What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house: I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights. Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
~ 1 Kings 8:38, Psalm 6:6, Psalm 119:143, Psalm 130:1-3 (KJV)
And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
~ Ezekiel 9:4, Psalm 72:12, Hebrews 2:15, 2 Timothy 4:18
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
~ Romans 8:13
O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD. And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.
~ Psalm 116:16-17, Isaiah 12:1, Isaiah 49:9
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
~ Colossians 3:17
The Nature, Power, Deceit and Prevalence of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers. Together With the Ways of Its Working and Means of Prevention, Opened, Evinced and Applied With a Resolution of Various Cases of Conscience Pertaining to It, by John Owen. Chapters Five and Six. 1667.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
~ Romans 7:24-25
The nature of sin further revealed as it is enmity against God — Its aversion to all good is opened — The means to prevent its effects prescribed.
Thirdly. We have considered something of the nature of indwelling sin, not absolutely, but in reference to the discovery of its power; but this power more clearly evidences itself in its actings and operations. Power is an act of life, and operation is the only discoverer of life. We don’t know that anything lives except by the effects and works of life. And great and strong operations reveal a powerful and vigorous life. Such are the operations of this law of sin, which are all demonstrations of its power.
What we have declared concerning its nature is that it consists in enmity. Now, there are two general heads of the working or operation of enmity — first, Aversion; secondly, Opposition.
First, Aversion. Our Saviour described the effects of the enmity that existed between himself and the teachers of the Jews; he says in the prophet, “My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me,” Zec 11:8. Where there is mutual enmity, there is mutual aversion, loathing, and abomination. So it was between the Jews and the Samaritans — they were enemies, and they abhorred one another, as in John 4:9.1.
Secondly, Opposition, or contending against one another; this is the next product of enmity. Isa 63:10, “He was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them;” speaking of God towards the people. Where there is enmity, there will be fighting; it is the proper and natural product of it.
Now, both these effects are found in this law of sin: —
First, for aversion. There is an aversion in it to God and to every thing of God, as we discovered in part in handling enmity itself; and so we will not need to insist much on it again. All indisposition to duty (in which communion with God is to be obtained); all weariness of duty; all carnality, or formality in duty — springs from this root. The wise man cautions us against this evil: Ecc 5:1, “Keep your foot when you go to the house of God;” — Do you have any spiritual duty to perform, and do you intend to attain any communion with God? Then look to yourself, take care of your affections; they will be gadding2 and wandering, and that is from their aversion to what you have in hand. There is no good that we would do, in which we may not find this aversion exercising itself. “When I would do good, evil is present with me;” — ‘At any time, at all times, when I would do anything that is spiritually good, evil is present — that is, present to hinder me, to obstruct me in my duty; because it abhors and loathes the thing which I have in hand, it will keep me away from it if possible.’ In those in whom it prevails, it comes at length to that frame which is expressed in Eze 33:31.3 It will allow an outward, bodily presence for the worship of God, in which it is not concerned; but it keeps the heart quite away.
It may be that some will pretend they do not find it so in themselves, but they have freedom and liberty in and for all the duties of obedience that they attend to. But I fear this pretended liberty will be found, upon examination, to arise from one or both of these causes: —
1 Joh 4:9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
2 Wandering aimlessly in search of pleasure.
3 Eze 33:31 “So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Also, Isa 29:13 Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honour Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men;
First, Ignorance of the true state and condition of their own souls, of their inward man and its actings towards God. They don’t know how it is with their souls; and therefore they are not to be believed in what they report. They are in the dark, and know neither what they do nor where they are going. It is like the Pharisee who knew little of this matter; which made him boast of his duties to God himself. Luk 18.11
Or secondly, it may be that whatever duties of worship or obedience such persons perform, through lack of faith and any interest in Christ, they may have no communion with them; and if so, sin will make but little opposition to them in these things. We speak of those whose hearts are exercised with these things. And if under their complaints about them, and groanings for deliverance from them, others cry out to them, “Stand off, for we are holier than you,” they are willing to bear their condition (knowing that their way may be safe, even though troublesome), and they are willing to see their own dangers, that they may avoid the ruin which others fall into.
Let us then consider a little this aversion to those acts of obedience in which there is no concern except for that of God and the soul. In public duties there may be a mixture of other considerations; they may be so influenced by custom and necessity that a right judgment cannot be made about this matter from these duties.
But let us take into consideration the duties of retirement, such as private prayer and meditation and the like; or else extraordinary duties, or duties that are to be performed in an extraordinary manner: —
1. In these, this aversion and loathing will oftentimes reveal itself in the affections. A secret striving will be in them about close and cordial dealing with God, unless the hand of God in his Spirit is high and strong upon his soul. Even when convictions, a sense of duty, dear and real esteem for God and communion with him, have carried the soul into its closet, if there is not the vigour and power of a spiritual life constantly at work, then there will be a secret loathness in them toward their duty. Indeed, sometimes there will be a violent inclination to the contrary; so that the soul would rather do any thing, embrace any diversion, even though it wounds itself by that, than to vigorously apply itself to what it breathes after in the inward man. It is weary before it begins, and it says, “When will the work be over?” Here God and the soul are immediately concerned; and it is a great conquest to do what we would do, though we come exceedingly short of what we should do.
2. It reveals itself in the mind also. When we address ourselves to God in Christ, we are, as Job puts it, to “fill our mouths with arguments,” Job 23:4, so that we may be able to plead with him as he calls us to do: Isa 43:26, “Put me in remembrance; let us plead together.” This is why the church is called upon, in going to God —
Hos 14:2, “Take words with you, And return to the LORD. Say to Him, Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, For we will render the calves [the sacrifices] of our lips.”
The sum is this: that the mind should be furnished with the considerations that prevail with God, and be ready to plead them, and to manage them in the most spiritual manner, to the best advantage. Now, is there no difficulty in getting the mind into such a frame as to lay itself out to the utmost in this work? to be clear, steady, and constant in its duty? to draw out and make use of its stores and furniture of promises and experiences? It starts, wanders, flags — all from this secret aversion to communion with God, which proceeds from the law of indwelling sin. Some complain that they can make no work of meditation — they cannot bend their minds to it. I confess there may be a great cause for this in their lack of a right understanding of the duty itself, and of the ways of managing the soul in it; therefore I will speak a little to that afterward: yet this secret enmity also has its hand in the loss they are at, and that is both in their minds and in their affections.
