Sin Chapter 11

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

The second thing in the words of the apostle ascribed unto the deceitful working
of sin is its enticing. A man is “drawn away and enticed.” And this seems
particularly to respect the affections, as drawing away does the mind. The
mind is drawn away from duty, and the affections are enticed unto sin. From
the prevalency hereof a man is said to be “enticed,” or entangled as with a
bait: so the word imports;115 for there is an allusion in it unto the bait wherewith
a fish is taken on the hook which holds him to his destruction. And concerning
this effect of the deceit of sin, we shall briefly show two things:
(1) What it is to be enticed, or to be entangled with the bait of sin, to have
the affections tainted with an inclination thereunto; and when they are so;
(2) What course sin takes, and what way it proceeds in, thus to entice,
ensnare, or entangle the soul.
For the first: The affections are certainly entangled when they stir up frequent
imaginations about the proposed object which this deceit of sin leads
and entices toward. When sin prevails, and the affections are gone fully after
it, it fills the imagination with it, possessing it with images, likenesses, appearances
of it continually. Such persons “devise iniquity, and work evil upon their
beds”—which they also “practice” when they are able, when “it is in the
power of their hand” (Mic. 2:1). As, in particular, Peter tells us that “they
have eyes full of an adulteress, and they cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14)—
that is, their imaginations are possessed with a continual representation of the
object of their lusts. And it is so in part where the affections are in part entangled
with sin, and begin to turn aside unto it. John tells us that the things that
are “in the world” are “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride
of life” (1 John 2:16). The lust of the eyes is that which by them is conveyed
unto the soul. Now, it is not the bodily sense of seeing, but the fixing of the
imagination from that sense on such things, that is intended. And this is called
the “eyes,” because thereby things are constantly represented unto the mind
and soul, as outward objects are unto the inward sense by the eyes. And oftentimes
the outward sight of the eyes is the occasion of these imaginations. So
Achan declares how sin prevailed with him (Josh. 7:21). First, he saw the
wedge of gold and Babylonish garment, and then he coveted them. He rolled
them, the pleasures, the profit of them, in his imagination, and then fixed his
heart upon the obtaining of them. Now, the heart may have a settled, fixed
detestation of sin; but yet if a man find that the imagination of the mind is
frequently solicited by it and exercised about it, such a one may know that
his affections are secretly enticed and entangled.
This entanglement is heightened when the imagination can prevail with
the mind to lodge vain thoughts in it, with secret delight and complacency.
This is termed by casuists,116 “Cogitatio morosa cum delectatione”—an abiding
thought with delight; which toward forbidden objects is in all cases actu-
115 signifies
116 those who rigidly apply ethical rules
ally sinful. And yet this may be when the consent of the will unto sin is not
obtained—when the soul would not for the world do the thing, which yet
thoughts begin to lodge in the mind about. This “lodging of vain thoughts”
in the heart the prophet complains of as a thing greatly sinful and to be
abhorred (Jer. 4:14). All these thoughts are messengers that carry sin to and
fro between the imagination and the affections, and still increase it, inflaming
the imagination, and more and more entangling the affections. Achan
thinks upon the golden wedge [Josh. 7:21], this makes him like it and love it;
by loving of it his thoughts are infected, and return to the imagination of its
worth and goodly show; and so by little and little the soul is inflamed unto
sin. And here if the will parts with its sovereignty, sin is actually conceived.
Inclinations or readiness to attend unto extenuations of sin, or the reliefs
that are tendered against sin when committed, manifest the affections to be
entangled with it. We have showed, and shall yet further evidence, that it is
a great part of the deceit of sin to tender lessening and extenuating thoughts
of sin unto the mind. “Is it not a little one?” or, “There is mercy provided,”
or, “It shall be in due time relinquished and given over”—is its language in a
deceived heart. Now, when there is a readiness in the soul to hearken and give
entertainment unto such secret insinuations, arising from this deceit, in reference
unto any sin or unapprovable course, it is an evidence that the affections
are enticed. When the soul is willing, as it were, to be tempted, to be
courted by sin, to hearken to its dalliances and solicitations, it has lost its conjugal
affections unto Christ and is entangled. This is “looking on the wine
when it is red, when it gives its color in the cup, when it moves itself aright”
(Prov. 23:31)—a pleasing contemplation on the invitations of sin, whose end
the wise man gives us (v. 32). When the deceit of sin has prevailed thus far
on any person, then he is enticed or entangled. The will is not yet come to the
actual conception of this or that sin by its consent, but the whole soul is in a
near inclination thereunto. And many other instances I could give as tokens
and evidences of this entanglement: these may suffice to manifest what we
intend thereby.
