Sin Chapter 6

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

How this enmity works by way of aversation has been declared, as also the
means that the soul is to use for the preventing of its effects and prevalency.
The second way whereby it exerts itself is opposition. Enmity will oppose and
contend with that wherewith it is at enmity; it is so in things natural and
moral. As light and darkness, heat and cold, so virtue and vice oppose each
other. So is it with sin and grace; says the apostle, “These are contrary one to
the other” (Gal. 5:17)—all·lois antikeitai. They are placed and set in mutual
opposition, and that continually and constantly, as we shall see. Now, there
are two ways whereby enemies manage an opposition—first, by force; and,
secondly, by fraud and deceit. So when the Egyptians became enemies to the
children of Israel and managed an enmity against them, Pharaoh says, “Let
us deal wisely,” or, rather, cunningly and subtly, “with this people” (Ex. 1:10);
for so Stephen, with respect to this word, expresses it by katasophisamenon—
he used “all manner of fraudulent sophistry” (Acts 7:19). And unto this deceit
they added force in their grievous oppressions. This is the way and manner
of things where there is a prevailing enmity; and both these are made use of
by the law of sin in its enmity against God and our souls. I shall begin with
the first, or its actings, as it were, in a way of force, in an open downright
opposition to God and his law, or the good that a believing soul would do in
obedience unto God and his law. And in this whole matter we must be careful
to steer our course aright, taking the Scripture for our guide, with spiritual
reason and experience for our companions; for there are many shelves
in our course which must diligently be avoided, that none who consider these
things be troubled without cause, or comforted without a just foundation.
54 sources
In this first way, whereby this sin exerts its enmity in opposition—namely,
as it were by force or strength—there are four things, expressing so many distinct
degrees in its progress and procedure in the pursuit of its enmity. First,
its general inclination: It “lusts” (Gal. 5:17). Secondly, its particular way of
contending: It “fights or wars” (Rom. 7:23; James 4:1; 1 Pet. 2:11). Thirdly,
its success in this contest: It “brings the soul into captivity to the law of sin”
(Rom. 7:23). Fourthly, its growth and rage upon success: It comes up to
“madness,” as an enraged enemy will do (Eccles. 9:3). All which we must
speak to in order.
The flesh lusts. First, in general it is said to lust: “The flesh lusts against
the Spirit” (Gal. 5:17). This word expresses the general nature of that opposition
which the law of sin makes against God and the rule of his Spirit or
grace in them that believe; and, therefore, the least degree of that opposition
is expressed hereby. When it does anything, it lusts; as, because burning is the
general acting of fire, whatsoever it does else, it does also burn. When fire does
anything it burns, and when the law of sin does anything it lusts.
Hence, all the actings of this law of sin are called “the lusts of the flesh”:
“You shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16); “Make no provision for
the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14). Nor are these lusts of the
flesh those only whereby men act [out] their sensuality in riot, drunkenness,
uncleanness, and the like; but they comprehend all the actings of the law of
sin whatsoever, in all the faculties and affections of the soul. Thus we have
mention of the desires, or wills, or “lusts of the mind,” as well as of the “flesh”
(Eph. 2:3). The mind, the most spiritual part of the soul, has its lusts, no less
than the sensual appetite, which seems sometimes more properly to be called
the “flesh.” And in the products of these lusts there are “defilements of the
spirit” as well as of the “flesh” (2 Cor. 7:1)—that is, of the mind and understanding,
as well [as] of the appetite and affections, and the body that attends
their service. And in the blamelessness of all these consists our holiness:
“The God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God, your whole
spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). Yea, by the “flesh” in this matter the
whole old man, or the law of sin, is intended: “That which is born of the flesh
is flesh” (John 3:6)—that is, it is all so, and nothing else; and whatsoever
remains of the old nature in the new man is flesh still. And this flesh lusts—
this law of sin does so; which is the general bottom55 and foundation of all
its opposition unto God. And this it does two ways:
55 basis
In a hidden, close propensity unto all evil. This lies in it habitually. While
a man is in the state of nature, fully under the power and dominion of this law
of sin, it is said that “every figment of his heart is evil, and that continually”
(Gen. 6:5). It can frame, fashion, produce, or act [on] nothing but what is evil;
because this habitual propensity unto evil that is in the law of sin is absolutely
predominant in such a one. It is in the heart like poison that has nothing to
allay56 its venomous qualities, and so infects whatsoever it touches. And where
the power and dominion of it is broken, yet in its own nature it has still a habitual
propensity unto that which is evil, wherein its lusting does consist.
