Sin Chapter 8

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

The second part of the evidence of the power of sin, from its manner of operation,
is taken from its deceitfulness. It adds, in its working, deceit unto power.
The efficacy of that must needs be great, and is carefully to be watched against
by all such as value their souls, where power and deceit are combined, especially
advantaged and assisted by all the ways and means before insisted on.
Before we come to show wherein the nature of this deceitfulness of sin
does consist, and how it prevails thereby, some testimonies shall be briefly
given in unto the thing itself, and some light into the general nature of it.
That sin, indwelling sin, is deceitful, we have the express testimony of the
Holy Ghost: “Take heed that you be not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”
(Heb. 3:13). Deceitful it is; take heed of it, watch against it, or it will produce
its utmost effect in hardening of the heart against God. It is on the account
of sin that the heart is said to be “deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9). Take
a man in other things, and, as Job speaks, though he “would be wise and
crafty, he is like the wild ass’s colt” (Job 11:12)—a poor, vain, empty noth-

ing; but consider his heart on the account of this law of sin—it is crafty and
deceitful above all things. “They are wise to do evil,” says the prophet, “but
to do good they have no knowledge” (Jer. 4:22). To the same purpose speaks
the apostle, “The old man is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph.
4:22). Every lust, which is a branch of this law of sin, is deceitful; and where
there is poison in every stream, the fountain must needs be corrupt. No particular
lust has any deceit in it, but what is communicated unto it from this
fountain of all actual lust, this law of sin. And the coming of the “man of sin”
is said to be in and with the “deceivableness of unrighteousness” (2 Thess.
2:10). Unrighteousness is a thing generally decried and evil spoken of among
men, so that it is not easy to conceive how any man should prevail himself of
a reputation thereby. But there is a deceivableness in it, whereby the minds
of men are turned aside from a due consideration of it; as we shall manifest
afterward. And thus the account which the apostle gives concerning those
who are under the power of sin is that they are “deceived” (Titus 3:3). And
the life of evil men is nothing but “deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim.
3:13). So that we have sufficient testimony given unto this qualification of the
enemy with whom we have to deal. He is deceitful; which consideration of
all things puts the mind of man to a loss in dealing with an adversary. He
knows he can have no security against one that is deceitful, but in standing
upon his own guard and defense all his days.
Further to manifest the strength and advantage that sin has by its deceit,
we may observe that the Scripture places it for the most part as the head and
spring of every sin, even as though there were no sin followed after but where
deceit went before (so 1 Tim. 2:13-14). The reason the apostle gives why
Adam, though he was first formed, was not first in the transgression is
because he was not first deceived. The woman, though made last, yet being
first deceived, was first in the sin. Even that first sin began in deceit, and until
the mind was deceived the soul was safe. Eve, therefore, did truly express the
matter, though she did it not to a good end. “The serpent beguiled me,” says
she, “and I did eat” (Gen. 3:13). She thought to extenuate81 her own crime
by charging the serpent; and this was a new fruit of the sin she had cast herself
into. But the matter of fact was true—she was beguiled before she ate;
deceit went before the transgression. And the apostle shows that sin and Satan
still take the same course (2 Cor. 11:3). “There is,” says he, “the same way
of working toward actual sin as was of old: beguiling, deceiving goes before;
and sin, that is, the actual accomplishment of it, follows after.” Hence, all the
81 make less serious
great works that the devil does in the world, to stir men up to an opposition
unto the Lord Jesus Christ and his kingdom, he does them by deceit: “The
devil, who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). It were utterly impossible
men should be prevailed on to abide in his service, acting his designs to their
eternal and sometimes their temporal ruin, were they not exceedingly
deceived (see also Rev. 20:10.)
Hence are those manifold cautions that are given us to take heed that we
be not deceived, if we would take heed that we do not sin (see Eph. 5:6;
1 Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal. 6:7; Luke 21:8). From all which testimonies we may
learn the influence that deceit has into sin, and consequently the advantage
that the law of sin has to put forth its power by its deceitfulness. Where it
prevails to deceive, it fails not to bring forth its fruit.
