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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

James Fisher's explanation of degrees of heinous sins

James Fisher together with his father-in-law Ebenezer Erskine, wrote a very good explanation of the Shorter Catechism. Here is a pdf link to it if someone wants to peruse it.

Question 83 in the Shorter Catechism: Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
Answer: Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

James Fisher's explanation:
Q. 1. What do you understand by some sins being more heinous than others?
A. That they are more abominable, hateful, and offensive to God than others are, Ezek. 8:6,13,15.

Q. 2. Are not all sins hateful, and offensive to God?
A. Yes; but not equally so, Matt. 7:3 Why beholdest thou the MOTE that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the BEAM that is in thine own eye?

Q. 3. How does it appear that all sins are not equally offensive to God?
A. From the different degrees of punishment that shall be inflicted in the other world, Matt. 11:22 But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. See also Luke 12:47, 48.

Q. 4. In whose sight are some sins more heinous than others?
A. In the sight of God, who is the best judge of the heinousness of sins, Job 36:9.

Q. 5. In what respects are some sins more heinous in the sight of God than others?
A. Some are more heinous in themselves, and some are so by reason of several aggravations.

Q. 6. What is it for sins to be heinous in themselves?
A. It is to be heinous in their own nature, though no other aggravating circumstances should attend them.

Q. 7. How are these sins, that are in their own nature more heinous than others, commonly ranked?
A. Sins committed more immediately against God, or the first table of his law, are more heinous in their own nature, than sins committed more immediately against man, or any precept of the second table. Likewise, some sins against the second table, are more heinous in themselves, than other sins against the said table.

Q. 8. What examples are usually given of both these?
A. Blasphemy against God, is more heinous in its own nature, than defaming, or speaking evil of our neighbour, 1 Sam. 2:25; and adultery is more heinous than theft, Prov. 6:30, to the end of the chapter.

Q. 9. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
A. Sins receive their aggravation, 1. From the persons offending. 2. From the parties offended. 3. From the nature and quality of the offence. 4. From the circumstances of time and place.

Q. 10. How may the persons OFFENDING be viewed?
A. They may be viewed, either as to their age, gifts, or office.

Q. 11. What aggravation arises from the age of the persons offending?
A. If persons are advanced in years, by which they may be supposed to have more experience, their sins are more highly aggravated than if committed by children, or such as are raw and inexperienced, Job 32:7.

Q. 12. How are sins aggravated from the gifts of the persons offending?
A. If the offenders have been eminent for their profession, 2 Sam. 12:14, or have had a larger measure of gifts, 1 Kings 11:9, or grace, James 4:17, conferred upon them, their sins will be proportionably aggravated beyond others, who have not been so privileged.

Q. 13. How are sins aggravated from the office, or station, in which persons offending may be placed?
A. If the persons who give the offence be in an eminent station in the world, or vested with any office in the church, Jer. 23:11, 14, or in the state, 1 Kings 14:16; their sins cannot but be of a deeper tincture and dye, because their example is more likely to be followed by others, Jer. 23:14.

Q. 14. How do sins receive their aggravation from the parties OFFENDED?
A. If committed "immediately against God, his attributes and worship; against Christ and his grace; against the Holy Spirit, his witness and working; against superiors, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren: -- and the common good of all, or many."[98]

Q. 15. On what account is sin aggravated as being committed immediately against God, his attributes and worship?
A. In as much as it is doing evil in his sight, Psalm 51:4; is despising "the riches of his goodness," Rom. 2:4; and undervaluing his ordinances, Mal. 1:8, and the glory he has stamped upon them, verse 14.

Q. 16. In what consists the heinousness of sin, as being against Christ and his grace?
A. In its being a slighting and contemning the only remedy which infinite wisdom has provided for our malady, Acts 4:12; and surely there can be no escape, if we "neglect so great salvation," Heb. 2:3.

