For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. 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. Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties. O God, why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture? Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine;
~ Psalm 38:4, Psalm 40:12, Psalm 141:4, Psalm 74:1-2, Psalm 80:14
For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.
~ Galatians 5:17, 1 John 1:9, Micah 7:8-9
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
~ 1 Coritnhians 15:53
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
~ Galatians 3:27
And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
~ Ephesians 4:24
The Power of Indwelling Corruption, by Wilhelmus à Brakel. This is from Chapter 96 of his work, The Christian’s Reasonable Service. 2nd of February, 1700.
Indwelling corruption is the most powerful of all causes of backsliding. In regeneration God grants His people spiritual life by uniting them to Christ. This life is predisposed toward growth—and indeed it does grow. You would be able to observe this if you would compare your current condition with your condition when you were first changed. As it is true in the natural realm that the one person becomes taller and stronger than another, so it likewise occurs in the spiritual realm. In the natural realm a person will grow until he reaches full maturity, and then his growth ceases. However, in the spiritual realm perfection is reserved for eternity. Here one longs and strives for it, but in this life he does not attain it. In the natural realm one person will mature in a healthy manner, increase in strength, and retain his strength as it increases. Another person will, however, be hindered in his growth by many trials; and by way of illness or other occurrences he may lose his strength. A man may even become as weak as a child. Such is also the case in the spiritual realm. The one is as a plant which matures in its youth. He is as a shining light which arises until it shines forth at full noon. He goes from strength to strength, and flourishes like the palm tree and a cedar in Lebanon. Another person, however, encounters many things that impede him, and he loses his strength. Indwelling corruption, which at times gains much strength, is among the causes of a decrease in strength. It is this we now wish to discuss.
It Torments and Grieves Believers
That indwelling corruption greatly torments and grieves believers is evident from:
(1) The complaints of the saints: “O Lord, why hast Thou made us to err from Thy ways, and hardened our heart from Thy fear?” (Isa 63:17); “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. O wretched man that I am!” (Rom 7:23-24).
(2) Such texts in which believers confess the power of indwelling corruption: “Iniquities prevail against me” (Ps 65:3).
(3) Such texts in which saints pray to be kept from this. “Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me” (Ps 19:13).
(4) Related warnings. “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30); “But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).
It Does Not Have Dominion over Believers
Since regeneration is imperfect, the old man always remains present in the regenerate person. The old man retains its nature, ignorance, will, affections, and delight in sin—all this under the pretense of being honest, prudent, and delightful. In reality, however, the old man abhors that which is good, considering it to be aggravating, disadvantageous, distasteful, and impossible. It is thus that the warfare between the flesh and the spirit is engendered. “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal 5:17). In this battle, at times the one wins and at another time the other wins. To the extent that the one wins the other loses. The spirit will never expel the flesh entirely. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after” (Phil 3:12). In turn, the flesh will never expel the spirit entirely, nor have dominion and be triumphant over it. “His seed remaineth in him … because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9); “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom 6:14). To have dominion is to have fully prevailed over a given party, so that the conquered one surrenders and subjects himself to the conqueror, thereby rendering obedience. This will never be the case here. The flesh does receive such a measure of strength that it can activate both the natural faculties of the soul as well as the members of the body. This enables it to execute its desire in a manner which cannot be prevented by the spirit. However, the regenerated man can never be brought to the point—not for one moment—that he would subject himself to the will of the flesh for the purpose of rendering obedience to it, either willingly or unwillingly. The regenerated man will always oppose, even if it were but by sighing against it—thus showing his aversion and crying out as if violence were done upon him. A man can take a child by the arm against his or her will and cause the child to walk rapidly alongside of him. The child will indeed move his or her feet; however, not for the purpose of walking, but rather to avoid falling. Every step is an act of resistance. Such is also true when the spirit is overwhelmed by the power of indwelling corruption.
Causes Whereby Indwelling Corruption Exerts Great Strength at Times
At times indwelling corruption functions in its customary manner; that is, by enticing and drawing to that which is evil, and hindering and defiling that which is good—all the while enduring continual resistance from the principle of spiritual life.
Occasionally it will receive greater strength, however, and will gain a greater advantage over the spirit. This can be caused by:
(1) God withdrawing His normal influence in a small measure in order to try a person, to humble him, to make Jesus more precious to him, and to cause him to rely more on the strength of the Lord. When this occurs, spiritual life cannot withstand the great power of indwelling corruption.
(2) The occurrence of certain circumstances—be it a fear for one‟s life, or the loss of honor and belongings— which previously did not exist, causing the lusts to be stirred up, and to become capable of seducing man into the commission of certain sins. This can happen by way of a sudden and unexpected incident, or by the duration of a certain situation—and thus results in spiritual life being subdued.