But here we must distinguish between the habitual frame of the heart and
the natural propensity or habitual inclination of the law of sin in the heart.
The habitual inclination of the heart is denominated57 from the principle that
bears chief or sovereign rule in it; and therefore in believers it is unto good,
unto God, unto holiness, unto obedience. The heart is not habitually inclined
unto evil by the remainders of indwelling sin; but this sin in the heart has a
constant, habitual propensity unto evil in itself or its own nature. This the
apostle intends by its being present with us: “It is present with me”; that is,
always and for its own end, which is to lust unto sin. It is with indwelling sin
as with a river. While the springs and fountains of it are open, and waters are
continually supplied unto its streams, set a dam before it, and it causes it to
rise and swell until it bear down all or overflow the banks about it. Let these
waters be abated, dried up in some good measure in the springs of them, and
the remainder may be coerced and restrained. But still, as long as there is any
running water, it will constantly press upon what stands before it, according
to its weight and strength, because it is its nature so to do; and if by any means
it [would] make a passage, it will proceed. So is it with indwelling sin: while
the springs and fountains of it are open, in vain is it for men to set a dam
before it by their convictions, resolutions, vows, and promises. They may
check it for a while, but it will increase, rise high, and rage, at one time or
another, until it bears down all those convictions and resolutions, or makes
itself an under-ground passage by some secret lust, that shall give a full vent
unto it. But now, suppose that the springs of it are much dried up by regenerating
grace, the streams or actings of it abated by holiness, yet while anything
remains of it, it will be pressing constantly to have vent, to press
forward into actual sin; and this is its lusting. And this habitual propensity
in it is discovered two ways:
56 relieve
57 designated
In its unexpected surprises of the soul into foolish, sinful figments and
imaginations, which it looked not for, nor was any occasion administered
unto them. It is with indwelling sin as it is with the contrary principle of sanctifying
grace. This gives the soul, if I may so say, many a blessed surprise. It
oftentimes ingenerates58 and brings forth a holy, spiritual frame in the heart
and mind, when we have had no previous rational considerations to work
them thereunto. And this manifests it to be a habitual principle prevailing in
the mind: so Song of Solomon 6:12, “Or ever I was aware, my soul made me
as the chariots of Amminadib”; that is, free, willing, and ready for communion
with Christ.59 Lo’ yada‘ti—“I knew not; it was done by the power of the
Spirit of grace; so that I took no notice of it, as it were, until it was done.”
The frequent actings of grace in this manner, exciting acts of faith, love, and
complacency in God, are evidences of much strength and prevalency of it in
the soul. And thus, also, is it with indwelling sin; ere the soul is aware, without
any provocation or temptation, when it knows not, it is cast into a vain
and foolish frame. Sin produces its figments secretly in the heart, and prevents
the mind’s consideration of what it is about. I mean hereby those “actus
primo primi,” first acts of the soul; which are thus far involuntary, as that they
have not the actual consent of the will unto them, but are voluntary as far as
sin has its residence in the will. And these surprises, if the soul be not awake
to take speedy care for the prevention of their tendency, do oftentimes set all
as it were on fire, and engage the mind and affections into actual sin: for as
by grace we are oftentimes, ere60 we are aware, “made as the chariots of a
willing people,” and are far engaged in heavenly-mindedness and communion
with Christ, making speed in it as in a chariot; so by sin are we oftentimes,
ere we are aware, carried into distempered affections, foolish imaginations,
and pleasing delightfulness in things that are not good nor profitable. Hence
is that caution of the apostle, Galatians 6:1, ean prol·phth·—“If a man be
surprised at unawares with a fault, or in a transgression.” I doubt not but the
subtlety of Satan and the power of temptation are here taken into consideration
by the apostle, which causes him to express a man’s falling into sin by
prolephthe—“if he be surprised.” So this working of indwelling sin also has
its consideration in it, and that in the chief place, without which nothing else
could surprise us; for without the help thereof, whatsoever comes from with-
58 begets, produces
59 Owen—along with most interpreters in the seventeenth century—interpreted the Song of Solomon (or
Canticles, as they referred to it) as a “description of the communion that is between the Lord Christ and
his saints” (Works, 2:46).
