For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. ~ Romans 7:5
The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalence of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers, 1667.
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
“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 7:24, 25
Rom. 7:23, “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.”
What he calls here the law of his mind, from the principal subject and seat of it, is in itself none other than the “law of the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus,” Rom. 8:2; or it is the effectual power of the Spirit of grace, as was said. But “the law,” as applied to sin, has a double sense: for as it is used in the first place, “I see a law in my members,” it denotes the being and nature of sin; and in the latter place, “Leading into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members,” it signifies sin’s power and efficacy. Both of these are comprised in the same name, singly used:
Rom. 7:2o, “Now if I do what I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
Now, what we observe from this name or term “law,” as it is attributed to sin, is this: that there is an exceeding efficacy and power in the remainders of indwelling sin in believers, with a constant working towards evil.
This is how it is in believers: it is a law in them, even though it is not a law to them. Though its rule is broken, its strength is weakened and impaired, and its root is mortified, yet it is a law that still has great force and efficacy in them. There, where it is least felt, it is most powerful. Carnal men, in reference to their spiritual and moral duties, are nothing but this law; they do nothing unless it is from it, and by it. In them, it is a ruling and prevailing principle of all moral actions, with reference to a supernatural and eternal end. I will not consider it in those in whom it has the most power, but only in those in whom its power is chiefly discovered and discerned — that is, in believers; in the others, it is only considered to further convict them of it, and manifest it.
Secondly, the apostle proposes the way by which he discovered this law in himself: “I find then (or therefore), a law.” 1 He found it. It had been told to him that there was such a law; it had been preached to him. This convinced him that there was a law of sin. But it is one thing for a man to know in general that there is a law of sin; another thing for a man to experience the power of this law of sin in himself. It is preached to all; all men admit that the Scriptures acknowledge it, that it is declared in them; but there are few who know it in themselves. We would otherwise have more complaints of it than we have, and more contentions against it, and less fruits of it in the world. But this is what the apostle affirms — not that the doctrine of it had been preached to him, but that he found it in himself by experience. “I find a law;” — “I have experienced its power and efficacy.” For a man to find his sickness, and the danger thus arising from its effects, is different than hearing a discourse about a disease arising from its causes. And this experience is the great preservative of all divine truth in the soul. This is what it means to know a thing indeed, and in reality — to know it for ourselves — when, as we are taught it from the word, so we find it in ourselves.
Hence we observe further, that believers experience the power and efficacy of indwelling sin. They find it in themselves; they find it as a law. It has a self-evidencing efficacy to those who are alive to discern it. Those who do not find its power, are under its dominion. Whoever contends against it, will know and find that it is present with them, that it is powerful in them. The one
Footnote: 1 Euvri,skw a;ra to.n no,mon, heurisko ara tou nomos [NT:2147, 686, 3551]
who swims against the current will find the stream is strong; but the one who floats along with it, will be insensible of it.
Thirdly, the general frame of believers, notwithstanding the indwelling of this law of sin, is also expressed here. They “would do good.” This law is “present:” 1 The habitual inclination of their will is to good. The law in them is not a law to them as it is to unbelievers. They are not wholly susceptible to its power, nor morally to its commands. Grace has sovereignty in their souls: this gives them a will to do good. They “would do good,” that is, always and constantly. In 1Joh 3:9, “To commit sin,”2 is to make a trade of sin, to make it a man’s business to sin. So it is said that a believer “does not commit sin;” and so he wills “to do what is good.”3 To will to do so is to have the habitual bent and inclination of the will, set on what is good — that is, morally and spiritually good — which is the proper subject addressed here.
From this comes our third observation: There is, through grace kept up in believers, a constant and ordinarily prevailing will to do good, notwithstanding the power and efficacy of indwelling sin to the contrary.
