Sin Chapter 15

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

The ways and means whereby indwelling sin prevails on believers unto habitual
declensions and decays as to degrees of grace and holiness is that now
which comes under consideration; and they are many—
Upon the first conversion and calling of sinners unto God and Christ,
they have usually many fresh springs breaking forth in their souls and refresh-
13 a ship’s rigging; tackle
ing showers coming upon them, which bear them up to a high rate of faith,
love, holiness, fruitfulness, and obedience; as upon a land-flood, when many
lesser streams run into a river, it swells over its bounds, and rolls on with a
more than ordinary fullness. Now, if these springs be not kept open, if they
prevail not for the continuance of these showers, they must needs decay and
go backwards. We shall name one or two of them:
They have a fresh, vigorous sense of pardoning mercy. According as this
is in the soul, so will its love and delight in God, so will its obedience be; as,
I say, is the sense of gospel pardon, so will be the life of gospel love. “I say
unto you,” says our Savior of the poor woman, “her sins, which were many,
are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loves
little” (Luke 7:47). Her great love was an evidence of great forgiveness, and
her great sense of it: for our Savior is not rendering a reason of her forgiveness,
as though it were for her love; but of her love, that it was because of her
forgiveness. Having in the foregoing parable (from v. 40 and onwards) convinced
the Pharisee with whom he had to do that he to whom most was forgiven
would love most (as v. 43), he thence gives an account of the great love
of the woman, springing from the sense she had of the great forgiveness which
she had so freely received. Thus sinners at their first conversion are very sensible
of great forgiveness; “Of whom I am chief” [1 Tim. 1:15] lies next [to]
their heart. This greatly subdues their hearts and spirits unto all in God, and
quickens them unto all obedience, even that such poor cursed sinners as they
were should so freely be delivered and pardoned. The love of God and of
Christ in their forgiveness highly conquers and constrains them to make it
their business to live unto God.
The fresh taste they have had of spiritual things keeps up such a savor
and relish of them in their souls, as that worldly contentments, whereby men
are drawn off from close walking with God, are rendered sapless and undesirable
unto them. Having tasted of the wine of the gospel, they desire no
other, for they say, “This is best.” So was it with the apostles, upon that
option offered them as to a departure from Christ, upon the apostasy of many
false professors: “Will you also go away?” (John 6:67). They answer by Peter,
“Lord, to whom shall we go? you have the words of eternal life” (v. 68). They
had such a fresh savor and relish of the doctrine of the gospel and the grace
of Christ upon their souls, that they can entertain no thoughts of declining
from it. As a man that has been long kept in a dungeon, if brought forth on
a sudden into the light of the sun, finds so much pleasure and contentment
in it, in the beauties of the old creation, that he thinks he can never be weary
of it, nor shall [he] ever be contented on any account to be under darkness
again; so is it with souls when first translated into the marvelous light of
Christ, to behold the beauties of the new creation. They see a new glory in
him that has quite sullied the desirableness of all earthly diversions. And they
see a new guilt and filth in sin, that gives them an utter abhorrency of its old
delights and pleasures; and so of other things. Now, while these and the like
springs are kept open in the souls of converted sinners, they constrain them
to a vigorous, active holiness. They can never do enough for God; so that
oftentimes their zeal as saints suffers them not to escape without some blots
on their prudence as men, as might be instanced in many of the martyrs of
old. This, then, is the first, at least one way whereby indwelling sin prepares
men for decays and declensions in grace and obedience—it endeavors to stop
or taint these springs. And there are several ways whereby it brings this to
It works by sloth and negligence. It prevails in the soul to a neglect of
stirring up continual thoughts of or about the things that so powerfully influence
it unto strict and fruitful obedience. If care be not taken, if diligence and
watchfulness be not used, and all means that are appointed of God to keep
a quick and living sense of them upon the soul, they will dry up and decay;
and, consequently, that obedience that should spring from them will do so
also. Isaac dug wells, but the Philistines stopped them, and his flocks had no
benefit by them [Gen. 26:18]. Let the heart never so little disuse itself to gracious,
soul-affecting thoughts of the love of God, the cross of Christ, the
greatness and excellency of gospel mercy, the beauties of holiness—they will
quickly be as much estranged to a man as he can be to them. He that shuts
his eyes for a season in the sun, when he opens them again can see nothing
at all. And so much as a man loses of faith toward these things, so much will
they lose of power toward him. They can do little or nothing upon him
because of his unbelief, which formerly were so exceedingly effectual toward
him. So was it with the spouse in the Song of Solomon (5:2); Christ calls unto
her (v. 1) with a marvelous loving and gracious invitation unto communion
with himself. She who had formerly been ravished at the first hearing of that
joyful sound, being now under the power of sloth and carnal ease, returns a
sorry excusing answer to his call, which ended in her own signal loss and sorrow.