Others are forced to live in family and public duties, because they find such little benefit and success in private. And here has been the beginning of the apostasy of many professors, and the source of many foolish, sensual opinions. Finding this aversion in their minds and affections from closeness and constancy in private spiritual duties, and not knowing how to conquer and prevail against these difficulties through Him who enables us, they have at first been subdued to neglect them; partial at first, then total — until, having lost all conscience about them, they have opened a door to all sin and licentiousness, and so to a full and utter apostasy. I am persuaded that there are very few who apostatise from a profession of any length, as our days abound with. Rather, their door of entrance into the folly of backsliding was some great and notorious sin that blooded their consciences, tainted their affections, and intercepted all delight from having anything more to do with God. Or else it was a course of neglect in private duties, arising from weariness in contending against that powerful aversion to them which they found in themselves. And this also, through the craft of Satan, has been improved into many foolish and sensual opinions about living to God without, and above, any duties of communion. And we find that after men have choked and blinded their consciences for a while with this pretence, cursed wickedness or sensuality has been the end of their folly. And the reason for all this is that,
• giving way to the law of sin in the least, is giving strength to it.
• to let it alone, is to let it grow;
• not to conquer it, is to be conquered by it.
As it is in respect to private, so it is also in respect to public duties which have anything extraordinary in them. What strivings, strugglings, and pleadings there are in the heart about them, especially against their spirituality! Indeed, in and under these aversions, are the mind and affections not sometimes entangled with things that are uncouth, new, and strange to them, things which, even during the least serious business, a man would not stoop to take into his thoughts? But if the least looseness, liberty, or advantage is given to indwelling sin, if it is not perpetually watched over, it will work toward a strange and unexpected effect. In brief, let the soul unclothe any duty whatsoever, private or public, anything that is called good — let a man divest the duty of all outward respects, which secretly insinuate themselves into the mind, and give the mind some complacency in what it is about, but do not render it acceptable to God — and he will assuredly find something of the power, and some of the effects, of this aversion. It begins in loathness and indisposition; it goes on with entangling the mind and affections with other things; and if it is not prevented, it will end in weariness about God, which He complains about in His people — Isa 43:22 “But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of Me, O Israel! They ceased from their duty because they were “weary of God.”
But because this instance is of great importance to professors in their walking with God, we must not pass it over without intimating some directions for them in contending against and opposing it. Only this must be premised: I am not giving directions for mortifying indwelling sin in general — which is to be done by the Spirit of Christ alone, by virtue of our union with him —
Rom 8:13 “But if you, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live;”
— but only our particular duty with reference to this especial evil or effect of indwelling sin which we have insisted on a little; or what, in this single case, the wisdom of faith seems to direct to and call for. This will be our way and course in our process of considering its other effects.
1. The great means to prevent the fruits and effects of this aversion, is to constantly keep the soul in a universally holy frame. As this weakens the whole law of sin, so it correspondingly weakens all its properties, and particularly this aversion. It is this frame only that will enable us to say with the Psalmist, Psa 57:7, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.” It is utterly impossible to keep the heart in a prevailing holy frame in any one duty, unless it is holy in and toward all and every duty. If sin-entanglements get hold in any one thing, they will take advantage of the soul in every thing. A constant, even frame and temper in all duties, in all ways, is the only preservative for any one way. Do not let someone who is neglectful in public, persuade himself that all will be clear and easy in private, nor the contrary. There is a harmony in obedience: if you break just one part, you interrupt the whole. Our wounds in particular arise generally from negligence as to the whole course of obedience; so David informs us,
Psa 119:6, “Then I will not be ashamed, when I respect all your commandments.”
A universal respect for all God’s commandments is the only preservative from shame; and we have reason to be ashamed of nothing, more than of the shameful miscarriages of our hearts in point of duty, which arise from the principle mentioned before.
2. Labour to prevent the very beginnings of the workings of this aversion; let grace go before it in every duty. We are directed, 1Pet 4:7, to “watch to prayer;” and as it is to prayer, so it is to every duty — that is, consider and take care that we are not hindered from within or without as to its due performance. Watch against temptations, to oppose them; watch against the aversion that is in sin, to prevent it. Just as we are not to give way to Satan, we are to sin no more. If it is not prevented in its first attempts, it will prevail. My meaning is this: Whatever good we have to do, as the apostle puts it,Rom 7.21 and find evil present with us (as we will find it present), prevent its parleying with the soul — its insinuating poison into the mind and affections — by a vigorous, holy, violent stirring up of the grace or graces that are to be acted out and set to work in that duty particularly. Let Jacob come first into the world; or if he is prevented by the violence of Esau, then let him lay hold on his heel to overthrow him, and to obtain the birthright. Upon the very first motion of Peter to our Saviour, crying, “Master, spare yourself,” Jesus immediately replies, “Get behind me, Satan.” So we ought to say, “Begone you law of sin, you present evil;” and if we do, it may have the same use to us. Get grace up, then, in time for duty; and be early in the rebukes of sin.
3. Though it does its worst, be sure it never prevails to the point of conquest. Be sure you are not wearied out by its tenacity, nor driven from your hold by its importunity; do not faint by its opposition. Take the apostle’s advice,
Heb 6:11, 12 “We desire that every one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end: that you not be slothful.”
Continue to hold out with the same diligence. There are many ways by which men are driven from a constant holy performance of duties; all of them are dangerous, if not pernicious1 to the soul. Some are diverted by business, some by company, some by the power of temptations; some are discouraged by their own darkness. But none is so dangerous as this: when the soul gives up in part or in whole, wearied by the aversion of sin to holiness, or to communion with God in holiness. This would argue for the soul’s surrender to the power of sin. Unless the Lord breaks the snare of Satan in this, it will assuredly prove ruinous. Our Saviour’s instruction is that “we always ought to pray, and not faint,” Luke 18:1. Opposition will arise — but none is so bitter and keen as that from our own hearts; if we faint, we perish. “Take heed lest you be wearied,” says the apostle, “and faint in your minds,” Heb 12:3. Such fainting is attended with a weariness, and that is attended with giving way to the aversion that is working in our hearts. This is to be avoided, if we would not perish. The caution is the same as the apostle’s:
Rom 12:12, “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing constant in prayer;” And in general, it is the same caution given in Rom. 6:12,
“Do not let sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.”
