Sins Draws

For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore.
~ Psalm 38:2

CAPH. My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word. Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me? For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.
~ Psalm 119:81-83

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:
~ 1 Kings 8:38

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
~ Romans 6:14

The Deceit of Sin in Drawing the Mind Away from a Due Attendance to Especial Duties of Obedience, Instanced in Meditation and Prayer, by John Owen. The following contains Chapter Nine of his work, “The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevelancy of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin”.

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” — Rom. vii. 24, 25.


The deceit of sin in drawing the mind away from a due attendance to especial duties of obedience, instanced in meditation and prayer.

It has been declared how sin endeavors by its deceit to draw the mind away from attending to that holy frame in walking with God in which the soul ought to be preserved.

(2) We now proceed to show how it does the same work in reference to those especial duties by which the designs, workings, and prevalence of sin may in an especial manner be obviated and prevented. Sin, indeed, maintains an enmity against all duties of obedience, or rather all duties with God in them. “When I would do good,” says the apostle, “evil is present with me;” — Whenever I would do good, or whatever good I would do (that is, spiritually good, good in reference to God), sin is present with me to hinder me from it, to oppose me in it. And on the other side, all duties of obedience lie directly against the actings of the law of sin; for as the flesh in all its actings lusts against the Spirit, so the Spirit in all its actings lusts against the flesh. And therefore every duty performed in the strength and grace of the Spirit is contrary to the law of sin: Rom 8:13, “If you, by the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the flesh.” The actings of the Spirit of grace in spiritual duties, does this work.

These two are contrary. Yet there are some duties which, in their own nature and by God’s appointment, have a particular influence in weakening and subduing the whole law of sin in its very principles and greatest strengths; and the mind of a believer should principally attend to these, in his whole course; and sin in its deceit endeavors principally to draw the mind away from these. As in diseases of the body, some remedies, they say, have a specific quality against distempers; so too in this disease of the soul, there are some duties that have an especial virtue against this sinful distemper. I will not insist on many of them, but instance only two, which seem to me to be of this nature — namely, that by God’s designation they have a special tendency towards the ruin of the law of sin. And then we will show the ways, methods, and means which the law of sin uses to divert the mind from a due attendance to them. Now, these duties are —

First, PRAYER, especially private prayer; and, Secondly, MEDITATION.

I put them together, because they much agree in their general nature and end, differing only in the manner of their performance; for by meditation I mean meditating on what respect and suitableness there is between the word and our own hearts. That is to this end: that they may be brought to a more exact conformity. Meditating is pondering on the truth as it is in Jesus, to discover the image and representation of truth in our own hearts; and so it has the same intent with prayer, which is to bring our souls into a frame that in all things corresponds to the mind and will of God. They are like the blood and spirits in the veins: they have the same life, motion, and use. Yet, because believers are generally at a great loss in this duty of meditation, and having declared it to be so efficacious for controlling the actings of the law of sin, I will in our passage briefly give two or three rules for directing believers to a right performance of this great duty; and they are these: —

1. Meditate about God, with God; that is, when we would undertake thoughts and meditations of God, his excellencies, his properties, his glory, his majesty, his love, his goodness, let it be done in a way of speaking to God, in a deep humiliation and abasement of our souls before him. This will fix the mind, and draw it forth from one thing to another, to give glory to God in a due manner; and it will affect the soul until it is brought into that holy admiration of God and delight in him, which is acceptable to him. My meaning is that it should be done in a way of prayer and praise — of speaking to God.

2. Meditate on the word, in the word; that is, in reading it, consider the sense in the particular passages we insist upon, looking to God for help, guidance, and direction, in the revelation of his mind and will in it, and then labor to have our hearts affected with it.

3. What we come short of in evenness and constancy in our thoughts of these things, let it be made up for in frequency. Some are discouraged because their minds, through the weakness or imperfection of their inventions, do not regularly supply them with thoughts to carry on their meditations. Let this be supplied by frequently returning the mind to the subject proposed to be meditated upon, by which new senses will still be supplied to it. But this is incidental.1

I say, these duties, among others (for we have only chosen them for an instance, not excluding some others from the same place, office, and usefulness with them), make an especial opposition to the very being and life of indwelling sin, or rather faith in them does so. They are perpetually designing its utter ruin. I will, therefore, upon this instance, and in the pursuit of our present purpose, do these two things: —

(1.) Show the suitableness and usefulness of this duty, or these duties (as I will handle them jointly), to ruining sin.

