Affliction and Sin

The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
~ Psalm 145:9, Matthew 5:45

For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.
~ Psalm 66:10, Zechariah 13:9

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
~ Romans 6:6-14

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
~ Romans 6:16-17

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
~ Romans 1:18, Romans 1:32, Romans 6:23

He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity. His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.
~ Psalm 10:6-7

The Touchstone of Sincerity, Or, The Signs of Grace, and Symptoms of Hypocrisy, by John Flavel. An excerpt.

Opened in a practical Treatise upon Revelation iii. 17, 18.


Showing what trial is made of men’s hearts by adversity.


That adversity is adapted to try men’s hearts none can doubt who have either studied the Scriptures or observed human experience. When the dross of corruption and the rust of hypocrisy had nearly eaten out the heart of religion among the Jews, God said, “I will melt them and try them;” accordingly they were cast into the furnace of affliction and tried.

Prosperity multiplies professors, but adversity brings them to such a test that the precious are separated from the vile. Job was tried by adversity, and although some dross was discovered, he came forth as gold. By adversity is brought out to view not only the hypocrisy and corruption of the wicked, but also the sincerity and holiness of the righteous: it manifests the faith and patience of the saints.

In discussing this topic it will be necessary to inquire what effects are common both to the sound and unsound, and what are peculiar to each, from the trial of adversity.


The following particulars relating to adversity may apply both to saints and sinners.

1. Both may entertain fears of adversity when they perceive its approach. While impending judgments cause sinners in Zion to tremble, and fill hypocrites with fearfulness; saints also, though for different reasons, may be agitated with concern and apprehension.

2. When the cup of affliction comes, the holy as well as the sinful may receive it with reluctance. The wicked will, indeed, ever loath and resent it; and though accompanied by a thousand mitigations to the righteous, they also may shrink from it.

3. Troubles, disappointments, and pain may sometimes produce impatience in saints as well as in sinners. Flesh and blood can hardly endure anguish and privation with composure. But if in such circumstances grace is not always so powerful in God’s people as to overcome the propensity to disquiet, it will restrain them from such indulgence as the wicked allow.

4. The ungodly as well as the godly may be driven to their closets and their knees by their adversity; the former perhaps for the first time, the latter with increased punctuality and engagedness.

I need not detail the different motives of saints and sinners when in similar conditions their external appearance and conduct is in some respects alike: I therefore pass on to those things which are peculiar to each…


Here, in the first place, let us consider the discoveries made by adversity of the hearts of unsanctified men.

1. An unsanctified man is not easily made to recognise and acknowledge the hand of God in the calamities and troubles which have befallen him. He is prone to refer them to some natural cause, or to suppress the idea of any producer of them, or to charge them to the malice or negligence of men. Thus the creature bounds his horizon; and he contrives to secure his conscience from alarm,

2. Unsanctified men are not apt in seasons of adversity to retire into their closets, to search their hearts, to ascertain what they have done, to repent of their wickedness, and submit themselves to God. Afflictions rarely lead them to self-examination; they do not choose to think that they have done any thing to occasion their troubles.

3. A man destitute of real religion, if left to his our choice, would prefer sin to affliction, and really consider it less evil; he can contemplate the defilement of his soul with composure, rather than suffer the loss of his goods, his pleasures, or his present ease: and thus the unsoundness of his heart is discovered. The saints, on the contrary, will never, knowingly, consent to the commission of sin, if it might prevent ever so much personal suffering or loss.

4. Unregenerate men in adversity will turn from creature to creature in pursuit of comfort and relief, instead of leaving all creatures and repairing to God for support; and when all their creature-comforts fail they sink in despondency.

5. An unsanctified man never comes out of the furnace of affliction purified, humbled, and made better than when he was cast into it; the fire does not consume his dross, but the more he is afflicted the worse he becomes. The reason is plain; afflictions themselves cannot purify men’s souls, and those which come upon the wicked are not sanctified to them. Think of this, ye that have had numberless afflictions of one kind or other, but have derived no benefit from any of them!


The reader may now be desirous to know what effects adversity has upon sincere humble Christians: but before I proceed, let it be observed that they realise these effects, not so much while the trial continues, as after it is past, when they have opportunity for calm reflection. The fruits of sanctified affliction are lasting, and they affect the Christian’s whole temper and deportment: still some particular effects may be mentioned, which are produced in all upright hearts.

1. Every real Christian, in time of affliction and adversity, will make God his refuge and look to him for comfort and relief ” I found,” saith David, ” sorrow and trouble, then called I upon the name of the Lord.”

2. The people of God particularly recognise his providence in all their adversities and troubles, whatever instruments may intervene. And this apprehension of the divine agency is fundamental to that communion with God which saints in affliction maintain, and to the holy submission and heavenly composure which they feel.

