The Way of Transgressors

Abstract of a Gospel Sermon, Preached on Nov. 5, 1997

by Glenn Conjurske

Proverbs 13:15 tells us that “the way of transgressors is hard.” A transgressor is a law-breaker. It is one who disregards the commands of God, and disobeys them. He does what he pleases instead of what God requires of him. The Bible says his way is hard. D. L. Moody relates that when he went to preach in the state penitentiary in New York, he saw inscribed over the door this text, “The way of transgressors is hard.” The men who entered that place certainly knew that by experience, but it seems a little late to persuade men that the way of transgressors is hard, when they are passing through the prison doors. For years in my meditations on this text, I used to wish I was a sky-writer, so that I could write this text on the sky: “The way of transgressors is hard.” I wished I could engrave this on the sky, the world over.

But then I began to think, What need is there for this? The fact is, wisdom is crying this message in the streets, daily, nightly, all the world over. “Wisdom crieth without. She uttereth her voice in the streets. She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates. In the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof. Behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, and I will make known my words unto you.” (Prov. 1:20-23).

How does wisdom cry all these things? No doubt in the experience of transgressors. No doubt in the fact that transgressors find the way hard indeed. Wisdom crieth this in the gates, in the gathering places of the people, in the streets of the city. It is as though all the human race is standing in the streets of the city, watching a parade—-a long parade of transgressors, who have found the way hard. There goes a drunkard, a homeless, penniless bum, who has drunk up all his money, lost all his goods and position and health and family and self-respect, and now walks about the city, red-nosed and blear-eyed, begging for quarters “to buy a sandwich”—-and drinking up those quarters as fast as he gets them. There goes a shoplifter, on his way to the jail. There goes a murderer, on his way to prison or to death. There goes an embezzler. All the good things and the high life which she got by fraud are taken away from her now, and she is whisked away, hand-cuffed, to prison. There goes a smoker, dying now of lung cancer. There goes the man who cheated on his wife, his marriage broken, his children gone.

The parade is endless, and every character in it proclaims, “The way of transgressors is hard.” The world is filled to overflowing with broken hearts, broken health, broken homes, broken marriages, broken everything, and every case proclaims, “The way of transgressors is hard.” So, I thought, what need is there to write this on the sky? It is cried daily and nightly in the streets and gathering places in every city on earth.

Ah, but the world is not listening. For all of wisdom’s crying, who knows that the way of transgressors is hard? Who understands this? Who believes it? After all her crying, Wisdom must yet cry again, and say, “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.” (Prov. 1:24-26). So, I thought, the need is as great as ever. I cannot write this message on the sky, but I will preach it.

But query, how is it that for all of wisdom’s crying—-for all this endless parade of plain examples before their very eyes—-men yet do not know that the way of transgressors is hard? How is it that men can watch this endless parade of examples, suffering the painful consequences of their transgressions, and yet go on and commit the very same transgressions? How is it that they never learn that the way of transgressors is hard? The fact is, they do not want to know it. They all indulge themselves with the hope of fools, that their own case will be different—-either that, or abstain from thinking of the matter at all. Light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.

But we must consider why the way of transgressors is hard. Who has made it so? Surely not the transgressors. Every transgressor on earth would make the way of transgressors smooth and easy, if he could. He would sit down under the forbidden tree, and eat its fruit to his heart’s content, and insure that all of paradise would remain a paradise—-if he could. But he has no control over the matter. The way of transgressors remains hard, in spite of all of man’s endeavors to secure the contrary. Man has ransacked the earth and sea and sky for the means by which to make the way of transgressors easy, but all to no avail. The scientific and medical researches of man, his civic and social programs, his inventions and institutions and insurance policies, are all bent to make the way of transgressors smooth and pleasant and easy. But it remains hard, for all of man’s endeavors.

Who has made it hard? Not the devil, surely. He does not punish sin, but rewards it. He would rock the sinner’s cradle, and serenade him with pleasing songs, and pamper him always with soft pillows—-if he could. But the devil cannot control the matter either. He can entice men to sin with fair promises, but he cannot prevent the evil effects of the sin. That is, he cannot entirely prevent them. The devil and unregenerate men have been very successful in our day in making the way of transgressors easier—-and this I believe to be one of the main reasons for the small success of the gospel in our day—-but though the devil may make the way of transgressors easier, he can never make it quite easy.

