As you read history you realize that theologians of the past tended to be more careful and thoughtful with their distinctions. They would often dig into every nook and cranny of a subject, pulling out every implication of a particular doctrine, passage, or law. At times, this led to excess. But in our age, when thinking is typically shallow, it is worth going back and looking at how these men thought and how they worked out implications of specific doctrines. The Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) is a great example of this. The questions below come after the WLC exposition of the Ten Commandments (Questions 91-149). There is a lot of wisdom in these two questions.
Q150: Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God? A150: All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
The first question is are all sins equal. One of the common ideas floated around today is that all sin equally, we are all in the same boat, all of us are terrible, wicked men. There is, of course, some truth to this. That is why it sticks. But that is not the whole truth. All men in the sight of God are damned for Hell without Christ. But that does not make all sins equally heinous. We can see this when Jesus says it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for Capernaum in the day of judgment (Matthew 11:24). Is being rude at the dinner table a sin? Yes. But being rude at the Lord’s Supper is worse. The first point the WLC makes is that not all sins are equally heinous. What makes some sins worse than others? The WLC lists four things. Here are the first two. I will post the last two tomorrow.
Q151: What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
A151: Sins receive their aggravations,
1. From the persons offending: if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.
First, a sin can be made worse by the person doing the sinning. If a person is older, has been a Christian longer, has greater gifts or a greater position, leads others, or others follow them then the sins are worse. We all know this in life. A minister who commits adultery is worse than a layman who commits adultery. A bitter old woman is a worse sinner than a bitter young woman. Fathers’ sins are worse than the sins of children. A man in leadership when he sins will lead many astray while a normal Joe will not. If a man has been a Christian for thirty years and starts teaching heresy it is worse than a young believer who goes astray. A sin is not committed in a vacuum. A particular man or woman, in a particular situation commits sin. Who that person is and who they relate to matters.
2. From the parties offended: if immediately against God, his attributes, and worship; against Christ, and his grace; the Holy Spirit, his witness, and workings; against superiors, men of eminency, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren, the souls of them, or any other, and the common good of all or many.
Second, a sin can be made worse by the one sinned against. Obviously, direct sins against God are worse than sins against man. The WLC references Hebrews 2:2 here. Sin against the grace of the gospel is worse than stealing from your neighbor. Cursing God is worse than watching porn.
But then beyond direct sins against God a sin can be worse when it is committed against particular people. A son cursing his father is worse than the same son cursing his friend at the park. The closer the relationship the worse the sin. That means sins within the family are worse than sins outside of it. It also means, and I think this is worth carefully considering, sinning against a brother or sister in Christ is a deep offense against God. Too many Christians treat the world better than the person on sits in the pew next to them. We bend over backwards to accommodate the world, but make excuses for not helping our brothers or sisters in Christ. This is not an encouragement to treat the world worse, but rather to treat your fellow Christians better.
Tomorrow I will post the other two ways we make sins worse as well some concluding thoughts.