George Everard, 1882
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." Psalm 19:1-4Nature ever has a voice for those who will hearken to her teaching.The glorious sun, enlightening all with his cheering beams, reminds us of the Dayspring from on high, who came "to give light to those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death."The bright moon, reflecting as it does the light of the sun, reminds of the true Church of Christ.The moon above — the Church below,
A wondrous race they run;
But all their radiance, all their glow,
Each borrows of its Sun.The countless stars shining overhead, remind us of the eternal glory of the children of God.The birds of the air teach us their lesson of daily dependence upon the care of the great Provider. Luther, we are told, was once in much distress about provision for those whom he had gathered under his roof, but was comforted as he hearkened to the note of a little songster. It seemed to him in its note ever to be repeating, again and again —"Mortals, cease from care and sorrow;
God provides for the morrow."The lily of the field has taught us, through the lips of Christ, that our Father forgets not to clothe His children.The vine and its branches have taught us much of the mystery of grace. It shows to us the necessity of ever abiding in Christ by faith and prayer; and assures us that all grace and strength flow from Him, the Living Stem, into the hearts of His believing people.Let us learn from the book of nature another lesson, very different from any of these. Our teacher shall be a remarkable plant, that grows very abundantly in the forests of Brazil. It bears the name of the Sipo Matador, and has been thus described: "Its stem is at first so exceeding slender, that it has no natural support in itself. It entwines and creeps along the ground until it reaches some lofty vigorous tree — then its mode of growth is most peculiar. It lays hold of it with a clinging grasp, and spreads itself, like a flattened bark-like stem, over one side of the trunk, cleaving to it with the greatest tenacity: from both the edges of this bark it sends out very delicate arm-like tendrils, exactly opposite to each other. They grow on until they meet, encircling the tree, round which they become a solid ligature, never to be removed. These arms are sent forth at regular intervals as the Murderer mounts upwards, until the trunk of its supporter is clasped by numberless inflexible rings. These rings grow larger, and clasp tighter as the parasite ascends. Up, up it climbs, one hundred feet — one hundred and fifty — one hundred and eighty; at last it mounts to the very top — and then, as in triumph, forms a vast flowering head above all the surrounding forest, opens its blossoms to the sun, ripens its seeds, and scatters them over the soil below. The supporter, by this time, is strangled and dead; and the strange spectacle remains of the strangler clasping in its arms the lifeless and decaying body of its victim, in which wood-boring beetles have already commenced their operations. It soon crumbles in rapid decay; and the parasite which destroyed it, having flowered, fruited, and continued its kind, falls to the ground, a shapeless mass, involved in one common ruin with its supporter."What is the lesson this plant may teach us? Is it not this — The mysterious power of sin, and the danger to which its victim is exposed? Only carefully ponder the description of the plant which is given, and then trace the striking analogy.The very name suggests it. It is the "Sipo Matador" or, "the Murderer".The child frequently bears the name of the parent. The author of evil is spoken of by Christ as "a murderer from the beginning." Such also is sin — a destroyer — a murderer!O sin, sin! what have you done? How many, through you, have had to pass through the gloomy chamber of the grave! What multitudes, in all ages, through you, have forfeited the peace and salvation of a soul!
1. Mark the stealthy character of sin's approach.Creeping, entwining low upon the ground, comes "the Murderer" as it approaches its victim. Just so, the sin which ruins the soul, too often comes stealthily, secretly, and unobserved!Behold in Paradise the parents of the human family. Holiness, peace, the love of God, dwell within them, but sin approaches: "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin."Eve loiters near the forbidden tree. The Tempter suggests the pleasure and the advantage to be derived from tasting it. The eye gazes — the ear hearkens — the foot tarries — the heart desires — the hand takes — man falls! and the dark plague-spot of iniquity has fastened upon our earth, from which it has never since been free.A godly king, a man very dear to God, is walking in the eventide upon the roof of his palace. The eye wanders — sinful passions arise. Thence comes a dark cloud of evil; murder and adultery follow close one upon the other. Two full years pass, and that sin lies yet upon the conscience. The face of the Lord is turned away from His servant. The remainder of life is darkened by the family sorrows that arise, as the bitter consequences of that single glance.Oh! how secretly — with how much of the subtlety of the serpent does sin come near! How carefully does it conceal from us its true character! Gladly would deceitful lusts persuade us that the thing which God has forbidden is yet comparatively harmless! Gladly would the great enemy cover with a fair name many a foul act of iniquity! Gladly would a deceitful heart hide from us the deadly issue of the sin we love! Would you be safe from the deceit and the craft of the adversary? Then watch and pray evermore. Be ever watchful over yourself. Watch diligently every avenue of sin's approach. The eye, the ear, the tongue, the hand, the foot — above all, the heart — require a constant guard. Then abide near the mercy-seat. Put your soul continually into the hand of Christ, and you will be safe.It was the saying of a godly woman, "A hundred times a day I pray myself out of my own keeping, into the keeping of Christ." Follow her example: "pray without ceasing." "Keep me as the apple of the eye — hide me under the shadow of Your wings."Oh keep me in Your heavenly way,
And bid the Tempter flee;
And let me never, never stray
From happiness and Thee.