Who, then, has made the way of transgressors hard? God has. It was God who filled the earth with thorns and thistles and stinging insects and venomous serpents, so soon as ever man became a transgressor. It was God who planted the seeds of disease and death in the human body, so soon as man transgressed his commandment. God has made the way of transgressors hard. This is the very reason that transgressors hate God. Not that most men will admit that they hate God. No, they think they love him. But the God which they love is the God of their own imagination, or of some liberal preacher’s imagination. The God who actually exists, who judges sin, and who makes the way of transgressors hard, they heartily resent.

But God is good, and there is mercy even in his judgements, for however hard the way of transgressors may be, their end is much harder. God makes the way of transgressors hard in order to keep them from the end of transgressors. Have you ever considered what the result would be if the way of transgressors were not hard? The human race would go on headlong to destruction, loving and living in sin, till swallowed up in perdition. It is the hard way of transgressors which moves them to consider their ways, and to turn from their transgressions. Those who have not felt the hard effects of sin will scarcely give a hearing to the gospel. Christ was sent to preach the gospel to those who had felt the hard effects of sin. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” (Luke 4:18). Not that every one of these was necessarily feeling the effects of his own transgressions, but God in mercy has so designed the matter that the whole race shall to some degree feel the hard effects of the sins of the whole race. This is a mercy to us. Yet it remains that we must also feel the effects of our own transgressions, and this is a mercy also. This it is that opens our ears and our hearts to the sound of the gospel. The young, and healthy, and energetic, and successful, who have not felt much of the hard way of transgressors, will scarcely consider the gospel at all.

Christ was not sent to preach to the rich and the prosperous and the healthy, but to those whose way was hard. We are all sinners, and in our natural state we all love sin. Most men cling to sin so long as they can, or so long as they dare. While our way is smooth and easy, we seldom trouble ourselves about how hard the end will be. Numerous old proverbs testify to this. “Felicity eats up circumspection.” “Prosperous men seldom mend their faults.” But when we begin to feel the effects of our sin, then we turn from our transgressions, and come to God for mercy. The prodigal son would have gone on in sin in the far country to the end of his life, if his pockets and his stomach had been full. When they were empty, he thought of returning to his father.

This is not honorable, I know. To turn our backs to God in our ease and plenty, and turn our faces to him only in our poverty and need, this is not honorable, but God will take you even then. He delights to take up the devil’s castaways, as George Whitefield used to say. Christ was sent to preach to the devil’s castaways. It may not be honorable to turn to God only in our extremity, but it is surely a good deal less honorable not to turn to him at all. It was more honorable for the prodigal to say, in the broken and humble spirit in which he said it, “I will arise and go to my father,” when his pockets and his stomach were empty, than it would have been for him to remain in his sins in the far country.

When the prodigal son purposed to go to the far country, the Father let him go. God wants none but willing servants, and the hard lot which falls to transgressors in the far country will make them willing, if anything will. The Father gave him his liberty, and loaded him with money besides. He gives the same to every man—-gives you your liberty, and health, and goods, and friends—-and you use it all just as the prodigal did, in one long demonstration of how far your heart is from the God who made you. But God loves you still, and he sends his messengers to the far country to endeavor to draw your heart back home. The Father never went after the prodigal, but he sent his messengers after him. Those messengers came in the form of the hard lot of transgressors. The empty stomach, and the empty pockets. The loneliness of the far country, and the heartlessness of its inhabitants. When his money and his friends and his pleasures were all gone, and no man gave unto him, he “came to himself,” and learned by hard experience that the way of transgressors is hard. He didn’t believe that when he walked out of his Father’s house with his pockets full of money. He no doubt whistled all the way to the far country. He didn’t go there expecting to find the way hard.

But it is a simple fact that the way of transgressors is hard. It is an obvious fact, and a fact which is daily and nightly cried in the streets of the city, and a fact which will never change so long as there is a God in heaven. But men are very slow to learn it. Most of them learn it only in the school of hard knocks, and many will not learn it even there. They cling to a vain hope that the hard way will improve, and when it does not improve, they blame and resent God for it. Well, I tell you frankly, it is God’s fault that the way of transgressors is hard. It was God who made it so, and it is God who keeps it so, in spite of all the endeavors of men and devils to make it easy. But you ought not to blame or resent God for this. No, you ought to thank him for it every day of your life. He makes the way of transgressors hard in order to turn you from your transgressions, to keep you from ever coming to the end of transgressors, which will be a good deal harder than the way.

Glenn Conjurske

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