In 1757 Robert Robinson, a self-proclaimed “wanderer,” wrote the penitent words of a poem we know today as the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Robinson was profoundly affected by a sermon he heard on Matthew 3:7: “O generation of vipers, who hath told you to flee from the wrath to come.”
For three years, he said, he lived under a deep sense of dread about his sin then finally surrendered and gave his life to “the God I love.” Two years later, he wrote those haunting lyrics.
He was twenty-two years old.
Did he ever wander, as he feared he would? It’s not known for sure, but he did say of himself when asked about the hymn, “I am the poor unhappy man who wrote those words many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”
Robinson truly knew all about sin’s depth, complexity, attractiveness and defeat.
Sin is deep
Our sin runs deeper than the cells in our bodies, touching the furthest recesses of our hearts.
JC Ryle says that if you think you’re a good person then by all means, aim high. Live your life in freedom from bad thoughts, actions, or words. Go for years on end with uninterrupted communication with God, and go months without so much as even one evil thought.1 We barely understand how bad we are until we try to be good.
Our bad behavior, however, is not the result of external influences, but rather it’s the essential nature of our humanity. As we mature in mind and in stature we develop a strong proclivity toward that which is adverse and a backwardness to that which is ethical.2 The stronger our mental faculties become, the more we have a capacity for conjuring and plotting evil. There exists great evil in our world precisely because we are capable.
Sin Is Complex
There are sins of omission (not doing something that you should) and commission (doing something that you should not have done). Of course we sin in our thoughts, actions, and words, but our sin is so deep that we sin in our motives and in our negligence of those who need us (Matt 25:40). All of our relationships possess the effects of sin, and even our sweetest relationships carry stains of regret.
In our best work we are imperfect. Again, Ryle highlights that we don’t love God as we wish with all of our heart, mind, and strength.
We don’t fear God as we ought to.
We don’t pray with our hearts completely focused on God as we should.
We give, forgive, believe, live, and hope imperfectly.
We speak, think, and act imperfectly.
We fight our sin, the world, and the flesh imperfectly.3
In an altercation we tend to think of ourselves as self-righteous victims rendering judgment on the offender, but it is rarely the case in any dispute that one party is completely innocent.
Sin is the disease in which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds- extending to every people group, rich and poor, in the entirety of humanity.4 The understandings, affections, sense of reasoning, are all infected. Even our conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide and is likely to lead us the wrong way while we may consider it to be the right way.
Sin Is Attractive
My fear is that we have a considerable deficiency in realizing the subtlety of our sinfulness. We are apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself in a deadly way:
Instead, sin comes to us like Judas, with a kiss.
The forbidden fruit seemed good and desirable to Eve, and yet it cost her the greatest thing she had going.
Walking along his palace roof seemed harmless enough to David, yet it ended in adultery and murder.5
Sin rarely seems evil in its first stages and this is its most deadly deceptive quality. Many people live without realizing the dangerous nature of their sin and it’s for this very reason they continue in the same destructive patterns, unleashing a living hell on themselves and on others.
We love to think that we’re healthy and in no need of a doctor, but this is a gross underestimation of how badly we need help. What’s worse is that we must face the reality of some type of moral accountability for where we have gone wrong and no sin goes unpunished. This is true justice – something good and right.
Sin Is Defeated
The fullness of sin is so overwhelming that nothing short of the blood of the incarnate God can satisfy our payment. Yet in his great love, God comes to provide the means to our helpless state, and when we recognize our great sin we can then recognize our great Savior. When we feel in danger of our disease is when we call for our Great Physician, and when we hunger and thirst we must have nothing less than the bread of life.6
A child is easily quieted and satisfied for a time with toys so long as he or she is not hungry, but only food will satisfy a deep, internal craving. So it is with Christ.
We will never come to Jesus, stay with Jesus, and live for Jesus unless we really know why we are coming. Those whom the Spirit draws to Jesus are those whom the Spirit has convicted of sin, and we all come to Christ because we recognize this great need.
Richard Robinson certainly recognized his youthful sins and was deeply convicted of them when he wrote those humble lyrics admitting that he, like all of us, was “prone to wander.” He praised God for pursuing and rescuing him, and he recognized how indebted he was to the unmerited grace he had been granted through Jesus’ blood.
Oh, if Christians would sincerely seek to bind their “wandering hearts to” God!
So, let us see that our sin is far viler, and far nearer to us, and strikes more closely to us than we realize, and we shall be led, I trust and believe, to draw nearer to Christ. Once drawn nearer to Christ, we shall drink more deeply out of his fullness, and learn more thoroughly to ‘live the life of faith’ in him. Once taught to live the life of faith in Jesus, and abiding in him, we shall bear more fruit, shall find ourselves more strong for service, more patient in trial, more watchful over our poor weak hearts, and more like our Master in all our little daily ways. Just in proportion as we realize how much Christ has done for us, shall we labor to do much for Christ. – JC Ryle
Source – JC Ryle, Holiness (1877), The Banner of Truth Trust
1. Pg. 16; 2. Pg. 4 3. Pg. 16 4. Pg. 5 5. Pg. 10 6. Pg. 15