2. The strong, mighty grasp with which sin cleaves to the soul.The stem of the Matador is firmly united to the trunk of its victim, so that it becomes as one tree. The numberless rings also put forth by the plant tightly grasp it. So is it with sin. It cleaves with mighty power to the soul of man. It becomes one with him. It is bound up in his very being. It leavens his whole nature. Not a single power in man is exempt from its fearful tyranny.The understanding is darkened.The conscience becomes but a doubtful guide — too often does it resemble the frozen thermometer, refusing to perform its proper function — giving no true indication of the state of the soul.The imagination, so noble a power when, guided by the Scripture, it enables a man to realize something of the future glory — is too often defiled and debased by the attractions of the world.The will is perverted, so that it chooses the evil, and refuses the good.The affections are turned away from their true pole and center — a God of infinite mercy and love — and are fixed merely upon earthly objects.So completely, is every power of the soul and spirit enslaved by the sin which dwells in us.So great, too, is the power of this tyrant, that no judgments, no warnings sent by God, have ever yet been sufficient to overcome it.There came a flood, and destroyed the old world — yet, immediately afterwards, God declares that "Every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood!" Genesis 8:21There came fire from Heaven, and burnt up the Cities of the Plain — but sin burst forth afresh in the only family that was delivered from the flames.The earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up those who rebelled against God — yet the very day following did those who had witnessed it begin again to murmur.There was given God's Holy Law, with its solemn sanctions, the thunders and the lightnings, and the voice of the trumpet — and yet, before the servant of God has come down from the Mount, the nation to whom it was given was worshiping a golden calf!Prophets and righteous men came, from age to age, with earnest calls to repentance — yet how few hearkened to their message and forsook their sins.Nor is evil less powerful now. Faithful sermons, the warnings of a godly parent, sickness, bereavement, convictions of sin's danger, resolutions to amend — are too often all in vain! They turn not the sinner from his downward course. The besetting sin still reigns in the heart. Evil habits yet cleave fast to the man. Truly is it written, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil!" (Jeremiah 13.23). "Whoever commits sin is the slave of sin!" (John 8.34).It matters not what the prevailing sin may be . . .
some unhallowed lust,
a hateful spirit,
a temper that brooks no control,
an unruly tongue,
a determined worship of Mammon,
a resolution to get rich at all hazards —
yet how hard is it ever found to cast off the chain! It is just like one of those arms of the plant, which take so firm a hold, and at last strangle the tree.Oh, do not make light of sin!Do not trifle with it!Don't deceive yourself with respect to it.Don't imagine that whenever you will, you may easily escape from its grasp. Far otherwise will you find it, whenever honestly and thoroughly you set yourself to overcome it. Then will you discover that nothing less than the Almighty power of divine grace will avail to set you free.
