Sin Chapter 14

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

We are now to proceed unto other evidences of that sad truth which we are
in the demonstration of. But the main of our work being passed through, I
shall be more brief in the management of the arguments that do remain.
THE EFFECT OF SIN IN THE LIVES OF BELIEVERS
That, then, which in the next place may be fixed upon is the demonstration
which this law of sin has in all ages given of its power and efficacy, by the
woeful fruits that it has brought forth, even in believers themselves. Now,
these are of two sorts: (1) the great actual eruptions of sin in their lives;
(2) their habitual declensions from the frames, state, and condition of obedience
and communion with God, which they had obtained—both which, by
the rule of James before unfolded, are to be laid to the account of this law of
sin, and belong unto the fourth head of its progress, and are both of them
convincing evidences of its power and efficacy.
Consider the fearful eruptions of actual sin that have been in the lives of
believers, and we shall find our position evidenced. Should I go through at
large with this consideration, I must recount all the sad and scandalous failings
of the saints that are left on record in the holy Scripture; but the particulars
of them are known to all, so that I shall not need to mention them, nor
the many aggravations that in their circumstances they are attended with.
Only some few things tending to the rendering of our present consideration
of them useful may be remarked; as—
They are most of them in the lives of men that were not of the lowest
form or ordinary sort of believers, but of men that had a peculiar eminency
in them on the account of their walking with God in their generation. Such
were Noah, Lot, David, Hezekiah, and others. They were not men of an ordinary
size, but higher than their brethren, by the shoulders and upwards, in
profession, yea, in real holiness. And surely that must needs be of a mighty
efficacy that could hurry such giants in the ways of God into such abominable
sins as they fell into. An ordinary engine could never have turned them out
of the course of their obedience. It was a poison that no athletic constitution
of spiritual health, no antidote, could withstand.
And these very men fell not into their great sins at the beginning of their
profession, when they had had but little experience of the goodness of God,
of the sweetness and pleasantness of obedience, of the power and craft of
sin, of its impulsions, solicitations, and surprises; but after a long course of
walking with God, and acquaintance with all these things, together with
innumerable motives unto watchfulness. Noah, according to the lives of men
in those days of the world, had walked uprightly with God some hundreds
of years before he was so surprised as he was (Genesis 9). Righteous Lot
seems to have been toward the end of his days ere he defiled himself with
the abominations recorded [Gen. 19:32-35]. David, in a short life, had as
much experience of grace and sin, and as much close, spiritual communion
with God, as ever had any of the sons of men, before he was cast to the
ground by this law of sin [2 Samuel 11]. So was it with Hezekiah in his
degree, which was none of the meanest [2 Chron. 32:25]. Now, to set upon
such persons, so well acquainted with its power and deceit, so armed and
provided against it, that had been conquerors over it for so many years, and
to prevail against them, it argues a power and efficacy too mighty for everything
but the Spirit of the Almighty to withstand. Who can look to have a
greater stock of inherent grace than those men had; to have more experience
of God and the excellency of his ways, the sweetness of his love and of communion
with him, than they had? Who has either better furniture to oppose
sin with, or more obligation so to do, than they? And yet we see how fearfully
they were prevailed against.
As if God had permitted their falls on set purpose, that we might learn
to be wary of this powerful enemy, they all of them fell out when they had
newly received great and stupendous mercies from the hand of God, that
ought to have been strong obligations unto diligence and watchfulness in
close obedience. Noah was but newly come forth of that world of waters,
wherein he saw the ungodly world perishing for their sins, and himself preserved
by that astonishable miracle which all ages must admire. While the
world’s desolation was an hourly remembrancer1 unto him of his strange
preservation by the immediate care and hand of God, he falls into drunkenness
[Gen. 9:21]. Lot had newly seen that which every one that thinks on
cannot but tremble; he saw, as one speaks, “hell coming out of heaven” upon
unclean sinners—the greatest evidence, except the cross of Christ, that God
ever gave in his providence of the judgment to come. He saw himself and
children delivered by the special care and miraculous hand of God; and yet,
while these strange mercies were fresh upon him, he fell into drunkenness
and incest [Gen. 19:32-35]. David was delivered out of all his troubles, and
had the necks of his enemies given him round about, and he makes use of
his peace from a world of trials and troubles to contrive murder and adul-
364 INDWELLING SIN
1 reminder
tery [2 Samuel 11]. Immediately it was after Hezekiah’s great and miraculous
deliverance that he falls into his carnal pride and boasting [2 Chron.