Indwelling sin, I say, prevailing by spiritual sloth upon the souls of men
unto an inadvertency of the motions of God’s Spirit in their former apprehensions
of divine love, and a negligence of stirring up continual thoughts of
faith about it, a decay grows insensibly upon the whole soul. Thus God often
complains that his people had “forgotten him,” that is, grew unmindful of
his love and grace—which was the beginning of their apostasy.
By unframing the soul, so that it shall have formal, weary, powerless
thoughts of those things which should prevail with it unto diligence in thankful
obedience. The apostle cautions us that in dealing with God we should
use reverence and godly fear, because of his purity, holiness, and majesty
(Heb. 12:28-29). And this is that which the Lord himself spoke in the
destruction of Nadab and Abihu, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh
me” (Lev. 10:3). He will be dealt with in an awful, holy, reverent manner. So
are we to deal with all the things of God wherein or whereby we have communion
with him. The soul is to have a great reverence of God in them. When
men begin to take them into slight or common thoughts, not using and
improving them unto the utmost for the ends whereunto they are appointed,
they lose all their beauty, and glory, and power toward them. When we have
anything to do wherein faith or love toward God is to be exercised, we must
do it with all our hearts, with all our minds, strength, and souls; not slightly
and perfunctorily,14 which God abhors. He does not only require that we bear
his love and grace in remembrance, but that, as much as in us lies, we do it
according to the worth and excellency of them. It was the sin of Hezekiah
that he “rendered not again according to the benefits done to him” (2 Chron.
32:25). So, while we consider gospel truths, the uttermost endeavor of the
soul ought to be that we may be “changed into the same image” or likeness
(2 Cor. 3:18); that is, that they may have their full power and effect upon us.
Otherwise, James tells us what our “beholding the glory of the Lord in a
glass,” there mentioned by the apostle—that is, reading or hearing the mind
of God in Christ revealed in the gospel—comes unto:15 “It is but like unto a
man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholds himself, and goes
away, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was” (James 1:23-24).
It makes no impression upon him, begets no idea or image of his likeness in
his imagination, because he does it only slightly, and with a transient look.
So is it with men that will indeed think of gospel truths but in a slight manner,
without endeavoring, with all their hearts, minds, and strength, to have
them engrafted upon their souls, and all the effects of them produced in them.
Now, this is the way of sinners in their first engagements unto God. They
never think of pardoning mercy, but they labor to affect their whole souls
with it, and do stir up themselves unto suitable affections and returns of constant
obedience. They think not of the excellency of Christ and spiritual
things, now newly discovered unto them in a saving light, but they press with
14 routinely, indifferently
15 results in
all their might after a further, a fuller enjoyment of them. This keeps them
humble and holy, this makes them thankful and fruitful. But now, if the
utmost diligence and carefulness be not used to improve and grow in this wisdom,
to keep up this frame, indwelling sin, working by the vanity of the
minds of men, will insensibly bring them to content themselves with slight
and rare thoughts of these things, without a diligent, sedulous16 endeavor to
give them their due improvement upon the soul. As men decay herein, so will
they assuredly decay and decline in the power of holiness and close walking
with God. The springs being stopped or tainted, the streams will not run so
swiftly, at least not so sweetly, as formerly. Some, by this means, under an
uninterrupted profession, insensibly wither almost into nothing. They talk of
religion and spiritual things as much as ever they did in their lives, and perform
duties with as much constancy as ever they did; but yet they have poor,
lean, starving souls, as to any real and effectual communion with God. By
the power and subtlety of indwelling sin they have grown formal, and
learned to deal about spiritual things in an overly manner; whereby they have
lost all their life, vigor, savor, and efficacy toward them. Be always serious in
spiritual things if ever you intend to be bettered by them.