(2.) Show the means by which the deceitfulness of sin endeavors to draw the mind away from a due attendance to them.

(1.) For the first, observe —

(1.) That it is the proper work of the soul, in this duty, to consider all the secret workings and actings of sin, what advantages it has gotten, what temptations it is in conjunction with, what harm it has already done, and what it is still further ready to do. Hence David gives that title to one of his prayers:

Psa 102, “A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and pours out his complaint before the LORD.”

I speak of that prayer which is attended with a due consideration of all the wants, straits, and emergencies of the soul. Without this, prayer is not prayer; that is, whatever show or appearance of that duty it has, it is in no way useful, either to the glory of God or the good of the souls of men. It is a cloud without water, driven by the wind of the breath of men. Nor was there ever discovered, any more present and effectual poison for souls, than binding them to a constant form and usage of words in their prayers and supplications, which they themselves do not understand. Bind men this way in their trades, or in their businesses in this world, and they will quickly find its effect. By this means they are disenabled from any due consideration of what, at present, is good for them, or evil to them. Without this, what use can prayer serve, except to mock God and delude men’s own souls? But in this kind of prayer which we insist on, the Spirit of God falls in to give us his assistance, and that is in this very matter of finding out and discovering the most secret actings and workings of the law of sin:

Rom 8:26, “We don’t know what we should pray for as we should, but he helps our infirmities;”

He reveals our wants to us, and what primarily we stand in need of for help and relief.

And we find by daily experience that, in prayer, believers are led into such discoveries and convictions of the secret, deceitful work of sin in their hearts, that no considerations could ever have led them into. So David, in Psalm 51, intending the confession of his actual sin, having his wound in his prayer searched by the skillful hand of the Spirit of God, he had a
1 Originally, “by the way”.

revelation made to him about the root of all his miscarriages, in his original corruption, verse 5.1 The Spirit in this duty is like the candle of the Lord to the soul, enabling it to search all the inward parts of the belly. It gives a holy, spiritual light into the mind, enabling it to search the deep and dark recesses of the heart, to find out the subtle and deceitful machinations, figments, and imaginations of the law of sin in it. Whatever notion there is of it, whatever power and prevalence there is in it, it is laid hold of, apprehended, brought into the presence of God, judged, condemned, and bewailed. And what can possibly be more effectual for its ruin and destruction? For together with its discovery, application is made for all that relief which, in Jesus Christ, is provided against it: all the ways and means by which it may be ruined. Hence, it is the duty of the mind to “watch unto prayer,” 1Pet 4:7, to attend diligently to the estate of our souls, and to deal fervently and effectually with God about it. The same also may be said of meditation, wisely managed to its proper end.

(2.) In this duty there is worked upon the heart a deep, full sense of the vileness of sin, with a constant renewed detestation of it. This, if anything, undoubtedly tends to sin’s ruin. This is one design of prayer, one end of the soul in it — namely, to draw out sin, to set it in order, to present it to itself in its vileness, abomination, and aggravating circumstances, so that it may be loathed, abhorred, and thrown away as a filthy thing.2 The one that pleads with God for sin’s remission, also pleads with his own heart for its detestation.3 In this, sin is also judged in the name of God; for the soul in its confession subscribes to God’s detestation of sin, and to the sentence of his law against it. There is, indeed, a course of these duties which some convinced persons surrender themselves to as a mere cover for their lusts; they cannot sin quietly unless they perform this duty constantly. But that prayer we speak of is a thing of quite another nature, a thing that will allow no intermixing with sin; much less will it serve the ends of sin’s deceit, as the other merely formal prayer does. It will not be bribed into a secret compliance with any of the enemies of God, or of the soul; no, not for a moment. And this is why, oftentimes in this duty, the heart is raised to the most sincere, effectual sense of sin, and detestation of it, that the soul ever obtains in its whole course of obedience. And this evidently also tends to the weakening and ruin of the law of sin.