This, in their worst condition, distinguishes believers from unbelievers at their best. The will in unbelievers is under the power of the law of sin. The opposition they make to sin, either in its root or branches, is from their light and their consciences; the will to sin in them is never taken away. Take away all other considerations and hinderances, which we will address afterward, and they would sin willingly always. Their faint endeavors to answer their convictions are far from a will to do what is good. They will plead, indeed, that they would leave their sins if they could, and they would gladly do better than they do. But it is the working of their light and convictions, and not any spiritual inclination of their wills, which they intend by that expression: for where there is a will to do good, there is a choice of what is good for the sake of its own excellence — because it is desirable and suitable to the soul — and therefore it is to be preferred before what is contrary. Now, this is not in any unbelievers. They do not, they cannot, so choose that which is spiritually good, nor is it so excellent or suitable to any principle that is in them; they only have some desires to attain that end to which a good leads, and to avoid that evil which its neglect tends toward. And these desires are also, for the most part, so weak and languid in many of them, that they do not make any considerable endeavors towards them. Witness the luxury, sloth, worldliness, and security that most men are drowned in.
But in believers there is a will to do good, a habitual disposition and inclination in their wills toward what is spiritually good; and where this is found, it is accompanied by corresponding effects. The will is the principle of our moral actions; and therefore the general course of our actions will be suited to its prevailing disposition. Good things proceed from the good treasures of the heart.4 Nor can this disposition be evidenced by anything except its fruits. A will to do good, without doing good, is but pretended.
Fourthly, there is yet another thing remaining in these words of the apostle, arising from that respect that the presence of sin has to the time and season of our duty: “When I would do good,” he says, “evil is present with me.”
There are two things to be considered in the will of doing the good that is in believers: —
Footnotes: 1 Qe,lonti evmoi. poiei/n to. kalo,n thelonti emoi poiein to kalon [NT:2309,1698,4160,2570]
2 Poiei/n a ‘marti,an poiein hamartian [NT:4160,266]
3 poiei/n to. kalo,n, poiein to kalon [NT :4160,2570]
4 Luk 6:45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good;
1. There is its habitual residence in them. They always have a habitual inclination of will to what is good. And this habitual preparation for good is always present with them, as the apostle expresses it in Rom. 7.18.1
2. There are special times and seasons for the exercise of that principle. There is “when I would do good,” — a season in which this or that good, this or that duty, is to be performed and accomplished suitably to the habitual preparation and inclination of the will.
To these two, are opposed two other things in indwelling sin. To the gracious principle residing in the will (inclining to what is spiritually good), is opposed a law, that is, a contrary principle, inclining to evil, along with an aversion to what is good. To the second, or the actual willing of this or that good in particular (“When I would do good”) is opposed the presence of this law: “Evil is present with me,”2 — evil is at hand, and ready to oppose the actual accomplishment of the good aimed at. This is why indwelling sin is effectually operative in rebelling and inclining to evil, when the will to do good is, in a particular manner, active and inclining to obedience.
And this is the description of someone who is a believer and a sinner, as every one who is a believer is also a sinner. These are the contrary principles, and the contrary operations, that are in the believer. The principles are, on the one hand, a will to do good proceeding from grace, and on the other hand, a law of sin. Their adverse actings and operations are insinuated in these expressions: “When I would do good, evil is present with me.” And these both are more fully expressed by the apostle in Gal 5:17, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary to one another; so that I cannot do the things that I would.”
And here lie the springs of the whole course of our obedience. An acquaintance with these several principles and their actings is the principal part of our wisdom. As to their matter, next to the free grace of God in our justification by the blood of Christ, they are the only things in which the glory of God and our own souls are concerned. These are the springs of our holiness and our sins, of our joys and troubles, of our refreshments and sorrows. It is then, the concern of all those who intend to walk with God and to glorify him in this world, to be thoroughly acquainted with these things.
And hence we may see what wisdom is required in guiding and managing our hearts and ways before God. Where the subjects of a ruler are in feuds and oppositions against one another, unless great wisdom is used in the government of the whole, all things will quickly be ruinous in that state. There are these contrary principles in the hearts of believers. And if they do not labor to be spiritually wise, how will they be able to steer their course correctly? Many men live in the dark as to themselves all their days; whatever else they know, they don’t know themselves. They know their outward estates, how rich they are, and they are careful to examine the condition of their bodies as to their health and sickness; but as to their inward man, and their principles as to God and eternity, they know little or nothing of themselves. Indeed, few labor to grow wise in this matter; few study themselves as they should; few are acquainted with the evils of their own hearts as they should — yet the whole course of their obedience, and consequently of their eternal condition, depends these. This, therefore, is our wisdom; and it is a necessary wisdom if we have any design to please God, or to avoid what is a provocation to the eyes of his glory.
