The Moral State of Men

Back in the world's springtime, when nature was dressed in her pristine glory, God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). Of nothing else of his creation is this said. Man is marked out as separate and distinct from all the rest of creation. He is of the creation, but rises to a higher plane, and possesses a something seen in nothing else. We read further, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27).

This was not a physical image and likeness, for such it could not be, inasmuch as God is not physical and does not possess physical organs. It must, then, relate to his mental and moral being. In reason, judgment, choice, con science, etc., he is in God's image but we are concerned at present only with his attribute of holiness. As he came from the hand of God he was pure and holy. There was not in him a single element of defilement. God looked upon him and pronounced him very good, and was well pleased. The wise man, speaking of man's original state, says, "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright" (Ecclesiastes 7:29).

It was as natural for him to love God as to love anything else. He was blameless, and though without experience he could readily yield himself to all God's will. There was no barrier between himself and God. There was no hindrance to fellowship and intercourse. His pure soul shrank not from God. He knew no fear, but in the presence of his Maker walked as a son with his father. What halcyon days were those! But alas! that happy state did not continue.

One thing had been prohibited. That prohibition was violated, and in consequence a cloud overspread the heavens. His conscience knew for the first time the sense of guilt and shame. The sweet, sympathetic fellowship between his soul and God was broken. He trembled and shrank n fear. His innocence was gone - that greatest charm, that which endeared him to the Father-heart. Then followed a life of sin, and when he begat a son, the child was in his father's own image. From that time on the current of human lie has been a d ark and murky stream.

Some tell us that man has never fallen, that he is now in as high a position as he has ever occupied in the moral scale. This, however, is contrary to the Scriptures, as well as to reason. When we look at his present condition and compare that with what the Bible shows him to have been at his creation, we rather marvel that he has fallen so far. The Bible deals with him everywhere as a fallen creature, one who is corrupt and defiled. Thus the record expresses it: "An d God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth" (Genesis 6:12). God manifested his displeasure by destroying the old world.

The posterity of Noah traveled the same path. Hosea, viewing the situation in his day, exclaimed, "They have deeply corrupted themselves" (Hosea 9:9). So the current flows on. Paul draws a dark picture in the first chapter of Romans and elsewhere. It is true that man did not lose all. There is in him yet some elements of nobility, some godlike qualities; but these are, as it were, only a few good things that have survived the wreck of his life. And when God looks upon him, he sees not one holy element; and when he begins to make something of him, he must begin at the beginning and make of him a new creature.

The Motive Purpose of His Life

Man's character is the opposite of God's. God is essentially benevolent; man is essentially selfish. The natural man does not inquire what is the will of God regarding him. He is not concerned in pleasing God. The thing that he desires most of all is to please himself. If he may do this, he asks nothing more. He lives for this alone. If he may but gratify all his own desires, he asks for nothing more. He does not believe that he is moved by such a motive; he does not stop to consider it. In fact, he is likely to suppose that he is moved by very different considerations. God says, "Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations" (Isaiah 66:3). Again he says, "They hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof" (Proverbs 1:29,30).

His Attitude Toward God Man ordinarily supposes that he is on quite friendly terms with God, at least so far as his own feelings are concerned. He looks upon the law of God and recognizes it as a very high and worthy law. He assents that man should give to it a ready obedience. Very often he is pleased to see others turn from sin to righteousness. Like Paul, he may delight in the law of God after the inward man. He may approve of it as being most excellent. He may even praise it most highly. He may sit in t he congregation of the righteous and find much pleasure in listening to the Word of God. There may be many things in it that he is glad to see reflected in his own life; but when it comes to submitting himself to this law and making it the law of his life and conforming himself to it in detail, another element immediately asserts itself. He finds at once a great reluctance, and if pressed, this reluctance shows itself in rebellion. So long as he can do just as he likes and still fulfill t he Word of God, he is pleased to do so. As long as his desires run parallel with the desires of God, he delights in that law; but when his desires are crossed, when he is required to forego them, he at once rebels. And the more God's claims are pressed upon him, the more determined does his rebellion become.