32:25]. I say, their falls in such seasons seem to be permitted on set purpose
to instruct us all in the truth that we have in hand; so that no persons, in no
seasons, with whatsoever furniture of grace, can promise themselves security
from its prevalency any other ways than by keeping close constantly to
him who has supplies to give out that are above its reach and efficacy.
Methinks this should make us look about us. Are we better than Noah, who
had that testimony from God, that he was “a perfect man in his generations,”
and “walked with God” [Gen. 6:9]? Are we better than Lot, whose
“righteous soul was vexed with the evil deeds of ungodly men,” and is therefore
commended by the Holy Ghost [2 Pet. 2:7-8]? Are we more holy, wise,
and watchful than David, who obtained this testimony, that he was “a man
after God’s own heart” [1 Sam. 13:14]? Or better than Hezekiah, who
appealed to God himself that he had served him uprightly with a perfect
heart [2 Kings 20:3]? And yet what prevalency this law of sin wrought in
and over them we see. And there is no end of the like examples. They are all
set up as buoys to discover unto us the sands, the shelves, the rocks, whereupon
they made their shipwreck, to their hazard, danger, loss, yea, and
would have done to their ruin, had not God been pleased in his faithfulness
graciously to prevent it. And this is the first part of this evidence of the power
of sin from its effects.
It manifests its power in the habitual declensions from zeal and holiness,
from the frames, state, and condition of obedience and communion
with God whereunto they had attained, which are found in many believers.
Promises of growth and improvement are many and precious, the
means excellent and effectual, the benefits great and unspeakable; yet it
often falls out, that instead hereof decays and declensions are found upon
professors, yea, in and upon many of the saints of God. Now, whereas this
must needs principally and chiefly be from the strength and efficacy of
indwelling sin, and is therefore a great evidence thereof, I shall first evince
the observation itself to be true—namely, that some of the saints themselves
do oftentimes so decline from that growth and improvement in faith, grace,
and holiness which might justly be expected from them—and then show
that the cause of this evil lies in that that we are treating of. And that it is
the cause of total apostasy in unsound professors shall be after declared.
But this is a greater work which we have in hand. The prevailing upon true
believers unto a sinful declension and gradual apostasy requires a putting
forth of more strength and efficacy than the prevailing upon unsound pro-
THE EFFECT AND STRENGTH OF INDWELLING SIN 365
fessors unto total apostasy, as the wind which will blow down a dead tree
that has no root to the ground will scarcely shake or bow a living, wellrooted
tree. But this it will do. There is mention made in the Scripture of
“the first ways of David,” and they are commended above his latter
(2 Chron. 17:3). The last ways even of David were tainted with the power
of indwelling sin. Though we have mention only of the actual eruption of
sin, yet that uncleanness and pride which was working in him in his numbering
of the people [1 Chron. 21:1] were certainly rooted in a declension
from his first frame. Those rushes did not grow without mire. David would
not have done so in his younger days, when he followed God in the wilderness
of temptations and trials, full of faith, love, humility, brokenness of
heart, zeal, tender affection unto all the ordinances of God; all which were
eminent in him. But his strength is impaired by the efficacy and deceitfulness
of sin, his locks cut, and he becomes a prey to vile lusts and temptations.