We will also find in our inquiry into this, what diligence and watchfulness is required for a Christian conversation.3 There is a constant enemy to it in everyone’s own heart; and we will later show what an enemy it is, for it is our design to reveal him to the uttermost. In the
Footnotes: 1 Rom 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. [i.e., good is known, even if not in the flesh, but not how to do it.]
2 Emo.i to. kako.n para,keitai Emoi to kakon parakeitai [NT: 1698,2556,3873] 3 Conversation: the conduct of our life in public; our way of life.
meantime, we may well bewail the woeful sloth and negligence that is in most people, even in professors of Christ. They live and walk as though they intended to go to heaven hood-winked and asleep — as though they had no enemy to deal with. Their mistake and folly will therefore be fully laid open in our progress.
What I will principally fix upon, in reference to our present design from this verse of the apostle, is what was first laid down — namely, that there is an exceeding efficacy and power in the remainder of indwelling sin in believers, with a constant inclination and working towards evil.
Awake, therefore, all of you in whose hearts is anything of the ways of God! Your enemy is not only upon you, as on Samson of old, but he is in you also. He is at work, by all ways of force and craft, as we will see. Would you not dishonor God and his gospel; would you not scandalize the saints and ways of God; would you not wound your consciences and endanger your souls; would you not grieve the good and holy Spirit of God, the author of all your comforts; would you keep your garments undefiled, and escape the woeful temptations and pollutions of the days in which we live; would you be preserved from the number of apostates in these latter days? Then awake to the consideration of this cursed enemy, which is the spring of all these and innumerable other evils, and also the ruin of all the souls that perish in this world!
Indwelling sin is a law — In what sense it is called a law — What kind of law it is — An inward effective principle called a law — The power of sin evinced from that.
What we have proposed for consideration is the power and efficacy of indwelling sin. The ways by which it may be proved are many. I will begin with the term used in the verse mentioned before. It is a law. “I find a law,” says the apostle. It is because of its power and efficacy that it is called a law. So too, the principle of grace in believers is a law: “the law of the Spirit of life,” Rom 8:2, as we observed before — “which is the exceeding greatness of the power of God in them,” Eph 1:19. Where there is a law, there is power.
We will therefore show both what belongs to it as a law, in general, and also what is particular or proper in it, being the sort of law we have described.
There are in general two things attending every law as such: — dominion and efficacy. First, dominion.
Rom 7:1, “The law has dominion over a man while he lives:”1
That is, “It lords it over a man.” Where any law is in effect, it has dominion.2 It is properly the act of a superior, and its nature is to exact obedience by way of dominion. Now, there is a twofold dominion, just as there is a twofold law. There is a moral authoritative dominion over a man, and there is a real effective dominion in a man. The first is an affection for the law of God; the latter for the law of sin. The law of sin doesn’t have, in itself, moral dominion — it doesn’t have rightful dominion or authority over any man. But it does have what is equivalent to it, and for which it is said “to reign as a king,”3 Rom 6:12, and to lord it over,4 or “have dominion,” verse 14, just as a law in general is said to have (chap. 7:1). But because it has lost its complete dominion in reference to believers, of whom alone we speak, I will not insist on this utmost extent of its power. But even in believers, it is still a law, even though it is not a law to them — yet, as was said, it is a law in them. And though it doesn’t have a complete, and as it were, rightful dominion over them, yet it will have domination over some things in them. It is still a law, and it is a law in them; so that all its actings are the actings of a law — that is, it acts with power, even though it has lost its complete power of ruling in them. Even though it is weakened, its nature is not thawed. It is still a law, and therefore it is powerful. And because its particular workings (which we will consider afterward) are the ground of this appellation, so the term itself teaches us in general what we are to expect from it, and what endeavors it will use for dominion — a dominion to which it has been accustomed.5
Secondly, a law, as a law, has an efficacy to provoke those who are opposed to it, to do the things it requires. A law has rewards and punishments accompanying it. These secretly prevail on those to whom they are proposed, even though the things commanded are not very desirable. Generally, all laws have their efficacy on the minds of men, from the rewards and punishments that are annexed to them. Nor is this law without this spring of power: it has its rewards and punishments. The pleasures of sin are the rewards of sin; a reward that most men lose their souls to obtain. By this means, the law of sin contended in Moses against the law of grace.