His obedience, so far as he does obey, is essentially selfish. He obeys only because it pleases him to obey. Paul, speaking to the Colossians, tells them their former state, saying, "You...were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works" (Colossians 1;21). To the Romans he says, "We were enemies" (Romans 5:10). Speaking of the unregenerate, he says that they are "haters of God" (Romans 1:30). This is the verdict of God. He knows the true state of their hearts. His verdict is true and it is final. There is no element in the sinful man that is truly friendly toward God, at least before his heart begins to yield to God. He is everywhere pictured as a rebel, one who has defied the authority of God and is standing in open hostility to him. And this, unless he repents, will be his attitude through life, and through the ceaseless ages of eternity. The best unsaved man is not at heart better than this.

God's Attitude Toward the Sinner

But what is God's attitude toward unregenerate man? It has been said that God hates sin, but he loves the sinner. Is this true? Let us hear the voice of inspiration, "Thou hatest all the workers of iniquity...The Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man" (Psalms 5:5, 6). Does that express an attitude of affection? Again, we read, "The wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness" (Psalms 11:5-7). Read also the following texts: Leviticus 20:23; 26:30; Deuteronomy 32:19. We read further, "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalms 7:11). God is not so meek and indulgent that nothing will arouse his indignation. He hates all that is hateful. He could not love righteousness without hating iniquity. He could not love the righteous without hating the wicked. To love both would be to abolish a ll moral distinctions. Of the impenitent sinner it is said, "The wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). We are not to understand that God hates the sinner as an individual apart from his sins and his sinful disposition. It is only sin that renders him hateful, but man is responsible for his state of sinfulness and chooses to be what he knows he ought not to be; therefore to deal with the sin God must deal with the man.

Not only does God hate man's sin, every sinful word, thought, and deed, but he also hates every evil desire. The natural man loves evil. That love of evil, which is a part of his nature, God abhors. All desire that runs out after impurity or for that which is unholy merits and excites God's indignation and abhorrence. Every evil ambition that arises in his soul repels God. Every evil disposition, every evil feeling, hatred, envy, malice, revenge, selfishness, pride, jealousy, deceit, hypocrisy, and all the long catalog of evil things, of which man's heart is the source, are obnoxious to God. All tendency to resist the Holy Spirit, or to array oneself against the will of God, all rebellion at his providences, can excite in God only hatred. How often man rejects his own reason and stifles his conscience! how often he hardens his heart! Can God love the thing in him that causes him to do this? He can love only what is lovable; and only what is pure and holy can appear lovable to a holy God. All else he hates and must hate with all the strength of his character.

Sinner, look this squarely in the face. Your self-complacency may suffer, your conscience may be troubled, your fears be aroused, but the picture is not overdrawn. Look over it again carefully. Look at yourself in the mirror of God's Word, and think what it means to have God for your enemy. Think what it will mean before the great judgment-seat, think what it will mean in eternity, and turn from your sins before the day of wrath.

God is just and can treat sin and the sinner only as justice demands, or at least cannot go contrary to those demands. He is also merciful and loving. And his attitude toward the sinner, an attitude different from that just considered, is expressed thus: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might b e saved" (John 3:16.17). Again, we read, "For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. Thou art ... a God full of compassion, and gracious, long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalms 86 :5,15). God is so full of love that John calls him love. He is "our Father which art in heaven." His mercy endureth forever. He loves the sinner. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." God loves men because they are his sons, the work of his own creative power, even though they have gone astray. He loves them because of his own benevolence; he loves them because of the sacrifice he has made for them. He loves all the lovable qualities that he sees in them. He loves all the possibilities for good and nobility and holiness, and he pities them as "a father pitieth his children." And so God's hand of mercy is outstretched toward sinners. His heart yearns over them. He invites them to come back from their wanderings, to turn away from their sins, and holds out to them the promise of a full pardon and a glorious reconciliation.

These two widely different attitudes God holds toward every sinner. So long as the sinner is impenitent, love cannot reach him, and mercy cannot save; but as soon as the heart is softened into penitence and turns away from self to God, a welcome a waits him, the arms of love enfold him, and the past is all forgiven. God does not desire to hate the sinner. He is compelled to do so. But as soon as the sinner gives him opportunity by changing his attitude toward God from rebellion to submission, God changes his attitude toward him into one of tenderest love and pity.