The second great result of that Eden break has been in the growth of sin
. In the seventeenth century after that it was said that man's heart was a breeding place of thoughts whose pictured forms were bad, only bad, with no spots of good, nor spurts of good. A thousand years later, Moses giving the Hebrew tribes the ten commandments, adds a crowd of particulars, some of them very grewsome, which serve as mirrors to reveal the common practice of his age. The slant down of those first centuries has evidently been increasing in its downward pitch.
More than a thousand years later yet, there is a summary made by Paul that reveals the stage reached by sin in his day. Probably no one knew the world of his time, which has proved to be the world's crisis time, as did Paul the scholar and philosopher of Tarsus. Himself a city man, well bred and well schooled, a world traveller, with acute, disciplined powers of observation, and a calm scholarly judgment, he had studied every phase of life cultured and lowly.
He pitched upon the great city centres in his active campaigning, and worked out into the country districts. He was a world-bred man. He knew the three over-lapping worlds of his time: the Hebrew, with its ideals of purity and religion; the Greek, with its ideals of culture; and the Roman, with its ideals of organization and conquest. He is writing from Corinth, then the centre of Greek life, to Rome, the centre of the world's life. His letter is the most elaborate of any of his writings preserved to us. In its beginning he speaks of man, universally, morally, as he had come to know him. His arraignment is simply terrific in its sweep and detail.
Let me pause and be measuring the words cautiously and then put this down: -- the description of the latter half of the first chapter of Romans is a true description of man to-day. At first flush that sounds shocking, as indeed it is. It seems as if this description can apply only to degraded savages and to earth's darkest corners. But the history of Paul's day, and before, and since, and an under view of the social fabric to-day, only serve to make clear that Paul's description is true for all time, and around the world.
There is a cloak of conventionality thrown over the blacker tints of the picture to-day in advanced Christian lands. It is considered proper to avoid speaking of certain excesses, or, if speech must be used, modestly to say |unnamable.| And it is a distinct gain for morality that it is so. Better a standard recognized, even though broken. But commonly the conditions are not changed. The differences found in different civilizations to-day are differences only of degree. In the most advanced cities of Christendom to-day may be found every bit of this chapter's awful details, but properly cloaked. In European lands the cloaks are sewed with the legal-stitch, which is considered the proper finish. In lands where our Christian standards are not recognized the thing is as open as in this chapter.
In four short paragraphs containing sixty-six lines in the American Revision, Paul packs in his terrific philippic. He swings over the ground four times. Nowhere does he reveal better his own fidelity to truth, with the fineness of his own spirit. Here, delicacy of expression is rarely blended with great plainness. No one can fail to understand, and yet that sense of modesty native to both man and woman is not improperly disturbed, even though the recital be shocking.
Here is paragraph one: Man knew God both through nature and by the direct inner light. But he did not want Him as God. It bothered the way he wanted to live. The core of all sin is there. All its fruitage grows about that core. He became vain in his reasonings. He gave himself up to keen, brilliant speculation. Having cut the cord that bound him to God, unanchored, uncompassed, on a shoreless, starless sea, he drifts brilliantly about in the dense gray fog.
Then he befooled himself further by thinking himself wise. He preferred somebody else to God. Whom? Himself! Then -- birds; then-beasts on all fours with backbone on a line with the earth, nose and mouth close to the ground; then -- gray-black, slimy, crawling, creeping things. He traded off the truth of God for a lie; the sweet purity of God for rank impurity. He dethroned God, and took the seat himself. He bartered God for beasts and grew like that he preferred. God's gracious restraint is withdrawn when he gets down to the animal stage. Only here man out-animalled the animals. The beasts are given points on beastliness. The life he chose to live held down by the throat the truth he knew so well. That's the first summary.
The next two paragraphs are devoted to that particular sort of unnatural sin first suggested to man after his disobedience, and which in all time and all lands has been and is the worst, the most unnatural, the most degrading, and the most common. It came first in the imagination. It came early in the history of actual sin. It is put first by Paul in his arraignment here. He gives it chief place by position and by particularity of description. First was the using of a pure, natural function to gratify unnatural desires. Then with strange cunning and lustful ingenuity changing the natural functions to uses not in the plan of nature. Let it all be said in lowest, softest voice, so sadly awful is the recital. Yet let that soft voice be very distinct, that the truth may be known. Then lower down yet the commercializing of such things. Unconcerned barter and trade in man's holy, most potent function. Putting highest price on most ingenious impurity.
Then follows the longest of these paragraphs running up and down the grimy gamut of sin. Beginning with all unrighteousness, he goes on to specify depravity, greedy covetousness, maliciousness. Oozing out of every pore there are envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity. Men are whisperers, backbiters, God-haters, and self-lovers, in that they are insolent, haughty, boastful. They are inventors of evil things, without understanding, breakers of faith, without natural affection, ruthlessly merciless.
The climax is reached in this, that though they know God, and what He has set as the right rule of life, they not only do these things named, but they delight in the fellowship of those who habitually practise them. The stage of impulsiveness is wholly gone. They have settled down to this as the deliberate choice and habit of life. Man is still a king, but all bemired. He is the image and glory of God, but how shrivelled and withered; obscured, all overgrown with ugly poison vines.
Let it be remembered at once that this is a composite picture of the race. Many different sorts of men must be put together to get such a view. Sin works out differently in different persons. A man's activities take on the tinge of his personality. So sin in a man takes on the color and tone of his individuality.
One man has the inner disposition against God, accompanied by no excesses at all. These things disgust him. He is refined in his tastes, perhaps scholarly and intellectual in his thinking. That inner disposition may be a sort of refined ignoring of God either defiant or indifferent. In another, the animal nature swings to the front, stronger perhaps by heredity, and, yielded to, it runs to the excess of riot. Then there is the man with the strange yellow fever, whose love for the bright-colored precious metal burns in his blood and controls every impulse and purpose. And the man with intense love of power, of controlling men and things for the sake of the immense power involved, with himself as the centre of all.
There is every imaginable degree of each of these, and every sort of combination among them. The lines cross and re-cross at every possible angle in various persons. A man is apt to get money-drunk then society-drunk (with a special definition for the word society in this connection), then lust-drunk. Or, he may swing direct from money-intoxication into power-intoxication. Please notice keenly that each of these four grows up out of a perfectly normal, natural desire. Sin always follows nature's grooves. There is nothing wrong in itself. The sin is in the wrong motive underneath, or the wrong relationship round about an act. Or, it is in excess, exaggeration, pushing an act out of its true proportion. Exaggeration floods the stream out of its channel. Wrong motive or wrong relationship sends a bad stream into a good channel.
But sift down under the surface and always is found the same thing. The upper growth is varied by what it finds on the surface to mingle with, but the sub-stuff is ever the same. The root always is self. The whole seed of sin is in preferring one's own way to God's way; one's self to God. The stream of life is turned the wrong way. It is turned in. Its true direction is up. The true centre of gravity for man is not downward, nor inward, but upward and outward.