1 νόμος Kurieu,ei tou/ avnqrw,ou —nomos Kurieuei tou anthruuou [NT:3551,2961,444], or anthropa (man).
2 kurieu,ei kurieuei [NT:2961]
3 basileu,ein, basileuein [NT:936]
4 kurieu,ein kurieuein [NT:2961]
5 That is, the power of sin is broken, but the habit (the custom) of sin remains.
Heb 11:25, 26, “He chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; for he looked to the recompense of reward.”
The contest was in his mind between the law of sin and the law of grace. The motive on the part of the law of sin, with which it sought to draw him over, and with which it prevails on most, was the reward that it proposed to him — namely, that he would have the present enjoyment of the pleasures of sin. By this, it contended against the reward annexed to the law of grace, called “the recompense of reward.”
By this sorry reward, this law keeps the world in obedience to its commands; and experience shows us what power it has to influence the minds of men. It also has punishments that it threatens men with who labor to cast off its yoke. Whatever evil, trouble, or danger in the world, attends gospel obedience — whatever hardship or violence is to be offered to the sensual part of our natures in a strict course of mortification — sin makes use of, as if they were punishments attending the neglect of its commands. By these it prevails on the “fearful,” who will have no share in eternal life, Rev 21:8.1 And it is hard to say by which of these — whether its pretended rewards or pretended punishments — it most prevails, or which of them its greatest strength lies. By its rewards it entices men to sins of commission, as they are called, in ways and actions tending to satisfy its lusts. By its punishments it induces men to omit their duties; a course tending no less to a pernicious event than the former. By which of these the law of sin has its greatest success in and upon the souls of men, is not evident; and that is because they are seldom if ever separated, but equally act on the same persons. But this is certain: that by tenders and promises of the pleasures of sin on the one hand, and by threats of the deprivation of all sensual contentment and the infliction of temporal evils on the other, it has an exceeding efficacy on the minds of men, and often on believers. Unless a man is prepared to reject the reasonings that offer themselves from the one and the other of these, there is no standing before the power of the law. The world falls before them every day. Afterward we will declare with what deceit and violence they are urged and imposed on the minds of men; and also what advantages they have to prevail upon them. Look at men in general, and you will find them wholly at sin’s disposal by these means. Do the profits and pleasures of sin lie before them? — Nothing can keep them from reaching after them. Do difficulties and inconveniences attend the duties of the gospel? — They will have nothing to do with them; and so they are wholly given up to the rule and dominion of this law.
And so we have this light,2 in general, as to the power and efficacy of indwelling sin, from the general nature of a law, of which it partakes.
NEXT we may consider what kind of law in particular it is; which will further evidence its power which we are inquiring about. It is not an outward, written, commanding, directing law, but an inbred, working, impelling, urging law. A law proposed to us is not to be compared, for efficacy, to a law inbred in us. Adam had a law of sin proposed to him in his temptation; but because he had no law of sin inbred and working in him, he might have withstood it. An inbred law must necessarily be effectual. Let us take an example from that law which is contrary to this law of sin. The law of God was at first inbred and natural to man; it was co-created with his faculties, and it was their rectitude, both in its being and operation, in reference to his end of living to God and glorifying him. Hence it had an especial power in the whole soul to enable it for all obedience, yes, and to make all obedience easy and pleasant. Such is the power of an inbred law. And though this law, as to its rule and dominion, is now by nature cast out of the soul, its remaining sparks, because they are inbred, are very powerful and effectual; as the apostle declares, Rom
1 Rev 21:8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
2 That is, insight.
2:14-15.1 Afterward God renews this law, and writes it in tablets of stone. But what is the efficacy of this law? Will it now, as it is external and proposed to men, enable them to perform the things that it exacts and requires? Not at all. God knew it would not, unless it were turned to an internal law again; that is, until from a moral outward rule, it is turned into an inward real principle.
Which is why God makes his law internal again, and implants it in the heart as it was at first, when he intends to give it power to produce obedience in his people:
Jer 31:31-33, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.”