The ground of this efficacy of sin by deceit is taken from the faculty of
the soul affected with it. Deceit properly affects the mind; it is the mind that
is deceived. When sin attempts any other way of entrance into the soul, as by
the affections, the mind, retaining its right and sovereignty, is able to give
check and control unto it. But where the mind is tainted, the prevalency must
be great; for the mind or understanding is the leading faculty of the soul, and
what that fixes on, the will and affections rush after, being capable of no consideration
but what that presents unto them. Hence it is, that though the
entanglement of the affections unto sin be oftentimes most troublesome, yet
the deceit of the mind is always most dangerous, and that because of the place
that it possesses in the soul as unto all its operations. Its office is to guide,
direct, choose, and lead; and “if the light that is in us be darkness, how great
is that darkness!” [Matt. 6:23].
And this will further appear if we consider the nature of deceit in general.
It consists in presenting unto the soul, or mind, things otherwise than
they are, either in their nature, causes, effects, or present respect unto the soul.
This is the general nature of deceit, and it prevails many ways. It hides what
ought to be seen and considered, conceals circumstances and consequences,
presents what is not, or things as they are not, as we shall afterward manifest
in particular. It was showed before that Satan “beguiled” and “deceived”
our first parents; that term the Holy Ghost gives unto his temptation and
seduction. And how he did deceive them the Scripture relates (Gen. 3:4-5).
He did it by representing things otherwise than they were. The fruit was desirable;
that was apparent unto the eye. Hence Satan takes advantage secretly
to insinuate that it was merely an abridgment of their happiness that God
aimed at in forbidding them to eat of it. That it was for the trial of their obedience,
that certain though not immediate ruin would ensue upon the eating
of it, he hides from them; only he proposes the present advantage of knowledge,
and so presents the whole case quite otherwise unto them than indeed
it was. This is the nature of deceit; it is a representation of a matter under disguise,
hiding that which is undesirable, proposing that which indeed is not in
it, that the mind may make a false judgment of it: so Jacob deceived Isaac by
his brother’s raiment82 and the skins on his hands and neck [Gen. 27:15-16].
Again, deceit has advantage by that way of management which is inseparable
from it. It is always carried on by degrees, by little and little, that the
whole of the design and aim in hand be not at once discovered. So dealt Satan
in that great deceit before mentioned; he proceeds in it by steps and degrees.
First, he takes off an objection, and tells them they shall not die; then proposes
the good of knowledge to them, and their being like to God thereby.
To hide and conceal ends, to proceed by steps and degrees, to make use of
what is obtained, and thence to press on to further effects, is the true nature
of deceit. Stephen tells us that the king of Egypt “dealt subtly,” or deceitfully,
“with their kindred” (Acts 7:19). How he did it we may see in Exodus 1. He
did not at first fall to killing and slaying of them, but says, “Come, let us deal
wisely,” beginning to oppress them (v. 10). This brings forth their bondage
(v. 11). Having got this ground to make them slaves, he proceeds to destroy
their children (v. 16). He fell not on them all at once, but by degrees. And this
may suffice to show in general that sin is deceitful, and the advantages that
it has thereby.
For the way, and manner, and progress of sin in working by deceit, we
have it fully expressed, “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his
own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and
sin, when it is finished, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). This place,
declaring the whole of what we aim at in this matter, must be particularly
insisted on. In the foregoing verse the apostle manifests that men are willing
to drive the old trade, which our first parents at the entrance of sin set up with,
namely, of excusing themselves in their sins and casting the occasion and
blame of them on others. It is not, say they, from themselves, their own nature
and inclinations, their own designings, that they have committed such and
such evils, but merely from their temptations; and if they know not where to
fix the evil of those temptations, they will lay them on God himself, rather
than go without an excuse or extenuation of their guilt. This evil in the hearts
of men the apostle rebukes: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am
tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does he tempt
82 garments, clothing
any man” (James 1:13). And to show the justness of this reproof, in the words
mentioned he discovers the true causes of the rise and whole progress of sin,
manifesting that the whole guilt of it lies upon the sinner, and that the whole
punishment of it, if not graciously prevented, will be his lot also.