3. The power of sin increases ever more and more.The rings of the Matador grow thicker and thicker. They grasp the tree more and more tightly. The plant itself climbs higher and higher. It never ceases to grow until its deadly work is accomplished.A thousand proofs on every side remind us that it is exactly similar with the course of sin. It is written, "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse" (2 Timothy 3.13). Only read the descending scale of evil, in the first chapter of the Romans. Only mark how one sin leads to another — how one act of disobedience prepares the way for a just God to leave men to fall into still greater depths of evil.Never let it be forgotten, whether a man knows it or not, that the longer he lives in willful disobedience to the Law of God — the great Tyrant is binding him faster and faster in his coils! Old sins become more and more confirmed — more completely enslaving the whole man, choking all the better feelings, rising higher and higher in the soul. Once, perhaps, sin ruled chiefly through the lower passions, while often there were desires after God; but at length the course of sin ends in a settled, determined enmity to the great Creator.Very much was there hopeful in the early course of King Saul. Chosen of God to be captain over His own people, paying due honor to the prophet Samuel, in some measure performing an outward obedience to the Lord's commands — he seems to bid fair for the heavenly kingdom; but a few years pass, and sin has gained a far stronger hold. At last we find him utterly forsaking God — and forsaken by Him. His last recorded act, before the battle in which he was slain, was that of open rebellion against Him. No longer did he seek after God, but sought counsel of one who was a sorcerer!The progress of sin is the same now as it was then.Look at the little child of three or four summers. How much is there of a beautiful simplicity and innocence. With all the inherent evil of the heart, which from time to time breaks out — yet how much is there still reminding us of the child's relative innocence.Look at the same little child when grown to the age of manhood. Too often how fearful is the change! All the innocence of childhood is gone; and in the place of it there is the profane jest, the coarse laugh at religion, the unrestrained indulgence in youthful lusts.Look at the hopeful young person who kneels for the first time at the Table of the Lord. There is conviction, but not conversion. There is an acknowledgment of the deep importance of religion, but no reliance on the atoning blood, no hearty dependence on the Spirit's aid, no true yielding up the heart to God. Years roll on. The world regains its hold. Religious feeling gradually disappears. It passes away like a morning cloud. And now, in a worldly middle life, and in the hardened insensibility of old age — is the grave of all the fair promise of youthful piety.Be sure this progress of sin is often taking place when its outward growth may seem to have been checked. The principle of evil may be strengthening, while the manifestation of it may be less evident. The man of forty or fifty may have cast off the wild habits of his early life. He may imagine that he is a much better Christian than once he was, while, it may be, one sin has only been exchanged for another.Love of the world may be more rooted in the heart.Self-righteousness may take the place of self-indulgence.Pride may be increasing.Spiritual religion, a life of close fellowship with God, which is the very essence of all true religion — may be more than ever distasteful to him.Oh! what reason is here for immediate conversion to God! Let there be no delay. At once seek help from above, that you may turn from sin. The evil which today may be as the silken thread — may hereafter be as the strong cable, or the iron chain, which shall hold you fast forever!
4. The self-propagating power of sin.The Matador plant, from its lofty head scattering its seed, far and wide, becomes the parent, in future years, of many more such-like plants. So is it with each successor, until perhaps the whole forest is laid low. It is a type of sin. Grace and sin both spread wherever they are found. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. The Christian cannot be satisfied withgoing alone to the better land. By words in season, by prayer, and by a holy life, he wins others for Christ. Sin also propagates itself. Solomon reminds us that "one sinner destroys much good." Isaiah speaks of the sinners of his day as "children that are corrupters!" Often the complexion of a whole family is taken from the head of it. The sins of parents, are repeated generation after generation in the lines of their descendants.The sin of Abraham, in deceitfully hiding his relationship to Sarah — was reflected in the life of Isaac some forty years afterwards.Jacob deceives his aged father, and is punished in his old age by his children in like manner deceiving him!Again and again it is said of the kings of Israel, that they followed in the steps of Jeroboam, "who made Israel to sin." The prophet Micah speaks, "You keep only the laws of evil King Omri; you follow only the example of wicked King Ahab! Therefore, I will make an example of you, bringing you to complete ruin!" (Micah 6.16). More than one hundred and fifty years had passed since both these wicked kings had been in their graves. Eleven kings had since that time reigned over Israel — yet still the works of the one, and the laws of the other were remembered and observed.O lost sinner, reflect but for a moment on the effects of your sin on others! You may have gone to your account, and in the lives and deaths of your children may be witnessed the sad results of your iniquity. Those who have lived near you — your neighbors and your associates — may have learned evil from you, and your sin may prove their ruin!Centuries may have passed, and your sin may yet be doing its deadly work, bringing forth in many souls the bitter fruits of sorrow here, and eternal woe hereafter: "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! (Matthew 18:7)
5. The final ruin that overtakes both the sinner and his sin.Gradually the tree upon which the Matador has fastened withers and dies. Every leaf fades. Its life is gone. Then the insects which prey upon the tree carry on their work for awhile. At length a terrible crash is heard. The Murderer and his victim fall together, involving in a common destruction many of the trees around.In the same way, the soul of man withers; all better feelings fade away, all possibility of the soul being restored by grace passes by. Then comes the final catastrophe. There comes a fall from which there is no arising: "Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death!" The sinner and his sin both meet their due reward in the terrible wrath of a holy God. It is a final ruin, and it is an abiding one — an ever-living death.As the insects within the tree still continue their work after it has fallen, so after death is there still "the worm that dies not" — the aching of a heart that shall never have peace, the gnawing of a conscience that never can rest, the agony of an immortal spirit forever separated from the only source of joy.Such is the close of a life of sin; such, unless grace intervenes, is the sure end of the sinner's path. One who might have flourished like a palm-tree in the courts of the Lord on earth, and then have been transplanted by God's own hand to bloom forever in the Paradise above — becomes, through sin, a ruin and a wreck! He becomes a monument of the enduring wrath of God. He becomes as fuel for "the fire that never shall be quenched."Let us inquire:
Where is our hope?