1 Exceedingly harmful; they work or spread in a hidden and injurious way, like a disease.
To cease from duty, in part or in whole, because of the aversion of sin to its spirituality, is to give sin the rule, and to obey it in its lusts. Do not yield to it then, but hold out in the conflict; wait on God and you shall prevail:
Isa 40:31, “Those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
What is now so difficult will only increase in difficulty if we give way to it; but if we abide in our station, we will prevail. The mouth of the Lord has spoken it.
4. Carry around a constant, humbling sense of this close aversion to spirituality that still lies in our nature. If men find its efficacy, what consideration should, or can, be more powerful to bring them to walk humbly with God? After all the revelations that God has made of himself to them, and all the kindnesses they have received from him, and his doing them good and not evil in all things, that there should be such a heart of unkindness, and such unbelief still abiding in us, as to have an aversion to communion with him — how the very thought of that ought to throw us facedown into the dust, and fill us with shame and self-abhorrence all our days! What have we found in God, in any of our approaches or addresses to him, that it should be this way with us? What iniquity have we found in him?
Has he been a wilderness to us, or a land of darkness? Did we ever lose anything by drawing near to him? No! Has there not lain in this, all the rest and peace which we have obtained? Is he not the fountain and spring of all our mercies, of all our desirable things? Has he not bid us welcome at our coming? Have we not received from him more than heart can conceive or tongue express?
What ails our foolish and wretched hearts then, to harbour such a cursed secret dislike of him and his ways? Let us be ashamed and astonished at considering it, and walk in a humbling sense of it all our days. Let us carry it about with us in the most secret place in our thoughts. And just as this is a duty that, in itself, is acceptable to God, who delights to dwell with those who are of a humble and contrite spirit, so it is exceedingly efficacious to weaken the evil we are speaking of.
5. Labour to possess the mind with the beauty and excellence of spiritual things, so that they may be presented lovely and desirable to the soul, and this cursed aversion of sin will be weakened by it. It is an innate acknowledged principle that the soul of man will not keep up cheerfully the worship of God, unless it discovers a beauty and attractiveness in it. Hence, when men had lost all spiritual sense and savour of the things of God, to supply the lack that was in their own souls, they invented outwardly pompous and gorgeous ways of worship, in images, paintings, pictures, and I know not what carnal ornaments; things they have called “The beauties of holiness!” This much, however, was discovered in this: that the mind of man must see a beauty, a desirableness in the things of God’s worship, or it will not delight in it; aversion will prevail. Let then the soul labour to acquaint itself with the spiritual beauty of obedience, of communion with God, and of all duties of immediate approach to him, so that it may be rife with delight in them.
It is not my present work to reveal the heads and springs of that beauty and desirability which is to be found in spiritual duties, in their relation to God, the eternal spring of all beauty — in relation to Christ, the love, desire, and hope of all nations — in relation to the Spirit, the great beautifier of souls, rendering them all glorious within by his grace — in their suitability to the souls of men, as to their being set towards their ultimate design — in the rectitude and holiness of the rule, to be observed when they are to be performed. But at present I will only say, in general, that to acquaint the soul thoroughly with these things, is an eminent way of weakening the aversion spoken of.
The work of this enmity against God, by opposition — First, It lusts — What the lusting of sin consists of — It surprises the soul — Our readiness to close with temptations — Secondly, Its fighting and warring — 1. In rebellion against the law of grace — 2. In assaulting the soul.
It has been declared how this enmity works by aversion; and also the means that the soul is to use to prevent its effects and prevalence. The second way by which it exerts itself is opposition. Enmity will oppose and contend with whatever it is at enmity with. This is so in things that are natural, and things that are moral: just as light opposes darkness, and heat opposes cold, so virtue and vice oppose each other. So is it with sin and grace. The apostle says, “These are contrary to one another,” Gal 5:17;1 — They are placed and set in mutual opposition, and that opposition is continual and constant,2 as we will see.
Now, there are two ways by which enemies manage their opposition — first by force; and secondly, by fraud and deceit. So when the Egyptians became enemies to the children of Israel, and managed their enmity against them, Exo 1:10, Pharaoh says, “Let us deal wisely with this people,” or rather, “let us deal cunningly and subtly;” for this is how Stephen describes the event with respect to this word “wisely,” Acts 7:19;3 he uses katasophizomai 4 — i.e., Pharaoh used “all manner of fraudulent sophistry.” And to this deceit, the Egyptians added force in their grievous oppressions. This is the way and manner of things where there is a prevailing enmity; and both these are made use of by the law of sin in its enmity against God and our souls.
I will begin with the first, by force, or enmity’s acting, as it were, in downright open opposition to God and his law, or to the good that a believing soul would do in obedience to God and his law. And in this whole matter we must be careful to steer our course rightly, taking the Scripture as our guide, with spiritual reason and experience as our companions. For there are many shelves 5 in our course which must diligently be avoided, so that none who consider these things be troubled without cause, or comforted without a just foundation.
In this first way by which this sin exerts its enmity in opposition — namely, by force or strength — there are four things, expressing so many distinct degrees in its progress and procedure in pursuit of its enmity: —
First, Its general inclination: It “lusts,” Gal 5:17.6
Secondly, Its particular way of contending: It “fights or wars,” Rom 7:23; Jas 4:1; 1Pet 2:11.7
Thirdly, Its success in this contest: It “brings the soul into captivity to the law of sin,” Rom 7:23.
1 Allh,loij avnti,keitai. allelois antikeitai [NT:240,480]
2 That is, ongoing and fixed.
3 Act 7:19 This man dealt treacherously [katasophizomai] with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live.
4 katasofisa, menoj, katasophizamenos [NT:2686]
5 A projecting ridge on a mountain or submerged under water.
6 Gal 5:17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh;
7 Rom 7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Jas 4:1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that WAR in your members? 1Pet 2:11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.