Indwelling sin oftentimes prevails to the stopping of these springs of
gospel obedience, by false and foolish opinions corrupting the simplicity of
the gospel. False opinions are the work of the flesh. From the vanity and darkness
of the minds of men, with a mixture more or less of corrupt affections,
do they mostly proceed. The apostle was jealous over his Corinthians in this
matter. He was afraid lest their minds “should by any means be corrupted
from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2-3); which he knew would
be attended by a decay and declension in faith, love, and obedience. And thus
matters in this case often fall out. We have seen some who, after they have
received a sweet taste of the love of God in Christ, of the excellency of pardoning
mercy, and have walked humbly with God for many years in the faith
and apprehension of the truth, have, by the corruption of their minds from
the simplicity that is in Christ, by false and foolish opinions, despised all their
own experiences, and rejected all the efficacy of truth, as to the furtherance
of their obedience. Hence John cautions the elect lady and her children to take
heed they were not seduced, lest they should “lose the things that they had
wrought” (2 John 8)—lest they should themselves cast away all their former
obedience as lost, and a thing of no value. We have innumerable instances
hereof in the days wherein we live. How many are there who, not many years
16 constant, persistent
since, put an unspeakable value on the pardon of sin in the blood of Christ—
who delighted in gospel discoveries of spiritual things, and walked in obedience
to God on the account of them—who, being beguiled and turned aside
from the truth as it is in Jesus, do despise these springs of their own former
obedience! And as this is done grossly and openly in some, so there are more
secret and more plausible insinuations of corrupt opinions tainting the springs
and fountains of gospel obedience, and, through the vanity of men’s minds,
which is a principal part of indwelling sin, getting ground upon them. Such
are all those that tend to the extenuation of special grace in its freedom and
efficacy, and the advancement of the wills or the endeavors of men in their
spiritual power and ability. They are works of the flesh; and howsoever some
may pretend a usefulness in them to the promotion of holiness, they will be
found to taint the springs of true evangelical obedience, insensibly to turn the
heart from God, and to bring the whole soul into a spiritual decay. And this
is one way whereby indwelling sin produces this pernicious effect of drawing
men off from the power, purity, and fruitfulness attending their first conversion
and engagements unto God, bringing them into habitual declension, at
least as unto degrees, of their holiness and grace. There is not anything we
ought to be more watchful against, if we intend effectually to deal with this
powerful and subtle enemy. It is no small part of the wisdom of faith, to
observe whether gospel truths continue to have the same savor unto and efficacy
upon the soul as formerly they have had; and whether an endeavor be
maintained to improve them continually as at the first. A commandment that
is always practiced is always new, as John speaks of that of love. And he that
really improves gospel truths, though he hears them a thousand times, they
will be always new and fresh unto him, because they put him on newness of
practice; when to another, that grows common under them, they are burdensome
and common unto him, and he even loathes the manna that he is so
accustomed unto.
Indwelling sin does this by taking men off from their watch against the
returns of Satan. When our Lord Christ comes first to take possession of any
soul for himself, he binds that strong man and spoils his goods; he deprives
him of all his power, dominion, and interest. Satan being thus dispossessed
and frustrated in his hopes and expectations, leaves the soul, as finding it
newly mortified to his baits. So he left our Savior upon his first fruitless
attempts. But it is said he left him only “for a season” (Luke 4:13). He
intended to return again, as he should see his advantage. So is it with believers
also. Being cast out from his interest in them, he leaves them for a season,
at least comparatively he does so. Freed from his assaults and perplexing
temptations, they proceed vigorously in the course of their obedience, and so
flourish in the ways of God. But this holds not; Satan returns again, and if
the soul stands not continually upon his guard against him, he will quickly
get such advantages as shall put a notable interruption upon his fruitfulness
and obedience. Hence some, after they have spent some time, it may be some
years, in cheerful, exemplary walking with God, have, upon Satan’s return,
consumed all their latter days in wrestling with perplexing temptations
wherewith he has entangled them. Others have plainly fallen under the power
of his assaults. It is like a man who, having for a while lived usefully among
his neighbors, done good and communicated according to his ability, distributing
to the poor, and helping all around about him, at length, falling into
the hands of vexatious, wrangling, oppressive men is forced to spend his
whole time and revenue in defending himself against them at law, and so
becomes useless in the place where he lives. So is it with many a believer: after
he has walked in a fruitful course of obedience, to the glory of God and edification
of the church of Christ, being afresh set upon, by the return of Satan
in one way or other, he has enough to do all the remainder of his life to keep
himself alive; in the meantime, as to many graces, woefully decaying and
going backward. Now, this also, though Satan has a hand in it, is from
indwelling sin; I mean, the success is so which Satan does obtain in his undertaking.