(3.) This is the way appointed and blessed by God to obtain strength and power against sin: Jas 1:5, “Does any man lack? Let him ask of God.” Prayer is the way to obtain from God, by Christ, a supply of all our wants, assistance against all opposition, especially that opposition which is made against us by sin. I suppose this need not be insisted on; it is clear to every believer, in its notion and practice. It is that in which we call upon the Lord Jesus, and upon which he comes to our aid with suitable “help in time of need,” Heb 4:16.

(4.) Faith in prayer countermines all the workings of the deceit of sin; and that is because the soul in prayer, constantly engages itself to God to oppose all sin whatsoever:

Psa 119:106, “I have sworn, and I will perform it: I will keep your righteous judgments.”

This is the language of every gracious soul in its addresses to God: the inmost parts of the soul engage themselves to God, to cling to him in all things, and to oppose sin in all things. The one who cannot do this, cannot pray. To pray with any other frame, is to flatter God with our lips, which he abhors. And this exceedingly helps a believer in pursuing sin to its ruin; for —
1 Psa 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
2 Isa 30:22 You will also defile the covering of your graven images of silver, And the ornament of your molded
images of gold. You will throw them away as an unclean thing; You will say to them, “Get away!”
3 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 offer the sacrifices of our lips.

1st. If there is any secret lust that lies lurking in the heart, he will find it either rising up against this engagement, or using its artifices to secure itself from it. And it is discovered by this, and the conviction of the heart concerning sin’s evil is furthered and strengthened. Sin makes the most certain revelation of itself; and this is never more evident than when it is most severely pursued. Lusts in men are compared to hurtful and loathsome beasts; or men themselves are so because of their lusts. Now, such beasts keep to their dens and coverts; they never reveal themselves as much in their proper nature and rage, as they do when they are most earnestly pursued. And so it is with sin and corruption in the heart.

2dly. If any sin is prevalent in the soul, it will weaken it, and take it from the universality of this engagement to God; it will breed disloyalty in it, a slightness in it. Now, when this is observed, it will awaken a gracious soul, and stir it up to look about it. Spontaneous lethargy, or a causeless weariness and indisposition of the body, is looked at as the sign of an approaching fever or of some dangerous distemper. It stirs men up to use a timely and vigorous prevention so they are not seized by it. So it is in this case: when the soul of a believer finds that it is indisposed to engage itself in fervent, sincere, and universal holiness to God, it knows that there is some prevalent distemper in it — and so it finds the location of it, and sets itself against it.

3dly. While the soul can thus constantly engage itself to God, it is certain that sin can rise to no ruinous prevalence. Yes, it is a conquest over sin — a most considerable conquest — when the soul fully and clearly, without any secret reserve, comes to such an engagement with alacrity and resolve, as in Psa 18:23, “I was also upright before Him, And I kept myself from my iniquity.” And it may upon such a success, triumph in the grace of God, and have good hope, through faith, that it will have a final conquest, and what it so resolves shall be done; that it has decreed a thing, and so it shall be established. And this tends to disappoint, yes, to ruin the law of sin.

4thly. If the heart is not deceived by cursed hypocrisy, this engagement to God will greatly influence it to a particular diligence and watchfulness against all sin. There is no greater evidence of hypocrisy than to have the heart be like the whorish woman in Pro 7:14-21 who said, “‘I have paid my vows,’ now I may enjoy my sin;” or to be negligent about sin, being satisfied that it has been prayed against. But it is otherwise in a gracious soul. Sense and conscience about engagements against sin — made to God — make it universally watchful against all its motions and operations. On these and various other accounts, faith exerts itself in this duty to particularly weaken the power and stop the progress of the law of sin.

