The Other Wages of Sin
Absract of a Sermon Preached on February 21, 1999
by Glenn Conjurske
If I were to ask you “What are the wages of sin?” you would all reply without hesitation, “The wages of sin is death.” While the world may not know or acknowledge this, we all know it, and the fact is, we may know it too well. For while we know that “the wages of sin is death,” we know also that “the gift of God is eternal life.” We know, in other words, that we may escape the wages of sin. The death which is the wages of sin comprises both the physical death of the body, and the second death also, in which both soul and body are cast into hell. While we know that those who continue impenitent in sin shall surely die for it, we know also that by repentance and faith we may escape the second death, and since all men must die, faith or no faith, we somehow learn to treat the first death lightly. And we may even escape the first death, if we live and remain till the coming of Christ. All this we know.
But we fear that the effect of this knowledge is generally to make us careless concerning sin. The dread of death is removed, and with it the dread of sin. The church at large has little fear of sin. It treats it lightly. Besetting sins are excused and retained, where the Bible commands us to lay them aside. It seems to be commonly believed that sin cannot hurt us. Christ has borne all the penalty, and we are free. “Free from the law, Oh, happy condition!” And with many Christians, “free from the law” means nothing other than “free to sin.” Free from the fear of death means free from the fear of sin.
Besides, we know that “the wages of sin is death” in general, while we expect no such wages in particular. We know it as Martha knew that her brother would rise again, “in the resurrection, at the last day,” but not today. We believe in “Pay-day Someday,” as Robert G. Lee used to preach, but not today or tomorrow. We expect to die only as all men die, only as the wages of sin in general, and not as the wages of any particular sin of ours. Whether we sin or no has no effect on the matter. We shall die if we sin, and die if we don’t. We know that “there is a sin unto death,” but this does not affect us. This is some gross or heinous sin, of which we will not be guilty. We do not expect to die any the sooner if we sin, nor any the later if we don’t. Neither do we fear the second death, since we have faith in Christ.
But supposing all this theology and all this reasoning to be true, it is really quite irrelevant, for there are other wages of sin besides death. I intend to speak to you this morning on the other wages of sin.
First, we must establish the fact that there are other wages. God said to Adam, In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. Adam ate, and the sentence was passed. But the sentence and the execution are two things. There are a great many criminals in this country who are sentenced to death, and who yet live. They are, as we say, “on death row,” but yet they live. Do they then receive no wages in the mean time? Does the judge sentence them to death, and say, “Your execution will be three months hence. Meanwhile, go home and enjoy yourself?” Oh, no. The condemned man is handcuffed and taken back to his prison cell.
Adam and Eve were sentenced to death, but the execution was delayed. Meanwhile they are paid the other wages of sin. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow…. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it, cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth unto thee. … In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” (Gen. 3:16-19). All this is the wages of sin.
Some will doubtless quibble about the term, and insist that death is the wages of sin, and sorrow and thorns and thistles are something else. Then let them call it what they please. Let them call it consequences or results. It all amounts to the same thing. The fact is, it is what we receive because we sin. It all comes “Because thou hast … eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it.” This is wages.
And observe, all this is “till thou return unto the ground.” All this is from now till death. We can escape death by the faith of the gospel, but the other wages of sin we can only escape by death. We can sing, “free from the law,” but we cannot sing, “free from the curse,” for we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit must groan with the rest of the creation.
Well, but even the curse will generally fail to teach us the seriousness and the sinfulness of sin, for the curse is only the general consequence of sin in general. The curse, in other words, is felt by all alike, whether we sin or no. In some cases we may feel it the more because of our own particular sins, but in general we must all bear it, whether we sin or no.
There are therefore yet further wages of sin, which serve to bring the matter home to us. There are particular wages for particular sins, and these we cannot escape. The Bible is full of examples of this. Perhaps the most conspicuous is David. We are all familiar with the sin which David committed, first of adultery, and then of virtual murder, in order to hide his adultery. When Nathan was sent by God to face him with his sin, he said, “I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin: thou shalt not die.” (II Sam. 12:13). Both the sin and the death which was its wages are put away, by God himself, but David was not therefore to go scot free. He was yet to receive the other wages of sin, and these he could by no means escape.
And first, so soon as Nathan says, “Thou shalt not die,” he adds, “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” The sentence was no sooner pronounced than executed. So soon as Nathan leaves the house, the Lord smites the child. David fasts and prays and lies all night on the earth, but all to no avail. He must receive his wages, and the child must die. And this rod, by the way, doubtless fell heavier on Bath-sheba than it did upon David, and we must not forget that she was as guilty of adultery as he was.
But this is not all. Though the sin was put away, David has hard wages to receive for it for many years to come. “Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.” This is wages, and all to be paid long years after the sin itself was put away, and the death remitted.
And further, “Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” All this is severe and bitter, and there is no way David can escape any of it. No repentance now will avail a whit. He has already repented, and the sin is already put away, and yet he must receive all these bitter payments, for many years to come.