This encourages him, makes way for his return, and gives entrance to
his temptations. You know how it is with them out of whom he is cast only
by gospel conviction; after he has wandered and waited a while, he says he
will return to his house from whence he was ejected. And what is the issue?
Carnal lusts have prevailed over the man’s convictions, and made his soul fit
to entertain returning devils. It is so as to the measure of prevalency that Satan
obtains against believers, upon advantages administered unto him, by sin’s
disposing the soul unto an obnoxiousness to his temptations. Now, the way
and means whereby indwelling sin does give advantage to Satan for his return
are all those which dispose them toward a declension, which shall afterward
be mentioned. Satan is a diligent, watchful, and crafty adversary; he will
neglect no opportunity, no advantage that is offered unto him. Wherein, then,
soever our spiritual strength is impaired by sin, or which way soever our lusts
press, Satan falls in with that weakness and presses toward that ruin; so that
all the actings of the law of sin are subservient to this end of Satan. I shall
therefore only at present mention one or two that seem principally to invite
Satan to attempt a return—
It entangles the soul in the things of the world, all which are so many purveyors
for Satan. When Pharaoh had let the people go, he heard after a while
that they were entangled in the wilderness, and supposes that he shall therefore
now overtake them and destroy them. This stirs him up to pursue after
them. Satan finding those whom he has been cast out from entangled in the
things of the world, by which he is sure to find an easy access unto them, is
encouraged to attempt upon them afresh, as the spider to come down upon
the strongest fly that is entangled in his web; for he comes by his temptations
only to impel them unto that whereunto by their own lusts they are inclined,
by adding poison to their lusts, and painting to the objects of them. And
oftentimes by this advantage he gets so in upon the souls of men, that they
are never well free of him more while they live. And as men’s diversions
increase from the world, so do their entanglements from Satan. When they
have more to do in the world than they can well manage, they shall have more
to do from Satan than they can well withstand. When men are made spiritually
faint, by dealing in and with the world, Satan sets on them, as Amalek
did on the faint and weak of the people that came out of Egypt [Ex. 17:8-16].
It produces this effect by making the soul negligent, and taking it off from
its watch.We have before showed at large that it is one main part of the effectual
deceitfulness of indwelling sin to make the soul inadvertent, to turn it off
from the diligent, watchful attendance unto its duty which is required. Now,
there is not anything in reference whereunto diligence and watchfulness are
more strictly enjoined than the returning assaults of Satan: “Be sober, be vigilant”
(1 Pet. 5:8). And why so? “Because of your adversary the devil.” Unless
you are exceeding watchful, at one time or other he will surprise you; and all
the injunctions of our blessed Savior to watch are still with reference unto him
and his temptations. Now, when the soul is made careless and inadvertent,
forgetting what an enemy it has to deal with, or is lifted up with the successes
it has newly obtained against him, then is Satan’s time to attempt a reentrance
of his old habitation; which if he cannot obtain, yet he makes their
lives uncomfortable to themselves and unfruitful to others, in weakening their
root and withering their fruit through his poisonous temptations. He comes
down upon our duties of obedience as the fowls upon Abraham’s sacrifice;
so that if we watch not, as he did, to drive them away (for by resistance he is
overcome and put to flight), he will devour them (Gen. 15:11).