Fourthly, Its growth and rage upon success: It comes to “madness,” as an enraged enemy will do, Ecc 9:3.1
All of which we must address in order.
First, In general sin is said to lust: Gal 5:17, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit.” This word expresses the general nature of that opposition which the law of sin makes against God and the rule of his Spirit, or against grace in those who believe; and therefore, the least degree of that opposition is expressed by this. When sin does anything, it lusts — burning is the general acting of fire: whatever else it does, fire also burns. When fire does anything, it burns; and when the law of sin does anything, it lusts.
Hence, all the actings of this law of sin are called “The lusts of the flesh:” Gal 5:16, “You shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh;” Rom 13:14, “Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts.” Nor are these lusts of the flesh only those by which men act out their sensuality in riot, drunkenness, uncleanness, and the like; but they comprehend all the actings of the law of sin whatsoever, in all the faculties and affections of the soul. Thus, in Eph 2:3 are mentioned the desires, or wills, or “lusts of the mind,” as well as of the “flesh.” The mind, the most spiritual part of the soul, has its lusts, no less than the sensual appetite has them, which is sometimes more properly called the “flesh.” And in the products of these lusts, there are “defilements of the spirit” as well as of the “flesh,”2 — that is, defilements of the mind and understanding, as well of the appetite and affections, and of the body that attends to their service.
And our holiness consists in the blamelessness of all these:
1Thes 5:23, “The God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God, your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Indeed, the “flesh” in this matter means the whole old man, or the law of sin: John 3:6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” — that is, it is all flesh, and nothing else; and whatever remains of the old nature in the new man, is flesh still. And this flesh lusts — this law of sin does so. This is the general basis and foundation of all its opposition to God. And it does this in two ways: —
1. In a hidden, close propensity to all evil. This lies in it habitually. While a man is in the state of nature, fully under the power and dominion of this law of sin, it is said that “every figment of his heart is evil, and that is continually,” Gen 6:5. It can frame, fashion, produce, or act out nothing except what is evil; because this habitual propensity to evil that is in the law of sin, is absolutely predominant in such a person. It is in the heart like poison that has nothing to allay its venomous qualities; and so it infects whatever it touches. And where the power and dominion of sin is broken, yet in its own nature it still has a habitual propensity to what is evil, and this is what its lusting consists of.
But here we must distinguish between the habitual frame of the heart, and the natural propensity or the habitual inclination of the law of sin in the heart. The habitual inclination of the heart is designated by the principle that bears chief or sovereign rule in it; and therefore in believers, it is an inclination to good, to God, to holiness, and to obedience. The heart is not habitually inclined to evil by the remainders of indwelling sin; but this sin in the heart has a constant, habitual propensity to evil in itself, or in its own nature.3 This is what the apostle
1 Ecc 9:3 Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live;
2 2Cor 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
3 Rom 7:17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
intends by evil being present with us: “It is present with me;” Rom 7.21 that is, always present, and for its own end, which is to lust after sin.
Indwelling sin is like a river. While its springs and fountains are open, and waters are continually supplied to its streams, set a dam before it, and it causes the river to rise and swell until it crushes all before it, or it overflows its banks. Let these waters be abated, dried up in some good measure in their springs, and the remainder may be coerced and restrained. But still, as long as there is any running water, it will constantly press upon whatever stands before it, according to its weight and strength, because it is its nature to do so. And if by any means, it makes a passage through, so it will proceed.
So is it with indwelling sin: while its springs and fountains are open, it is in vain for men to set a dam before it by their convictions, resolutions, vows, and promises. They may check it for a while; but it will increase, rise high, and rage at one time or another, until it crushes all those convictions and resolutions, or makes itself an underground passage by some secret lust, that will give full vent to it. But now, suppose that its springs are greatly dried up by regenerating grace, that its streams or actings are abated by holiness — yet, while anything still remains of it, it will constantly press to vent itself, to press forward into actual sin; and this is its lusting.
And this habitual propensity in it is revealed in two ways: —
(1.) In its unexpected surprisals 1 of the soul into foolish, sinful figments and imaginations which it did not look for, nor was any occasion given for them. It is with indwelling sin as it is with the contrary principle of sanctifying grace. Grace gives the soul, if I may say so, many a blessed surprisal. It oftentimes ingenerates and produces a holy, spiritual frame in the heart and mind, when we had no previous rational considerations to work them into it. And this manifests itself as a habitual principle prevailing in the mind: so we read, Song 6:12, “Before I was ever aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib;” that is, free, willing, and ready for communion with Christ. “I did not know;” it was done by the power of the Spirit of grace; so that I took no notice of it, as it were, until it was done. The frequent actings of grace in this manner, exciting acts of faith, love, and satisfaction in God, are evidences that it has great strength and prevalence in the soul.
And thus it is with indwelling sin also; before the soul is aware, without any provocation or temptation, when it does not know, it is thrown into a vain and foolish frame. Sin produces its figments secretly in the heart, and prevents the mind’s consideration of what it is about. I mean by this, those actus primo primi, those first acts of the soul which are thus far involuntary, such that they do not have the actual consent of the will to them, but are voluntary as far as sin has its residence in the will. And these surprisals, if the soul is not awake to take speedy care to prevent their tendency, oftentimes set everything on fire, as it were, and engage the mind and affections into actual sin. For just as by grace we are oftentimes, before we are aware, “made like the chariots of a willing people,” and are far engaged in heavenly-mindedness and communion with Christ, making speed in it as in a chariot; so by sin we are oftentimes, before we are aware, carried into distempered affections, foolish imaginations, and pleasing delightfulness in things that are not good or profitable. From this comes that caution of the apostle,
Gal 6:1 — “If a man is surprised unawares with a fault, or in a transgression.”
1 In a military sense: a surprise attack or ambush that shocks and stuns the victim.
I have no doubt that the subtlety of Satan and the power of temptation are taken into consideration here by the apostle, which causes him to express a man’s falling into sin by prolephthe — by surprise — “if he is surprised.” So this working of indwelling sin is to be considered in this surprise also; and that is in the inmost place, without which nothing else could surprise us. For without its help, whatever comes from without — from Satan or the world — must allow for some parley in the mind before it is received; but it is from within, from ourselves, that we are surprised. Hereby are we disappointed and worked over into doing what we would not do, and hindered from doing what we would do.