We have a notable instance in most of the churches that our Savior
awakens to the consideration of their condition in the Revelation. We may
single out one of them. Many good things were there in the church of
Ephesus, for which it is greatly commended (Rev. 2:2-3); but yet it is
charged with a decay, a declension, a gradual falling off and apostasy: “You
have left your first love. Remember therefore from whence you have fallen,
and repent, and do the first works” (vv. 4-5). There was a decay, both
inward, in the frame of heart, as to faith and love, and outward, as to obedience
and works, in comparison of what they had formerly, by the testimony
of Christ himself. The same also might be showed concerning the rest
of those churches, only one or two of them excepted. Five of them are
charged with decays and declensions. Hence there is mention in the
Scripture of the “kindness of youth,” of the “love of espousals,” with great
commendation (Jer. 2:2-3); of our “first faith” (1 Tim. 5:12); of “the beginning
of our confidence” (Heb. 3:14). And cautions are given that we “lose
not the things that we have wrought” (2 John 8). But what need we look
back or search for instances to confirm the truth of this observation? A
habitual declension from first engagements unto God, from first attainments
of communion with God, from first strictness in duties of obedience,
is ordinary and common among professors. Might we to this purpose take
a general view of the professors in these nations—among whom the lot of
the best of us will be found, in part or in whole, in somewhat or in all, to
fall—we might be plentifully convinced of the truth of this observation—
Is their zeal for God as warm, living, vigorous, effectual, solicitous, as
it was in their first giving themselves unto God? Or rather, is there not a com-
366 INDWELLING SIN
mon, slight, selfish frame of spirit in the room2 of it come upon most professors?
Iniquity has abounded, and their love has waxed3 cold. Was it not
of old a burden to their spirits to hear the name, and ways, and worship of
God blasphemed and profaned? Could they not have said, with the psalmist,
“Rivers of waters run down our eyes, because men keep not your law” (Ps.
119:136)? Were not their souls solicitous about the interest of Christ in the
world, like Eli’s about the ark [1 Sam. 4:13]? Did they not contend earnestly
for the faith once delivered to the saints [Jude 3] and every parcel of it, especially
wherein the grace of God and the glory of the gospel was specially concerned?
Did they not labor to judge and condemn the world by a holy and
separate conversation? And do now the generality of professors abide in this
frame? Have they grown, and made improvement in it? Or is there not a
coldness and indifference grown upon the spirits of many in this thing? Yea,
do not many despise all these things, and look upon their own former zeal
as folly? May we not see many, who have formerly been of esteem in ways
of profession, become daily a scorn and reproach through their miscarriages,
and that justly, to the men of the world? Is it not with them as it was of old
with the daughters of Zion (Isa. 3:24), when God judged them for their sins
and wantonness?4 Has not the world and self utterly ruined their profession?
And are they not regardless of the things wherein they have formerly
declared a singular concern? Yea, are not some come, partly on one pretense,
partly on another, to an open enmity unto, and hatred of, the ways of God?
They please them no more, but are evil in their eyes. But not to mention such
open apostates any further, whose hypocrisy the Lord Jesus Christ will
shortly judge, how is it with the best? Are not almost all men grown cold
and slack as to these things? Are they not less concerned in them than formerly?
Are they not grown weary, selfish in their religion, and so things be
indifferent well at home, scarce care how they go abroad in the world? At
least, do they not prefer their ease, credit, safety, secular advantages before
these things?—a frame that Christ abhors, and declares that those in whom
it prevails are none of his. Some, indeed, seem to retain a good zeal for truth;
but wherein they make the fairest appearance, therein will they be found to
be most abominable. They cry out against errors—not for truth, but for
party’s and interest’s sake. Let a man be on their party and promote their
interest, be he never so corrupt in his judgment, he is embraced, and, it may
THE EFFECT AND STRENGTH OF INDWELLING SIN 367
2 i.e., place
3 grows, becomes
4 lack of discipline
be, admired. This is not zeal for God, but for a man’s self. It is not, “The
zeal of your house has eaten me up” [Ps. 69:9], but, “Master, forbid them,
because they follow not with us” [Mark 9:38]. Better it were, doubtless, for
men never to pretend unto any zeal at all than to substitute such wrathful
selfishness in the room of it.
