What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
The author of evil has ever tempted with a lie, and offers what it is not in his power to give. "Ye shall be as gods," was his first promise; "ye shall not surely die." But mark its fulfilment: the image of God was shattered; "sin entered into the world, and death by sin." And when the Second Adam was shown "all the kingdoms of the world," the devil said, "All this power will I give Thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will, I give it" (Daniel 2:21; 1 Chronicles 29:11, 12). It was false. It is always so. In answering the question, What are the wages of sin in time? my reply must be —
I. SIN DOES NOT PAY WHAT IT PROMISES. I do not deny that sin has its pleasures, nor that the worldly may obtain certain advantages not to be found in the way of religion; but I assert that those who have made the perilous trial have not received what they expected; sin has paid them in debased coin. Take, e.g. —
1. The pleasures promised by the sensual appetites, painted in voluptuous day dreams, or as sung by poets who profane the gift of song; all is bright, exhilarating, delicious; but the palled profligate will tell you that the mad pleasure was disappointing as well as brief, and that there is a thirst left which it is sin to satisfy and agony to deny. While for those who have thrown themselves into the current of worldly dissipation, till the jaded soul has ceased to live for God, nothing is more common than the self-condemning excuse that they are weary of a life which they persuade themselves they are obliged to lead.
2. And so it is with wealth, the glittering bait which some pursue in despite of the laws of God, but many more by that respectable covetousness which hardens the heart to the love of God and man and the influence of His Spirit. And for what? It is idle to undervalue the comforts which wealth can command; but it would be as idle to deny that the pleasure of possession is alloyed by its cares, and fades quickly with its novelty; that the habits formed by acquiring frequently preclude from enjoying (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
3. Praise, honour, power, again, are among sin's promises, but lose their worth precisely as far as they are obtained by sin. As the result of honest duty and self-sacrifice, especially when from holier motives, these have their value, but when attained by sinful compliances, or hypocritical pretence, in the unwilling judgment of the inner man, as honours undeserved they are worthless, and conscience contradicts the voice of praise; and the fruits of reputation, which are held out as an encouragement to persevering duty, when grasped by the hand of sin, become like apples of Sodom. Again sin has shuffled her wages; she has paid her servants with a lie.
II. BUT WE ARE NOT TO THINK THAT SIN HAS NO WAGES IN THIS LIFE. She has them, and for the most part they are duly paid. Note —
1. The effects of sin upon man's outward fortunes and circumstances, which, although not uniform when they do follow, they follow as the effects of sin; when they do not follow, it is because they have been, in spite of sin, diverted or delayed. The ruined spendthrift, who has destroyed the means of gratification while strengthening the appetite for indulgence, and who has involved others, perhaps, in common misery; the palled voluptuary, who has overtaxed the powers of nature, and bears passions still unslaked in an effete and feeble body, suffering, weary, and querulous, unloving and unloved, the very wreck of what was once a man; the doting drunkard, alternating his miserable hours of mad mirth and maudlin penitence, enslaved by a habit which disgusts although it masters him, and sinking with weakened mind and trembling limbs to an early grave; the poor lost woman, whom folly led on to sire, and sin launched into the full current of passion, and her name became a reproach, and the door of return was shut, and excitement was a necessity, and there was remorse and loathing, but no penitence, till vice and disease had done their ghastly work, and death closed the short and fevered scene; the dishonoured man of business, who, under the cover of a high character, was tempted to gamble with his credit, then to retrieve his losses by dishonesty, till his astute schemes broke down by their own weight, the disguise fell off, and amidst the curses of those whom he has impoverished and betrayed he sinks into disgrace and ruin; or, most fearful retribution of all, the irreligious parent, heart-struck to see his children reproducing his own vices and pressing on deafly on the road to endless ruin to which he first had pointed them the path — these are witnesses which meet us everywhere, all testifying that the wages of sin are sorrow, disappointment, and misery, all replying with melancholy unanimity tot the apostle's question. "The end of those things is death."
2. But the outward course of retribution is crossed by many exceptions, and often, indeed, the heaviest judgment here may be prosperity. "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." There are, besides, many sins telling less sensibly upon the outward circumstances of those who commit them.
(1) There is a sore and uneasy conscience. In the heart's secret tribunal, even when the sin is unknown to others, there is a verdict, and, to some extent, a penalty, and the sinner finds himself self-condemned and self-punished. Nor is the penalty a light one. At first the suffering is acute, and even though the perverse will spurns against the correction, still conscience perseveres, and, though in feebler accents, she reiterates her sentence; still, though there may be no longer a pang of sharp remorse, there is in the bosom a dull but wearing sore. More terrible is the dull apathy of a seared conscience, as it lies heavily, though motionless, on the sinner's spirit, damping each emotion of hope, and keeping down each stirring of penitence, inflicting the fearful retribution for pleadings unheard and warnings disregarded, that warnings can be regarded and pleadings can be heard no longer.
(2) Hence, too, the sinner is thrown out of harmony even with external things. The intellectual pleasures which belong to science may not be greatly affected, perhaps, by habits of sin; but the simpler taste for nature's beauty — one of the purest and healthiest of our instinctive sentiments — is dulled and enervated, if not destroyed, by self-indulgence. And so it is, and still more sadly, with the social affections; sin robs them of their purity and pleasure. I am not speaking of its outward manifestations, which break up the peace of families. The domestic affections are often secretly poisoned by sin, even when not outwardly violated or apparently ruffled; and there is many a heart on which the smile and voice of love fall cold and cheerless, because it has within an uneasy conscience, or lawless passions, or thoughts it dares not divulge; and there is a felt and painful contrast between its own polluted self and the innocent purity of those who share its home.
(3) Hence, too, results a peevish and restless dissatisfaction, venting itself on others.
(4) And we are thus led to the most fearful of sin's wages in time, involving, as it does, the still more fearful wages of eternity — hardness of heart and the grieving and quenching of God's Spirit. God's Spirit will not always strive with rebellious man. He requires our cooperation, though He gives us the will and the power; and He ceases to plead and aid when He pleads and aids in vain. There are warnings, merciful though solemn warnings, and the last loving pleadings of Him who willeth not the death of a sinner; but at length the trial is over, the probation has failed, and he who might have been a vessel made for heaven, a temple of the Holy Ghost, is "given over to a reprobate mind." "The light within is darkness; and how great is that darkness!" We must not omit, in reckoning up the sinner's payment here, his forebodings of what is to come hereafter.
Parallel VersesKJV: What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.