60 before
out, from Satan or the world, must admit of some parley in the mind before
it be received, but it is from within, from ourselves, that we are surprised.
Hereby are we disappointed and wrought over to do that which we would
not, and hindered from the doing of that which we would.
Hence it is that when the soul is oftentimes doing as it were quite another
thing, engaged quite upon another design, sin starts that in the heart or imaginations
of it that carries it away into that which is evil and sinful. Yea, to
manifest its power, sometimes, when the soul is seriously engaged in the mortification
of any sin, it will, by one means or other, lead it away into a dalliance
with that very sin whose ruin it is seeking, and whose mortification it
is engaged in! But as there is in this operation of the law of sin a special enticing
or entangling, we shall speak unto it fully afterward. Now, these surprises
can be from nothing but a habitual propensity unto evil in the principle from
whence they proceed; not a habitual inclination unto actual sin in the mind
or heart, but a habitual propensity unto evil in the sin that is in the mind or
heart. This prevents the soul with its figments. How much communion with
God is hereby prevented, how many meditations are disturbed, how much
the minds and consciences of men have been defiled by this acting of sin, some
may have observed. I know no greater burden in the life of a believer than
these involuntary surprises of soul; involuntary, I say, as to the actual consent
of the will, but not so in respect of that corruption which is in the will, and
is the principle of them. And it is in respect unto these that the apostle makes
his complaint (Rom. 7:25).
This habitual inclination manifests itself in its readiness and promptness,
without dispute or altercation, to join and close with every temptation
whereby it may possibly be excited. As we know it is in the nature of fire to
burn, because it immediately lays hold on whatsoever is combustible, let any
temptation whatsoever be proposed unto a man, the suitableness of whose
matter unto his corruptions, or manner of its proposal, makes it a temptation;
immediately he has not only to do with the temptation as outwardly proposed,
but also with his own heart about it. Without further consideration
or debate, the temptation has got a friend in him. Not a moment’s space is
given between the proposal and the necessity there is incumbent61 on the soul
to look to its enemy within. And this also argues a constant, habitual propensity
unto evil. Our Savior said of the assaults and temptations of Satan, “The
prince of this world comes, and he has no part in me” (John 14:30). He had
more temptations, intensively and extensively, in number, quality, and fierce-
61 obligatory
ness, from Satan and the world, than ever had any of the sons of men; but
yet in all of them he had to deal only with that which came from without.