We have, therefore, as was said, in these words the whole progress of lust
or indwelling sin, by the way of subtlety, fraud, and deceit, expressed and limited
by the Holy Ghost. And from hence we shall manifest the particular ways
and means whereby it puts forth its power and efficacy in the hearts of men
by deceitfulness and subtlety; and we may observe in the words—
First, the utmost end aimed at in all the actings of sin, or the tendency of
it in its own nature, and that is death: “Sin, when it is finished, brings forth
death,” the everlasting death of the sinner; pretend what it will, this is the end
it aims at and tends unto. Hiding of ends and designs is the principal property
of deceit. This sin does to the uttermost; other things innumerable it
pleads, but not once declares that it aims at the death, the everlasting death
of the soul. And a fixed apprehension of this end of every sin is a blessed
means to prevent its prevalency in its way of deceit or beguiling.
Secondly, the general way of its acting toward that end is by temptation:
“Every man is tempted of his own lust.” I purpose not to speak in general of
the nature of temptations, it belongs not unto our present purpose; and,
besides, I have done it elsewhere.83 It may suffice at present to observe that
the life of temptation lies in deceit; so that, in the business of sin, to be effectually
tempted, and to be beguiled or deceived, are the same. Thus it was in
the first temptation. It is everywhere called the serpent’s beguiling or deceiving,
as was manifested before: “The serpent beguiled Eve,” that is, prevailed
by his temptations upon her. So that every man is tempted—that is, every man
is beguiled or deceived—by his own lust, or indwelling sin, which we have
often declared to be the same.
The degrees whereby sin proceeds in this work of tempting or deceiving
are five; for we showed before that this belongs unto the nature of deceit, that
it works by degrees, making its advantage by one step to gain another. The
first of these consists in drawing off or drawing away: “Every man is tempted
when he is drawn away of his own lust.” The second is in enticing: “And is
enticed.” The third [is] in the conception of sin: “When lust has conceived.”
When the heart is enticed, then lust conceives in it. The fourth is the bringing
forth of sin in its actual accomplishment: “When lust has conceived it
brings forth sin.” In all which there is a secret allusion to an adulterous devi-
83 See Owen’s Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, reprinted in this volume.
ation from conjugal duties, and conceiving or bringing forth children of
whoredom and fornication. The fifth is the finishing of sin, the completing of
it, the filling up of the measure of it, whereby the end originally designed by
lust is brought about: “Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.” As lust
conceiving naturally and necessarily brings forth sin, so sin finished infallibly
procures84 eternal death.
The first of these relates to the mind; that is drawn off or drawn away
by the deceit of sin. The second unto the affections; they are enticed or entangled.
The third to the will, wherein sin is conceived; the consent of the will
being the formal conception of actual sin. The fourth to the conversation
wherein sin is brought forth; it exerts itself in the lives and courses of men.
The fifth respects an obdurate85 course in sinning that finishes, consummates,
and shuts up the whole work of sin, whereon ensues death or eternal ruin. I
shall principally consider the three first, wherein the main strength of the
deceit of sin does lie; and that because in believers whose state and condition
is principally proposed to consideration, God is pleased, for the most part,
graciously to prevent the fourth instance, or the bringing forth of actual sins
in their conversations; and the last always and wholly, or their being obdurate
in a course of sin to the finishing of it. What ways God in his grace and
faithfulness makes use of to stifle the conceptions of sin in the womb, and to
hinder its actual production in the lives of men, must afterward be spoken
The first three instances, then, we shall insist upon fully, as those wherein
the principal concern of believers in this matter does lie. The first thing which
sin is said to do, working in a way of deceit, is to draw away or to draw off;
whence a man is said to be drawn off, or “drawn away” and diverted—
namely, from attending unto that course of obedience and holiness which, in
opposition unto sin and the law thereof, he is bound with diligence to attend
unto. Now, it is the mind that this effect of the deceit of sin is wrought upon.