Indwelling sin takes advantage to put forth its efficacy and deceit to withdraw
men from their primitive zeal and holiness, from their first faith, love,
and works, by the evil examples of professors among whom they live. When
men first engage into the ways of God, they have a reverent esteem of those
whom they believe to have been made partakers of that mercy before themselves;
these they love and honor, as it is their duty. But after a while they find
many of them walking in many things unevenly, crookedly, and not unlike
the men of the world. Here sin is not wanting to its advantage. Insensibly it
prevails with men to a compliance with them. “This way, this course of walking,
does well enough with others; why may it not do so with us also?” Such
is the inward thought of many that works effectually in them. And so,
through the craft of sin the generation of professors corrupt one another. As
a stream arising from a clear spring or a fountain, while it runs in its own
peculiar channel and keeps its water unmixed, preserves its purity and cleanness,
but when it falls in its course with other streams that are turbid and foul,
though running the same way with it, it becomes muddy and discolored also;
so is it in this case. Believers come forth from the spring of the new birth with
some purity and cleanness; this for a while they keep in the course of their
private walking with God: but now, when they come sometimes to fall into
society with others, whose profession flows and runs the same way with
theirs, even toward heaven, but yet are muddied and sullied with sin and the
world, they are often corrupted with them and by them, and so decline from
their first purity, faith, and holiness. Now, lest this may have been the case of
any who shall read this discourse, I shall add some few cautions that are necessary
to preserve men from this infection—
In the body of professors there is a great number of hypocrites. Though
we cannot say of this or that man that he is so, yet that some there are is most
certain. Our Savior has told us that it will be so to the end of the world. All
that have oil in their lamps have it not in their vessels [Matt. 25:3]. Let men
take heed how they give themselves up unto a conformity to the professors
they meet with, lest, instead of saints and the best of men, they sometimes
propose for their example hypocrites, which are the worst; and when they
think they are like unto them who bear the image of God, they conform themselves
unto those who bear the image of Satan.
You know not what may be the present temptation of those whose ways
you observe. It may be they are under some peculiar desertion from God, and
so are withering for a season, until he send them some refreshing showers
from above. It may be they are entangled with some special corruptions,
which is their burden, that you know not of; and for any voluntarily to fall
into such a frame as others are cast into by the power of their temptations,
or to think that will suffice in them which they see to suffice in others whose
distempers they know not, is folly and presumption. He that knows such or
such a person to be a living man and of a healthy constitution, if he sees him
go crawling up and down about his affairs, feeble and weak, sometimes
falling, sometimes standing, and making small progress in anything, will he
think it sufficient for himself to do so also? Will he not inquire whether the
person he sees has not lately fallen into some distemper or sickness that has
weakened him and brought him into that condition? Assuredly he will so do.
Take heed, Christians; many of the professors with whom you do converse
are sick and wounded—the wounds of some of them do stink and are corrupt
because of their folly. If you have any spiritual health, do not think their
weak and uneven walking will be accepted at your hands; much less think it
will be well for you to become sick and to be wounded also.
Remember that of many of the best Christians, the worst only is known
and seen. Many who keep up precious communion with God do yet oftentimes,
by their natural tempers of freedom or passion, not carry so glorious
appearances as others who perhaps come short of them in grace and the
power of godliness. In respect of their outward conversation it may seem they
are scarcely saved, when in respect of their faith and love they may be eminent.
They may, as the King’s daughter, be all glorious within, though their
clothes be not always of wrought gold. Take heed, then, that you be not
infected with their worst, when you are not able, it may be, to imitate them
in their best. But to return.
Sin does this work by cherishing some secret particular lust in the heart.
This, the soul contends against faintly. It contends against it upon the account
of sincerity; it cannot but do so: but it does not make thorough work, vigorously
to mortify it by the strength and power of grace. Now, where it is thus
with a soul, a habitual declension as to holiness will assuredly ensue. David
shows us how, in his first days, he kept his heart close unto God: “I was
upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity” (Ps. 18:23). His
great care was lest any one lust should prevail in him or upon him that might
be called his iniquity in a peculiar manner. The same course steered Paul also
(1 Cor. 9:27). He was in danger to be lifted up by his spiritual revelations and
enjoyments. This makes him “keep his body in subjection,” that no carnal
reasonings or vain imagination might take place in him. But where indwelling
sin has provoked, irritated, and given strength unto a special lust, it proves
assuredly a principal means of a general declension; for as an infirmity and
weakness in any one vital part will make the whole body consumptive,17 so
will the weakness in any one grace, which a perplexing lust brings with it,
make the soul. It every way weakens spiritual strength. It weakens confidence
in God in faith and prayer. The knees will be feeble, and the hands will hang
down in dealing with God, where a galling and unmortified lust lies in the
17 afflicted with consumption, a progressive wasting away of the body
heart. It will take such hold upon the soul that it shall not be “able to look
up” (Ps. 40:12). It darkens the mind by innumerable foolish imaginations,
which it stirs up to make provision for itself. It galls the conscience with those
spots and stains which in and by its actings it brings upon the soul. It contends
in the will for rule and dominion. An active, stirring corruption would
have the commanding power in the soul, and it is ever and anon18 ready to
take the throne. It disturbs the thoughts, and sometimes will even frighten the
soul from dealing with it by meditation, lest, corrupt affections being entangled
by it, grace loses ground instead of prevailing. It breaks out oftentimes
into scandalous sins, as it did in David and Hezekiah, and loads the sinner
with sorrow and discouragement. By these and the like means it becomes to
the soul like a moth in a garment, to eat up and devour the strongest threads
of it, so that though the whole hang loose together, it is easily torn to pieces.