His holy heart had nothing like to them, suited to them, or ready to give them
entertainment: “The prince of this world had nothing in him.” So it was with
Adam. When a temptation befell him, he had only the outward proposal to
look unto; all was well within until the outward temptation took place and
prevailed. With us it is not so. In a city that is at unity in itself, compact and
entire, without divisions and parties, if an enemy approach about it, the rulers
and inhabitants have no thoughts at all but only how they may oppose the
enemy without, and resist him in his approaches. But if the city be divided in
itself, if there be factions and traitors within, the very first thing they do is to
look to the enemies at home, the traitors within, to cut off the head of Sheba
[2 Sam. 20:22], if they will be safe. All was well with Adam within doors
when Satan came, so that he had nothing to do but to look to his assaults
and approaches. But now, on the access of any temptation, the soul is
instantly to look in, where it shall find this traitor at work, closing with the
baits of Satan, and stealing away the heart; and this it does always, which
evinces an habitual inclination. [In] Psalm 38:17, David says, “I am ready to
halt,” or for halting: ki-’ani letsela‘ nakon—“I am prepared and disposed unto
hallucination, to the slipping of my foot into sin” (v. 16), as he expounds the
meaning of that phrase (Ps. 78:2-3). There was from indwelling sin a continual
disposition in him to be slipping, stumbling, halting, on every occasion
or temptation. There is nothing so vain, foolish, ridiculous, fond, nothing so
vile and abominable, nothing so atheistical or execrable,62 but, if it be proposed
unto the soul in a way of temptation, there is that in this law of sin
which is ready to answer it before it be decried by grace. And this is the first
thing in this lusting of the law of sin—it consists in its habitual propensity
unto evil, manifesting itself by the involuntary surprises of the soul unto sin,
and its readiness, without dispute or consideration, to join in all temptations
Its lusting consists in its actual pressing after that which is evil, and actual
opposition unto that which is good. The former instance showed its constant
readiness to this work; this now treats of the work itself. It is not only ready,
but for the most part always engaged. “It lusts,” says the Holy Ghost. It does
so continually. It stirs in the soul by one act or other constantly, almost as the
spirits in the blood, or the blood in the veins. This the apostle calls its tempting:
“Every man is tempted of his own lust” (James 1:14). Now, what is it to
62 extremely inferior or detestable
be tempted? It is to have that proposed to a man’s consideration which, if he
close with, it is evil, it is sin unto him. This is sin’s trade: epithumei—“it lusts.”
It is raising up in the heart, and proposing unto the mind and affections, that
which is evil; trying, as it were, whether the soul will close with its suggestions,
or how far it will carry them on, though it does not wholly prevail.
Now, when such a temptation comes from without, it is unto the soul an
indifferent thing, neither good nor evil, unless it be consented unto; but the
very proposal from within, it being the soul’s own act, is its sin. And this is
the work of the law of sin—it is restlessly and continually raising up and
proposing innumerable various forms and appearances of evil, in this or that
kind, indeed in every kind that the nature of man is capable to exercise corruption
in. Something or other, in matter, or manner, or circumstance, inordinate,
unspiritual, unanswerable unto the rule, it hatches and proposes unto
the soul. And this power of sin to beget figments and ideas of actual evil in
the heart the apostle may have respect unto, apo pantos eidous pon·rou apexesthe—“
Keep yourselves from every figment or idea of sin in the heart” (1
Thess. 5:22); for the word there used does not anywhere signify an outward
form or appearance: neither is it the appearance of evil, but an evil idea or
figment that is intended. And this lusting of sin is that which the prophet
expresses in wicked men, in whom the law of it is predominant: “The wicked
are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and
dirt” (Isa. 57:20); a similitude most lively, expressing the lustings of the law
of sin, restlessly and continually bubbling up in the heart, with wicked, foolish,
and filthy imaginations and desires. This, then, is the first thing in the
opposition that this enmity makes to God—namely, in its general inclination,
it “lusts.”
Secondly, there is its particular way of contending—it fights or wars; that
is, it acts with strength and violence, as men do in war. First, it lusts, stirring
and moving inordinate figments in the mind, desires in the appetite and the
affections, proposing them to the will. But it rests not there, it cannot rest; it
urges, presses, and pursues its proposals with earnestness, strength, and vigor,
fighting, and contending, and warring to obtain its end and purpose. Would
it merely stir up and propose things to the soul, and immediately acquiesce in
the sentence, and judgment of the mind, that the thing is evil, against God and
his will, and not further to be insisted on, much sin might be prevented that is
now produced; but it rests not here—it proceeds to carry on its design, and
that with earnestness and contention. By this means wicked men “inflame
themselves” (Isa. 57:5). They are self-inflamers, as the word signifies, unto sin;
every spark of sin is cherished in them until it grows into a flame: and so it will
do in others, where it is so cherished. Now, this fighting or warring of sin
consists in two things: (1) in its rebellion against grace, or the law of the mind;
(2) in its assaulting the soul, contending for rule and sovereignty over it.