If the mind is diligent in its watch and charge to preserve the soul from the efficacy of sin, then it will carefully attend to this duty of prayer and its due performance, which is of such a singular advantage to its end and purpose. Here, therefore —

(2.) Sin puts forth its deceit in its own defense. It labors to divert and draw the mind away from attending to this and similar duties. And there are, among others, three engines, three ways and means, by which the deceit of sin attempts to accomplish its design: —

(1.) It takes advantage of its weariness to the flesh. There is an aversion in the law of sin, as was declared, to all immediate communion with God. Now, this duty is such an aversion. There is nothing that accompanies it by which the carnal part of the soul may be gratified or satisfied — as there may be something of that fleshly nature in most public duties, in most things that a man can do beyond pure acts of faith and love. There being no relief or advantage coming in by prayer, except what is purely spiritual, this duty then becomes wearisome, burdensome to flesh and blood. It is like travelling alone without a companion or diversion, which makes the way seem long; but it brings the traveller to his journey’s end with the most speed. So our Saviour declares when, expecting that his disciples should have been engaged in this work, according to their duty and present distress, he found them fast asleep: Mat 26:41, “The spirit,” he says, “indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak;” and out of that weakness grows their indisposition to and weariness of their duty. So God complains about his people in Isa 43:22, “You have been weary of me.” And it may come at length to that height which is mentioned in Mal 1:13, “You have said, Behold, what a weariness it is! and you have sniffed at it, says the LORD of hosts.”

The Jews suppose that it was the language of men when they brought their offerings or sacrifices on their shoulders, which they pretended wearied them, and they panted and puffed as men ready to faint under them — when they brought only the torn, and the lame, and the sick. But this duty is oftentimes rendered to the flesh. And the deceitfulness of sin makes use of this to draw the heart by insensible degrees from a constant attendance to it. It puts in for the relief of the weak and weary flesh. There is a compliance between spiritual flesh and natural flesh in this matter — they help one another; and an aversion to this duty is the effect of their compliance. So it was in the spouse, in Song 5:2, 8. She was asleep, drowsing in her spiritual condition, and pleaded her natural unfitness to rouse herself from that state. If the mind is not diligently watchful to prevent insinuations from this — if it does not constantly dwell on those considerations which evidence an attendance to this duty, as being indispensable — if it does not stir up the principle of grace in the heart to retain its rule and sovereignty, and not be dallied with by foolish pretences — then it will be drawn away, which is the effect aimed at by indwelling sin.

(2.) The deceitfulness of sin makes use of corrupt reasonings, taken from the pressing and urging occasions of life. “If we were to attend strictly to all duties of this kind,” says sin in the heart, “we would neglect our principal work, and be useless to ourselves and others in the world.” And on this general ground, particular businesses deprive particular duties from their due place and time. Men do not have the leisure needed to glorify God and save their own souls. It is certain that God gives us time enough for all that he requires of us in any kind of work in this world. No duties need to jostle one another, I mean not constantly. Special occasions must be determined according to special circumstances. If we undertake anything that takes more time than we have to perform it well, or if it robs God of what is due him, or our own souls, God does not call us to that, nor will he bless us in it. It is more tolerable that our duties of holiness and regard to God should entrench on the duties of our callings and employments in this world, than the contrary; and yet neither does God require this at our hands, in an ordinary manner or course of life. How little, then, will he bear with what evidently is so much worse on all accounts! Yet through the deceitfulness of sin, the souls of men are thus beguiled. They are at length driven from their duty by several degrees.

(3.) Sin deals with the mind, to draw it away from attending to this duty, by tendering a compensation to be made in and by other duties; just as Saul thought to compensate his disobedience by sacrifice.1Sam 15.14-15 “May not the same duty, performed in public or in the family, suffice?” And if the soul is so foolish as not to answer, “Those things should be done, and this is not to be left undone,” it may be ensnared and deceived. For besides a command to do this — namely, that we should personally “watch unto prayer” — there are, as declared, various advantages in this duty when it is performed against the deceit and efficacy of sin; but in the more public attendance to prayer, it doesn’t have this advantage. Sin strives to deprive the soul of these advantages by this exchange which it tenders to the soul by its corrupt reasonings.

(4.) I may add here something which plays a part in all the workings of sin by deceit — namely, it feeds the soul with promises and purposes of a more diligent attendance to this duty when occasions will permit. By this means, it brings the soul to say to its convictions of duty, as Felix said to Paul, “Go your way for the time being; when I have a convenient season, I will call for you.” Act 24.25 And by this means the present season and time, which alone is ours, is often lost irrecoverably.