This is why, when the soul is oftentimes doing quite another thing, as it were, and engaged in quite another design, sin starts what, in its heart or imagination, carries it away into what is evil and sinful. Indeed, to display its power, when the soul is seriously engaged in the mortification of any sin, it will sometimes, by one means or other, lead it away into a dalliance with the very sin whose ruin the soul is seeking, and whose mortification it is engaged in! But because there is a special enticing or entangling in this operation of the law of sin, we will speak to that fully afterward.
Now, these surprisals can be from nothing else than a habitual propensity to evil in the principle from which they proceed — not a habitual inclination to actual sin in the mind or heart, but a habitual propensity to evil in the sin that is [acting] in the mind or heart. This precedes the soul with its intents.1 Some may have observed how much our communion with God is prevented, how many meditations are disturbed, and how much the minds and consciences of men have been defiled, by this acting of sin. I know of no greater burden in the life of a believer than these involuntary surprisals of soul; involuntary, I say, as to the actual consent of the will; but not involuntary in respect to that corruption which is in the will, and which is the principle preceding them. It is in respect to these surprisals that the apostle makes his complaint in Rom 7:24.2
(2.) This habitual inclination manifests itself in its readiness and promptness, without dispute or altercation, to join and close with every temptation by which it may possibly be excited. As we know, it is in the nature of fire to burn, because it immediately lays hold on whatever is combustible. Let any temptation whatsoever be proposed to a man — if it is suitable to what makes it a temptation to his corruptions, in its matter, or in the manner of its proposal — immediately he not only has to deal with the temptation as outwardly proposed, but also with his own heart about it. Without further consideration or debate, the temptation already has a friend within him. Not a moment’s space is given between the proposal, and the necessity that is incumbent on the soul, to look for its enemy within. And this also argues for a constant, habitual propensity to evil.
Our Saviour said of the assaults and temptations of Satan, “The prince of this world comes, but he has no part in me,” John 14:30. He had more temptations, intensively and extensively, in number, quality, and fierceness — from Satan and the world — than any of the sons of men ever had. Yet in all of them, he only had to deal with that which came from without. His holy heart had nothing like them, suited to them, or ready to entertain them: “The prince of this world had nothing in him.” So it was with Adam. When a temptation befell him, he had only the outward proposal to look at — all was well within, until the outward temptation took place and prevailed.
1 Originally, “This prevents the soul with its figments.” – prevent in Middle English can mean precede. Figments are thoughts; but in this context, what the soul thinks to do, what it would do, is thwarted by indwelling sin.
2 Rom 7:24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
With us it is not so. In a city that is united in itself, compact and entire, without divisions and parties, if an enemy approaches around it, the rulers and inhabitants have no other thoughts than how they may oppose the enemy without, and resist him in his approaches. But if the city is divided in itself, if there are factions and traitors within, the very first thing they do if they would be safe, is to look for the enemies at home, the traitors within — to cut off the head of Sheba.2Sam 20.22 All was well with Adam within doors when Satan came; so that he had nothing to do but to look for his assaults and approaches. But now, upon the access of any temptation, the soul is instantly to look inside where it will find this traitor at work, coming with the baits of Satan, and stealing away the heart. This it always does, which evinces a habitual inclination.
In Psa 38:17,1 David says, “I am ready to halt,” or ready for halting:2 “I am prepared and disposed to hallucination, to my foot slipping into sin,” verse 16, as he expounds the meaning of that phrase,
Psa 73.2, 3, “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well near slipped. For I was envious of the foolish [the boastful], When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” 3
From indwelling sin there was a continual disposition in him to be slipping, stumbling, or halting, on every occasion or temptation. There is nothing so vain, foolish, ridiculous, absurd, nothing so vile and abominable, nothing so atheistic or execrable, that if proposed to the soul by temptation, this law of sin is not ready to respond to it before it is decried by grace. And this is the first thing in this lusting of the law of sin: — it consists in its habitual propensity to evil, manifesting itself by the involuntary surprisals of the soul to sin, and its readiness, without dispute or consideration, to join in all temptations whatsoever.
2. Its lusting consists in its actual pressing after that which is evil, and actual opposition to that which is good. The former instance showed its constant readiness to this work; this addresses the work itself. It is not only ready, but for the most part it is always engaged. “It lusts,” says the Holy Ghost. It does so continually. It stirs in the soul by one act or another constantly, almost like the spirits in the blood, or the blood in the veins. The apostle calls this, lust’s tempting:
Jas 1:14, “Every man is tempted by his own lust.”
Now, what does it mean to be tempted? It is to have something proposed to a man’s consideration which, if he embraces it, it is evil; it is sin to him. This is sin’s trade: “It lusts.” 4 It is raising up in the heart, and proposing to the mind and affections, that which is evil; it is testing, as it were, whether the soul will accept its suggestions, or how far it will carry them on, even if it does not wholly prevail. Now, when such a temptation comes from without, it is an indifferent thing to the soul — it is neither good nor evil — unless it is consented to; but the very proposal from within, being the soul’s own act, is its sin. And this is the work of the law of sin — to restlessly and continually raise up and propose countless and varying forms and appearances of evil, of this or that kind, indeed of every kind that the nature of man is capable of exercising corruption in. It hatches and proposes to the soul something or other, in matter, or manner, or circumstance, that is inordinate, unspiritual, and unresponsive to the rule. And the apostle may be speaking to this power of sin to produce figments and ideas of actual evil in the heart here:
1 Psa 38:17-18 “For I am ready to halt [or fall], and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin.”
2 ki-’ani letsela’ nakon [OT:03559,08737,06761]
3 In Psalm 38.17-18, we may fall into snares set for us by others; and in this Psalm, we may fall into snares set for us in our own hearts by indwelling sin.
