My high school classes are learning the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and this week we covered this question:
Question 83: 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.
Puritan pastor Thomas Watson (1620-1686) wrote a helpful description of the degrees of sin, excerpted below. It’s a sobering study and well worth the read:
2.Such sins are more heinous that are committed presumptuously. Under the law there was no sacrifice for presumptuous sins. (Num. 15: 30) What is the sin of presumption, which heightens and aggravates sin, and makes it more heinous?
To sin presumptuously, is to sin against convictions and illuminations, or an enlightened conscience. ‘They are of those that rebel against the light.’ (Job 24: 13) … To sin ignorantly does something to extenuate and pare off the guilt. ‘If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin,’ that is, their sin had been less. (John 15: 22) But to sin against illuminations and convictions enhances men’s sins…
How many ways may a man sin against illuminations and convictions?
(1) When he lives in the total neglect of duty. He is not ignorant that it is a duty to read the Word, yet he lets the Bible lie by as rusty armour, seldom made use of…
(2) When a man lives in the same sins he condemns in others. ‘Thou that judges, does the same things.’ (Rom. 2: 1)
(3) When a man sins after vows.
(4) When a man sins after counsels, admonitions, warnings, he cannot plead ignorance.
(5) When a man sins against express combinations and threatening. …Though God set the point of his sword to the breast of a sinner, he will still commit sin. The pleasure of sin delights him more than the threatenings affright him.
(6) When a man sins under affliction. … ‘In his distress did he trespass yet more; this is that king Ahab’ (2 Chron 28: 22). … When [Judas] was going about his treason, and Christ pronounced a woe to him, yet, for all that, he proceeded in his treason. (Luke 22: 22) Thus to sin presumptuously, against an enlightened conscience, dyes the sin of a crimson colour, and makes it greater than other sins.
5. Those sins are of greater magnitude, which are mixed with ingratitude. … The English chronicle reports of one Parry, who being condemned to die, Queen Elizabeth sent him her pardon; and after he was pardoned, he conspired and plotted the queen’s death. Just so some deal with God, he bestows mercy, and they plot treason against him. ‘I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.’ (Isaiah 1: 2)
6.Those sins are more heinous than others which are committed with delectation. A child of God may sin through a surprisal, or against his will. ‘The evil which I would not, that I do.’ (Rom. 7: 19) He is like one that is carried down the stream involuntarily. But to sin with delight heightens and greatens the sin. It is a sign the heart is in the sin…
7.Those sins are more heinous than others which are committed under a pretence of religion. To cheat and defraud is a sin, but to do it with a Bible in one’s hand, is a double sin…
8.Sins of apostasy are more heinous than others. …’The apostate,’ says Tertullian, ‘seems to put God and Satan in the balance; and having weighed both their services, prefers the devil’s, and proclaims him to be the best master.’ In which respect the apostate is said to put Christ to ‘open shame.’ (Heb. 6: 6) This dyes a sin in grain, and makes it greater. It is a sin not to profess Christ, but it is a greater to deny him. Not to wear Christ’s colours is a sin, but to run from his colours is a greater sin. A pagan sins less than a baptised renegade.
11.It aggravates sin, and makes it greater, when a man not only sins himself, but endeavours to make others sin.
Use (application). You see all sins are not equal; some are more grievous than others, and bring greater wrath; therefore especially take heed of these sins. ‘Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.’ (Psalm 19: 13) The least sin is bad enough; you need not aggravate your sins, and make them more heinous. He that has a little wound will not make it deeper. Oh, beware of those circumstances which increase your sin and make it more heinous! The higher a man is in sinning, the lower he shall lie in torment.
Read the whole article here.