These are some of the ways and means by which the deceit of sin endeavors to draw the mind away from its due attendance to this duty, which is so specially suited to prevent its progress and prevalence, and which aims so directly and immediately at its ruin. I might also give instances of a similar tendency in other duties; but this may suffice to reveal the nature of this part of the deceit of sin. And this is the first way by which it makes way for further entangling the affections and the conception of sin. When sin has wrought this effect on anyone, he is said to be “drawn away,” to be diverted from what in his mind he should constantly attend to in his walking before the Lord.

And this will instruct us to see and discern where the beginning of our declensions and failings in the ways of God lies; and that is either as to our general course, or as to our attendance to especial duties. This is of great importance and concern to us. When the beginnings and occasions of a sickness or distemper of the body are known, it is a great advantage to direct the person in and towards its cure. To recall Zion to himself, God shows her where the “beginning of her sin,” was Micah 1:13.1 Now, this is that which for the most part is the beginning of sin unto us, even the drawing the mind away from a due attendance in all things to the discharge of its duty. The principal care and charge of the soul lies on the mind; and if that fails in its duty, the whole is betrayed, either as to its general frame, or as to particular miscarriages. The failing of the mind is like the failing of the watchman in Ezekiel: the whole is lost by his neglect.

Therefore, in that self-scrutiny and search which we are called to, we are most diligently to inquire after this. God does not look at what duties we perform — as to their number and tally, or their nature alone — but whether we do them with that intension of mind and spirit which he requires. Many men perform duties in a road or course of habit; they do not, as it were, so much as think of them; their minds are filled with other things; only duty takes up so much of their time. This is but an endeavor to mock God and deceive their own souls. Therefore, if you would take the true measure of yourselves, consider how it is with you as to the duty of your minds which we have inquired after. Consider whether, by any of the deceits mentioned, you have not been diverted and drawn away; and if there are any decays upon you of any kind, you will find that their beginning has been there. By one way or another, your minds have been made heedless, regardless, slothful, and uncertain, being beguiled and drawn away from their duty. Consider the charge in Pro 4:23, “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it are the issues of life.” May not such a soul say, ‘If I had attended more diligently; if I had considered more wisely the vile nature of sin; if I had not allowed my mind to be possessed with vain hopes and foolish imaginations, by a cursed abuse of gospel grace; if I had not permitted it to be filled with the things of the world, and to become negligent in attending to especial duties — I would not this day have been so sick, weak, thriftless, wounded, decayed, and defiled. My careless, my deceived mind, has been the beginning of sin and transgression to my soul.’ And this discovery will direct the soul to a suitable way for its healing and recovery; this will never be effected by multiplying particular duties, but by restoring the mind.

And hence this also appears to be the great means of preserving our souls, both as to their general frame, and to their particular duties, according to the mind and will of God — namely, to endeavor after a sound and steadfast mind. It is a signal grace to have “the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” 2Tim 1:7 — a stable, solid, resolved mind in the things of God, not easily moved, diverted, changed, not drawn aside; a mind not apt to hearken after corrupt
1 Mic 1:13 O inhabitant of Lachish, Harness the chariot to the swift steeds (She was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion), For the transgressions of Israel were found in you.

reasonings, vain insinuations, or pretences to draw it away from its duty. This is what the apostle exhorts believers to:

1Cor 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”

The steadfastness of our minds, abiding in their duty, is the cause of all our unmovableness and fruitfulness in obedience; and so Peter tells us that those who are by any means led away or enticed, “they fall from their own steadfastness,” 2Pet 3:17. And the great blame that is laid upon backsliders is that they are not steadfast: Psa 78:37, “Their heart was not steadfast.” For if the soul is safe, unless the mind is drawn away from its duty, the soundness and steadfastness of the mind is its great preservative. And there are three parts of this steadfastness of the mind: — First, A full purpose to cling to God in all things; secondly, A daily renovation and quickening of the heart to discharge this purpose; thirdly, resolutions against all dalliances or parleys about negligences in that discharge — which will not be spoken to here.