4 Epiqumei, epithumei [NT:1937]
1Thes 5:22, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” 1
Keep yourselves from every figment or idea of sin in the heart; For the word used there, eidous, nowhere signifies an outward form or appearance: nor is it the appearance of evil; but it is an evil idea or figment that is intended. And this lusting of sin is that which the prophet expresses in wicked men, in whom the law of sin is predominant:
Isa 57:20, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt;”
This is a most lively similitude; it expresses the lustings of the law of sin, which restlessly and continually bubble up in the heart with wicked, foolish, and filthy imaginations and desires. This, then, is the first thing in the opposition that this enmity makes to God — namely, in its general inclination: it “lusts.”
Secondly, there is its particular way of contending — it fights or wars; that is, it acts with strength and violence, as men do in war. First, it lusts, stirring and moving inordinate figments in the mind, and desires in the appetite and in the affections, proposing them to the will. But it does not rest there; it cannot rest. It urges, presses, and pursues its proposals with earnestness, strength, and vigour — fighting, and contending, and warring to obtain its end and purpose. If it would merely stir up and propose things to the soul, and then immediately acquiesce in the sentence and judgment of the mind — that the thing is evil; that it is against God and his will; and that it is not to be insisted on any further — then much sin might be prevented that is now produced. But it does not rest here; it proceeds to carry on its design, and does that with earnestness and contention. By this means wicked men inflame themselves: Isa 57:5, “Inflaming yourselves with idols.” They are self-inflamers (as the word signifies) to sin. Every spark of sin is cherished in them, until it grows into a flame: and so it will do in others where it is so cherished.
Now, this fighting or warring of sin consists in two things: — 1. In its rebellion against grace, or the law of the mind.
2. In its assaulting the soul, contending for rule and sovereignty over it.
1. The first is expressed by the apostle in Rom 7:23: “I find,” he says, “another law rebelling against the law of my mind.”2 There are, it seems, two laws in us — the law of the flesh, or of sin; and the law of the mind, or of grace. But contrary laws cannot both obtain sovereign power over the same person, at the same time. The sovereign power in believers is in the hand of the law of grace; so the apostle declares in verse 22, “I delight in the law of God in the inward man.” Obedience to this law is performed with delight and satisfaction in the inward man, because its authority is lawful and good. It is even more expressly stated in Rom 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace.”
Now, to war against the law that has a just sovereignty, is to rebel; and so antistrateuesthai 3 signifies, it is to rebel, and should have been translated, “Rebelling against the law of my mind.” And this rebellion consists in a stubborn, obstinate opposition to the commands and directions of the law of grace. Does the “law of the mind” command anything as duty? Does it severely rise up against anything that is evil? When the lusting of the law of sin rises up to this degree, it contends against obedience with all its might. The effect of this, as the apostle tells us, is “doing what we would not, and not doing what we would,” Rom 7:15, 16. And we may gather a notable instance of the power of sin in its rebellion, from this passage. The law of grace prevails upon the will, so that it would do what is good: “To will is present with me,” verse 18; “When I would do
1 Apo. pantoj. eid; ouj ponhrou, esqe apo pantos eidous ponerou apexesthe [NT:575, 3956, 1491, 4191, 567] 2 avntistrateuo,menon mou, antistrateuomenon to nomo tou noos mou [NT:497, 3551, 3563] 3 anv tistrateue, sqai antistrateuesthai [NT:497]
good,” verse 21; and again, verse 19, “And I would not do evil.” And it prevails upon the understanding, so that it approves or disapproves, according to the dictates of the law of grace: Verse 16, “I consent to the law, that it is good;” and verse 15.1 The judgment always lies on the side of grace. It prevails also on the affections: Verse 22, “I delight in the law of God in the inward man.”
Now if this is so — that grace has sovereign power in the understanding, will, and affections — then why is it that it does not always prevail, that we do not always do what we would, and abstain from what we would not do? Is it not strange that a man should not do what he chooses, wills, likes, and delights in? Is there any thing more required to enable us to do what is good? As much as can be expected from it, the law of grace does all that which, in itself, is abundantly sufficient for “perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.”2Cor 7.1 But here lies the difficulty, in the entangling opposition that is made by the rebellion of this “law of sin.” Nor can it be expressed with what vigour and variety sin acts in this matter. Sometimes it proposes diversions; sometimes it causes weariness; sometimes it discovers difficulties; sometimes it stirs up contrary affections; sometimes it begets prejudices; and one way or another, it entangles the soul. So that it never allows grace to have an absolute and complete success in any duty. Verse 18 — “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I do not find.” I do not find the way to perfectly work out or accomplish that which is good;2 so the word signifies; and that is from this opposition and resistance which is made by the law of sin.
Now, this rebellion appears in two things: —
(1.) In the opposition that it makes to the general purpose and course of the soul. (2.) In the opposition that it makes to particular duties.
(1.) In the opposition it makes to the general purpose and course of the soul. There is none in whom the Spirit of Christ is found, who is His, for whom it is not Christ’s general design and purpose, to walk in a universal conformity to him in all things. From the inward frame of the heart to the whole compass of his outward actions, so it is with him. This is what God requires in his covenant:
Gen 17:1, “Walk before me, and be perfect.”
Accordingly, his design is to walk before God; and his frame is sincerity and uprightness in this. This is called, “Clinging to the Lord with purpose of heart,” Acts 11:23 — that is, in all things; and that is not with a slothful, dead, ineffectual purpose, but one that is operative, and sets the whole soul at work in pursuit of it. The apostle sets this forth when he says, Phi 3:12-14, “Not as though I had already attained, nor were already perfect; but I follow after, that I may apprehend that for which I am also apprehended by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
He uses three phrases excellently expressing the soul’s universal pursuit of this purpose of heart in clinging to God:
First, he says in verse 12 — “I follow after,”3 I prosecute (the word dioko signifies properly to persecute); and we know with what earnestness and diligence it is usually done.
1 Rom 7:15 “Foir what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”
2 To. katerga,zesqai to. kalo.n ouvk eu ‘ri, To katergazesthai to kalon ouk heurisko [NT:2716, 2570, 3756, 2147]
3 dioko [NT:1377] – to pursue, harass, or persecute.
Secondly — “I reach forward,”1 reaching with great intension of spirit and affections. It is a great and constant endeavour that is expressed in that word.