The first is expressed by the apostle in Romans 7:23: “I find,” says he,
“another law,” antistrateuomenon tø nomø tou noos mou, “rebelling against
the law of my mind.” There are, it seems, two laws in us—the “law of the
flesh,” or of sin; and the “law of the mind,” or of grace. But contrary laws
cannot both obtain sovereign power over the same person at the same time.
The sovereign power in believers is in the hand of the law of grace; so the
apostle declares, “I delight in the law of God in the inward man” (v. 22).
Obedience unto this law is performed with delight and complacency in the
inward man, because its authority is lawful and good. So more expressly,
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but
under grace” (6:14). Now, to war against the law that has a just sovereignty
is to rebel; and so antistrateuomai signifies, it is to rebel, and ought to have
been so translated, “Rebelling against the law of my mind.” And this rebellion
consists in a stubborn, obstinate opposition unto the commands and
directions of the law of grace. Does the “law of the mind” command anything
as duty? Does it severely rise up against anything that is evil? When the
lusting of the law of sin rises up to this degree, it contends against obedience
with all its might; the effect whereof, as the apostle tells us, is “the doing of
that which we would not, and the not doing of that which we would” (7:15,
16). And we may gather a notable instance of the power of sin in its rebellion
from this place. The law of grace prevails upon the will, so that it would
do that which is good: “To will is present with me” (v. 18); “When I would
do good” (v. 21); and again, “And I would not do evil” (v. 19). And it prevails
upon the understanding, so that it approves or disapproves, according
to the dictates of the law of grace: Verse 16: “I consent unto the law that it
is good”; and verse 15. The judgment always lies on the side of grace. It prevails
also on the affections: “I delight in the law of God in the inward man”
(v. 22). Now, if this be so, that grace has the sovereign power in the understanding,
will, and affections, whence is it that it does not always prevail, that
we do not always do that which we would, and abstain from that which we
would not? Is it not strange that a man should not do that which he chooses,
wills, likes, delights in? Is there anything more required to enable us unto that
which is good? The law of grace does all, as much as can be expected from
it, that which in itself is abundantly sufficient for the perfecting of all holiness
in the fear of the Lord. But here lies the difficulty, in the entangling opposition
that is made by the rebellion of this “law of sin.” Neither is it
expressible with what vigor and variety sin acts itself in this matter.
Sometimes it proposes diversions, sometimes it causes weariness, sometimes
it finds out difficulties, sometimes it stirs up contrary affections, sometimes it
begets prejudices, and one way or other entangles the soul; so that it never
suffers grace to have an absolute and complete success in any duty. Verse 18,
to katergazesthai to kalon ou—“I find not the way perfectly to work out, or
accomplish, that which is good,” so the word signifies; and that from this
opposition and resistance that is made by the law of sin. Now, this rebellion
appears in two things: (1) In the opposition that it makes unto the general
purpose and course of the soul; (2) In the opposition it makes unto particular
In the opposition it makes to the general purpose and course of the soul.
There is none in whom is the Spirit of Christ, that is his, but [who does not
make] it is his general design and purpose to walk in a universal conformity
unto him in all things. Even from the inward frame of the heart to the whole
compass of his outward actions, so it is with him. This God requires in his
covenant: “Walk before me, and be perfect” (Gen. 17:1). Accordingly, his
design is to walk before God; and his frame is sincerity and uprightness
therein. This is called “cleaving unto the Lord with purpose of heart” (Acts
11:23)—that is, in all things; and that not with a slothful, dead, ineffectual
purpose, but such as is operative, and sets the whole soul at work in pursuit
of it. This the apostle sets forth in Philippians 3:12-14: “Not as though I had
already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may
apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I
count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting
those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which
are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God
in Christ Jesus.” He uses three words excellently expressing the soul’s universal
pursuit of this purpose of heart in cleaving unto God: First, says he,
diøkø (v. 12)—“I follow after,” prosecute. The word signifies properly to persecute,
which with what earnestness and diligence it is usually done we know.