Our next inquiry is: How, or by what means, [does] the deceit of sin proceed
thus to entice and entangle the affections? And two or three of its baits
are manifest herein:
It makes use of its former prevalency upon the mind in drawing it off
from its watch and circumspection. Says the wise man, “Surely in vain is the
net spread in the sight of any bird” (Prov. 1:17); or “before the eyes of every
thing that has a wing,” as in the original. If it has eyes open to discern the
snare, and a wing to carry it away, it will not be caught. And in vain should
the deceit of sin spread its snares and nets for the entanglement of the soul,
while the eyes of the mind are intent upon what it does, and so stir up the
wings of its will and affections to carry it away and avoid it. But if the eyes
be put out or diverted, the wings are of very little use for escape; and, therefore,
this is one of the ways which is used by them who take birds or fowls
in their nets. They have false lights or shows of things to divert the sight of
their prey; and when that is done, they take the season to cast their nets upon
them. So does the deceit of sin; it first draws off and diverts the mind by false
reasonings and pretenses, as has been showed, and then casts its net upon the
affections for their entanglement.
Taking advantage of such seasons, it proposes sin as desirable, as exceeding
satisfactory to the corrupt part of our affections. It gilds over the object
by a thousand pretenses, which it presents unto corrupt lustings. This is the
laying of a bait which the apostle in this verse evidently alludes unto. A bait
is somewhat desirable and suitable, that is, proposed to the hungry creature
for its satisfaction; and it is by all artifices rendered desirable and suitable.
Thus is sin presented by the help of the imagination unto the soul; that is, sinful
and inordinate objects, which the affections cleave unto, are so presented.
The apostle tells us that there are “pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25), which,
unless they are despised, as they were by Moses, there is no escaping of sin
itself. Hence they that live in sin are said to “live in pleasure” (James 5:5).
Now, this pleasure of sin consists in its suitableness to give satisfaction to the
flesh, to lust, to corrupt affections. Hence is that caution, “Make not provision
for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14), that is, “Do not
suffer your minds, thoughts, or affections to fix upon sinful objects, suited to
give satisfaction to the lusts of the flesh, to nourish and cherish them thereby.”
To which purpose he speaks again, “Fulfill not the lust of the flesh” (Gal.
5:16)—“Bring not in the pleasures of sin, to give them satisfaction.” When
men are under the power of sin, they are said to “fulfill the desires of the flesh
and of the mind” (Eph. 2:3). Thus, therefore, the deceit of sin endeavors to
entangle the affections by proposing unto them, through the assistance of the
imagination, that suitableness which is in it to the satisfaction of its corrupt
lusts, now set at some liberty by the inadvertency of the mind. It presents its
“wine sparkling in the cup” [Prov. 23:21], the beauty of the adulteress, the
riches of the world, unto sensual and covetous persons; and somewhat in the
like kind, in some degrees, to believers themselves. When, therefore, I say, sin
would entangle the soul, it prevails with the imagination to solicit the heart,
by representing this false-painted beauty or pretended satisfactoriness of sin;
and then if Satan, with any peculiar temptation, fall in to its assistance, it
oftentimes inflames all the affections and puts the whole soul into disorder.
It hides the danger that attends sin; it covers it as the hook is covered with
the bait, or the net spread over with meat for the fowl to be taken. It is not,
indeed, possible that sin should utterly deprive the soul of the knowledge of
the danger of it. It cannot dispossess it of its notion or persuasion that “the
wages of sin is death” [Rom. 6:23], and that it is the “judgment of God that
they that commit sin are worthy of death” [Rom. 1:32]. But this it will do—
it will so take up and possess the mind and affections with the baits and desirableness
of sin, that it shall divert them from an actual and practical
contemplation of the danger of it. What Satan did in and by his first temptation,
that sin does ever since. At first Eve guards herself with calling to mind
the danger of sin: “If we eat or touch it we shall die” (Gen. 3:3). But so soon
as Satan had filled her mind with the beauty and usefulness of the fruit to
make one wise, how quickly did she lay aside her practical prevalent consideration
of the danger of eating it, the curse due unto it; or else relieves herself
with a vain hope and pretense that it should not be, because the serpent
told her so! So was David beguiled in his great transgression by the deceit of
sin. His lust being pleased and satisfied, the consideration of the guilt and danger
of his transgression was taken away; and therefore he is said to have
“despised the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:9), in that he considered not the evil that
was in his heart, and the danger that attended it in the threatening or commination117
of the law. Now sin, when it presses upon the soul to this purpose,
will use a thousand wiles to hide from it the terror of the Lord, the end
of transgressions, and especially of that peculiar folly which it solicits the
mind unto. Hopes of pardon shall be used to hide it; and future repentance
shall hide it; and present importunity of lust shall hide it; occasions and
opportunities shall hide it; surprises shall hide it; extenuation of sin shall
hide it; balancing of duties against it shall hide it; fixing the imagination on
present objects shall hide it; desperate resolutions to venture the uttermost for
the enjoyment of lust in its pleasures and profits shall hide it. A thousand wiles
it has, which cannot be recounted.