Is men’s delight in the ordinances and worship of God the same as in
former days? Do they find the same sweetness and relish in them as they
have done of old? How precious has the word been to them formerly! What
joy and delight have they had in attendance thereon! How would they have
run and gone to have been made partakers of it, where it was dispensed in
its power and purity, in the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit! Did
they not call the Sabbath their delight [Isa. 58:13], and was not the
approach of it a real joy unto their souls? Did they not long after the converse
and communion5 of saints, and could they not undergo manifold perils
for the attainment of it? And does this frame still abide upon them? Are
there not decays and declensions to be found among them? May it not be
said, “Gray hairs are here and there upon them, and they perceive it not”
[Hos. 7:9]? Yea, are not men ready to say with them of old, “What a weariness
is it!” (Mal. 1:13). It is even a burden and a weariness to be tied up to
the observation of all these ordinances. What need we be at all so strict in
the observation of the Sabbath? What need we hear so often? What need
this distinction in hearing? Insensibly a great disrespect, yea, even a contempt
of the pleasant and excellent ways of Christ and his gospel is fallen
upon many professors.
May not the same conviction be further carried on by an inquiry into the
universal course of obedience and the performance of duties that men have
been engaged in? Is there the same conscientious tenderness of sinning abiding
in many as was in days of old, the same exact performance of private
duties, the same love to the brethren, the same readiness for the cross, the
same humility of mind and spirit, the same self-denial? The steam of men’s
lusts, wherewith the air is tainted, will not suffer us so to say. We need, then,
go no further than this wretched generation wherein we live, to evince the
truth of the observation laid down as the foundation of the instance insisted
on. The Lord give repentance before it be too late! Now, all these declensions,
all these decays, that are found in some professors, they all proceed from this
root and cause—they are all the product of indwelling sin, and all evince the
exceeding power and efficacy of it: for the proof whereof I shall not need to
368 INDWELLING SIN
5 This word is mistakenly printed as “corn-mullion” in the Goold edition.
go further than the general rule which out of James we have already considered—
namely, that lust or indwelling sin is the cause of all actual sin and all
habitual declensions in believers. This is that which the apostle intends in that
place to teach and declare. I shall, therefore, handle these two things, and
show: (1) that this does evince a great efficacy and power in sin; (2) declare
the ways and means whereby it brings forth or brings about this cursed
effect—all in design of our general end, in calling upon and cautioning believers
to avoid it, to oppose it.
It appears to be a work of great power and efficacy from the provision
that is made against it, which it prevails over. There is in the covenant of
grace plentiful provision made, not only for the preventing of declensions
and decays in believers, but also for their continual carrying on toward perfection;
as—
The word itself and all the ordinances of the gospel are appointed and
given unto us for this end (Eph. 4:11-15). That which is the end of giving
gospel officers to the church is the end also of giving all the ordinances to be
administered by them; for they are given “for the work of the ministry”—
that is, for the administration of the ordinances of the gospel. Now, what is
or what are these ends? They are all for the preventing of decays and declensions
in the saints, all for the carrying them on to perfection (so it is said, v.