3. Christians are heartily disposed to justify God in the severest afflictions which come upon them, as well as in all his other dealings: the scripture proofs of this are so numerous that it would be superfluous to quote them. They may receive treatment from men which they are conscious they do not deserve; but if God should add condemnation to affliction, they would vindicate not only his character and government, but his dispensations to them.

4. Good men in adversity examine themselves, and endeavour to ascertain why they are afflicted; to find what they have done or neglected, on account of which God contendeth with them. Their prayer is,

“That which I see not teach thou me; show me if there is any evil way in me.”

5. Every real Christian deliberately chooses to continue in adversity, rather than to be delivered from it by any sinful means. Christians are not insensible to pain, but rather than sin against God, they can cheerfully submit to privations and sufferings.

6. The people of God fail not to bless him for sanctified afflictions; esteeming the happy effects of them. on their own minds more highly than deliverance from them. If their affections are weaned from this world, if their sinful propensities are mortified, if they are advanced in the divine life, and made more meet for heaven by adversity, they never think it too great or too long continued.


Discovering the soundness or corruption of men’s hearts by the) manner in which they regard indwelling sin.


Nothing more thoroughly discloses the real state of men’s hearts than the manner in which they regard to indwelling sin, or the practice of sin: this topic, therefore, deserves a careful and ample elucidation.

Several considerations relative to the views and feelings entertained by holy and sinful men respecting the practice of sin, and sin in the heart, must be mentioned in order to manifest who are the children of God and who of the wicked one.


By considering the different reasons for which saints and sinners respectively abstain from the indulgence of sin, we may perhaps ascertain to which class we belong.

1 . A false professor, or unrenewed man, may abstain from some sins because they are inconsistent with the commission of others. Thus hypocrisy and profaneness, prodigality and covetousness, are opposed to each other, so that but one can reign at a time.

2. An unsanctified man may be hindered from the commission of some sins by the restraint of divine Providence. It often happens, when men have conceived sin and are ready to execute it, that they ire unexpectedly prevented; and through these interpositions of Providence, by which the designs of the wicked are overthrown, the world is saved from numberless evils.

3. A wicked man may abstain from some sins merely because the commission of them is inconsistent with his constitutional make, or repugnant to his health. Thus some men cannot be drunkards if they would; others cannot be covetous and base.

4. Men totally destitute of moral goodness may be deterred from the commission of many sins by the force of education, the principles of morality, the authority of superiority, or the influence of popular opinion.

5. Such men may abstain from many sins through fear of their temporal consequences. Thus they may avoid such sins are punishable by human laws, and such as are followed by infamy and detestation among men; and some even look further, to the punishment of sin hereafter; they are not afraid to sin, but they are afraid to burn.

These are the reasons why ungodly men sometimes refrain from the commission of sin.


The reasons for which the saints abstain from indulging in committing sin are such as manifest them to be children of God.

1. A primary reason why they abstain is, that all sin is opposition to the Being whom they love supremely, and who is worthy of all love and obedience. ” The love of God which is shed abroad in their he arts, renders indulgencies peculiarly painful to them, and so far as it prevails, is an effectual restraint.

2. The saints cherish a holy fear of God, which renders the indulgence of sin exceedingly odious and repugnant to them. This fear exists wherever holy love and adoring reverence are exercised toward the supreme Being; and good men are as much actuated by it in secret as in public; it keeps alive the reflection that the eye of Omniscience is upon them.

3. They feel a settled aversion to the indulgence of sin on account of its evil and injurious nature, its polluting and debasing influence, and its horrible effects; they have an abhorrence of it on its own account, which greatly restrains them from sinful thoughts and feelings, as well as actions.

4. The people of God abstain from sin because it is repugnant to the holy ‘principles by which they are actuated, and contrary to the pious habits which it is their happiness to cultivate. They find their enjoyment in the performance of duty,. and feel the influence of a thousand motives to constancy in the discharge of it; but the indulgence of iniquity in heart or life fills them with regret and misery; it wounds their own souls, obstructs their peace, and dishonours the cause in which their present and eternal interests are involved.

5. It is the nature of that repentance which characterises the saints, to turn them from sin in every form. They hate and abhor it for its own sake, for its intrinsic evil; they loathe themselves on account of it; they are filled with holy sorrow, with ingenuous self-condemnation, abasement and regret in view of it, as committed against God. Thus those who have felt the workings of genuine repentance are, as it were, impelled to abstain from every kind of disobedience.

6. The children of God remember that the blessed Jesus suffered the death of the cross on account of sin; ‘therefore the love of Christ constraineth them; for they thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them and rose again. Their old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, so that henceforth they should not serve sin.’