Q. 17. How is sin aggravated by its being committed against the Holy Spirit, his witness and working?
A. In as much as it is a rejection of his testimony without us, in the word, John 15:26, and a quenching his motions and operations within us, 1 Thess. 5:19.

Q. 18. What aggravation does sin receive, as being committed against superiors, and such as we stand especially related and engaged to?
A. In so far as sin is committed against any of these, it is a violation of the most sacred bonds, both of nature, Prov. 30:17, and gratitude, Psalm 55:12, 13.

Q. 19. How is it aggravated, as being committed against the saints, particularly weak brethren?
A. As being committed against the saints, it is a contempt of the image of God in them, Luke 10:16; and as against weak brethren, it is laying a stumbling-block before them, by which they may be ensnared and fall, 1 Cor. 8:12.

Q. 20. Who are they that sin against the common good of all men, or many of them?
A. They are such as do what in them lies to hinder the propagation of the gospel where it is not, and to mar the success of it where it is, 1 Thess. 2:15, 16; there being nothing that tends more to the common good of all men, than the word of this salvation being sent among them, Acts 13:26.

Q. 21. What is the aggravation of this sin?
A. It makes those who are guilty of it bear the nearest resemblance they can to the devil, who aims at nothing more than the ruin and destruction of mankind, 1 Pet. 5:8.

Q. 22. How are sins aggravated from the NATURE and QUALITY of the offence?
A. They are much aggravated, if the offence be against the express letter of the law; break many commandments; -- if it break forth in words and actions; -- admit of no reparation; -- if against conviction of conscience; -- if done deliberately obstinately, and with delight.

Q. 23. Why is the offence said to be aggravated from being committed against the express letter of the law?
A. Because in this case there can remain no manner of doubt about the sinfulness of the action; and therefore it must be sinning with the greatest boldness and presumption, Rom. 1:32.

Q. 24. What aggravation is there in breaking many commandments at once?
A. The sin thus becomes a Complicated offence, containing many crimes in the bosom of it; like David's sin in the matter of Uriah, 2 Sam. 12:9.

Q. 25. How is sin aggravated by breaking forth in words and actions?
A. Sinful words and actions reflect a more public dishonour on God, Matt. 5:22, and do greater injury to men, Mic. 2:1, than if they were latent only in the thought.

Q. 26. What aggravation is there in those sins which admit of no reparation?
A. Their admitting of no reparation, cannot fail to aggravate them in the very nature of things; thus murder or adultery cannot but be more heinous than theft, because there may be restitution of one kind or other for theft, Lev. 6:4, 5; but nothing can compensate the taking away of the life of another, Num. 35:31 or the violation of the marriage-bed and covenant, Prov. 6:35.

Q. 27. What is the aggravation of sinning, against convictions of conscience?
A. This kind of sinning offers violence to ourselves, contrary to the checks of that judge and reprover which every one has in his own breast, Rom. 1:32.

Q. 28. What is the evil of sinning deliberately, obstinately, and with delight?
A. It argues the giving a kind of defiance to the Almighty, Ex. 5:2; a rooted hatred of him, Rom. 8:7; and is a strong evidence of judicial blindness and hardness of heart, Zech. 7:11, 12.

Q. 29. What aggravation do sins receive from the circumstance of TIME?
A. They are more heinous if committed on the Lord's day, Jer. 17:27, or on days occasionally set apart for fasting or thanksgiving, Isa. 22:12, 13, than at other times.

Q. 30. How are sins aggravated from the circumstance of the PLACE in which they are committed?
A. An offence is more heinous, if it be done in a land of gospel light, Isa. 26:10; or if committed "in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled, 2 Sam. 16:22.

Q. 31. What improvement should we make of this doctrine of sin in its aggravations?
A. To be more humbled and abased before the Lord, under a sense of our sins thus aggravated, Ezra 9:6; and likewise so much the more to admire the riches of pardoning mercy, as extended to the very chief of sinners, 1 Tim. 1:13, 15

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