Thirdly —we say, “I press towards the mark;”2 that is, like men who are running for a prize. All of them display the vigour, earnestness, diligence, and constancy that is used in the pursuit of this purpose.
And the nature of the principle of grace requires this in those in whom it operates. Yet we see with what failings — yes failings — their pursuit of this course is attended. The frame of the heart is changed — the heart is stolen away; the affections are entangled; eruptions of unbelief and distempered passions are revealed; carnal wisdom, with all that attends it, is set to work — all of this is contrary to the general principle and purpose of the soul. And all of this is from the rebellion of this law of sin, stirring up and provoking the heart to disobedience. The prophet gives us this characteristic of hypocrites:
Hos 10:2, “Their heart is divided; therefore they will be found faulty.”
Now, though this is wholly so in respect to the mind and judgment in hypocrites only, yet it is partially so in the best of believers, in the sense described. They have a division, not of the heart, but in the heart; and this is why they are so often found faulty. So says the apostle, Gal 5:17. “So that we cannot do the things that we would.”
We cannot accomplish the design of close walking3 according to the law of grace, because of the contrariety and rebellion of this law of sin [at work in us].
(2.) It also rebels in respect to particular duties. It creates a combustion in the soul against the particular commands and designs of the law of grace. “You cannot do the things that you would;” that is, “The duties which you judge are incumbent on you, those which you approve and delight in (in the inward man), you cannot do as you would.”
Take an instance in prayer. A man addresses himself to that duty: he would not only perform it, but he would perform it in that manner which the nature of the duty and his own condition require. He would “pray in the spirit,” Eph 6.18 fervently,Jas 5.16 “with sighs and groans that cannot be uttered;” Rom 8.26 in faith, with love and delight, pouring forth his soul unto the Lord. This is what he aims at.
Now, oftentimes he finds rebellion in this matter — there is a fight with the law of sin. He will find it difficult to get anything done, though he thought to “do all things.” Phi 4.13 I do not say it is always this way, but it is when sin “wars and rebels;” this expresses an especial acting out of its power. Poor creatures oftentimes meet with woeful entanglements on this account. Instead of that free, enlarged communion with God that they aim at, the best that their souls can attain, is but to go away mourning for their folly, deadness, and indisposition. In a word, there is no command of the law of grace that is known, liked, and approved by the soul, when it comes to be observed, that this law of sin will not, one way or another, make headway and rebel against it.
And this is the first way by which it fights.
1 Epektei,nomai, epekteinomai [NT1901] – to stretch out towards.
2 Kata. skopon. diw,kw, kata skopon dioko [NT:2596, 4649, 1377]
3 This term simply means walking close to God in faithful obedience (Gen 5.24; 6.9; Psa 23.4; Mat 16.24).
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raises me,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee. (Sarah Adams, 1841)
2. It not only rebels and resists, but it assaults the soul. It sets upon the law of the mind and grace. This is the second part of its warring: 1Pet 2:11, “They fight,” or war, “against the soul;”1 Jas 4:1, “They fight,” or war, “in your members.”2 Peter shows what they oppose and fight against — namely, the “soul” and the law of grace in it; James shows what they fight with or by — namely, the “members,” or the corruption that is in our mortal bodies. The Greek word antistrateuesthai 3 is to rebel against a superior; strateuesthai 4 is to assault or war for superiority. It takes the part of an assailant as well as a resister. It attempts to gain rule and sovereignty for itself, as well as to oppose the rule of grace. Now, all war and fighting has something of violence in it; and therefore there is some violence in that acting of sin which the Scripture calls “fighting and warring.” And this assailing efficacy of sin, as distinguished from its rebelling, which was addressed before, consists in the following things: —
(1.) All its positive actings, in stirring us up to sin, belong to this head. Oftentimes, by the vanity of the mind, the sensuality of the affections, or the folly of the imaginations, it sets upon the soul then — when the law of grace is not actually putting it on duty — so that it does not rebel in this, but it assaults. Hence the apostle cries out, Rom 7:24, “Who will deliver me from it?” Who will rescue me out of its hand? as the word signifies. When we pursue an enemy, and he resists us, we do not cry out, “Who will deliver us?” for we are the assailants. But, “Who will rescue me?” is the cry of someone who is attacked by an enemy. So it is here: a man is assaulted by his “own lust,” as James puts it. Along the way, in his employment, under a duty, sin sets upon the soul with vain imaginations and foolish desires; it would willingly employ the soul to make provision for its satisfaction. This is what the apostle cautions us against in Rom 13:14.5 Do not accomplish the providence or projection of the flesh, for its own satisfaction.6
(2.) Its importunity and urgency seems to be noted in this expression “warring.” Enemies in war are restless, pressing, and importunate; so is the law of sin. Does it attack the soul? — Throw off its motions; it will return again. Rebuke them by the power of grace; they withdraw for a while, and then return again. Set before them the cross of Christ; they do like those who came to take him [in the Garden] Joh 18.6 — at the sight of him they drew back and fell to the ground; but they arose again and laid hands on him — sin gives way for a season, but it returns and presses on the soul again. Remind it of the love of God in Christ; even though it is stricken, it will not give up. Present hell-fire to it; it rushes into the midst of those flames. Reproach it with its folly and madness; it knows no shame, but presses on still. Let the thoughts of the mind strive to flee from it; it follows as if on the wings of the wind.