Secondly, epekteinomai—“I reach forward,” reaching with great intension63
of spirit and affections. It is a great and constant endeavor that is expressed
in that word. Thirdly, kata skopon diøko—say we, “I press toward the
mark,” that is, even as men that are running for a prize. All set forth the vigor,
earnestness, diligence, and constancy that is used in the pursuit of this purpose.
And this the nature of the principle of grace requires in them in whom
63 intention
it is. But yet we see with what failings, yea failings, their pursuit of this course
is attended. The frame of the heart is changed, the heart is stolen away, the
affections entangled, eruptions of unbelief and distempered passions discovered,
carnal wisdom, with all its attendancies,64 are set on work; all contrary
to the general principle and purpose of the soul. And all this is from the rebellion
of this law of sin, stirring up and provoking the heart unto disobedience.
The prophet gives this character of hypocrites, “Their heart is divided; therefore
shall they be found faulty” (Hos. 10:2). Now, though this be wholly so
in respect of the mind and judgment in hypocrites only, yet it is partially so
in the best [of believers], in the sense described. They have a division, not of
the heart, but in the heart; and thence it is that they are so often found faulty.
So says the apostle, “So that we cannot do the things that we would” (Gal.
5:17). We cannot accomplish the design of close walking according to the law
of grace, because of the contrariety and rebellion of this law of sin.
It rebels also in respect unto particular duties. It raises a combustion in
the soul against the particular commands and designings of the law of grace.
“You cannot do the things that you would”; that is, “The duties which you
judge incumbent on you, which you approve and delight is in the inward
man, you cannot do them as you would.” Take an instance in prayer. A man
addresses himself unto that duty; he would not only perform it, but he would
perform it in that manner that the nature of the duty and his own condition
do require. He would “pray in the spirit,” fervently, “with sighs and groans
that cannot be uttered” [Rom. 8:26]; in faith, with love and delight, pouring
forth his soul unto the Lord. This he aims at. Now, oftentimes he shall find
a rebellion, a fighting of the law of sin in this matter. He shall find difficulty
to get anything done who thought to do all things. I do not say that it is thus
always, but it is so when sin “wars and rebels,” which expresses a special acting
of its power. Woeful entanglements do poor creatures oftentimes meet
with upon this account. Instead of that free, enlarged communion with God
that they aim at, the best that their souls arrive unto is but to go away mourning
for their folly, deadness, and indisposition. In a word, there is no command
of the law of grace that is known, liked of, and approved by the soul,
but when it comes to be observed, this law of sin one way or other makes
head[way] and rebels against it. And this is the first way of its fighting.
It does not only rebel and resist, but it assaults the soul. It sets upon the
law of the mind and grace; which is the second part of its warring: strateuontai
kata t·s psuch·s—“they fight,” or war, “against the soul” (1 Pet.
64 things that accompany
2:11); strateuontai en tois melesin humøn—“they fight,” or war, “in your
members” (James 4:1). Peter shows what they oppose and fight against—
namely, the “soul” and the law of grace therein; James [shows] what they
fight with or by—namely, the “members,” or the corruption that is in our
mortal bodies. Antistrateuesthai is to rebel against a superior; strateuesthai
is to assault or war for a superiority. It takes the part of an assailant as well
as of a resister. It makes attempts for rule and sovereignty, as well as opposes
the rule of grace. Now, all war and fighting has somewhat of violence in it;
and there is therefore some violence in that acting of sin which the Scripture
calls “fighting and warring.” And this assailing efficacy of sin, as distinguished
from its rebelling, before treated of, consists in these things that
All its positive actings in stirring up unto sin belong to this head.
Oftentimes, by the vanity of the mind, or the sensuality of the affections, the
folly of the imaginations, it sets upon the soul then when the law of grace is
not actually putting it on duty; so that therein it does not rebel but assault.
Hence the apostle cries out, “Who shall deliver me from it?” (Rom. 7:24).