And here we learn something which neither death nor the curse seem to be able to teach us. We ought to learn the seriousness and the sinfulness of sin from death and the curse, but they are too general, and we are too accustomed to them. All men die, regardless of their personal sinfulness. All men feel the curse, sin or no sin. But the rod is reserved for our own particular sins, and it is the rod which teaches us what we fail to learn from either death or the curse.
But in this day of antinomian grace, most Christians fear the rod as little as they fear sin. One reason for this is that they have never yet understood the purpose of the rod. They suppose the rod of God will be employed only to turn them from sin, and knowing that they may turn from sin when they choose, they little expect to feel the rod, and they little fear it. They go on sinning till they feel the rod, or but see it coming, and then repent for all they are worth, and expect the Lord to withdraw the threatened strokes. But those who view the matter after this fashion really know but little of the way of God. It is true that God sometimes uses the rod to turn us from sin, and in that case, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged,” but he as often uses the rod long after we have repented, not to turn us from our sin, but to make us feel its sinfulness.
So the matter certainly stood in David’s case. Someone will doubtless tell us this was because David was under the law. It is useless to argue with such folks. I only tell them, Dream on, till you feel the rod yourself, and then you will be awake enough. David never felt the rod at all until after he had repented, and after the Lord had put away his sin
—-and by the way, it is grace which puts away sin. But then, when his sin was renounced in his heart, and put away by the forgiving grace of God, then he felt the rod, and oh! the strokes were heavy. God intends that we should feel the rod, and he usually does not consult us as to what our wages shall be. Only one time, that I can recall, does God consult the sinner concerning his wages. “So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.” (II Sam. 24:13). Here God asks David what his wages shall be, but you will observe, it was no easy choice.
In most cases, however, God gives us no choice at all. We cannot choose which sins he will visit with the rod. Neither can we choose which rod he will employ. The only thing which we can choose is not to sin, but we rarely think of this until it is much too late. David may live as holy as an angel from this day forward, and yet he must feel the rod for the sins of the past. He has already committed adultery and murder. That cannot be changed by anything he does now. He must feel the rod for it, and neither can that be changed by anything he does now. In all this God teaches us the seriousness and the sinfulness of sin, and the sooner we learn it the better. Oh! how I wish that someone had taught me these things when I was five years old! But then all I heard was antinomian grace, and nothing at all to lead me to suppose that sin was a very serious matter.
But we must observe that the discipline of God in this life is never universal, but always selective. In the day of judgement he will deal universally with sin, and with righteousness also, and all of us will receive all of our wages. In the present life he deals selectively and representatively. As he singles out certain sinners to make examples of them, so he chooses to pay us our wages for certain of our sins. If he were to scourge us for every sin, the wages of sin would be death indeed, for who of us would survive our scourgings? His purpose is not to destroy us, however, but to teach us the seriousness of sin, and to that end he chooses to visit certain of our sins with the rod
—-it may be the most serious of them, it may be the most characteristic, or it may be the most venial. He knows how to teach us. In any case, the wages are likely to be heavy, and we may receive long wages for short sins. Though the church seems to have forgotten this today, the world used to know it, and expressed it in the common proverb, “Short pleasure, long lament.” This is a fact of life, and the reason it is so is that there is a God in heaven. Short folly, long sorrow. Short sin, long wages. Uzziah “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done,” but one time he approached the altar of incense, and he must be a leper till the day of his death.
If God so chooses, we must feel the rod for the sins already committed, already repented of, and already put away. There is no help for that, and the best we can do for it is meekly to submit to the rod
—-but we need not go on adding to our account. If I must today feel the rod for the sins of yesterday, why should I sin today, and treasure up a further scourging for tomorrow? But men are slow to learn to fear sin, and therefore the strokes of the rod of God are heavy.
David certainly felt them so. When God said to him, “I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house,” David likely had no idea as to the extent of that evil. He did not then suppose that the whole house of Israel would rise up in rebellion against him, or that he would be driven from his house and throne and kingdom. Yet so it happened.
Neither did he dream of the bitterness of his wages. We little feel the bitterness of death. It is far off, and we expect to face it when we must, as every other child of Adam must do, but somehow it fails to teach us the awfulness of sin. The rod comes home to us, and teaches us a lesson which we cannot ignore. Threaten your children with death in the distant future for their rebellion, and this will not reform them, but the rod applied today will do so. And the fact is, these other wages of sin may often be more bitter than death. When David is paid the wages of his sin, we find him crying, “Would God I had died!” The wages which he received were more bitter than those he was spared. To David God had said, “Thou shalt not die,” but Absalom must die, and David must then weep out his grief with, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” The wages which he received were more bitter than the death which was remitted.
But God does not consult us as to what our wages shall be. He chooses that himself, and I suppose that in many cases, when he has prepared our wages, if he were to come to us and inform us what they were, we would say, “Oh, God, anything but that!” The fact is, he means for us to feel the rod, for he means to teach us the seriousness of sin, and it will be of little use for us to complain of the wages. These are often bitter enough, and God knows how to fit the wages to the deed, so that we have no doubt of the connection. Leah takes her sister’s husband on her wedding night, and she must have her husband taken by her sister for years together. This was hard wages, but who could doubt the righteousness of it?
