C. Sin is their trade: “Thirdly, As many make the world their main work, and others superstition their principal occupation, so most make wickedness their chief, their constant trade and business.”
1. The wicked embrace sin more fervently than “sanctity” is received
While sanctity is but coldly entertained, but complimented with, sin is laid in the bosom and heartily embraced; the turnings and windings that are in the sinner’s way are not easily to be observed; the pains which he takes to bring forth and breed up those birds which will peck out his own eyes, can neither be fully described nor sufficiently lamented.
a. Examples from Scripture
At this point he provides a number of quick illustrations taken from Scripture. He presumes far more biblical literacy than most preachers could expect from their congregation. I don’t know if this is simply an overestimation on his part, but I suspect that having few books if any: and if any book then a Bible; and having far fewer distractions, that the Bible would have had greater space to fill one’s imagination.
i. Those who ran after sin
In what haste and hurry is Absalom for a halter!
Absalom led a rebellion and civil war against his father. He was eventually caught by his long hair (his great pride) in a tree while riding a donkey. 2 Samuel 13-15
what work doth lust make in Amnon to waste his body, and send his soul to endless woe!
Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar (Absalom’s full sister). He was eventually killed by Absalom. 2 Samuel 13
how fast doth Gehazi run after a leprosy, as if he might come too late!
Gehazi was the servant of the prophet Elijah. A foreign general who suffered leprosy came to see Elijah to be cured. The general was miraculously cured after washing in a river. He offered a great deal of wealth to Elijah for the work of God. Elijah rejected the money. Gehazi secretly ran after the general and took payment. For his pangs, the leprosy of the general was visited upon Gehazi. 2 Kings 4
how sick and violent is Ahab for Naboth’s vineyard!
King Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard. When Naboth refused to sell the vineyard, Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, had Naboth convicted and killed on false charges. Naboth safely murdered, Ahab ceased the vineyard. Ahab was then punished by God and was killed in battle. 1 Kings 21 & 2 Kings 9
how fiercely doth Balaam ride, even without reins, after the wages of unrighteousness!
Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet was hired to curse Israel. Numbers 22
how eager and earnest were Pharaoh and his Egyptians to fight against God! what a stir, what ado they make to overtake destruction, and to ‘sink like lead in the midst of the mighty waters!’
Pharaoh having seen the power of God in the plagues brought through Moses, then attacked the Israelites camped on the banks of the Red Sea. God performed a miracle which permitted Israel to march through the parted sea. The army plunged into the sea floor chasing Israel. God brought the sea down upon the army drowning the whole. Exodus 14
ii. One who could not be deterred from sin.
Joshua could stop the sun in his course, but not Achan in his covetous career.
This is an interesting example. God lengthened the day while Joshua and Israel was fighting their enemy so that Israel could fully defeat their enemy. Before God caused the walls of Jericho to fall, God instructed Israel to not take anything from Jericho. Achan having seen the remarkable works of God in defeating the enemies of Israel was willing to disobey a direct order of God. Joshua 6 & 7
iii. Paul before his conversion
Paul, before his conversion, as one observes, followed the saints with such close persecution, and was so mad upon it, that like a tired wolf, wearied in worrying the flock, he lay panting for breath, and yet still breathed out persecution; in one journey he travelled one hundred and sixty miles—namely, from Jerusalem to Damascus—as an inquisitor for private heresy.
See Acts 9 for a description of his persecution of the church and his conversion
At Musselburgh-field many of the Scots ran away so fast that they fell down dead; truly so do men by sin run away apace from God, even to the tiring of themselves here, and tormenting themselves hereafter. They run as fast as if they feared that hell would be full before they came thither.
This is a reference to the Battle of Pinkie in 1547 in which the English soundly defeated the Scots.
2. The wicked will exhaust themselves in the pursuit of sin. He begins with a general principle taken from Scripture, which he will elaborate. “Cark” means a burden or a trouble. A carking care would thus be a great burden or oppression.
‘The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days,’ Job 15:20. A wicked man’s whole course is spent in carking care, as the LXX read it. He hath many sharp throes, bitter pangs, before he can bring forth that hideous, horrible monster, sin.
a. An illustration and comparison
Some women are very long in labour, several days in pain; but a wilful, wicked man travaileth with pain all his days; he works himself weary in digging descents into hell, and labours harder at it than many do for heaven.
By the use of an illustration, he takes what would possibly be an abstraction, the burden of the sinner, and makes it tangible: the painful labor of a woman, which would have been very familiar to everyone in a day before babies were delivered in operating rooms at a hospital.
b. An illustration and comment from history:
I remember Buntingus [Heinrich Bunting 1545-1606] in his Itinerarium totius Sacræ Scripturæ, when he comes to the travels of Antiochus Epiphanius, that fierce enemy of God’s people, first relates the tedious journeys, (in all eight thousand one hundred and fifty-three miles,) various hazards, desperate dangers and difficulties which this wicked wretch underwent to satisfy his malice, and gratify his revengeful spirit, and then concludes thus: “We see that the wicked, with more sorrows, troubles, and vexations, gain eternal damnation, than the just, though they suffer grievous affliction, obtain everlasting salvation.”