“Who shall rescue me out of its hand?” as the word signifies. When we pursue
an enemy, and he resists us, we do not cry out, “Who shall deliver us?”
for we are the assailants; but “Who shall rescue me?” is the cry of one who
is set upon by an enemy. So it is here; a man is assaulted by his “own lust,”
as James speaks. By the wayside, in his employment, under a duty, sin sets
upon the soul with vain imaginations, foolish desires, and would willingly
employ the soul to make provision for its satisfaction; which the apostle cautions
us against: t·s sarx pronoian me poi·isthe eis epithumias—“do not
accomplish the providence or projection of the flesh for its own satisfaction”
(Rom. 13:14).
Its importunity65 and urgency seems to be noted in this expression, of its
warring. Enemies in war are restless, pressing, and importunate; so is the law
of sin. Does it set upon the soul? Cast off its motions; it returns again. Rebuke
them by the power of grace; they withdraw for a while, and return again. Set
before them the cross of Christ; they do as those that came to take him—at
sight of him they went backwards and fell unto the ground, but they arose
again and laid hands on him—sin gives place for a season, but returns and
presses on the soul again. Mind it of the love of God in Christ; though it be
stricken, yet it gives not over. Present hell-fire unto it; it rushes into the midst
of those flames. Reproach it with its folly and madness; it knows no shame,
65 persistence
but presses on still. Let the thoughts of the mind strive to fly from it; it follows
as on the wings of the wind. And by this importunity it wearies and
wears out the soul; and if the great remedy (Rom. 8:3) comes not timely, it
prevails to a conquest. There is nothing more marvelous nor dreadful in the
working of sin than this of its importunity. The soul knows not what to make
of it; it dislikes, abhors, abominates the evil it tends unto; it despises the
thoughts of it, hates them as hell; and yet is by itself imposed on with them,
as if it were another person, an express enemy got within him. All this the
apostle discovers: “The things that I do I hate” (Rom. 7:15-17). It is not of
outward actions, but the inward risings of the mind that he treats. “I hate
them,” says he; “I abominate them.” But why, then, will he have anything
more to do with them? If he hate them, and abhor himself for them, let them
alone, have no more to do with them, and so end the matter. Alas! says he,
“It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me” (v. 17)—“I have one
within me that is my enemy, that with endless, restless importunity puts these
things upon me, even the things that I hate and abominate. I cannot be rid of
them, I am weary of myself, I cannot fly from them. ‘O wretched man that I
am! who shall deliver me?’” I do not say that this is the ordinary condition
of believers, but thus it is often when this law of sin rises up to war and fighting.
It is not thus with them in respect of particular sins—this or that sin, outward
sins, sins of life and conversation—but yet in respect of vanity of mind,
inward and spiritual distempers, it is often so. Some, I know, pretend to great
perfection; but I am resolved to believe the apostle before them all and every
It carries on its war by entangling of the affections, and drawing them
into a combination against the mind. Let grace be enthroned in the mind and
judgment, yet if the law of sin lays hold upon and entangles the affections, or
any of them, it has gotten a fort from whence it continually assaults the soul.
Hence the great duty of mortification is chiefly directed to take place upon
the affections: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth;
fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, concupiscence, and covetousness,
which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). The “members that are upon the earth”
are our affections: for in the outward part of the body sin is not seated; in
particular, not “covetousness,” which is there enumerated, to be mortified
among our members that are on the earth. Yea, after grace has taken possession
of the soul, the affections do become the principal seat of the remainders
of sin—and therefore Paul says that this law is “in our members” (Rom.