Though the soul with whom it is thus do for a season keep up a fair profession,
yet his strength is secretly devoured, and every temptation tears and
rends his conscience at pleasure. It becomes with such men as it is with some
who have for many years been of a sound, strong, athletic constitution. Some
secret, hectical distemper seizes on them. For a season they take no notice of
it, or, if they do, they think they shall do well enough with it, and easily shake
it off when they have a little leisure to attend to it; but for the present, they
think, as Samson with his locks cut, they will do as at other times. Sometimes,
it may be, they complain that they are not well, they know not what ails them,
and it may be rise violently in an opposition to their distemper; but after a
while struggling in vain, the vigor of their spirits and strength failing them,
they are forced to yield to the power of a consumption. And now all they can
do is little enough to keep them alive. It is so with men brought into spiritual
decay by any secret perplexing corruption. It may be they have had a vigorous
principle of obedience and holiness. Indwelling sin watching its opportunities,
by some temptation or other has kindled and inflamed some
particular lust in them—for a while, it may be, they take little notice of it.
Sometimes they complain, but think they will do as in former times, until,
being insensibly weakened in their spiritual strength, they have work enough
to do in keeping alive what remains and is ready to die (Hos. 5:13). I shall
not add anything here as to the prevention and obviating this advantage of
indwelling sin, having elsewhere treated of it peculiarly and apart.
It works by negligence of private communion with God in prayer and
meditation. I have showed before how indwelling sin puts forth its deceit-
18 again, i.e., reoccurring
fulness in diverting the soul from watchfulness in and unto these duties.
Here, if it prevails, it will not fail to produce a habitual declension in the
whole course of obedience. All neglect of private duties is principled by a
weariness of God, as he complains, “You have not called upon me, you have
been weary of me” (Isa. 43:22). Neglect of invocation proceeds from weariness;
and where there is weariness, there will be withdrawing from that
whereof we are weary. Now, God alone being the fountain and spring of
spiritual life, if there be a weariness of him and withdrawing from him, it is
impossible but that there will a decay in the life ensue. Indeed, what men are
in these duties (I mean as to faith and love in them), that they are, and no
more. Here lies the root of their obedience; and if this fails, all fruit will
quickly fail. You may sometimes see a tree flourishing with leaves and fruit,
goodly and pleasant. After a while the leaves begin to decay, the fruit to
wither, the whole to droop. Search, and you shall find [that] the root,
whereby it should draw in moisture and fatness19 from the earth to supply
the body and branches with sap and juice for growth and fruit, has received
a wound, is [in] some way perished and does not perform its duty, so that
though the branches are flourishing a while with what they had received,
their sustenance being intercepted they must decay. So it is here. These duties
of private communion with God are the means of receiving supplies of spiritual
strength from him—of sap and fatness from Christ, the vine and olive.
While they do so, the conversation and course of obedience flourishes and
is fruitful—all outward duties are cheerfully and regularly performed; but if
there be a wound, a defect, a failing, in that which should first take in the
spiritual radical moisture, that should be communicated unto the whole, the
rest may for a season maintain their station and appearance, but after a
while profession will wither, fruits will decay, and the whole be ready to die.
Hence our Savior lets us know: what a man is in secret, in these private
duties, that he is in the eyes of God, and no more (Matt. 6:6); and one reason
among others is, because they have a more vigorous acting of unmixed
grace than any other duties whatsoever. In all or most particular duties,
besides the influence that they may have from carnal respects, which are
many, and the ways of their insinuation subtle and imperceptible, there is an
alloy20 of gifts, which sometimes even devours the pure gold of grace, which
should be the chief and principal in them. In these there is immediate intercourse
between God and that which is of himself in the soul. If once sin, by
19 richness, fertility
20 mixture
its deceits and treacheries, prevails to take off the soul from diligent attendance
unto communion with God and constancy in these duties, it will not
fail to effect a declining in the whole of a man’s obedience. It has made its
entrance, and will assuredly make good its progress.
