The problem of sin and forgiveness becomes more difficult, as we think of the positive ideals which we have not begun to try to reach. Let us sum up what it involves.
Jesus brings out the utter bankruptcy to which sin reduces men. They become “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:28), so depraved that they are like bad trees, unproductive of any but bad fruit (rotten, in the Greek, Matt. 7:17); the very light in them is darkness, and how great darkness (Matt. 6:23). They are cut off from the real world, as we saw, and lose the faculties they have abused—the talent is taken away (Matt. 25:28); “from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matt. 25:29). The nature is changed as memory is changed, and the “overflow of the heart” in speech and act bears witness to it. The faculty of choice is weakened; the interval in which inhibition—to use our modern term—is possible, grows shorter. The instincts are perverted and the whole being is disorganized. In a word, all that Jesus connotes by “the Kingdom of God” is “taken from them” (Matt. 21:43), and nothing left but “outer darkness” (Matt. 22:13). The vision of God is not for the impure (Matt. 5:8). Meanwhile sin is not a sterile thing, it is a leaven (Matt. 16:6). If our modern medical language may be applied—and Jesus used the analogy of medicine in this very case (Mark 2:17)—sin is septic. In the first place, all sin is anti-social—an invasion “ipso facto” of the rights of others. The man who sins either takes away what is another’s—a man’s goods, a widow’s house, or a woman’s purity—or he fails to give to others what is their due, be it, in the obvious field, the aid the Good Samaritan rendered to the wounded and robbed man by the roadside (Luke 10:33), or, in the higher sphere, truth, sympathy, help in the maintenance of principle, or in the achievement of progress and development (cf. Matt. 25:43). Sin is the repudiation of the concepts of law, duty, and service, in a word, of the love on God’s scale which God calls men to exercise. And its fruits are, above all, its dissemination. Injustice, a historian has said, always repays itself with frightful compound interest. If a man starts to debauch society, his example is quickly followed; and it comes to hatred.
What, we asked, did Jesus mean by “lost”? This, above all, that sin cuts a man adrift from God. In the parable of the Prodigal Son this is brought out (Luke 15:11-32). There the youth took from his father all he could get, and then deliberately turned his back on him forever; he went into a far country, out of his reach, outside his influence, and beyond the range of his ideas, and he devoted his father’s gifts to precisely what would sadden and trouble his father most. And then came bankruptcy, final and hopeless. There was no father available in the far country; he had to live without him, and it came to a life that was not even human—a life of solitude, a life of beasts. Jesus draws