12). In general, it is for the “perfecting of the saints,” carrying on the work
of grace in them, and the work of holiness and obedience by them; or for the
edifying of the body of Christ, their building up in an increase of faith and
love, even of every true member of the mystical body. But how far are they
appointed thus to carry them on, thus to build them up? Has it bounds fixed
to its work? Does it carry them so far, and then leave them? “No,” says the
apostle (v. 13). The dispensation of the word of the gospel, and the ordinances
thereof, is designed for our help, assistance, and furtherance, until the whole
work of faith and obedience is consummate. It is appointed to perfect and
complete that faith, knowledge, and growth in grace and holiness, which is
allotted unto us in this world. But what and if oppositions and temptations
do lie in the way, Satan and his instruments working with great subtlety and
deceit? Why, these ordinances are designed for our safeguarding and deliverance
from all their attempts and assaults (v. 14), that so being preserved in
the use of them, or “speaking the truth in love, we may grow up unto him in
all things who is the head, even Christ Jesus” [v. 15]. This is, in general, the
use of all gospel ordinances, the chief and main end for which they were given
and appointed of God—namely, to preserve believers from all decays of faith
and obedience, and to carry them on still toward perfection. These are means
THE EFFECT AND STRENGTH OF INDWELLING SIN 369
which God, the good husbandman,6 makes use of to cause the vine to thrive
and bring forth fruit. And I could also manifest the same to be the special end
of them distinctly. Briefly, the word is milk and strong meat, for the nourishing
and strengthening of all sorts and all degrees of believers. It has both seed
and water in it, and manuring7 with it, to make them fruitful. The ordinance
of the supper is appointed on purpose for the strengthening of our faith, in
the remembrance of the death of the Lord, and the exercise of love one
toward another. The communion of saints is for the edifying each other in
faith, love, and obedience.
There is that which adds weight to this consideration. God suffers us not
to be unmindful of this assistance he has afforded us, but is continually calling
upon us to make use of the means appointed for the attaining of the end
proposed. He shows them unto us, as the angel showed the water-spring to
Hagar [Gen. 16:7]. Commands, exhortations, promises, threatenings, are
multiplied to this purpose (see them summed up in Heb. 2:1). He is continually
saying to us, “Why will you die? Why will you wither and decay? Come
to the pastures provided for you, and your souls shall live.” If we see a lamb
run from the fold into the wilderness, we wonder not if it be torn and rent8
of wild beasts. If we see a sheep leaving its green pastures and watercourses
to abide in dry barren heaths, we count it no marvel, nor inquire further, if
we see him lean and ready to perish; but if we find lambs wounded in the fold,
we wonder at the boldness and rage of the beasts of prey that durst set upon
them there. If we see sheep pining in full pastures, we judge them to be diseased
and unsound. It is indeed no marvel that poor creatures who forsake
their own mercies, and run away from the pasture and fold of Christ in his
ordinances, are rent and torn with diverse lusts, and do pine away with
hunger and famine; but to see men living under and enjoying all the means
of spiritual thriving, yet to decay, not to be fat and flourishing, but rather daily
to pine and wither, this argues some secret powerful distemper, whose poisonous
and noxious9 qualities hinder the virtue and efficacy of the means they
enjoy. This is indwelling sin. So wonderfully powerful, so effectually poisonous
it is, that it can bring leanness on the souls of men in the midst of all
precious means of growth and flourishing. It may well make us tremble, to
see men living under and in the use of the means of the gospel, preaching,
praying, administration of sacraments, and yet grow colder every day than
370 INDWELLING SIN
6 farmer
7 fertilizer
8 ripped, torn
9 injurious, harmful, unwholesome
others in zeal for God, more selfish and worldly, even habitually to decline as
to the degrees of holiness which they had attained unto.