The mind or understanding, as we have showed, is the guiding, conducting
faculty of the soul. It goes before in discerning, judging, and determining, to
make the way of moral actions fair and smooth to the will and affections. It
is to the soul what Moses told his father-in-law that he might be to the people
in the wilderness, as “eyes to guide them” and keep them from wandering
in that desolate place [Num. 10:31]. It is the eye of the soul, without
whose guidance the will and affections would perpetually wander in the
84 gains, obtains
85 hardened, unyielding, obstinate
wilderness of this world, according as any object, with an appearing present
good, did offer or present itself unto them.
The first thing, therefore, that sin aims at in its deceitful working is to
draw off and divert the mind from the discharge of its duty.
There are two things which belong unto the duty of the mind in that
special office which it has in and about the obedience which God requires:
(1) To keep itself and the whole soul in such a frame and posture as may render
it ready unto all duties of obedience, and watchful against all enticements
unto the conception of sin; (2) In particular, carefully to attend unto all particular
actions, that they be performed as God requires, for matter, manner,
time and season, agreeably unto his will; as also for the obviating86 [of] all
particular tenders of sin in things forbidden. In these two things consists the
whole duty of the mind of a believer; and from both of them does indwelling
sin endeavor to divert it and draw it off.
The first of these is the duty of the mind in reference unto the general
frame and course of the whole soul; and hereof two things may be considered.
That it is founded in a due, constant consideration—(1) of ourselves, of
sin and its vileness; (2) of God, of his grace and goodness: and both these does
sin labor to draw it off from.
[The second of these is] In attending to those duties which are suited to
obviate87 the working of the law of sin in a special manner.
It endeavors to draw it off from a due consideration, apprehension, and
sensibleness of its own vileness, and the danger wherewith it is attended. This,
in the first place, we shall instance. A due, constant consideration of sin, in
its nature, in all its aggravating circumstances, in its end and tendency, especially
as represented in the blood and cross of Christ, ought always to abide
with us: “Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and a bitter [thing],
that you have forsaken the LORD your God” (Jer. 2:19). Every sin is a forsaking
of the Lord our God. If the heart know not, if it consider not, that it
is an evil thing and a bitter [thing]—evil in itself, bitter in its effects, fruit, and
event—it will never be secured against it. Besides, that frame of heart which
is most accepted with God in any sinner is the humble, contrite, self-abasing
frame: “Thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name
is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite
and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the spirit
of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15; see also Luke 18:13-14). This becomes a sin-
86 rendering unnecessary
87 anticipate, prevent
ner; no garment sits so decently about him. “Be clothed with humility,” says
the apostle (1 Pet. 5:5). It is that which becomes us, and it is the only safe
frame. He that walks humbly walks safely. This is the design of Peter’s advice:
“Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17). After that he
himself had miscarried by another frame of mind, he gives this advice to all
believers. It is not a bondage, servile fear,88 disquieting and perplexing the
soul, but such a fear as may keep men constantly calling upon the Father, with
reference unto the final judgment, that they may be preserved from sin,
whereof they were in so great danger, which he advises them unto: “If you
call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to every
man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” This is the humble
frame of soul. And how is this obtained? How is this preserved? No otherwise
but by a constant, deep apprehension of the evil, vileness, and danger
of sin. So was it wrought, so was it kept up, in the approved publican. “God
be merciful,” says he, “to me a sinner” [Luke 18:13]. Sense of sin kept him
humble, and humility made way for his access unto a testimony of the pardon
of sin. And this is the great preservative through grace from sin, as we
have an example in the instance of Joseph (Gen. 39:9). Upon the urgency of
his great temptation, he recoils immediately into this frame of spirit. “How,”
says he, “can I do this thing, and sin against God?” A constant, steady sense
of the evil of sin gives him such preservation, that he ventures liberty and life
in opposition to it. To fear sin is to fear the Lord; so the holy man tells us that
they are the same: “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from
evil, that is understanding” (Job 28:28). This, therefore, in the first place, in
general, does the law of sin put forth its deceit about—namely, to draw the
mind from this frame, which is the strongest fort of the soul’s defense and
security. It labors to divert the mind from a due apprehension of the vileness,
abomination, and danger of sin. It secretly and insensibly insinuates lessening,
excusing, extenuating thoughts of it; or it draws it off from pondering
upon it, from being conversant about it in its thoughts so much as it ought,
and formerly has been. And if, after the heart of a man has, through the word,
Spirit, and grace of Christ, been made tender, soft, deeply sensible of sin, it
becomes on any account, or by any means whatsoever, to have less, fewer,
slighter, or less affecting thoughts of it or about it, the mind of that man is
drawn away by the deceitfulness of sin.