(3) A change in the condition of the body whereby a person becomes more capable of a given sin. The body will then be more stimulated and stirred up to be entertained by such a sin. The condition of the body will trigger many sins, thereby igniting the lusts of the soul, and the soul in turn will indulge in her lusts by way of the body.
(4) The devil being given a greater measure of freedom whereby he assaults a person with new devices against which such a person is neither armed, nor yet has had any experience. A person will be readily overcome by this, and spiritual life will be in such bondage that it can hardly move one way or the other.
The Effects of Indwelling Corruption
The effects of the extraordinary power of indwelling corruption are both sinful, grievous, and dangerous, for indwelling corruption affects all the faculties of the soul and the body. First, it activates the intellect. This faculty is the first and essential beginning of man‟s activity. The lusts of the old man are, however, frequently stirring at an early stage already; they will affect the intellect and even stupefy it.
We shall thus neither see the sinfulness of sin and its harmful consequences, nor consider the omniscience, omnipresence, goodness, and righteousness of God. We shall then quietly forget the Lord; or if the Lord manifests Himself to some degree (or if the new nature by faith views itself as in the presence of God), this view will make no impression nor yield any power to resist sin.
Secondly, even the will can be assaulted. The new man abhors that which is evil because of its hostility toward the will of God, and finds delight in that which is good as being pleasing to God. However, the old man has a will contrary thereto. This so overpowers the faculty of the will that the new man does not have the power to activate either its aversion for sin or its desire for virtue. Even when, in spite of the vehement manifestation of lust, the new man manifests itself in some measure and strives to break through, it will succumb when a sinful desire violently draws the person away to the commission of sin. The act itself is then committed, so that it appears that the will in its entirety had no other desire but to commit evil. Even when we are not in the violent throes of our lust, we often cannot make a complete and heartfelt resolution from that moment on to depart fully from this sin, never to commit it again, but to be on guard against it and to battle it with all our might. Occasionally we shall make such a resolution, but it is feeble, superficial, does not encompass the very recesses of the heart—and thus wavers. Yes, we shall even accuse ourselves of not dealing with God in an upright manner. Nevertheless, there is some uprightness, but its efficacy is such that it is not capable of banishing the lust and sensibly taking control of the entire will. As far as remaining steadfast, there is an added feeling of hopelessness, knowing that all previous resolutions have proven to be unfruitful.
Thirdly, this indwelling corruption vehemently stirs up the affections, and once the affections have been set in motion, they can tolerate neither consultation nor delay, but as madmen they will run to execute that sin. They set the entire mechanism of man‟s inborn tendencies in motion and will drive a man on with insane intensity. The affections thus set everything in motion for the satisfaction of our lusts, and if the new man in any way opposes itself to this, he will be assaulted with all their might. Observe this in the following passages: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14-15); “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet 2:11).
Fourthly, the inner man having been overcome by indwelling corruption, this corruption now permeates the motions of soul and body. It sets our thoughts in motion to reflect upon the sin at hand and to find delight in such thoughts, knowing that such a thing either never will come to pass, could come to pass, or that we would not want to commit the deed. Yet, one will stir up his lusts toward the commission of that deed. Indwelling corruption will also move us to the commission of the deed itself. It will activate the members of the body, and for that purpose will utilize the eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet, and all members which are involved, in the commission of a sin. It is not satisfied with having committed the sin at hand only once, but it wants to commit this sin by renewal.
Believers Will Commit the Same Sins Again
There is no sin from which a regenerated person is safeguarded in an absolute sense. No one can say: “I shall never fall into that sin.” A person will never be delivered from the indwelling corruption of his nature. It will always prevent and defile that which is good, always stir up lusts, and daily cause a man to offend in many things, doing so either out of carelessness, or due to the sudden occurrence of an event. At times there is a very besetting sin, however, which is triggered by the disposition of the body or because the body is repeatedly stimulated due to there being continual opportunity for this sin. The power of this is such that we repeatedly fall into it. This can particularly be true of a sin which occurs in secret, and thus without the knowledge of any other person. It can also happen that one falls into a heinous sin which is punishable by civil law, being accompanied with great offence. However, such a great fall generally causes us to have a greater aversion for that sin than other sins, so that we shall no longer be tempted by this sin our entire lifetime. It can nevertheless happen—and occasionally it does happen—that such a person by renewal falls into such heinous sins, particularly such sins which are triggered by the disposition of the body. This does not only relate to the renewed commission of this sin in its prevailing intensity before a heartfelt repentance from this sin has occurred (so that it is more to be considered a continuation rather than a succumbing); but one may also fall again into this sin after having mourned over it in a heartfelt manner, having received Christ unto reconciliation, and having made a resolution against that sin. Sometimes this occurs shortly thereafter. It may appear at times as if that sin has been overcome— yes, even mortified—so that we no longer fear it. And yet, it can nevertheless happen that we fall into it by renewal.
(1) The examples of Abraham, Isaac, Lot, and Peter teach us that there is a falling into the same sin.
