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THE SIN WHICH BESETS US, AND THE
GOOD WHICH HELPS US.
“ The sin which easily besets us.”
word which is here translated “ besets,"
occurs only once in the New Testament, and probably means "that which insidiously surrounds or encircles one." The writer is comparing the Christian life to a race, and to run this race it is necessary to lay aside every weight and the habits which hamper one's movements. The man who was to run a race in the Greek or Roman games laid aside the outer cloak which encircled his body and which would have impeded his course. Therefore the writer says to Christians, “In running the Christian race, lay aside every impediment, — the weights which would keep you back, the sins which would entangle you like an outer cloak, — and then you can run more freely."
Most of us have some besetting sin; some temptation which is harder to resist than any other. Men are different by organization, education, and position, and thus their temptations are different. The greatest and best men have some temptation which attacks them most readily and constantly. The saint has his peculiar temptations no less than the sinner.
In fact, every good quality a man has, by nature or grace, will run into a fault, unless balanced by some antagonist quality or principle. You would be apt to say that one could not be too conscientious. That is true. But he may have an unbalanced conscience, an uninstructed conscience, a too scrupulous conscience, an irritable conscience. Paul's unenlightened conscience made him think that he verily ought to persecute the Christians. Many other persecutors since his day have verily thought that they were serving God and doing their duty in persecuting heretics. Their conscience was uneducated. I have known people who were so conscientiously afraid of doing wrong that they did not venture to do right. They had a negative conscientiousness. Others have an irritable conscience. They are always tormenting themselves about their sins, sifting their motives, creating imaginary sins for themselves and others. To them the preacher referred, I suppose, when he said, “Be not righteous overmuch. Why shouldst thou destroy thyself ?” The difficulty in such cases is that the conscience acts in too solitary, independent, and unbalanced a way. Instead of being a constitutional king, governing by an organic law, it is a despot, ruling by will. It needs to be balanced by an enlightened intellect and a hopeful faith.
If even conscience may thus become a temptation, much more may other good qualities. Sympathy, good-nature, kindliness, are excellent powers, which soften and sweeten life. Only, if not held upright by the love of truth and justice, they may make us too soft and too yielding. A sympathetic person feels so strongly the claims of those who are present and around him, that he may forget what he owes to others who are absent. When he meets you to-day, he will become so interested in you as to break the promise he made to me yesterday. With him the absent have always less claim than those who are present. The temptation of a good-natured man is to break his proinises, not to keep his engagements; to give away, on the spur of the moment, what really belongs to some one else. Goldsmith, in his comedy of “The Good-Natured Man," has described this weakness.
Hopefulness is another noble quality. It animates to great actions, stimulates to enterprise, is the motive to endeavor, and the cause of wonderful successes. Without this element of hope, there would be no progress, and life would lose much of its sunshine and charm. But hope, unbalanced by prudence, by caution, by sound judgment, is the source of rash speculation, wild adventure, and a confidence which trusts in luck rather than in
industry and faithful continuance in well-doing. The hopeful man is tempted to take things for granted; and taking things for granted is the source of much failure and misery.
Reverence, as we have already seen, is a beautiful and elevating attribute of the human soul. The root of religion, it inspires worship, it creates enthusiasm for goodness and beauty; it is the source of a lovely modesty ; it carries with it an ineffable charm which gives harmony to life. Those destitute of reverence are apt to be harsh and abrupt in their manners, coarse in fibre, egotistical and obstinate in character. And yet, out of an balanced reverence has come every kind of
superstition,-a blind idolatry for the past, deference to custom, and hatred to reform. It is the cause of the most narrow kind of conservatism, which says, “Whatever is, is right.”
But the reformer, in whom the organ of reverence is unusually small, has his own temptations too. He is prone to despise the past, to destroy any existing institution simply because it exists. Instead of saying, “Whatever is, is right,” his motto and maxim often runs, “Whatever is, is wrong.” The experience of centuries goes for nothing with such a man; he is ready to pull down established institutions, to overthrow ancient creeds, to attack the convictions of mankind, on the strength of the last notion which has happened to come into his head. It is under the lead of such men that reform passes