There are two ways, among others, whereby the law of sin endeavors
deceitfully to draw off the mind from this duty and frame ensuing thereon—
88 a fear that enslaves
It does it by a horrible abuse of gospel grace. There is in the gospel a remedy
provided against the whole evil of sin, the filth, the guilt of it, with all its
dangerous consequents. It is the doctrine of the deliverance of the souls of
men from sin and death—a discovery of the gracious will of God toward sinners
by Jesus Christ. What, now, is the genuine tendency of this doctrine, of
this discovery of grace; and what ought we to use it and improve it unto? This
the apostle declares, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared
to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should
live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12).
This it teaches; this we ought to learn of it and by it. Hence universal holiness
is called a “conversation that becomes89 the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). It
becomes it, as that which is answerable unto its end, aim, and design—as that
which it requires, and which it ought to be improved unto. And accordingly
it does produce this effect where the word of it is received and preserved in a
saving light (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:20-24). But herein does the deceit of sin interpose
itself: It separates between the doctrine of grace and the use and end of
it. It stays upon its notions, and intercepts its influences in its proper application.
From the doctrine of the assured pardon of sin, it insinuates a regardlessness
of sin. God in Christ makes the proposition, and Satan and sin make
the conclusion. For that the deceitfulness of sin is apt to plead unto a regardlessness
of it, from the grace of God whereby it is pardoned, the apostle
declares in his reproof and detestation of such an insinuation: “What shall
we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid”
(Rom. 6:1). “Men’s deceitful hearts,” says he, “are apt to make that conclusion;
but far be it from us that we should give any entertainment unto it.”
But yet that some have evidently improved that deceit unto their own eternal
ruin, Jude declares: “Ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness”
90 (v. 4). And we have had dreadful instances of it in the days of temptation
wherein we have lived.
Indeed, in opposition unto this deceit lies much of the wisdom of faith
and power of gospel grace. When the mind is fully possessed with, and cast
habitually and firmly into, the mold of the notion and doctrine of gospel truth
about the full and free forgiveness of all sins in the blood of Christ, then to
be able to keep the heart always in a deep, humbling sense of sin, abhorrency
of it, and self-abasement for it, is a great effect of gospel wisdom and grace.
This is the trial and touchstone of gospel light: If it keeps the heart sensible
89 that is suitable or appropriate to
90 wantonness, inclination to lust
of sin, humble, lowly, and broken on that account—if it teaches us to water
a free pardon with tears, to detest forgiven sin, to watch diligently for the ruin
of that which we are yet assured shall never ruin us—it is divine, from above,
of the Spirit of grace. If it secretly and insensibly makes men loose and slight
in their thoughts about sin, it is adulterate, selfish, false. If it will be all, answer
all ends, it is nothing. Hence it comes to pass that sometimes we see men
walking in a bondage-frame of spirit all their days, low in their light, mean
in their apprehensions of grace; so that it is hard to discern whether covenant
in their principles they belong unto—whether they are under the law or under
grace; yet walk with a more conscientious tenderness of sinning than many
who are advanced into higher degrees of light and knowledge than they—not
that the saving light of the gospel is not the only principle of saving holiness
and obedience; but that, through the deceitfulness of sin, it is variously abused
to countenance91 the soul in manifold neglect of duties, and to draw off the
mind from a due consideration of the nature, desert,92 and danger of sin. And
this is done several ways:
The soul, having frequent need of relief by gospel grace against a sense
of the guilt of sin and accusation of the law, comes at length to make it a common
and ordinary thing, and such as may be slightly performed. Having
found a good medicine for its wounds, and such as it has had experience of
its efficacy, it comes to apply it slightly, and rather skins over than cures its
sores. A little less earnestness, a little less diligence, serves every time, until
the soul, it may be, begins to secure itself of pardon in course; and this tends
directly to draw off the mind from its constant and universal watchfulness
against sin. He whose light has made his way of access plain for the obtaining
of pardon, if he be not very watchful, he is far more apt to become overly
formal and careless in his work than he who, by reason of mists and darkness,
beats about to find his way aright to the throne of grace; as a man that
has often traveled a road passes on without regard or inquiry, but he who is
a stranger unto it, observing all turnings and inquiring of all passengers,
secures his journey beyond the other.
