Let him eschew evil and do good; let him seek peace and ensue it.
(1 Peter iii. 11.)
THERE are two parts of righteousness to which the blessed Peter invites us in these words. The first is the avoiding of evil, Let him eschew evil. The second is, the delighting in good, and do good.
It is to be noted that evil is chiefly to be avoided for three things. (1) On account of the great bitterness which it induces. (2) On account of the loss which it entails. (3) On account of the punishment to which it leads.
I. Of the first head, See that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God (Jer. ii. 19). Sin induces much bitterness on account of three reasons.
1. Because the Lord is opposed to sin. For all that do unrighteously are an abomination unto the Lord thy God. (Deut. xxv. 16) Many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? (Deut. xxxi. 17).
Great evil is to be avoided first and foremost because it is the absence of God’s goodness. The absence of God’s goodness means that God’s will, favour, and approval have been rejected. When a man forsakes the Lord, abandons His will, disobeys His law, and forsakes His counsel, He lives in sin. To live in sin means to live without the sweetness of God’s love. And thus a man is made spiritually bitter, sullen, and sour because God stands over and against the sinner and his sin. What has been forsaken is that which fills a man with good will, faith, hope, love, and generosity.
2. Because man by sin is greatly disordered in himself. S. Augustine says, Thou hast commanded, Lord, and it is truly so that every disordered mind is the punishment to itself. Why hast Thou set me as a mark against Thee, so that I am a burden to myself? (Job. vii.d 20),
Sin is its own punishment. When we sin, we reveal that we are standing against God’s goodness and have failed to supplicate and petition His mercy in our lives. We stand out as individuals whose sin is out of sync and harmony with God’s ordered creation. We are isolated, alienated, and divided from God’s goodness. We are conscious of our sin and thus shamefully we stand naked before the world.
3. Because every sinner impugns the just judgment of God to every creature. The creature serving Thee, the Creator, is made fierce against the unjust for their punishment. (Wis. xvi. 24)
Through sin we earn a just punishment for our habitual desires. We are alienated from the righteous. And so our sin generates a permanent separation not only from God but from every other creature who follows His will by nature. Thus sin should be avoided because it is disordered and not aligned to the willing of God’s goodness into our lives. Sin should be avoided also because we should imitate the creation which reveals to us what ends can be reached through communion with God’s intention and purpose.
II. On the second head, it is to be noted, that the sinner incurs a threefold loss, which is sin.
1. Because by sin itself manifold good is taken away. S. Augustine, in the City of God, says. If we were not of a good disposition, the vices of it would not harm us; but now what they do by these things in harming, is that they take away from themselves, integrity, beauty, and salvation.
The Grace of God intends to actualize and perfect all manner of potential goodness in us. Sin takes this away. Thus sin aggravates and even precludes the generation of goodness in our souls. So we must avoid sin because it forgets or refuses to embrace the goodness which God intends for our lives. What is lost is the integrity of the image and likeness of God in us. When we sin, we prefer to postpone or reject outright the cultivation of the soul’s perfection. The beauty and comeliness of our souls is likewise forsaken. We think that we are making ourselves beautiful through selfish pursuits, and yet we do not see that beauty comes from God alone. And so we end up polluting, corrupting, and contaminating our souls with what is divorced from God’s truth and goodness. Thus we make ourselves ugly. Finally we impede and perhaps even overthrow altogether our salvation.
2. Because of sin, the gift of grace is taken away. Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins. (Wis. i. 4)
When we sin the Gift of Grace is taken away from us. Our sin reveals that we do not wish to embrace God’s Grace in our lives. Malice is resentment and bitterness towards God. It is ill will towards the Creator and Saviour of the Universe. It grows out of an habituation to sin. Our habituation to sin has inured to God’s absence. So our malice and malevolence grows because we resent having to admit that we are living in sin. For as along as we are full of malice and malevolence, the Grace of God can make no inroads into our souls. Malice not only resents God but also exaggerates and magnifies other men’s sins and turns them into false gods. This way we deflect all attention away from ourselves and the healing which we begin to believe is impossible. Thus we are not confessing our absolute need for God’s Grace because we think that our sin is so great that even God cannot overcome it.
3. On account of sin the gift of glory is taken away. Will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord. (Isaiah xxvi. 10)
Because our sin rejects and kills God’s Grace in our souls, we then forsake the vision of glory that is reserved for those who put their whole trust and confidence in Him. The Glory of the Lord is the Divine Otherness as Pure Love, Wisdom, and Power. The Glory of the Lord is His nature, which shall be revealed to the faithful. The Glory of the Lord shall saturate the whole nature of the faithful man so that he will see and know, love and adore, receive and embrace God’s being in himself. So we must avoid sin and embrace righteousness so that we are not denied the Glory of the Lord in the end times.
III. On the third head, it is to be noted that sin leads men to many punishments ; but here three are stated.
1. Continual sorrow in mind. Pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain, as a woman that travaileth. (Isaiah xiii. 8) In the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits; every hand of the wicked shall come upon him. (Job. xx. 22)
When a man is full of iniquity and sin, his life shall be full of pain and sorrow. His pain may not come in the form of physical or bodily suffering, but his soul will be in pain and agony because he is enslaved to false gods to satiate his hunger and thirst. And thus there is a madness and sickness to the soul that is full of sin. The hand of the wicked shall come upon him because he lives only in relation to them and their designs. The righteous are offensive to him; they frustrate his intentions and reveal his futility and powerlessness. The wicked alone stand to benefit him, and yet he will discover that they too are against him because his selfishness threatens their own.
2. Continual hunger in heart. Bind them in bundles to burn them.( St. Matt. xiii. 30)
Those who persist in their sin until their lives’ end shall forever hunger and thirst for righteousness. Far from being removed from any knowledge of the Good and of God’s will, they shall know it forever as what they have forsaken. They shall burn with a desire for it in eternity, and yet they shall never be satisfied because in their lives they received the rewards that they pursued. So in the end the punishment for sin is the vision of God at a distance, where the soul forever longs after what it refused to pursue in its earthly life.
3. There will be eternity in both states. Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire. (St. Matt. xxv. 41) Concerning these three, Their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched. (Isaiah Ixvi. 24) The worm denotes grief in mind; he calls the fire torment in the heart. The fire being inextinguishable, marks the eternity in both; from which fire may Christ deliver us.
Finally we must flee evil and sin because we do not wish to be rejected by Christ. We must flee from sin because we desire that Christ our Saviour will recognize us as those who have revealed His will in our lives. We must flee from sin so that He will welcome us because we have died daily unto vice and come alive unto the virtue which He has infused into our souls through His Holy Spirit. We must ask the Lord to lift us out of sin so that grief of mind is subdued, conquered, and overcome by the love of God’s Love that draws us closer and closer to His intended future for us. We must ask the Lord to help us to receive the merciful and compassionate fire of purgation now so that we suffer not the fire of everlasting torment then. We must ask the Lord to wash, cleanse, purify, and purge us of all sin so that we may be welcomed into His Kingdom. And so today we must desire the fire of God’s merciful healing. Let us know ourselves to be sinners in need of that holiness and righteousness that we can find only in Jesus Christ. Let us pray His Holy Spirit to come alive in us, to conquer all sin, and fill us with all joy and peace in believing. Amen.