Together with the dispensation of the outward means of spiritual growth
or improvement, there are also supplies of grace continually afforded the
saints from their head, Christ. He is the head of all the saints; and he is a living
head, and so a living head as that he tells us that “because he lives we shall
live also” (John 14:19). He communicates spiritual life to all that are his. In
him is the fountain of our life; which is therefore said to be “hid with him in
God” (Col. 3:3). And this life he gives unto his saints by quickening of them
by his Spirit (Rom. 8:11); and he continues it unto them by the supplies of
living grace which he communicates unto them. From these two, his quickening
of us, and continually giving out supplies of life unto us, he is said to
live in us: “I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20)—“The spiritual
life which I have is not mine own; not from myself was it educed,10 not
by myself is it maintained, but it is merely and solely the work of Christ: so
that it is not I that live, but he lives in me, the whole of my life being from
him alone.” Neither does this living head communicate only a bare life unto
believers, that they should merely live and no more, a poor, weak, dying life,
as it were; but he gives out sufficiently to afford them a strong, vigorous,
thriving, flourishing life (John 10:10). He comes not only that his sheep “may
have life,” but that “they may have it more abundantly,” that is, in a plentiful
manner, so as that they may flourish, be fat and fruitful. Thus is it with
the whole body of Christ, and every member thereof, whereby it “grows up
into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole
body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies,
according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes
increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). The
end of all communications of grace and supplies of life from this living and
blessed head is the increase of the whole body and every member of it, and
the edifying of itself in love. His treasures of grace are unsearchable; his stores
inexhaustible; his life, the fountain of ours, full and eternal; his heart bounteous
and large; his hand open and liberal: so that there is no doubt but that
he communicates supplies of grace for their increase in holiness abundantly
unto all his saints. Whence, then, is it that they do not all flourish and thrive
accordingly? As you may see it oftentimes in a natural body, so is it here.
Though the seat and rise of the blood and spirits in head and heart be excellently
good and sound, yet there may be a withering member in the body; this
THE EFFECT AND STRENGTH OF INDWELLING SIN 371
10 derived, drawn out
somewhat intercepts the influences of life unto it, so that though the heart and
head do perform their office, in giving of supplies no less to that than they do
to any other member, yet all the effect produced is merely to keep it from utter
perishing—it grows weak and decays every day. The withering and decaying
of any member in Christ’s mystical body is not for the want of his communication
of grace for an abundant life, but from the powerful interception that
is made of the efficacy of it, by the interposition and opposition of indwelling
sin. Hence it is that where lust grows strong, a great deal of grace will but
keep the soul alive, and not give it any eminency in fruitfulness at all.
Oftentimes Christ gives very much grace where not many of its effects do
appear. It spends its strength and power in withstanding the continual assaults
of violent corruptions and lusts, so that it cannot put forth its proper virtue
toward further fruitfulness. As a virtuous medicine—that is fit both to check
vicious and noxious humors,11 and to comfort, refresh, and strengthen nature,
if the evil humor be strong and greatly prevailing—spends its whole strength
and virtue in the subduing and correcting of it, contributing much less to the
relief of nature than otherwise it would do, if it met not with such opposition;
so is it with the eye-salve and the healing grace which we have abundantly
from the wings of the Sun of Righteousness. It is forced oftentimes to
put forth its virtue to oppose and contend against, and in any measure subdue,
prevailing lusts and corruptions. That the soul receives not that strengthening
unto duties and fruitfulness which otherwise it might receive by it is
from hence. How sound, healthy, and flourishing, how fruitful and exemplary
in holiness, might many a soul be by and with that grace which is continually
communicated to it from Christ, which now, by reason of the power of
indwelling sin, is not only dead, but weak, withering, and useless! And this,
if anything, is a notable evidence of the efficacy of indwelling sin, that it is
able to give such a stop and check to the mighty and effectual power of grace,
so that notwithstanding the blessed and continual supplies that we receive
from our Head, yet many believers do decline and decay, and that habitually,
as to what they had attained unto, their last ways not answering their first.
This makes the vineyard in the “very fruitful hill” to bring forth so many wild
grapes; this makes so many trees barren in fertile fields [Isa. 5:1].
