Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Aggravations of Sin – Part 5
Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, “We are delivered!”- only to go on doing all these abominations? Jeremiah 7:9-10NKJV
Question 151 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?” The fifth section (under point 4) of the answer says, “Sins receive their aggravations, 4. From circumstances of time and place: if on the Lord’s day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages: if in publick, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.” All sin breaks God’s Law, offends Him, and merits His infinite wrath. Yet as we have seen in Scripture through our study of the Catechism, the nature of the sin itself, the person committing it, and against whom it is committed can aggravate the heinousness of the sin and therefore the guilt of the sinner. Today we complete our study of those things that make some sins worse than others.
“Yes, I lost to the tortoise but there were extenuating circumstances.” So might the hare have replied to a reporter questioning him in the post-race interview. We like to look to those circumstances that make our guilt less or give us an excuse as to why things are not as bad as they might seem. Every thought, word, and action is carefully examined for the slightest nuance or detail by which we can put a positive spin on things in order to make ourselves look as good as possible. Yet if anyone even begins to do the opposite and starts to investigate the evidence for anything that might make our guilt worse, we immediately howl and cry out in protest, “Unfair!” and then we go on the attack, “I can’t believe what you are doing to me. No one has ever said or done anything like this to me before. I’m shocked at your evil!” When it comes to our own guilt or innocence, we demand that all circumstances be viewed exclusively through a one-way lens whereby we look as good as we possibly can. However, God sees and judges us according to the true nature of our sins, and all circumstances are valued exactly as they actually are; with no spin!
The Catechism notes how a specific time and place can make sin more evil. Thus, to sin on the one day of the week that I am supposed to give entirely to God is more evil than to sin on other days. In the Scripture above, God underscores the heinousness of Israel’s sin in that they would do all kinds of evil and idolatry and then come and stand in the temple, the house of God, and act like they had done nothing wrong. God emphasizes the brazenness of this sin in the words, “this house, which is called by My Name.” At least Adam and Eve had the good sense to hide from God when they sinned, but Israel had become so hardened and so shameless that even when they did great evil they sought to offer worship to God without the slightest compulsion of guilt or sorrow.
Many other circumstances can affect the nature of our actions. We can understand how a starving man might steal food. He is still wrong for stealing, but his sin is less evil than when a rich man steals food; or worst of all if a rich, well-fed man would steal food from a poor, starving man. Thus, the rich man’s actions in Nathan’s parable to David in 2 Sam. 12 are all the more wicked because though he had many flocks from which to take and prepare a lamb for his guest, he took the poor man’s only lamb, which was not livestock but the family pet. Also, he callously took the poor man’s lamb, not in some dire emergency, in order to save someone’s life, but because some traveler stopped by for a meal. “To whom much is given, much is required,” (Luke 12:48). Causing a “little one” to stumble whether by example, deceit, or force is a great sin, and calls for a dreadful punishment (Matt. 18:6). Sinner beware! God will more severely judge those who abuse their wealth, power, and position to prey upon the weak, precisely because these advantages make their sin more evil. May God grant that we would greatly fear to use the blessings He gives us for evil, knowing that He will require from us a full accounting!