For amongst all the patriarchs, good princes, and prophets, there is not found any that had so many long and tedious journeys as this Antiochus, who continually oppressed his mind and conscience with unprofitable vanities and wicked thoughts, and at length had a miserable and terrible end.
c. An epigram This concluding line summarizes his proposition in a single pithy line:
Though God hath few diligent servants, yet the devil hath many drudging slaves, that work hard at grinding in his mill all their days.
This is a great line which warrants some examination: First note that balance between the first two clauses and their contrasts
Though God hath few Diligent Servants,
yet the devil hath many Drudging Slaves,
God – Devil
Few – many
Diligent – Drudging
Servants – Slaves
There is also a vowel rhyme which ties the last clause to the second:
Though God hath few diligent servants,
yet the devil hath many drudging slaves,
that work hard at grinding in his mill all their days.
3. Eight Aspects of how sin takes over the life of the wicked
a. Sin is their trade
Their calling is a trade of corruption, which they follow with diligence and constancy.
Having offered the proposition, he proves the point with a quotation from Scripture:
‘They plough iniquity, sow wickedness, and reap the same,’ Job 4:8.
He elaborates on the metaphor. Notice the alliteration on the P throughout the paragraph. First, the judgment:
Alas! what pains do they take
to pollute themselves spiritually,
and perish eternally!
A consideration of ploughing:
They plough iniquity.
Ploughing is no easy, lazy work.
We say of such works as require much pains,
a man were as good go to plough all day;
He now names them and contrasts their work for the Satan with the service of the Savior:
these sons of Belial,
that will not stoop to the easy yoke of the Saviour,
can submit their proud necks to the hard yoke of Satan,
and follow his plough willingly.
b. Sin is their diet
He provides a text for developoing this metaphor:
Sin is their diet, their meat and drink: ‘They eat the bread of violence, and drink the wine of deceit,’ Prov. 4:17. Nay, it is their dainties, their delicates; ‘Let me not eat of their dainties,’ Ps. 141:4.
These apish monkeys, who now and then act the part of Christians without a principle of Christianity, feed on spiders, on poison.
c. Sin take their sleep
Further, it is not only their nourishment in the day, but their refreshment in the night: ‘They cannot sleep unless they cause some to fall,’ Prov. 4:16.
Till their stomachs are gorged and glutted with the sweetmeats of sin, and thereby their heads filled with filthy fumes and vapours arising thence, they can take no rest.
They love sin above sleep; and let them but riot, they will lose their rest.
He then proves the point with examples of the crime which is committed during the night. In English law at this time, burglary required the commission of breaking into a house at night. When you consider the manner of life before easy nighttime lighting, night could be very dangerous.
The murderer riseth with the light to cut asunder the silver thread of his neighbour’s life.
The drunkard, that hellish good husband, can be all night drinking healths to others, whilst he leaves none to himself; how often doth his brains crow before break of day!
The thief and adulterer love and long for darkness to cover and countenance their cursed deeds, Job 24:14–16; Prov. 7:9.
d. Sin is their ornament
Once more, as sin is their nourishment, their food and sleep, so it is their garment, their ornament.
Notice that having made multiple elaborations on his theme, he recounts the most recent examples as way of keeping the reader oriented.
‘Pride compasseth them about as a chain, violence covereth them as a garment,’ Ps. 73:6. A chain of pearl doth not better become their necks, nor the richest robes adorn their backs, than sin doth, in their judgments, become and suit their souls; they glory in their shame.
This last illustration is so often true: Think of how many boast of their wickedness something of which they should be ashamed.
Plato saith of Protagoras, that he boasted, whereas he had lived sixty years, he had spent forty years in corrupting youth. They brag of that which they ought to bewail.
e. They cannot cease from planning sin
They plot sin with their heads; ‘they conceive mischief,’ Ps. 7:14. Again he supports his metaphor with the use of the illustration in Scripture.
They affect sin with their hearts; ‘their hearts are after their covetousness,’ Ezek. 33. They act with their hands what their heads forge and their hearts favour; they ‘do evil with both hands earnestly,’ Micah 7:3. They work so hard till they are weary; ‘Thou hast wearied thyself in the multitude of thy counsels,’ Isa. 47:13. Pliny saith of the scorpion, that there is not one minute wherein he doth not put forth his sting; these cannot cease from sin, 2 Pet. 2; they do even contend which of them shall exceed in sin, as unhappy boys strive who shall go farthest in the dirt.
f. When they are stopped, they rage the harder to gain their sin.
All the rubs which are laid in their way do rather increase their rage than hinder their riot.
A fine epigram, consider it again and how it is balanced around an alliterative R
All the rubs
which are laid in their way [note the internal rhyme: laid/way]
do rather increase their rage
than hinder their riot.
He then provides five examples which begin with “When X”. This use of various rhetorical devices keeps the writing interesting and avoids the tedium of repeatedly use the same formula:
When God would stop the stream of their lusts by his prohibitions, laws, judgments, like waters dammed up, they swell the more, and like the possessed person, break all those cords in pieces.