The deceitfulness of sin takes advantage from the doctrine of grace by
many ways and means to extend the bounds of the soul’s liberty beyond what
God has assigned unto it. Some have never thought themselves free from a
legal, bondage frame until they have been brought into the confines of sensuality,
and some into the depths of it. How often will sin plead, “This strict-
91 approve, condone
92 that which is deserved (such as punishment)
ness, this exactness, this solicitude is no ways needful; relief is provided in the
gospel against such things! Would you live as though there were no need of
the gospel? As though pardon of sin were to no purpose?” But concerning
these pleas of sin from gospel grace, we shall have occasion to speak more
hereafter in particular.
In times of temptation, this deceitfulness of sin will argue expressly for
sin from gospel grace; at least, it will plead for these two things:
That there is not need of such a tenacious, severe contending against it,
as the principle of the new creature is fixed on. If it cannot divert the soul or
mind wholly from attending unto temptations to oppose them, yet it will
endeavor to draw them off as to the manner of their attendance. They need
not use that diligence which at first the soul apprehends to be necessary.
It will be tendering relief as to the event of sin—that it shall not turn to
the ruin or destruction of the soul, because it is, it will, or may be pardoned
by the grace of the gospel. And this is true; this is the great and only relief of
the soul against sin, the guilt whereof it has contracted already—the blessed
and only remedy for a guilty soul. But when it is pleaded and remembered by
the deceitfulness of sin in compliance with temptation unto sin, then it is poison;
poison is mixed in every drop of this balsam,93 to the danger, if not death,
of the soul. And this is the first way whereby the deceitfulness of sin draws
off the mind from a due attendance unto that sense of its vileness which alone
is able to keep it in that humble, self-abased frame that is acceptable with
God. It makes the mind careless, as though its work were needless, because
of the abounding of grace; which is a soldier’s neglect of his station, trusting
to a reserve, provided, indeed, only in case of keeping his own proper place.
Sin takes advantage to work by its deceit, in this matter of drawing off the
mind from a due sense of it, from the state and condition of men in the world.
I shall give only one instance of its procedure in this kind. Men, in their
younger days, have naturally their affections more quick, vigorous, and active,
more sensibly working in them, than afterward. They do, as to their sensible
working and operation, naturally decay, and many things befall men in their
lives that take off the edge and keenness of them. But as men lose in their affections,
if they are not besotted94 in sensuality or by the corruptions that are in
the world through lust, they grow and improve in their understandings, resolutions,
and judgments. Hence it is, that if what had place formerly in their
affections do not take place in their minds and judgments, they utterly lose
93 fragrant ointment used as balm or medication
94 foolish, especially as it relates to drunkenness
them, they have no more place in their souls. Thus men have no regard for,
yea, they utterly despise those things which their affections were set upon with
delight and greediness in their childhood. But if they are things that by any
means come to be fixed in their minds and judgments, they continue a high
esteem for them, and do cleave as close unto them as they did when their affections
were more vigorous; only, as it were, they have changed their seat in the
soul. It is thus in things spiritual. The first and chief seat of the sensibleness of
sin is in the affections. As these in natural youth are great and large, so are
they spiritually in spiritual youth: “I remember the kindness of your youth, the
love of your espousals”95 (Jer. 2:2). Besides, such persons are newly come off
from their convictions, wherein they have been cut to the heart and so made
tender. Whatever touches upon a wound is thoroughly felt; so does the guilt
of sin before the wound given by conviction be thoroughly cured. But now,
when affections begin to decay naturally, they begin to decay also as to their
sensible actings and motions in things spiritual. Although they improve in
grace, yet they may decay in sense. At least, spiritual sense is not radically in
them, but only by way of communication. Now, in these decays, if the soul
takes not care to fix a deep sense of sin on the mind and judgment, thereby
perpetually to affect the heart and affections, it will decay. And here the deceit
of the law of sin interposes itself. It suffers a sense of sin to decay in the affections,
and diverts the mind from entertaining a due, constant, fixed consideration
of it. We may consider this a little in persons that never make a progress
in the ways of God beyond conviction. How sensible of sin will they be for a
season. How will they then mourn and weep under a sense of the guilt of it!