Who shall deliver us from this cruel tyrant?
Who shall free us from the dominion of sin?Reader, there is a strong Redeemer, a mighty Deliverer — a Savior who can meet our case. It is One who is stronger than sin; One who for our sake has fought and conquered the great enemy. His name is Jesus. His arm is powerful; His grace all-sufficient; in His love He is ready to stoop down to the fallen and the lost; He can set free the captive; He can unloose the strongest fetters: "The Lord loosens the prisoners." It is His appointed office "to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." Many a chain of darkness, has He broken; many an one, "tied and bound by the chains of his sin," has the pitifulness of His great mercy loosed.As we could imagine a hand removing the stem and the rings of the Matador, and setting free the tree upon which it was climbing — so does Jesus with the souls whom He saves.He bursts the chain of ignorance. When all is dark within; when there is no light to discover sin, no eye to behold the only Redeemer — then Jesus comes. He opens the blind eyes — He removes the scales of prejudice and self-satisfaction. Then does the sinner awake. He sees himself as the chief of sinners; he sees Christ as the Savior he needs. Oh I that every darkened mind might receive light from Him! Oh! that every soul yet blinded by sin would cry, "Lord, that I might receive my sight!"He bursts the chain of guilt winch enslaves the conscience. Oh! what bondage is it to feel the conscience laden with guilt, ceaselessly accusing the sinner of the evil of bygone years. A conscience ill at ease, drives a man further and further from God. It shuts out the possibility of any holy, happy fellowship with Him, or of any cheerful, acceptable service. But Jesus comes. He bursts this chain also. He speaks to the heart: "Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven!" His atoning sacrifice purges the conscience; His precious blood speaks to us of perfect forgiveness. Then the chain is broken. One drop of blood has touched the ring around the tree, and at once it looses its hold. Then is there a blessed rest: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He set our transgressions from us."He bursts the chain of every evil habit — of every besetting sin. True it is, each of these is as a mighty fetter which the hand of man cannot unbind. But what man cannot do — Jesus can. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Be assured that the Savior can deliver you from every sin in every shape. He can by His Spirit overcome the sin which for years has been your chief snare. He can purify the heart from every unholy thing. He can raise the soul long debased by cleaving to the world, so that such a one may long for God's grace as the deer panting after the water-brooks.Samson, when endued with strength from above, could with ease cast off every fetter with which his enemies could bind him. Just so, the soul leaning on the strength of Jesus can obtain more and more a blessed freedom from every bond of sin. Be assured also that the Savior can deliver you from the most subtle form of evil. He can untwine those delicate tendrils that may seem to the unthinking so harmless, and yet prove at length so deadly.He can deliver you from that mistaken view of God's character which keeps you from joyful access to the mercy-seat. He can deliver you . . .
from that pride of intellect which hinders you from receiving the kingdom of God as a little child;
from that undiscovered reliance upon self which prevents your entire dependence on the Savior;
from that secret idolatry which hides from you the loving smile of your Father in Heaven;
from that slightness in sacred duties, and that unspiritual tone of mind which bar any advance in divine life.From all these hidden evils Jesus can save. He has access to every inner chamber of the heart. He can reveal and uproot all that is injurious there. He can implant there, all that is pleasing in His sight.He bursts the chain of all those evils which sin has introduced. Numberless are the sorrows and distresses which come to us in the train of sin.Pain, and suffering, and weakness oppress the body;
cares, and anxieties, and disappointments weigh upon the spirit;
temptations, doubts, and fears harass the soul;
death rifles our homes of their dearest treasures.One by one must we also be subject to the dominion of the King of Terrors. In the bonds of the grave, must we be held until the Bridegroom comes. Then shall He again display His mighty arm. The last bond shall be broken. The ills of this present life shall have passed away. Death and the grave shall loose their captives. The glorious word of hope and promise shall be fulfilled. "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? . . . Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)Reader, let this thought abide with you. Sin is a strong and cruel tyrant — but Jesus Christ is a mighty and merciful deliverer. Prove for yourself His power and His grace. Let nothing keep you from His footstool. Tarry not, lest the day of salvation should be over. Plead with Him His own gracious promise, "Him that comes to Me, I will never cast out." Confess to Him all your unworthiness, all the evil that clings to you, and confidently rely upon His gracious help.Let this be your daily prayer: "O mighty and merciful Savior, forever set me free from the power and the guilt of sin — and bind me fast, hand and foot, with the fetters and cords of Your everlasting love!"