When Paul chides the Ephesians for their idolatry, they cry out for it with the greater vehemency.
When Stephen had reproved the Jews for their cruelty, ‘they were cut to the heart, and gnash upon him with their teeth,’ Acts 7:54, 57.
When Ahaz was hampered in affliction, like a mad dog he bites at his chain, and ‘sins yet more in his distress against the Lord.’
When the sinner’s tide of nature is thwarted and crossed by the winds of reproof, or some judgment, what a storm is presently raised! how doth he, like the sea, presently discover and ‘foam out his own shame.’
g. Sin is a disease which cannot be cured
This is a rather balanced set of observations, which have been broken down into clauses to better see the technique:
Though God command, entreat, persuade, threaten, promise, yet all this physic doth often but move and stir, not remove nor purge away their ill-humours.
how deadly is that disease which no physic can cure!
and how tough is that wood which no wedge can cleave!
The bird will beware of the pitfall in which she hath been caught,
and the beast of the snare in which he hath been taken;
but brutish man, more foolish than beasts,
will not be parted from sin, though he hath been sharply punished for it.
One odd thing about this paragraph is that he does not provide a Scriptural reference for sin as a disease, which is odd in this section of the chapter, since the other 7 examples all begin with a verse.
h. They sin from birth
‘The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ears; which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely,’ Ps. 58:3–5.
He here provides an illustration which is based upon faulty information. But living in England in the 17th Century, he would have only heard of snake-charmers at 3rd or 4th hand and the inexplicable scene in the original would become even stranger when memory and editorial comment were added:
The serpent, when she begins to feel the charmer, clappeth one ear presently to the ground, and stoppeth the other ear with her tail, although by hearkening to the charmer, as some observe, she would be provoked to spit out her poison, and renew her age.
He here concludes with a general elaboration on the extent to which one will chase after sin. As I write these notes, a famous athlete is watching a fine career be destroyed by foolish and sinful choices, so this is always a timely proposition. This paragraph, coming a crescendo is made up of complex, well balanced sentences of varying length and rhythm. Again, to see the technique, I have broken up the clauses into separate lines:
So hot is man upon his harlot sin,
that he is deaf to all that would counsel him to the contrary;
he stoppeth his ear,
hardeneth his heart,
stiffeneth his neck
the thunders of the law,
the still voice of the gospel,
the motions of the Spirit,
and the convictions of his own conscience.
When sin calls, they run through thick and thin for haste;
when the world commands,
how readily do they hearken,
how quickly do they hear,
how faithfully do they obey!
when the blessed God crieth to them,
chargeth them by his unquestionable authority,
beseecheth them for their own unchangeable felicity,
like statues of men rather than living creatures,
stand still and stir not at all.
Other things move swiftly to their centres;
stones fall tumbling downward,
sparks fly apace upward,
coneys run with speed to their burrows,
rivers with violence to the ocean,
and yet silly man hangs off from his Maker—
that neither entreaties,
nor the word,
nor the works of God,
nor hope of heaven,
nor fear of hell,
can quicken or hasten him to his happiness.
Who would imagine that a reasonable soul should act so much against sense and reason?
Where is the saint that is not shamed by the very damned?
Sinners drive furiously, like Jehu, against their God, their sovereign;
but saints, like Egyptians, drive heavily, though they are marching in the road to the heavenly Canaan.
Ah, who presseth towards the mark for the prize of high calling?
Who works so hard to be preferred to the beatifical vision, as wicked men do to be punished with eternal, destruction?
They sweat at sowing in the devil’s field, when all they shall reap thereby will be damnation, and thou freezest in seeking God’s favour, when the fruit thereof will be everlasting salvation.
4. An Exhortation
This is a note which I have heard rarely if at all: to sorrow over the sin of the world and lack of fervor in the saint. Rather than dunking on the world, he is calling the reader to repentance: When we have something so much better than the wicked’s sin,
consider and mourn,
that the deceitful world (who will leave their lovers in the greatest danger) should have such hot and violent wooers;
that superstition should be so greedily caught at, though, like hemlock, it makes them run mad that eat it, and ends often in desperation;
nay, that the loathsome monster sin—
whose father is the devil,
whose service is perfect slavery,
whose jointure is blackness of darkness for ever—
should have so many and such eager, earnest suitors;
and yet godliness,
whose birth is noble from heaven,
whose person is lovely, the beautiful image of the blessed God,
whose portion is large,
no less than eternal life,
should be by most wholly slighted,
and at best but coldly courted.
Surely this ought to be for a lamentation.
Good God! whither did man go when he departed away from thee!
The ancient men wept when they saw the foundation of the second temple laid, considering how far it came short of the glory and beauty of the first, Ezra 3:12. What cause have we then to weep floods of tears when we ponder how short man is, nay, how contrary man is to his primitive purity and perfection! Godliness was then his business, but is now his burden; sin was then loathed as his bane, but is now loved as his daily bread.