7:23); and James, that it “wars in our members” (James 4:1)—that is, our
affections. And there is no estimate to be taken of the work of mortification
aright but by the affections. We may every day see persons of very eminent
light, that yet visibly have unmortified hearts and conversations; their affections
have not been crucified with Christ. Now, then, when this law of sin
can possess any affection, whatsoever it be, love, delight, fear, it will make
from it and by it fearful assaults upon the soul. For instance, has it got the
love of anyone entangled with the world or the things of it, the lust of the
flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life—how will it take advantage on
every occasion to break in upon the soul! It shall do nothing, attempt nothing,
be in no place or company, perform no duty, private or public, but sin
will have one blow or other at it; it will be one way or other soliciting for
This is the sum of what we shall offer unto this acting of the law of sin,
in a way of fighting and warring against our souls, which is so often mentioned
in the Scripture; and a due consideration of it is of no small advantage
unto us, especially to bring us unto self-abasement, to teach us to walk
humbly and mournfully before God. There are two things that are suited to
humble the souls of men, and they are, first, a due consideration of God, and
then of themselves—of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty,
and authority; of ourselves, in our mean,66 abject, and sinful condition. Now,
of all things in our condition, there is nothing so suited unto this end and purpose
as that which lies before us; namely, the vile remainders of enmity
against God which are yet in our hearts and natures. And it is no small evidence
of a gracious soul when it is willing to search itself in this matter, and
to be helped therein from a word of truth; when it is willing that the word
should dive into the secret parts of the heart and rip open whatsoever of evil
and corruption lies therein. The prophet says of Ephraim, “He loved to tread
out the corn” (Hos. 10:11); he loved to work when he might eat, to have
always the corn before him: but God, says he, would “cause him to
plough”—a labor no less needful, though at present not so delightful. Most
men love to hear of the doctrine of grace, of the pardon of sin, of free love,
and suppose they find food therein; however, it is evident that they grow and
thrive in the life and notion of them. But to be breaking up the fallow67
ground of their hearts, to be inquiring after the weeds and briars that grow
in them, they delight not so much, though this be no less necessary than the
other. This path is not so beaten as that of grace, nor so trod in, though it be
the only way to come to a true knowledge of grace itself. It may be some, who
66 lowly, insignificant
67 plowed but unseeded
are wise and grown in other truths, may yet be so little skilled in searching
their own hearts, that they may be slow in the perception and understanding
of these things. But this sloth and neglect is to be shaken off, if we have any
regard unto our own souls. It is more than probable that many a false hypocrite,
who have deceived themselves as well as others, because they thought
the doctrine of the gospel pleased them, and therefore supposed they believed
it, might be delivered from their soul-ruining deceits if they would diligently
apply themselves unto this search of their own hearts. Or, would other professors
walk with so much boldness and security as some do if they considered
aright what a deadly watchful enemy they continually carry about with
them and in them? Would they so much indulge as they do carnal joys and
pleasures, or pursue their perishing affairs with so much delight and greediness
as they do? It were to be wished that we would all apply our hearts more
to this work, even to come to a true understanding of the nature, power, and
subtlety of this our adversary, that our souls may be humbled; and that—
In walking with God. His delight is with the humble and contrite ones
[Isa. 57:15], those that tremble at his word [Isa. 66:2], the mourners in Zion
[Isa. 61:3]; and such are we only when we have a due sense of our own vile
condition. This will beget reverence of God, a sense of our distance from him,
admiration of his grace and condescension, a due valuation of mercy, far
above those light, verbal, airy attainments, that some have boasted of.
In walking with others. It lays in provision to prevent those great evils
of judging, spiritual unmercifulness, harsh censuring, which I have observed
to have been pretended by many, who, at the same time, as afterward has
appeared, have been guilty of greater or worse crimes than those which they
have raved against in others. This, I say, will lead us to meekness, compassion,
readiness to forgive, to pass by offenses; even when we shall “consider”
what is our state, as the apostle plainly declares (Gal. 6:1). The man that
understands the evil of his own heart, how vile it is, is the only useful, fruitful,
and solid believing and obedient person. Others are fit only to delude
themselves, to disquiet families, churches, and all relations whatsoever. Let
us, then, consider our hearts wisely, and then go and see if we can be proud
of our gifts, our graces, our valuation and esteem among professors, our
enjoyments. Let us go then and judge, condemn, reproach others that have
been tempted; we shall find a great inconsistency in these things. And many
things of the like nature might be here added upon the consideration of this
woeful effect of indwelling sin. The way of opposing and defeating its design
herein shall be afterward considered.

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