Having prevailed thus far, gilding over the pleasures of sin, hiding its end
and demerit, it proceeds to raise perverse reasonings in the mind, to fix it upon
the sin proposed, that it may be conceived and brought forth, the affections
being already prevailed upon; of which we shall speak under the next head
of its progress. Here we may stay a little, as formerly, to give some few direc-
117 formal denunciation
tions for the obviating of this woeful work of the deceitfulness of sin. Would
we not be enticed or entangled? Would we not be disposed to the conception
of sin? Would we be turned out of the road and way which goes down to
death?—let us take heed of our affections; which are of so great concern in
the whole course of our obedience, that they are commonly in the Scripture
called by the name of the “heart,” as the principal thing which God requires
in our walking before him. And this is not slightly to be attended unto. Says
the wise man, “Keep your heart with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23) or, as in the
original, “above” or “before all keepings”—“Before every watch, keep your
heart. You have many keepings that you watch unto: you watch to keep your
lives, to keep your estates, to keep your reputations, to keep up your families;
but,” says he, “above all these keepings, prefer that, attend to that of the
heart, of your affections, that they be not entangled with sin.” There is no
safety without it. Save all other things and lose the heart, and all is lost—lost
unto all eternity. You will say, then, “What shall we do, or how shall we
observe this duty?”
Keep your affections as to their object.
In general. This advice the apostle gives in this very case (Colossians 3).
His advice in the beginning of that chapter is to direct us unto the mortification
of sin, which he expressly engages in: “Mortify therefore your members
which are upon the earth” (v. 5)—“Prevent the working and deceit of sin
which wars in your members.” To prepare us, to enable us hereunto, he gives
us that great direction: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on
the earth” (v. 2). Fix your affections upon heavenly things; this will enable
you to mortify sin; fill them with the things that are above, let them be exercised
with them, and so enjoy the chief place in them. They are above, blessed
and suitable objects, meet for and answering unto our affections—God himself,
in his beauty and glory; the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “altogether lovely,”
the “chief of ten thousand” [Song 5:16, 10]; grace and glory; the mysteries
revealed in the gospel; the blessedness promised thereby. Were our affections
filled, taken up, and possessed with these things, as it is our duty that they
should be—it is our happiness when they are—what access could sin, with
its painted pleasures, with its sugared poisons, with its envenomed118 baits,
have unto our souls? How should we loathe all its proposals, and say unto
them, “Get you hence as an abominable thing!” For what are the vain, transitory
pleasures of sin in comparison to the exceeding recompense of reward
118 poisonous
which is proposed unto us? (Which [is the] argument the apostle presses in
2 Corinthians 4:17-18.)
As to the object of your affections, in a special manner, let it be the cross
of Christ, which has exceeding efficacy toward the disappointment of the
whole work of indwelling sin: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross
of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto
the world” (Gal. 6:14). The cross of Christ he gloried and rejoiced in; this his
heart was set upon; and these were the effects of it—it crucified the world unto
him, made it a dead and undesirable thing. The baits and pleasures of sin are
taken all of them out of the world, and the things that are in the world—
namely, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” These
are the things that are in the world; from these does sin take all its baits,
whereby it entices and entangles our souls. If the heart be filled with the cross
of Christ, it casts death and undesirableness upon them all; it leaves no seeming
beauty, no appearing pleasure or comeliness,119 in them. Again, says he, “It
crucifies me to the world; makes my heart, my affections, my desires, dead
unto any of these things.” It roots up corrupt lusts and affections, leaves no
principle to go forth and make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.
Labor, therefore, to fill your hearts with the cross of Christ. Consider the sorrows
he underwent, the curse he bore, the blood he shed, the cries he put forth,
the love that was in all this to your souls, and the mystery of the grace of God
therein. Meditate on the vileness, the demerit, and punishment of sin as represented
in the cross, the blood, the death of Christ. Is Christ crucified for sin,
and shall not our hearts be crucified with him unto sin? Shall we give entertainment
unto that, or hearken unto its dalliances, which wounded, which
pierced, which slew our dear Lord Jesus? God forbid! Fill your affections with
the cross of Christ, that there may be no room for sin. The world once put him
out of the house into a stable, when he came to save us; let him now turn the
world out of doors, when he is come to sanctify us.
Look to the vigor of the affections toward heavenly things; if they are not
constantly attended, excited, directed, and warned, they are apt to decay, and
sin lies in wait to take every advantage against them. Many complaints we
have in the Scripture of those who lost their first love, in suffering their affections
to decay. And this should make us jealous over our own hearts, lest we
also should be overtaken with the like backsliding frame. Wherefore be jealous
over them; often strictly examine them and call them to account; supply
unto them due considerations for their exciting and stirring up unto duty.
119 attractiveness


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