Besides the continual supplies of grace that constantly, according to the
tenure of the covenant, are communicated unto believers, which keeps them
that they thirst no more as to a total indigence, there is, moreover, a readiness
in the Lord Christ to yield peculiar succor to the souls of his, according
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11 bodily fluids, thought to be the physical root of the passions
as their occasions shall require. The apostle tells us that he is “a merciful High
Priest” and “able” (that is, ready, prepared, and willing) “to succor them that
are tempted” (Heb. 2:18); and we are on that account invited to “come with
boldness to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to
help in time of need” [Heb. 4:16]—that is, grace sufficient, seasonable, suitable
unto any special trial or temptation that we may be exercised with. Our
merciful High Priest is ready to give out this special seasonable grace over and
above those constant communications of supplies of the Spirit which we mentioned
before. Besides the never-failing springs of ordinary covenant grace,
he has also peculiar refreshing showers for times of drought; and this is
exceedingly to the advantage of the saints for their preservation and growth
in grace; and there may very many more of the like nature be added. But now,
I say, notwithstanding all these, and the residue of the like importance, such
is the power and efficacy of indwelling sin, so great its deceitfulness and restlessness,
so many its wiles and temptations, it often falls out that many of
them for whose growth and improvement all this provision is made do yet,
as was showed, go back and decline, even as to their course of walking with
God. Samson’s strength fully evidenced itself when he broke seven new withes
and seven new cords, wherewith he was bound, as burning tow12 and as
thread [Judg. 16:8-9, 12]. The noxious humor in the body, which is so stubborn
as that [which] no use of the most sovereign remedies can prevail against
it, ought to be regarded. Such is this indwelling sin if not watched over. It
breaks all the cords made to bind it; it blunts the instruments appointed to
root it up; it resists all healing medicines, though never so sovereign, and is
therefore assuredly of exceeding efficacy. Besides, believers have innumerable
obligations upon them, from the love, the command of God, to grow in grace,
to press forward toward perfection, as they have abundant means provided
for them so to do. Their doing so is a matter of the greatest advantage, profit,
sweetness, contentment unto them in the world. It is the burden, the trouble
of their souls, that they do not so do, that they are not more holy, more zealous,
useful, fruitful; they desire it above life itself. They know it is their duty
to watch against this enemy, to fight against it, to pray against it; and so they
do. They more desire his destruction than the enjoyment of all this world and
all that it can afford. And yet, notwithstanding all this, such is the subtlety,
and fraud, and violence, and fury, and urgency, and importunity of this adversary,
that it frequently prevails to bring them into the woeful condition mentioned.
Hence it is with believers sometimes as it is with men in some places
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12 coarse flax
at sea. They have a good and fair gale of wind, it may be, all night long; they
ply their tackling,13 attend diligently their business, and, it may be, take great
contentment to consider how they proceed in their voyage. In the morning,
or after a season, coming to measure what way they have made and what
progress they have had, they find that they are much backward of what they
were, instead of getting one step forward. Falling into a swift tide or current
against them, it has frustrated all their labors, and rendered the wind in their
sails almost useless; somewhat thereby they have borne up against the stream,
but have made no progress. So is it with believers. They have a good gale of
supplies of the Spirit from above; they attend duties diligently, pray constantly,
hear attentively, and omit nothing that may carry them on their voyage
toward eternity; but after a while, coming seriously to consider, by the
examination of their hearts and ways, what progress they have made, they
find that all their assistance and duties have not been able to bear them up
against some strong tide or current of indwelling sin. It has kept them, indeed,
[so] that they have not been driven and split on rocks and shelves—it has preserved
them from gross, scandalous sins: but yet they have lost in their spiritual
frame, or gone backwards, and are entangled under many woeful
decays; which is a notable evidence of the life of sin, about which we are treating.
Now, because the end of our discovering this power of sin is that we may
be careful to obviate and prevent it in its operation; and, because of all the
effects that it produces, there is none more dangerous or pernicious than that
we have last insisted on—namely, that it prevails upon many professors unto
a habitual declension from their former ways and attainments, notwithstanding
all the sweetness and excellency which their souls have found in
them—I shall, as was said, in the next place, consider by what ways and
means, and through what assistance, it usually prevails in this kind, that we
may the better be instructed to watch against it.

374 INDWELLING SIN
13 a ship’s rigging; tackle


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