This is what God fixes on, as it were: a discovery of the insufficiency of an outward law leading men to obedience. ‘The written law,’ he says, ‘will not do it; mercies and deliverances from distress will not effect it; trials and afflictions will not accomplish it. Then,’ says the Lord, ‘I will take another course: I will turn the written law into an internal living principle in their hearts; that will have such an efficacy that it will assuredly make them my people, and keep them so.’
Now, such is this law of sin: it is an indwelling law. Rom 7:17, “It is sin that dwells in me;” verse 20, “Sin that dwells in me;” verse 21, “It is present with me;” verse 23, “It is in my members;” — indeed, it is so far in a man, that in some sense it is said to be the man himself; verse 18, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing.” The flesh, which is the seat and throne of this law, yes, which indeed is this law, is in some sense the man himself, just as grace is also the new man. Now, from this consideration — that it is an indwelling law inclining and moving us toward sin, just as an inward habit or principle does — it has various advantages that increase its strength and further its power; such as,
1. It always abides in the soul — it is never absent. The apostle twice uses that expression, “It dwells in me.” There is its constant residence and habitation. If it came upon the soul only at certain seasons, much obedience might be perfectly accomplished in its absence; yes, and just as they deal with usurping tyrants whom they intend to thrust out of a city, the gates might be shut against it sometimes, so that it might not return — the soul might fortify itself against it. But the soul is its home; there it dwells, and it is no wanderer. Wherever you are, whatever you are about, this law of sin is always in you — in the best that you do, and in the worst. Men little consider what a dangerous companion is always at home with them. When they are in company, when alone, by night or by day, all is one: sin is with them. There is a living coal continually in their houses; which, if it is not looked after, will set them on fire, and maybe consume them. Oh, the woeful security of poor souls! How little do most men think about this inbred enemy that is never away from home! How little, for the most part, does the watchfulness of any professor correspond to the danger of his state and condition!
2. It is always ready to apply itself to every end and purpose which it serves. “It not only dwells in me,” says the apostle, “but when I would do good, it is present with me.” There is something more in that expression than mere indwelling. An inmate may dwell in a house, and yet not always meddle with what the good man of the house is doing (so we may keep to the allusion of indwelling, used by the apostle). But it is so with this law: it so dwells in us, that it is present with us in everything we do; yes, oftentimes when, with the most earnestness, we desire to be rid of it, it will push itself upon us with the most force: “When I would do good, it is present with me.” Rom 7.21
Would you pray; would you hear; would you give alms; would you meditate; would you in any duty act out your faith in God and love towards him; would you work righteousness; would you1 Rom 2:14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)…
resist temptations — if so, this troublesome, perplexing indweller will still more or less force itself upon you, and be present with you, so that you cannot perfectly and completely accomplish the thing that is good, as our apostle speaks of it in verse 18.1 Sometimes men, by hearkening to their temptations, stir up, excite, and provoke their lusts; no wonder then, that they find them present and active. But it will be so when we labor with all our endeavors to be free from them. This law of sin “dwells” in us. That is, it adheres to us as a depraved principle: to our minds in darkness and vanity; to our affections in sensuality; to our wills in a loathing of and aversion to what is good; and by some, more, or all of these, is continually forcing itself upon us, in inclinations, motions, or suggestions to evil, when we would most gladly be rid of it.
3. It being an indwelling law, it applies itself to its work with great facility and easiness, like “the sin that so easily besets us,” Heb 12:1. It has a great facility and easiness in applying itself to its work; it needs no doors to be opened to it; it needs no engines to work by. The soul cannot apply itself to any duty of a man, unless it is by exercising those faculties in which this law has its residence. Is the understanding or the mind to be applied to anything? — there it is: in ignorance, darkness, vanity, folly, and madness. Is the will to be engaged? — there it is also: in spiritual deadness, stubbornness, and the roots of obstinacy. Are the heart and affections to be set to work? — there it is: in inclinations to the world and present things, and to sensuality, with proneness to all manner of defilements. Hence it is easy for it to insinuate itself into all that we do, and to hinder all that is good, and to further all sin and wickedness. It has an intimacy, an inwardness with the soul; and therefore, in all that we do, it easily besets us. It possesses those very faculties of the soul by which we must do what we do, whatever it is, good or evil. Now, it has all these advantages because it is a law, an indwelling law, which manifests its power and efficacy. It is always resident in the soul; it enforces itself upon all its actings, and it does that with easiness and facility.