(2) The seed of all corruption is still within a person—and thus also of that sin.
(3) There is no promise in God‟s Word that someone will not fall again into that sin into which he has once fallen.
(4) Believers are capable of falling into other sins; why then can they not fall into the same sin again?
(5) When God withdraws His Spirit, spiritual life will be too weak to resist that same sin when it resurfaces. This is particularly true when there is every opportunity for it, the body is stimulated, and the devil assaults.
The Response of the Converted Person to His Indwelling Corruption
Objection: This is the true condition and life of an unconverted person, and such persons must therefore not be considered as being converted.
Answer: If someone were thus inclined to all manner of sin at all times, and would be without strife in this regard (there being no conflict between light, the conscience and the lusts, but rather between will and will, affection and affection); and if all this would transpire without a sorrowful languishing under it—without seeking, supplicating, weeping for forgiveness, receiving Jesus unto sanctification as well as justification; without repeated restoration and a walking in the fear of God—then I will admit that such a person is not converted. He ought not to comfort himself with his weakness and the fact that saints fall into sin. Wherever true grace is to be found in the heart, however, and when such persons come into the above-mentioned condition, the following matters will manifest themselves— sometimes more, sometimes less.
First, their indwelling corruption is not so powerful relative to all sins. The reason the regenerate forego many sins is neither because their nature is disinclined toward them, nor due to the absence of temptation, nor because they find no delight in besetting sins—as is true in the life of the unconverted. Rather, they resist other sins, opportunities, and stimuli due to being united with God; they fear God, and have love for the will of God. They are thus not vulnerable to every type of sin. However, this particular besetting sin has too much power. Spiritual life battles against this sin, (as has been shown above) but it cannot prevail. It is overpowered and taken captive, but it will never be dominated and brought into subjection.
Secondly, indwelling corruption does not always exert its power toward a given besetting sin. Spiritual life battling against it frequently has the upper hand, arises from falls, resists temptations, avoids opportunities, prayerfully takes hold of the Lord‟s strength, and remains close to the Lord. One thus proceeds sweetly, carefully, and in the fear of the Lord, and thereby is kept from that sin for a longer or shorter time, even though it will manifest itself again and will seek to resurface.
Thirdly, when indwelling corruption has the upper hand, the believer is neither joyous nor happy—as an unconverted person would be when he may indulge in his lust without harm or shame. Instead, there is much sorrow and heartache. He languishes and spends his life in sorrow, since (due to this sin) he must miss communion with God, peace, and the sensible assurance of being reconciled. Furthermore, his spiritual life weakens, and he cannot glorify God in his station in life. The more vehemently his lust appears to have free reign in this trial, the more the grief of his soul is multiplied. Furthermore, when the temptation is most vehement, and if he is prevented from committing his sin, he will not be irritated as the unconverted are, but will rejoice and thank the Lord for it. Hereby we thus discover the distinction between the commission of sin by the unconverted and the power of indwelling corruption as it strives with grace in the converted. Add to this what we have said in chapter 14 concerning prevailing and incidental sins.
From this, one can be clearly convinced whether sin has dominion over him. If sin still has dominion over you, let this convince you that you are yet in an unconverted state, and that if you remain thus and die in that condition, you will be damned eternally. Let it therefore stir you up to flee from the wrath to come by a speedy repentance and exercise of faith in Christ—doing so while He is yet offered to you and before it is too late.
If you may perceive that sin has no dominion over you, but that there is spiritual life in you which strives against indwelling corruption—even though it frequently suffers defeat—acknowledge the grace of God, be grateful for it, rejoice over it, and let it be a means to strive against indwelling corruption with renewed courage.
For, on the one hand, you taste how bitter it is to be a captive to sin; how you are continually living in bondage, restless, grieved, and full of fear; how God, in whose communion there is joy and life, hides Himself from you. You taste how vulnerable you are to all manner of temptations by the flesh, the devil, and the world; how the habitual disposition of spiritual life weakens; and how impossible it is for you to root out this indwelling corruption, which so often flourishes and increases in strength when spiritual life is weak. You taste how incapable you are to attain to the purpose of your calling: the glorification of God; and how fearful you are of death and the prospect of expiring in darkness and misery. On the other hand, you do know that your inner spiritual life craves help to be delivered from this prison and to be set at liberty; and how it cries out for such help. You are acquainted with the immutability of the love of God toward you, which you can conclude from the conviction that the Holy Spirit of grace is within you. You know the fullness of the Lord Jesus, who is ready to communicate to you grace for grace out of His fullness. You know how becoming it is for you, being the temple of the Holy Ghost, to cleanse that temple and to expel indwelling corruption. Oh, how delightful it is to repent! It renders joy to God, the Lord Jesus, angels, ministers, other believers, and to you yourself. Sin will then lose its potency, all tasks will seem easier to you, and you will increase in strength.