Growing in notions of truth without answerable practice is another
thing that indwelling sin makes use of to bring the souls of believers unto a
decay. The apostle tell us that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1). If it be
alone, not improved in practice, it swells men beyond a due proportion; like
a man that has a dropsy,21 we are not to expect that he has strength to his
bigness, like trees that are continually running up a head, which keeps them
from bearing fruit. When once men have attained to this—that they can
entertain and receive evangelical truths in a new and more glorious light or
more clear discovery than formerly, or new manifestations of truth which
they knew not before, and please themselves in so doing, without diligent
endeavors to have the power of those truths and notions upon their hearts,
and their souls made conformable unto them—they generally learn so to dispose
of all truths formerly known, which were sometimes inlaid in their
hearts with more efficacy and power. This has proved, if not the ruin, yet
the great impairing of many in these days of light wherein we live. By this
means, from humble, close walking, many have withered into an empty, barren,
talking profession. All things almost have in a short season become alike
unto them—have they been true or false, so they might be debating of them
and disputing about them, all is well. This is food for sin; it hatches,
increases it, and is increased by it. A notable way it is for the vanity that is
in the mind to exert itself without a rebuke from conscience. While men are
talking, and writing, and studying about religion, and hearing preaching, it
may be with great delight (as those in Ezek. 33:32), [but their] conscience,
unless thoroughly awake and circumspect and furnished with spiritual wisdom
and care, will be very well pacified, and enter no rebukes or pleas
against the way that the soul is in. But yet all this may be nothing but the
acting of that natural vanity which lies in the mind, and is a principal part
of the sin we treat of. And generally this is so when men content themselves,
as was said, with the notions of truth, without laboring after an experience
of the power of them in their hearts, and the bringing forth the fruit of them
in their lives, on which a decay must needs ensue.
Growth in carnal wisdom is another help to sin in producing this sad
effect. “Your wisdom and your knowledge,” says the prophet, “it has per-
21 excessive accumulation of fluid in bodily tissue; edema
verted you” (Isa. 47:10). So much as carnal wisdom increases, so much
faith decays. The proper work of it is to teach a man to trust to and in himself;
of faith, to trust wholly in another. So it labors to destroy the whole
work of faith, by causing the soul to return into a deceiving fullness of its
own. We have woeful examples of the prevalency of this principle of
declension in the days wherein we live. How many a poor, humble, brokenhearted
creature, who followed after God in simplicity and integrity of
spirit, have we seen, through the observation of the ways and walkings of
others, and closing with the temptations to craft and subtlety which
opportunities in the world have administered unto them, come to be
dipped in a worldly, carnal frame, and utterly to wither in their profession!
Many are so sullied22 hereby that they are not known to be the men they
Some great sin lying long in the heart and conscience unrepented of, or
not repented of as it ought, and as the matter requires, furthers indwelling
sin in this work. The great turn of the life of David, whence his first ways
carried the reputation, was in the harboring his great sin in his conscience
without suitable repentance. It was otherwise, we know, with Peter, and he
had another issue. A great sin will certainly give a great turn to the life of
a professor. If it be well cured in the blood of Christ, with that humiliation
which the gospel requires, it often proves a means of more watchfulness,
fruitfulness, humility, and contentation,23 than ever before the soul
obtained. If it be neglected, it certainly hardens the heart, weakens spiritual
strength, enfeebles the soul, discouraging it unto all communion with God,
and is a notable principle of a general decay. So David complains, “My
wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:5). His
present distemper was not so much from his sin as his folly—not so much
from the wounds he had received as from his neglect to make a timely application
for their cure. It is like a broken bone, which, being well set, leaves
the place stronger than before; if otherwise, makes the man a cripple all his
days. These things we do but briefly name, and sundry other advantages of
the like nature that sin makes use of to produce this effect might also be
instanced in; but these may suffice unto our present purpose. Whatever it
uses, itself is still the principle; and this is no small demonstration of its efficacy
and power.
22 tainted, marred, defiled
23 satisfaction, reassurance

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