In other cases we can see no connection between the sin and the wages. Moses but speaks unadvisedly with his lips, and he must forfeit the land of Canaan. The only reason we know that this was the wages for that, is that God says so. The sin may seem small to us, and the penalty heavy, but that is none of our business. Our business is to learn the sinfulness of sin, to learn to fear it and to shun it. But we are slow to learn this. “Wise men learn by other men’s harms; fools by their own.” So says the old proverb, and if so, we must all be fools. Why do we not learn from the rod which falls upon Cain, upon Moses, upon David, upon Leah, upon Samson, to fear sin and to shun it? Why must we feel the rod ourselves? How little men suppose, when they yield their hands, their tongues, their ears, their eyes to sin, how little they suppose that they must one day feel the rod for it. And how little they reckon on the bitterness of the wages.
When Samson told his sacred secret to Delilah, how little he dreamed that he would grind corn in the prison house for it, with both his eyes put out. When Moses smote the rock, and said, “Hear now ye rebels! must we fetch you water out of this rock?” how little he dreamed that he would lose the land of Canaan for it. I heard an old preacher speak on this once, and he described Moses standing upon Mount Nebo, surveying all the goodly land of promise, and saying, “That is where I could be, but this is where I am, because back there I spoke unadvisedly with my lips
—-because back there I did not sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people.” And no pleading on Moses’ part could alter his wages now.
The rod of God is no light thing, and the only way we may avert it is to avoid the sin. The apostle John writes to the saints to the end “that ye sin not,” and in this he but reflects the purpose of all the Bible. Moses had respect unto “the recompence of the reward,” and this it was which turned him from the pleasures of sin
—-and “reward,” by the way, is the same thing as “wages.” Some of our modern teachers of grace would like to make a rigid distinction between them, but that distinction is purely imaginary. They are the same thing —-ordinarily the same word in the Greek. The “recompence of reward” here is a compound word, the first half of which is the same as that usually translated “wages” or “reward.” This compound is used three times in the book of Hebrews, first in Hebrews 2:2, where we read that under the law “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward,” and next in Hebrews 10:35, where under grace we are admonished to cast not away our confidence, which has “great recompence of reward.” In the first of these, it is the wages of sin, in the second the wages of righteousness. In the third, in which Moses “had respect unto the recompence of reward,” it is both. He considered the wages of sin on the one side, and the wages of suffering with Christ and his people on the other, and chose the latter.
It is the contemplation of the wages of sin that will keep us from it, but death will not always answer this end, especially in these days of antinomian doctrine. It is the other wages of sin which come closer to home. These wages God pays to the godly and the ungodly alike. As he deals with Moses and David, so he deals with Cain also. The death which he deserved was stayed. God will neither take his life, nor allow anyone else to do so. He sets a mark upon him, lest any should kill him. He even goes so far as to promise a seven-fold vengeance upon any who should dare to take the life of Cain. What, then? Does Cain go scot free? Far from that. He will yet receive the other wages of sin, and these are hard, and of long continuance. “A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.” Cain evidently felt this to be a hard lot, for “Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.” You may think Cain’s punishment was not so heavy after all, but you may often enough think your own greater than you can bear, for God knows how to apply the rod where we will feel it.
And as God deals with individuals, so he deals with classes and bodies of men also
—-with churches and denominations and organizations and nations. If Israel fails to drive out the inhabitants of the land, God will refuse to drive them out, and they shall remain as thorns in their side for many generations to come. When a church rejects a good shepherd, they shall have a bad one, and probably be certain, too, that God has sent him. God has sent him, but not for their blessing, but as the wages of their sin.
And by the way, it is generally in the Old Testament that we shall find these things. The historical portions of the Old Testament set forth the ways of God in living examples, of the sort that go directly home to our hearts. Those who neglect the Old Testament can have but little knowledge of the ways of God, and those who fear the Old Testament must have precious little indeed. Yet their ignorance of these things will not spare them. Far from that. Sin is sinful, and God will have us to know that, and to feel it. He will pay us the same sort of wages as he paid to Samson and Moses and David, and if we are so ignorant or so presumptuous as to expect to be spared, this will not affect his ways in the least. The wages of sin will yet be paid, even to those who stand in the pulpit and solemnly declare that they are all annulled.
But to come back to ourselves. We ought every one of us to pay the most solemn heed to the other wages of sin, which we see in Cain, and Leah, and Moses, and Samson, and David, and Uzziah, for we may expect to be paid in the same kind. If we have imbibed the modern antinomian notions of grace, which give us liberty to sin when we please, repent when we please, and go scot free, those notions will but add to our wages. God will have us to know and feel the sinfulness of sin, and the seriousness of sin, and if our doctrines stand in the way of our feeling it, we may expect the strokes of the rod to be so much the heavier, to reclaim our heads as well as our hearts. Those who sin today but line their nest with thorns for tomorrow. Have we not enough thorns in the nest already, for the sins of yesterday? Why should we add any more to the account?