Dealing with Sin

I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.
~ Psalm 32:5, Psalm 38:18

If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
~ Leviticus 26:40-41

And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.
~ Nehemiah 9:2

He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not;
~ Job 33:27

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
~ Proverbs 28:13

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
~ Luke 15:18-21

For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.
~ Psalm 40:12

For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them;
~ Isaiah 59:12

We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us: for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.
~ Jeremiah 3:25

Five More Directions For Dealing With Sin, by John Owen. The following is from Chapter Eleven of his work, “The Mortification of Sin in Believers”.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
~ Psalm 51:3

Chapter 11

Five More Directions For Dealing With Sin.

The THIRD direction: Load your conscience with the guilt of the troubling cancer of sin

The FOURTH direction: Vehemently desire rescue from it

The FIFTH: Considerations of some compulsions rooted deeply in men’s natural state

The SIXTH direction: Occasions and opportunities to prevent sin

The SEVENTH direction: Vigorously oppose the first actions of sin.

The THIRD direction: Load your conscience with the guilt of your sin.

Do not just consider yourself guilty generally. Instead, load your conscience with the guilt of sin’s actual outbursts and disruptions. To help understand how to apply this rule, let me give some specific directions. Use God’s method in dealing with it:

1. Begin with generalities:

(1.) Consider the guilt that arises from the holiness of the law.

Charge your conscience with the guilt arising from the moral correctness and holiness of the law. Apply the holy law of God to your conscience; compare your immorality to it, and then pray that you may be affected by it. Consider its holiness, spirituality, fiery severity, essence, and complete authority. Then see whether you can stand before it. Do not hold back in impressing your conscience with the terror of the Lord that is in the law, and how righteous it is that every one of your transgressions receives its just reward. Perhaps your conscience will invent diversions and evasions to keep you from this powerful consideration. For example, it might respond that the condemning power of the law does not apply to you, that you are set free from it, and so on. Though it is true that you are not subject to the law, you need not be persuaded by such an argument:

(1.) Tell your conscience that it cannot produce any evidence that you are free from the condemning power of sin as long as your unmortified lust remains in your heart. It may be that the law can make good its claim against you, that you remain under its full control. If it can, then by definition you are a lost creature. For that reason, it is best to consider the worst case, and thoroughly ponder the ramifications of the law as if you were lost. To be sure, anyone who secretly argues in his heart that he is freed from the law as a way to justify holding onto a sin or lust, cannot produce any reasonable evidence, on gospel grounds, that he is indeed freed from sin. He merely pretends to be delivered from it.

(2.) Whether or not you are subject to the law, the law has a commission from God to seize transgressors wherever it finds them. It is to bring them before his throne to plead for themselves. This is your present situation. The law has found you out, and it will bring you before God. If you can plead for a pardon, well and good. If not, the law will do its work of condemning you.

(3.) Say to your conscience, “this is the proper work of the law, to discover the guilt of sin.” It is to awaken and humble the soul for that sin, and to be a mirror to reflect sin in its true colors. If you refuse to deal with it because the law is doing its job, that does not come from faith. It comes from the hardness of your heart and the deceitfulness of sin.

This is a door through which too many professors of Christ have exited to preach open apostasy. They pretend that if they have been delivered from the law, and no longer need to consult it for guidance and direction, then they no longer have to measure their sin by it. Little by little this notion has influenced their practical understanding of sin. Having taken root there, it has turned loose the will and affections to pursue all manner of detestable longings.

By using ways such as these, persuade your conscience to listen intently to what the law says to you about your lust and immorality. It speaks in the name of the Lord. If your ears are open, it will speak with a voice that will make you tremble, that will knock you to the ground, and fill you with astonishment. To mortify your immorality, you must tie your conscience to the law. You must exclude all shifts and exceptions, until your conscience owns its guilt with a clear and thorough understanding. To that end, David says your “iniquity must always be in front of you.”

(2.) Consider Christ whom you have pierced.

Bring your lust to the gospel, not for relief, but for further conviction of its guilt. Look on Christ whom you have pierced, and be bitter. Say to your soul, “What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on? Is this how I respond to the Father for his love, to the Son for his blood, and to the Holy Ghost for his grace? Is this how I repay the Lord? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, and that the blessed Spirit has chosen to dwell in? And can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How can I hold up my head with any courage before him? Do I consider communion with him of so little value that, for the sake of this vile lust, I have left little room for him in my heart? How will I escape judgement if I neglect salvation in this way?