How will they cordially and heartily resolve against it! Affections are vigorous,
and, as it were, bear rule in their souls. But they are like a herb that will
flourish for a day or two with watering although it have no root: for, a while
after, we see that these men, the more experience they have had of sin, the less
they are afraid of it, as the wise man intimates (Eccles. 8:11); and at length
they come to be the greatest contemners of sin in the world. No sinner like
him that has sinned away his convictions of sin. What is the reason of this?
Sense of sin was in their convictions, fixed on their affections. As it decayed in
them, they took no care to have it deeply and graciously fixed on their minds.
This the deceitfulness of sin deprived them of, and so ruined their souls. In
some measure it is so with believers. If, as the sensibleness of the affections
decay—if, as they grow heavy and obtuse, great wisdom and grace be not used
to fix a due sense of sin upon the mind and judgment, which may provoke,
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excite, enliven, and stir up the affections every day—great decays will ensue.
At first sorrow, trouble, grief, [and] fear affected the mind, and would give it
no rest. If afterward the mind does not affect the heart with sorrow and grief,
the whole will be cast out, and the soul be in danger of being hardened. And
these are some of the ways whereby the deceit of sin diverts the mind from the
first part of its safe preserving frame, or draws it off from its constant watchfulness
against sin and all the effects of it.
The second part of this general duty of the mind is to keep the soul unto
a constant, holy consideration of God and his grace. This evidently lies at the
spring-head of gospel obedience. The way whereby sin draws off the mind
from this part of its duty is open and known sufficiently, though not sufficiently
watched against. Now, this the Scripture everywhere declares to be the
filling of the minds of men with earthly things. This it places in direct opposition
unto that heavenly frame of the mind which is the spring of gospel
obedience: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth”—
or set your minds (Col. 3:2). As if he had said, “On both together you cannot
be set or fixed, so as principally and chiefly to mind them both.” And the affections
to the one and the other, proceeding from these different principles of
minding the one and the other, are opposed, as directly inconsistent: “Love not
the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world,
the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). And actings in a course
suitable unto these affections are proposed also as contrary: “You cannot serve
God and mammon” [Matt. 6:24]. These are two masters whom no man can
serve at the same time to the satisfaction of both. Every inordinate minding,
then, of earthly things is opposed unto that frame wherein our minds ought
to be fixed on God and his grace in a course of gospel obedience.
Several ways there are whereby the deceitfulness of sin draws off the
mind in this particular; but the chief of them is by pressing these things on
the mind under the notion of things lawful, and, it may be, necessary. So all
those who excuse themselves in the parable from coming in to the marriagefeast
of the gospel, did it on account of their being engaged in their lawful
callings—one about his farm, another his oxen—the means whereby he
ploughed in this world [Luke 14:16-24]. By this plea were the minds of men
drawn off from that frame of heavenliness which is required to our walking
with God; and the rules of not loving the world, or using it as if we used it
not, are hereby neglected. What wisdom, what watchfulness, what serious
frequent trial and examination of ourselves is required, to keep our hearts and
minds in a heavenly frame, in the use and pursuit of earthly things, is not my
present business to declare. This is evident, that the engine whereby the deceit
of sin draws off and turns aside the mind in this matter is the pretense of the
lawfulness of things about which it would have it exercise itself; against which
very few are armed with sufficient diligence, wisdom, and skill. And this is
the first and most general attempt that indwelling sin makes upon the soul
by deceit—it draws away the mind from a diligent attention unto its course
in a due sense of the evil of sin, and a due and constant consideration of God
and his grace.


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