the narrow one that leads to life; and in the one or the other of these, each of us is now travelling,
And do you believe it is so? What then is your choice? Religion, or ruin? Sin and death, or, grace and life? Both are now set before you. Which do you prefer? Would that you would not turn from the subject, until you make a decision. Perhaps it may never be put to you in the same way again. It may be the last time it is offered to you. And how much depends on the choice! May Almighty God help you to make it, and keep to it. “Lest iniquity be your ruin.”
Would that this solemn truth would be firmly impressed on your mind—Sin is a ruinous thing.
It ruins men, because they do not believe it is ruinous. It may be that you have never yet seen it in this light. You say “Sin is so pleasant; how can it be ruinous?” Yes indeed sin is pleasant. There certainly are pleasures in sin: but there are pains too. And a life of sin is not half so pleasant as a life of religion. Ask those who have tried both. How often, even in the present world, does sin lead to ruin! How many a promising young person has it ruined:—ruined his health—ruined his character—ruined his family? How many has sin brought to a hospital, to the poor-house, to prison! to the grave!
You will not believe the ruin, because you do not see it, but when seen, it will be too late to escape.
In other cases of threatened danger, you pay attention to the testimony of a friend, perhaps of a stranger. If I solemnly and affectionately say to a traveller—*My good Sir! Do not venture through that water which overflows the road; it is deep; it is dangerous; and two men have been drowned there this morning:” you would pause and think; and not hastily rush into ruin.
If I say to another, “Do not go any farther on the road this evening: a desperate gang of thieves lie in wait at such a spot, and several persons have already been robbed,” regard to your property and your life would make you listen to the warning, though it might interfere with your plans and be very inconvenient.
If credible merchants assure you that a city which you wish to visit for business or pleasure is at this time on the verge of war or great civil unrest; you will carefully avoid the troubled area, and be thankful for the important, though unwelcome information.
Why, then, should not sin, ruinous sin, be shunned? Sin! which is far more dangerous and destructive than water, or thieves, or war; and the testimony given concerning its danger far more weighty and powerful than that of the most credible mortals; for it is the testimony of the God of truth himself, who cannot lie, and will not deceive.
Believe then the testimony of God, both concerning the ruin and the remedy.
How gracious is it for him to warn you! This destruction may yet be avoided. This is his benevolent language. “It is your destruction, O Israel, That you are against Me, against your help.” (Hosea 13:9 NASB) To save sinners from ruin, Christ has died; the Gospel is sent to you, inviting you to come to him and find safety; faithful ministers have devoted themselves to reason with you, to prevent your ruin; the Bible is put into your hands on purpose to direct you to a refuge. Conscience whispers in your ear—“Religion really is, after all, the safest option.” Will you then resist all this evidence? reject all these witnesses?
Is God merciful to you, and will you be unmerciful to yourself? Are you so in love with ruin, that you will not be persuaded to avoid it! What can be so reasonable as an immediate turning to Christ for help! What folly and madness can be equal to a neglect of the means of eternal security! Everything is ready.
Come then to Jesus, for “there is ... no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, … who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1, 4) His precious, saving “name … is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”
And so, by the grace and mercy of God, may iniquity not be your ruin.