The character of saints and sinners respectively is manifested by their hatred of sin. A few particulars will suffice to show why the wicked sometimes hate sin.

1. Although an unholy man will not hate sin for Its own sake, nor as existing in himself, yet he may exercise a kind of hatred toward it as exhibited in others. Thus a proud man may hate the appearance of pride in his neighbour. He that has a beam in his own eye, a grossly corrupt heart or depraved practice, may be quick to espy a mote in another’s eye, some comparatively venial fault, and be swelled with disgust and aversion on account of it.

2. A wicked man may hate sin as a criminal may hate the gallows, for its effects; its guilt, its intrinsic evil, excites no concern, but its connection with hell is odious. The unsound professor sometimes wishes that there were no threatenings in the Bible against sin. When sin entices, ‘ I would,’ saith he, ‘ but I fear the consequences; could I separate thee from perdition, I would gladly comply.’

3. The hatred of sin which sinners from various motives may sometimes feel, is not habitual and permanent; it is not such as greatly to weaken their love of iniquity in themselves, or their approbation of it in the general practice of the world.

The people of God hate sin for totally different reasons, and their hatred is of an opposite nature.

1. They hate it because it is evil in itself, because it is opposed to the supreme Being and to all goodness, and ruinous in its influence and effects. Its evil and odious nature excites hatred and opposition wherever the love of holiness exists.

2. They hate it in themselves more than as exhibited by others; for they are more affected by the consciousness of their own sins than by the consideration of those which they perceive in their neighbours.

3. They hate not this and that sin merely, but sins of every description, all sin; which no hypocrite, or self-deceiver, or unregenerate man can ever pretend.

4. They hate sin with an irreconcilable aversion; nothing could induce them to regard it as they once did; they have begun to oppose it, and will never cease to abhor and contend against it until this warfare shall cease to be necessary.

5. Their hatred of it is supreme; they hate it as the root and essence of ail evil; their aversion to it is equalled in strength only by their love of holiness.

6. Such is their detestation of sin, that they gladly cherish the thoughts of death, as a deliverance from it, with all its odious and defiling accompaniments.


The troubles and sorrows which men have on account of sin discover who has genuine and who false religion.

All concern on account of sin does not imply true religion; some have reason to be alarmed in view of their concern itself.

1. Such are they who are troubled when they have committed some gross sins which startle conscience, but who are not filled with anxiety and penitence for secret sins, for sins of thought, for sins which defile the soul, for all sin.

2. They undoubtedly have graceless hearts who are distressed at the discovery of their sins by others, but who are not troubled on account of their guilt, Multitudes there are of this class: they are not awed by the consideration that God sees them; they are concerned chiefly that their appearance before men may be reputable; they scruple not to commit ten sins against God in order to hide one from the eyes of men.

3. An unholy man may be greatly distressed with the sufferings or embarrassments which his sins have brought upon him, while he regards not the sins themselves.

But the distress and anxiety of the saints on account of sin are of another kind, and imply a very different character.

1. They are troubled because God is dishonoured, because his holy law is violated, and the interest of his kingdom disregarded or opposed.

2. They are troubled because sin defiles and debases their souls, renders them unfit for the presence and enjoyment of a holy God, and interrupts their love of purity.

3. Sin brings trouble and sorrow to the people of God, by occasioning the withdrawment of his gracious presence, and obstructing their communion with him.

4. Their distress and anguish on account of sin are far greater, far more pungent, than any other men feel; they can bear other troubles, while they nearly sink under those occasioned by sin.

5. They give vent to the sorrow and misery which they feel on account of sin, rather in secret than in the presence of their most intimate acquaintance; indeed they can hardly express what they feel to mortals, but God knows their hearts, and to him they can unbosom themselves without embarrassment or fear of misapprehension.

6. They never obtain relief from these troubles by such means as unsanctified men employ; they apply to the Physician of souls, and are relieved only when they obtain pardon and reconciliation through his blood.


Let us now consider the difference between saints and sinners in regard to their subjection to the dominion of sin. The Scriptures plainly teach us that the wicked willingly yield themselves to the reigning power of sin, and that the righteous do not. It will be necessary to show what may be common to them both in relation to this subject, what distinguishes those who are under the dominion of sin, and what is peculiar to those who have been freed from the bondage of sin and death, in order to judge correctly of our own character.

1. Both saints and sinners may be guilty of gross offences; but we cannot thence infer that sin reigns in one as well as in the other. None are free from the workings of indwelling sin, which may sometimes hurry good men into uncommon acts of wickedness, which the wicked willingly and habitually indulge.

