He that digs a pit shall fall into it; and whoever breaks an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.
I look around upon the universe. It is a place of hedges. It is not barren moorland about which we are doubtful if it has an owner, for He has everywhere defined His rights and established His bounds.
I. READ IT IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY, and take it as a piece of experience. It is given us by a man who brings it out of his own heart, for he had felt the bite of the serpent himself. There was scarcely a hedge upon which he did not set his foot, and there were few penalties of sin which he did not feel. Although every means was at his command for avoiding sin's consequences, he felt the serpent's sting; and if you will take his experience of sin, and rest satisfied in his verdict on it, it will save you from untold sorrow and infinite regrets. But this is not the experience of one man. Look around society and question men for yourselves. Hear the intemperate man express the shame and contempt which follow his intemperance; hear the worldly man as the day of life draws to its close bemoan the hollow cheat the world has played upon him; listen to the experience of those who have climbed out of the mire and have now their feet set upon the rock; and the unqualified answer you will get will be that this language is true. Or open the volume of history, and mark the solemn retributions of God upon every page. Read the history of Jacob, of Haman, of Ahab and Jezebel. Or open the book of secular history. Glance at the history of Greece and Rome, or any nation under heaven. Thrones gained by the sword have been lost by it. Fortunes won by fraud have cursed in turn every one that has held them; and tear at random any page from the archives of the world, and it will comment to you on these words, for the experience of men through 6,000 years has confirmed these truths, and they express the settled experiences of mankind.
II. READ THIS NOT ONLY IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORY, BUT IN THE LIGHT OF REVELATION, and take it not only as a piece of experience, but as the revelation of a Divine law. God's government has another world as its theatre as well as this. Men may sin here and in some cases be comparatively free from any terrible outward consequences; in that other domain of God's the effects of their sin will reveal themselves in all their fearfulness and terror. Poison does not always work immediately, but sometimes after days of health and happiness the serpent's bite begins to show itself. And so although violation of moral order may bring with it no instantaneous punishment, punishment for all that will follow. It is a law of the eternal universe. Now, these hedges are both physical, social and moral. Break one of the laws of health, and you will induce disease; and that disease is the bite of the serpent. Or break one of the laws of society, and society will distrust you, and that distrust, that loss of respect and position, is the bite of the serpent. But break one of the higher laws — the laws of morality — and what, probably, will follow? Why, penalties severe and terrible. Even in this world the resources of God to punish are infinite. He may punish you in yourself, in your circumstances, by means of your children. He can punish you through prosperity as well as through adversity.
III. TAKE THESE WORDS AND READ THEM IN THE LIGHT OF THE CROSS. God, in His infinite love, has provided salvation in Christ. The temporal effects of sin He does not remove — Divine forgiveness will not repair the shattered constitution, or mend the broken fortune. The bite of the serpent works death; but God suffers it not to work the second death. Yet do not misunderstand this, as though it were a light thing to see now that salvation through Christ is offered to all. You can never be what you might have been but for its committal. The damage you do to the sapling appears in the massive trunk of the oak, and all your machinery cannot straighten it. And though sin may be forgiven, the very omnipotence of God cannot undo that which has been done; and though in future ages you ultimately burn as a seraph or worship as an archangel, you can never be what you might have been.
Parallel VersesKJV: He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.