In the meantime, what do I say to the Lord? Love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation; I have despised them all, and treated them as worthless, just so I could harbor a lust in my heart. Can I imagine God’s fatherly features before me so that I can provoke him to his face? Was my soul washed only to make room for this new depravity? Why would I try to frustrate the purpose of Christ’s death? Why would I daily grieve the Spirit through whom I am sealed until the day of redemption?” Entertain your conscience daily with this treatment. See if it can withstand this aggravation of its guilt. If it does not sink a little and melt, then I am afraid that your case is a dangerous one.

2. Descend to particulars.

We considered all the benefits of grace under the general topic of the gospel, such as redemption, justification, etc. Now consider the love that grace conveys to you personally, and how the benefits aggravate the guilt of your own immorality.

(1.) Consider the infinite patience and tolerance of God towards you personally.

Consider the opportunities he might have taken over a period of time to make you ashamed and reproached in this world, and an object of His wrath forever. Think about how you dealt treacherously and falsely with him from time to time, flattered him with your lips, but broke all your promises and obligations through the sin you now pursue. And yet he has spared you time and again, despite the brazen way you put Him to the test to see how long he would hold off punishing you. And yet, will you still sin against him? Will you continue to weary him, and make him put up with your immorality?

Have you not often concluded that it was completely impossible for him to bear with you any longer? Have you felt that he would cut you off and be gracious no more, that all his tolerance was exhausted, and hell and wrath was already prepared for you? And yet, beyond all your expectations, he has returned with ministrations of love. Will you even now continue with this provocation in his glorious sight?

(2.) Consider how often you have been restored by God’s grace.

How often have you nearly been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and then, by the infinite and rich grace of God, been restored to communion with him again? Have you not found grace decaying, your delight in duties, practices, prayer and meditation vanishing, and your tendency to walk carelessly thriving? Have you not found yourself engaged with delight in the kind of behavior, in the kind of places, and with the kind of people that God abhors? Why would you travel any more to the brink of hardness?

(3.) Consider all of God’s gracious dealings with you.

All of God’s gracious dealings with you, all of his divine exemptions, pardons, trials, mercies, and enjoyments should be considered here. Load your conscience with these and similar considerations. Do not leave it alone until it is thoroughly moved with the guilt of your indwelling sinfulness, until it feels its wound, and lies in the dust before the Lord. Unless this is done purposefully, all other efforts to ruthlessly remove it will be of no avail. While the conscience has any means to alleviate the guilt of sin, the soul will never vigorously attempt to mortify it.

The FOURTH direction: get a constant longing to be delivered from its power.

After being moved by your sin in this way, you need to get a constant longing, a panting to be delivered from its power. Do not let your heart be content for one moment with your present condition. Longing for anything in the physical realm has value only if it incites a person to diligently pursue what is desired. In spiritual things it works differently. Longing, breathing, and panting for deliverance is a grace in itself. It has a mighty power to conform the soul to the likeness of the thing longed for. The apostle, in describing the repentance and godly sorrow of the Corinthians, counts this “vehement desire” as an eminent grace at work in them. In the case of indwelling sin and its power, how does Paul describe his frame of mind? His heart bursts with the most passionate expressions of his desire for relief, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

My goodness! If this were the attitude of the saints when they considered indwelling sin, they would be far more committed to its extermination, especially if we added the rage and power stimulated by a specific lust! Unless you long for deliverance, be assured that you will not have it. This will make the heart use every opportunity to gain an advantage over its enemy. It will be ready to use any help provided for sin’s destruction. Strong desires are the lifeblood of “praying always,” which we are commanded to do in all situations.164 In no situation is it more necessary than this. Strong desires set faith and hope to work, and they are the soul moving after the Lord.

So get your heart into a panting and breathing frame of mind. Long, sigh, cry out! You know the example of David. I do not need to say any more.

The FIFTH direction: Consider if the sin is rooted in your natural disposition.

Consider whether the disease that afflicts you is rooted in your nature, whether it is cherished, encouraged, and strengthened because of your natural make-up. The natural disposition of some men makes them prone to particular sins. If that is possible in your case, then consider,

1. This does not minimize the guilt of your sin in the least.

Some people, with open irreverence, blame the enormity of their sinfulness on their disposition. Whether others relieve the pressing guilt of their sickness with the same excuse, I do not know. It is from the fall, from the original depravity of our natures, that the growth and nourishment of any sin remains as part of our natural state. David figured that because he was shaped and conceived in sin165 it aggravated his subsequent sin, but it certainly did not lessen or excuse the guilt of it. The fact that you have a special fondness for a particular sin is only an expression of the original lust in your nature. It should pointedly degrade and humble you rather than absolve your inclinations.