2. Nor does il follow that both are under the dominion of sin, from the mere fact that they are repeatedly guilty of the same acts of wickedness; though such repetition on the part of one who professes religion tends greatly to bring his sincerity into question.

3. Though a saint, under certain circumstances, may be impatient of reproof for sin as the wicked are, yet from that alone it cannot safely be concluded that he, like them, is under the power of sin.

4. If some particular sin has more power than another in a good man as well as in sinners, it is not therefore certain that he is as much under the dominion of that sin as they are.

5. Though both good and bad men commit sins against knowledge, it will not thence follow that such sins reign in the former as they do in the latter,


I proceed to notice some things by which the dominion of sin is implied.

1. The dominion of sin consists in its prevailing sway over men, and their voluntary subjection to it: hence deliberate consent to acts of wickedness, or to sinful thoughts and feelings, proves that sin reigns in the heart. Good men do not thus consent, though they may every day commit sin, and sometimes through the violence of temptation fall into gross iniquity.

2. The habitual practice of sin shows its dominion over the heart.

3. Delight in the ways of iniquity implies the uncontrolled authority of sin and a willing subjection to it; hence it is said of the servants of sin, ” that they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abomnations.”

4. Impatience of Christ’s government and service, weariness of serious exercises and pious habits, and love of amusement, indicate a heart subject to the dominion of sin.

There remain to be considered some particulars, to show that the saints arc not in subjection to sin as the wicked are.

1. If they fall into sin, they cannot reflect on it without shame and sorrow; but the wicked either derive satisfaction from the review of their sinful indulgencies, or with stupid insensibility dismiss them from their recollection.

2. When the people of God fall into one sin, they are greatly excited by that to guard against the commission of others; not so the servants of sin; the more they practise iniquity, the more their inclination to sin is strengthened.

3. It is the prevailing desire and earnest prayer if the saints to be in every respect freed from sin, from the love, the influence, and the practice of it; on the contrary, those who serve sin, consider their bondage to be liberty; they love their lusts, and would esteem deliverance from them a hardship.

4. The saints pray for nothing more frequently or more ardently than to be kept from the commission of sin; they implore nothing more earnestly than the assistance of God’s grace to fortify them against temptations: they have scarcely any occasions of more lively gratitude and joy than are furnished by those interpositions of Providence which prevent their falling into sin; they use their own best endeavours to avoid the occasions of sin; they are unhappy when they have gone astray; and they have comfort and peace only when piously engaged in the discharge of some duty; from all which it is evident that they are not under the dominion of sin, and do not allowedly practise it,


There remains to be considered one particular with reference to the manner in which men regard sin; it is their opposition to it, whether in heart or practice.

1. There is a universal and a particular opposition to sin; the former is maintained by the regenerate, the latter may be exerted by unregenerate men. As the saints hate, so they oppose every false way; and they must needs do so, for they hate and oppose sin on its own account, because it is sin; with them, therefore, there can be no reservation, no favourite lust, which will not, with sin in every form, meet their aversion and resistance.

But on the contrary, if unsanctified men make any opposition to open immoralities, they will reserve and cherish their own secret sins; for they are not opposed to sin as such, but rather to its disgraceful or fatal effects.

2. The opposition of the saints to sin is founded not merely nor chiefly in their consciences, but in their hearts; whereas, if wicked men discountenance it from any other than worldly motives, their dislike arises so entirely from the remonstrances of conscience, that their hearts will at the same time love and defend it as earnestly as ever.

There is an irreconcilable enmity and aversion between a holy heart and all sin; therefore the reason, the conscience, and the affections of good men are opposed to it; but sin is the very element of unholy hearts, the wicked love its ways, and if their consciences oppose it, they hate their consciences rather than the thing opposed.

3. Sin is habitually and perpetually opposed by the people of God; they have waged a war of extermination against it, and while the enemy is unsubdued, will never cease to contend; but the partial opposition of sinners is unsteady and transient, being remitted and renewed as interest, or caprice, or slavish fear shall direct.

4. They who are sanctified oppose the root as well as the branches, the existence as well as the influence and effects of sin; but the wicked are concerned only to prevent its unhappy consequences.

5. The saints, in the strength of the Lord and the power of his might, exert themselves to oppose sin; but the ungodly trust in an arm of flesh, in the strength of their resolutions or the security of their self-righteousness; the weapons which they employ in this warfare are not spiritual but carnal, and therefore impotent and futile.

6. Such is the opposition made by the saints against sin, that their unholy propensities are subdued, their sanctification is promoted, and their progress in the divine life accelerated; but the wicked gain no advantage by their feeble and inconstant proceedings against sin; they may in their way pray and hear, and vow and resolve, and when all is done, they are still the servants of sin, their corruptions are unsubdued, and their hearts devoid of holiness.