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Afraid To Sin?

Category Articles
Date August 2, 2005

Biblical, God-fearing theologians divide sin into two branches, original and actual. These two branches are further subdivided. Original sin consists of imputed guilt and inherent pollution, while actual sin comprises sins of thought, word and deed.

In a sermon based on the apostle Peter’s words to Simon Magus: “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought on thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8.20-22), Jonathan Edwards propounds the thesis that a man may be lost for ever for one sinful thought. Let us consider this solemn suggestion.

The Reasons for Edwards’s Thesis

Edwards offers two reasons to support his thesis:

I.Simon offered the apostles money if they would bestow on him the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8.18-19)

2.In his response to this offer, Peter blames Simon for one wicked thought; namely, that the gift of God might be bought with money. The vile blasphemy in this thought lies in the Sorcerer imagining that in exchange for his money he could have at his disposal the Third Person of the Godhead!

Edwards’s inferences are perfectly legitimate:

1.Simon was nothing but a natural man, whose “heart was not right in the sight of God.”
2.This sin exposed him to eternal loss: “thy money perish with thee.”
3.Though the apostle exhorts him to repent of his wickedness, he holds out no more than a possibility of forgiveness: “pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.”

It is from this chain of reasoning that Edwards derives his awesome conclusion, that a man may be lost for ever on account of one sinful thought.

The Thesis Expounded

Edwards launches into the exposition of his thesis by a direct route: since one sinful act exposes us to eternal condemnation, one sinful thought may do so too. A whole array of relevant texts is adduced to support his contention: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek 18.20), “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6.23), “in the day that thou eatest, thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2.14), “he that offends in one point is guilty of all” (James 2.10), “cursed is every one that continueth not in all things found written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal 3.10), “the thought of foolishness is sin” (Prov. 24.9), “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28) and “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matt. 5:22)

A digression on the different ways in which God deals with those who commit such a sin as Simon Magus’s next follows. It contains a pointed reference to the fallen angels, who were “eternally forsaken of God as soon as they had committed one sin” and a solemn reminder that any particular sin may be the last we commit before God leaves us for ever. Such a sin both “ends God’s patience” and gives the sinning soul “the finishing stab.” Sooner or later, God casts that soul into hell.

Because there is no reference to Simon Magus’s repentance, Edwards concludes that his wicked thought “was probably the finishing stroke towards provoking God finally to leave him and give him up.” Church history, he adds, lends support to this probability, since Simon Magus subsequently became “a most notorious ringleader in wickedness” and was responsible for “most of those vile heresies that infested the primitive church.”

In any single case, adds Edwards, we can never know what this last sin is, for “God is sovereign in determining” when He will withdraw from a soul for ever. Yet what we should be most concerned to learn is that “that sin by which God is especially provoked to leave a person eternally to perish may be only a thought of the heart.” Certainly, Simon Magus himself never regarded his offer of money in this light. Nor may we or the thousands of ‘clergymen’ who have obtained lucrative ‘livings’ by simony. Yet some such thought could be our last before God gives us up. Edwards’s Application therefore presses home this single point in ways that should make each one of us afraid to sin.

The Thesis Applied

In applying Simon Magus’s case to his hearers, Edwards warns us all how great God’s punishment of wicked men will be. For if “one wicked thought” is sufficient to condemn a man eternally, what “great misery will all the wickedness that wicked men are guilty of bring upon them.”

Consider three points, he continues:

1.How vast is the number of sins that the ungodly commit.
2.What torments they all deserve.
3.How strictly will God punish them according to their deserts.

A further array of Biblical texts is marshalled to confirm these points:

“And if ye for all this will not hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins” (Lev 26. 1 8); “Now is the end come upon thee, and I will send mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy ways, and will recompense upon thee all thine abominations” (Ezek 7.3); “And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face” (Hos 7.2); “Now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins” (Hos 8.13); “Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (Matt. 5.26); “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12.36-37); “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due to him” (Man 18.34); “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes” (Luke 12.47) and “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom 2.5).

“Let those that are yet in an unconverted state and condition consider these things,” he urges. “Consider seriously how dreadful your punishment must and will be if you don’t get an interest in Christ” Since we can neither answer for a thousand of our sins, let alone one, nor bear the punishment due to them, for it will “sink” and “crush” us, let us consider that “the damned in hell would be ready to give worlds, if they could, to have the number of their sins to have been by one less – to have one idle word or sinful thought forgotten and blotted out, and to be released from the punishment of it.” These considerations should stir us up to improve the time we have left “out of hell, to fly from the wrath to come, and to obtain the pardon of all” our sins through Christ.

Furthermore, if we are exposed to eternal ruin by one sinful thought, to what dreadful punishment does a whole life of repeated sinning expose us – obstinately disobeying God’s commands, recklessly abusing the riches of His goodness, negligently restraining prayer before Him, and hardening our hearts against His mercy? If we continue to live like this, we “not only stand, but dance upon the very edge of the pit of hell.” Indeed, we run and leap over that pit “upon nothing but a thin, rotten shell,” where we are “every moment in danger of dropping through.”

The plea that God has recently poured out His Spirit on the district [the sermon was preached in 1736, soon after revival] avails no one. God’s extraordinary mercies are not our rules of duty. Besides, Christ’s threats to Capernaum (Matt 11 .23) and Israel’s dying in the desert (Num 14.21-23) only heighten our danger. Simon Magus’s sin was committed during a time of great blessing to Samaria.

By contrast, let those who have their sins forgiven realize “how wonderful and infinitely great God’s mercy has been to them.” How many sinful thoughts have they committed! What punishment do they deserve at God’s hands! “But God of His sovereign and distinguishing grace and mercy has delivered you from that ruin you deserved.” All those sins have been disposed of for ever. “They are effectually blotted out. God has done with ’em; Christ’s blood has made an end of ’em; and God has buried them in the depths of His mercy.”

Secondly, let those who are seeking salvation be convinced that “they are entirely in the hands of God.” How often have they sinned themselves “into the hands of justice” and done enough to provoke God to cast them off for ever and deny them His saving grace. However carefully and diligently they desire and seek salvation, therefore, Edwards reminds them, “God is under no kind of tie” or obligation “to do anything for you.”

Lastly, let us all “avoid all sin.” If we can destroy ourselves for eternity with a thought, “then surely” we should “dread the commission of any sin.” “Keep this in mind,” he counsels, “and think often what need you have to watch your thoughts, and your words, and all your actions, that they may not be displeasing to God or contrary to His holy commandments.” So, we must “beware of committing known sin” or “willful acts of sin” and “deliberate acts of sin” and acts of sin “against great warnings.”

Especially we must beware of sinning directly “against the Spirit of God.” Simon Magus’s sin was “a sin against the Spirit of God.” That is, it was committed when he was “under strivings of the Spirit,” when he had had “convictions of the Spirit” and after a remarkable outpouring of the Spirit.

Most of all, urges Edwards, “beware of wicked thoughts.” We must not allow “any wicked thought,” whether lust, or malice, or revenge, or envy, or hatred. “Such wickedness of heart,” he reiterates, “may eternally undo you.” Among them, dishonouring, blasphemous thoughts of God are the most dangerous. The thought by which Simon Magus was “probably eternally undone, was a dishonourable, blasphemous thought of God.” And so Edwards concludes: “This instance should make every one dread such things, as they would dread the devil himself.” Dear friends, are we afraid to sin?

Editor ‘Peace and Truth’ (2005:3) published quarterly by the Sovereign Grace Union. With permission.

The two volumes of the Works of Jonathan Edwards are published by the Banner of Truth.

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