This is that law which the apostle affirms that he found in himself; this is that title which he gives to the powerful and effectual remainder of indwelling sin even in believers; and from that appellation, we have these general evidences of its power. There are many in the world who do not find this law in them — who, whatever they have been taught in the word, do not have a spiritual sense and experience of the power of indwelling sin; and that is because they are wholly under its dominion. They do not find that there is darkness and folly in their minds, because they are darkness itself, and darkness will discover nothing. They do not find deadness and an indisposition in their hearts and wills to God; because they are wholly dead in trespasses and sins. They are at peace with their lusts, by being in bondage to them. And this is the state of most men in the world; which makes them woefully despise all their eternal concerns. Why is it that men follow and pursue the world with so much greediness, that they neglect heaven, and life, and immortality for it, every day? Why is it that some pursue their sensuality with delight? — they will drink and revel, and have their sports, let others say what they please. Why is it that so many live so unprofitably under the word — that they understand so little of what is spoken to them — that they practice less of what they understand — and that they will by no means be stirred up to respond to the mind of God in his calls to them? It is all from this law of sin, and the power of it that rules and bears sway in men, that all these things proceed. But it is not about such persons that we particularly speak at present.
From what has been said, it will ensue that, if there is such a law in believers, it is doubtless their duty to find it out, and find it to be so.
The more they find its power, the less they will feel its effects. It will not at all advantage a man to have a hectic distemper and not discover it — or have a fire burning secretly in his house, and
1 Rom 7:18 …for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good, I do not find. Rom 7:21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.
not know it. As much as men find of this law in them, they will abhor it and themselves, and no more. Also proportionate to their discovery of this law, will be their earnestness for grace — nor will it rise any higher than that. All watchfulness and diligence in obedience will correspond to it also. On this one hinge — finding out and experiencing the power and the efficacy of this law of sin — turns the whole course of our lives. Ignorance of it breeds senselessness, carelessness, sloth, security, and pride; all of which the Lord’s soul abhors. Eruptions into great, open, conscience-destroying, scandalous sins, are from lack of a due spiritual consideration of this law. Inquire, then, how it is with your souls. What do you find of this law? What experience do you have of its power and efficacy? Do you find that it dwells in you, that it is always present with you, exciting itself, spreading its poison with facility and ease at all times, in all your duties, “when you would do good”? What humiliation, what self-abasement, what intenseness in prayer, what diligence, what watchfulness, this calls for at your hands! What spiritual wisdom you stand in need of! What supplies of grace, what assistance of the Holy Ghost will also be discovered from this! I fear that few of us have a diligence that is proportionate to our danger.
The seat or subject of the law of sin is the heart — What is meant by that— Properties of the heart as possessed by sin: unsearchable and deceitful — What that deceit arises from — Improvement of these considerations.
HAVING manifested indwelling sin, treating the remainders of it in believers as a law, and having evinced in general its power from that law, we will now proceed to give particular instances of its efficacy and advantages from some things that generally relate to it as such. And there are three of these: —
FIRST, Its seat and subject;
SECONDLY, Its natural properties (Chap. 4); and,
THIRDLY, Its operations and manner (Chap. 5); this is principally what we will aim at and attend to.
FIRST, For the seat and subject of this law of sin, the Scripture everywhere assigns it to the heart. Indwelling sin keeps its special residence there. It has invaded and possessed the throne of God himself:
Ecc 9:3, “Madness is in the heart of men while they live.”
This is their madness, or the root of all that madness which appears in their lives.
Mat 15:19, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies,” etc.
There are many outward temptations and provocations that befall men, which excite and stir them up to these evils; but they merely open the vessel, as it were, and let out what is laid up and stored in it. The root, rise, and stirring of all these things, is in the heart. Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before. From this comes that summary description of the whole work and effect of this law of sin: “Every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually.” 1 The whole work of the law of sin, from its first rise, to its first coining of actual sin, is described here; and its seat, its work-house, is said to be the heart. And so it is called by our Saviour the evil treasure of the heart:
Luke 6:45, “An evil man, out of the evil treasure of his heart, brings forth evil things.”