2. You must focus more because Satan has an advantage over you.

In reference to your walk with God, you have to focus all the more, because sin and Satan have a great advantage over by your natural disposition. Without extraordinary watchfulness, care, and diligence, they will certainly prevail against your soul. Thousands have been hurried headlong into hell because of this natural inclination. Without it they might have gone at a more gentle, less provoking, and less harmful rate…

3. Force your body into submission.

Having described how to mortify a sickness that is strongly rooted in someone’s nature, there is one method uniquely suited to the task. This one is advocated by the apostle. “I stay on my body to subdue it.” Bringing the body into subjection is an ordinance of God designed to mortify sin. This checks the natural source of the sickness. It weakens it by taking away its fertile soil. However, the Roman Catholics have placed the whole emphasis of mortification on voluntary services and penance. This does lead to the subjection of the body, but there is a temptation for some to neglect the means of humiliation that God has appointed. Bringing the body into subjection by cutting short its natural appetite, by fasting, watching, and similar denials, is doubtless acceptable to God. Yet it ought to be done with these limitations:

(l.) Outwardly weakening and impairing the body should not be seen as an end in itself; that would bring us under the law again. It is only a means to an end, which is to weaken sin at its natural root. A man may be lean in both body and soul.

(2.) The means by which this is done, namely, by fasting, watching, and the like, should not be considered effective in themselves. They cannot truly mortify a sin of their own power. If they could, sin might be mortified without any help from the Spirit. They are to be seen only as ways through which the Spirit may, and sometimes does, instill strength in us to accomplish his own work. Failure to correctly understand and apply these and similar considerations, has created a rite of mortification among the Roman Catholics that might better be applied to horses and beasts than to believers.

To summarize, when the corruption complained of seems to be rooted in the natural disposition of a man, an effort must be made to constrain the natural root of that corruption. We have escaped the corruption of the world. We must now apply our souls to participate in the blood and spirit of Christ.

The SIXTH direction: Guard against the occasions and opportunities of your sin.

Consider the occasions and opportunities your disease takes to assert itself. Then guard against them all. This is one part of the duty that our blessed Savior recommends to his disciples named watching: “I say to you all, Watch.”169 In another place, “Pay attention, or your hearts may be overburdened.” Watch against all outbursts of your immorality. I am referring to the duty which David claimed to exercise: “I have kept myself from my wickedness.” He watched all the ways his sinfulness worked, both to block them and to oppose them. This is what we are called to do under the name of “considering our ways.” Consider which ways, companions, opportunities, studies, business, and conditions, have usually (or at any time) provided opportunities for your disease to assert itself? Then attentively set yourself against all of them.

Men do this with respect to their physical infirmities and diseases. They avoid the seasons, diet, and air that have proved offensive. Things of the soul are no less important. You need to know that anyone who dares to dally with the occasions of sin, will dare to sin. Anyone who dares to be tempted to wickedness, will dare to be wicked. Hazael thought he would not be as wicked as the prophet told him he would be. To convince him, all the prophet needed to say was, “You will be king of Syria.”173 If he risks the temptation to be cruel, he will be cruel. If you tell someone that he will commit such and such sins, he will startle at it. But if you convince him that he will have opportunities to commit them, and be tempted in specific ways, on specific occasions, then he will have little ground left for his confidence. There are many facets to this topic that I will not go into here. But because this topic is no less important than the whole doctrine handled here, I have addressed it at large in another treatise.

The SEVENTH direction: React swiftly against the first signs of your sin.

React swiftly and powerfully against the first indications of your disease, at its initial conception. Do not let it gain the least bit of ground. Do not say, “This far and no farther.” If you allow it one step, it will take another. It is impossible to fix bounds for sin. It is like water in a channel. If it breaks out, it will take its course. It is easier to contain if inactive than turbulent. James describes the gradation and progress of lust, so that we may stop at its entrance. Do you find your corruption beginning to entangle your thoughts? Rise up against it at that point with all your strength. Be no less indignant than if it had fully accomplished what it aims to do. Consider what an unclean thought would have you do: it would have you roll yourself in folly and filth. Ask envy what it would have you do: it would have you murder and destroy as the result of it. Set yourself against it with no less vigor than if it had completely debased you in wickedness. If you do not, you will not prevail. As sin gains ground on our affections, making them delight in itself, it also gains ground on our understanding, making it overlook such sin.