And by this importunity it wearies and wears out the soul; if the great remedy does not come quickly, it prevails to a conquest: “For if you live after the flesh, you shall die; but if, through the Spirit, you mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live,” Rom 8:13. There is nothing more marvellous or dreadful in the working of sin, than this importunity. The soul does not know what to make of it; it dislikes, abhors, and abominates the evil that it tends toward; it despises thoughts of it, it hates them like hell; and yet evil, by itself, is imposed on them, as if it were another person — as if an express enemy had gotten within him. The apostle reveals all this in Rom 7:15: “The things that I do I hate.” It is not the outward actions, but the inward risings of the mind that he addresses. “I hate them,” he says; “I abominate them.” But why then would
1 Strateu,ontai kata. th/v yuch/j strateuontai kata to psuches [NT:4754, 2596, 5590]
2 Strateu,ontai evn toi/j me,lesin u ‘mw/n, strateuontai en tois melesin humon [NT:4754, 3196, 5216]
3 Antistrateu,esqai antistrateuesthai [NT:497]
4 strateu,esqai strateuesthai [NT:4754]
5 Rom 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
6 Th/j sarko. pro,noian, poiei, sqe eivj evpiqumi,aj tes sarkos pronoian me poieisthe eis epithumias [NT:4561, 4307, 1519, 1939]
he have anything more to do with them? If he hates them, and abhors himself for them, then leave them alone; have nothing more to do with them, and so end the matter. But Alas! he says in verse 17, “It is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells in me;” — I have someone within me that is my enemy, who with endless, restless importunity puts these things upon me, even the things that I hate and abominate. I cannot get rid of them; I am weary of myself; I cannot flee from them. “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?” Rom 7.24 I do not say this is the ordinary condition of believers, but it is often this way when this law of sin rises up to war and fighting. It is not this way with believers in respect to particular sins — this or that sin, outward sins, sins of life and conversation — but it is often this way in respect to their vanity of mind, to their inward and spiritual distempers. Some, I know, pretend to great perfection; but I am resolved to believe the apostle before them; all and every one of them.
(3.) It carries on its war by entangling the affections, and drawing them into a combination against the mind. Let grace be enthroned in the mind and judgment; yet if the law of sin lays hold of and entangles the affections, any of them, then it has gotten a fort from where it continually assaults the soul. Hence the great duty of mortification is chiefly directed at the affections:
Col 3:5, “Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
The “members that are on the earth” are our affections: for sin is not seated in the outward part of the body. In particular, “covetousness” is not, which is enumerated among our members on the earth that are to be mortified. Indeed, after grace has taken possession of the soul, the affections become the principal seat of the remainders of sin. And therefore Paul says that this law is “in our members,” Rom 7:23; and James says that it “wars in our members,” Jas 4:1 — that is, it wars in our affections. And there is no estimate to be rightly taken of the work of mortification, except by the affections. Every day we may see persons of very eminent light, who still have visibly unmortified hearts and conversations; their affections have not been crucified with Christ. Now then, when this law of sin can possess any affection, whatever it is — love, delight, fear — it will make from it and by it, fearful assaults upon the soul. For instance, if it has gotten the love of anyone entangled with the world, or with the things of the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life;” 1Joh 2.16 — how it will take advantage on every occasion to assault the soul! The soul does nothing, attempts nothing, in no place or company — it performs no duty, private or public — that sin will not have one blow or other at it. In one way or another, it will be soliciting for itself.1
This is the sum of what we will offer as to this acting of the law of sin — by way of fighting and warring against our souls — which is so often mentioned in the Scripture. And a due consideration of it is of no small advantage to us, especially to bring us to self-abasement, to teach us to walk humbly and mournfully before God. There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of men, and they are, first, a due consideration of God, and then a due consideration of ourselves — of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject, and sinful condition. Now, of all things in our condition, there is nothing so well suited to this end and purpose as that which lies before us: namely, the vile remainders of enmity against God which are still in our hearts and natures. And it is no small evidence of a gracious soul, when it is willing to search itself in this matter, and to be helped in it from a word of truth; when it is willing to have the word dive into the secret parts of the heart, and rip open whatever there is of evil and corruption that lies in it.
The prophet says of Ephraim, Hos 10:11, “He loved to tread out the corn;” he loved to work when he might eat, to always have the corn before him: but God, he says, would “cause him to
1 That is, it will importune to have us satisfy the lusts of our flesh.
plough;” a labour no less necessary, even though at present it is not so delightful Most men love to hear of the doctrine of grace, of the pardon of sin, of free love; and they suppose they find food in it; however, it is evident that they grow and thrive in the life and notion of them. But they do not delight so much in breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts, to inquire after the weeds and briers that grow in them, even though this is no less necessary than the other. This path is not so beaten as that of grace, nor is it so trod in, even though it is the only way to come to a true knowledge of grace itself.
It may be that some, who are wise and have grown in other truths, may yet be so little skilled in searching their own hearts, that they may be slow in the perception and understanding of these things. But this sloth and neglect is to be shaken off if we have any regard for our own souls. It is more than probable that many a false hypocrite, who deceived himself as well as others because he thought the doctrine of the gospel pleased him, and therefore he supposed he believed it, might be delivered from his soul-ruining deceits, if he would only diligently apply himself to this search of his own heart.
Or, would other professors walk with so much boldness and security (as some do), if they rightly considered what a deadly watchful enemy they continually carry about with them and in them? Would they indulge so much as they do in carnal joys and pleasures, or pursue their perishing affairs with so much delight and greediness as they do? It should be wished that we would all apply our hearts more to this work, so as to come to a true understanding of the nature, power, and subtlety of our adversary, so that our souls may be humbled; and that would be —
1. In walking with God. His delight is with the humble and contrite ones, those who tremble at his word, the mourners in Zion; and we are such only when we have a due sense of our own vile condition. This will beget reverence of God, a sense of our distance from him, admiration of his grace and condescension, a due valuation of mercy that is far above those light, verbal, airy attainments that some have boasted of.
2. In walking with others. It lays in provision to prevent those great evils of judging, of spiritual unmercifulness, of harsh censuring, which I have observed are pretended by many who, at the same time (as it afterward appeared) have been guilty of greater or worse crimes than those whom they have raged against in others.
This, I say, will lead us to meekness, compassion, readiness to forgive, and to pass by offences — as the Apostle plainly declares, “considering yourself, lest you also be tempted,” Gal 6:1.1 The man who understands the evil of his own heart, how vile it is, is the only useful, fruitful, and solid believing and obedient person. Others are fit only to delude themselves, to disquiet families, churches, and all relations whatsoever. Let us, then, consider our hearts wisely, and then go and see if we can be proud of our gifts, our graces, our valuation and esteem among other professors, and our enjoyments; let us go then and judge, condemn, and reproach others who have been tempted — and we shall find a great inconsistency in these things.
Many things of a similar nature might be added here upon the consideration of this woeful effect of indwelling sin. The way to oppose and defeat its design in this will be considered afterward.
1 Gal 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.