This treasure is the prevailing principle of moral actions in men. So, in the beginning of the verse, our Saviour calls grace “The good treasure of the heart” of a good man, from which that which is good proceeds. It is a principle constantly and abundantly inciting and stirring up, and consequently producing actions that are like and conformable to it, of the same kind and nature as itself. And it is also called a treasure for its abundance. It will never be exhausted; it is not wasted by men’s spending it; indeed, the more lavish men are with this stock — the more they draw out of this treasure — the more it grows and abounds! Just as men do not spend their grace, but increase it by its exercise, no more do they spend their indwelling sin. The more men exercise their grace in duties of obedience, the more it is strengthened and increased; and the more men exert and put forth the fruits of their lust, the more that lust is enraged and increased in them — it feeds on itself, swallows up its own poison, and grows by it. The more men sin, the more they are inclined to sin. It is from the deceitfulness of this law of sin (which we will speak of at large afterward) that men persuade themselves that by this or that particular sin, they will so satisfy their lusts that they will need to sin no more. Every sin increases the principle, and
Footnote: 1 Gen 6:5. Also, Gen 8:21 Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth;
fortifies the habit of sinning. It is an evil treasure that increases by doing evil. And where does this treasure lie? It is in the heart; there it is laid up, there it is kept in safety. It is so safely stored in the heart, that all the men in the world, and all the angels in heaven, cannot dispossess a man of this treasure.
The heart in the Scripture is variously used: sometimes for the mind and understanding, sometimes for the will, sometimes for the affections, sometimes for the conscience, sometimes for the whole soul. Generally it denotes the whole soul of man, and all its faculties — not absolutely, but as they are all one principle of moral operations — as they all concur in our doing good or evil. The mind, as it inquires, discerns, and judges what is to be done, and what is to be refused; the will, as it chooses, or as it refuses and avoids; the affections, as they like or dislike, cling to or have an aversion to what is proposed to them; the conscience, as it warns and determines —all these together, are called the heart. And it is in this sense that we say the seat and subject of this law of sin is the heart of man. Only, we may add that the Scripture, speaking of the heart as the principle of men’s good or evil actions, usually insinuates with it two things belonging to the manner of their performance: —
1. A suitableness and pleasingness to the soul in the things that are done. When men take delight and are pleased in and with what they do, they are said to do it heartily, with their whole hearts. Thus, when God himself blesses his people in love and delight, he says he does it “with his whole heart, and with his whole soul,” Jer 32:41.
2. Resolution and constancy in such actions. And this is also denoted in the metaphorical expression used before of a treasure, from which men constantly take out the things which either they stand in need of, or intend to use.
This is the subject, the seat, the dwelling-place of this law of sin: the heart — as it is the entire principle of moral operations, of doing good or evil, as out of it proceeds good or evil. Here in the heart dwells our enemy; this is the fort, the citadel of this tyrant, where it maintains a rebellion against God all our days. Sometimes it has more strength, and consequently more success; sometimes it has less strength and less success; but while we live, it is always in rebellion.
That we may, in passing, take a little view of the strength and power of sin from this seat and subject of it, we will consider one or two properties of the heart that exceedingly contribute to it. It is like an enemy in war, whose strength and power lie not only in his numbers and force of men or arms, but also in the unconquerable forts that he possesses. And such is the heart to this enemy of God and our souls. This will appear from its properties, of which one or two will be mentioned.
1. The heart is unsearchable: Jer 17:9, 10, “Who can know the heart? I the LORD search it.” The heart of man is pervious1 only to God; hence he takes the honor of searching the heart as unique to himself: it as fully declares him to be God, as any other glorious attribute of his nature. We don’t know the hearts of one another; we don’t know our own hearts as we should. There are many who don’t know their hearts as to their general bent and disposition, whether it is good or bad, sincere and sound, or corrupt and naughty; but no one knows all the secret intrigues, windings and turnings, actings and aversions of his own heart. Has anyone the perfect measure of his own light and darkness? Can anyone know what actings of choosing or aversion his own will might produce, when an endless variety of objects are proposed to it for its exercise? Can anyone traverse the various changings of his afflictions? Do the secret springs of acting and of refusing in the soul, lie before the eyes of any man? Does anyone know what will be the motions of the mind or of the will in such and such conjunctions of things, in such a suiting of objects, in
Footnote: 1 Allowing passage or entrance.
such a pretension of reasonings, in such an appearance of desirable things? All in heaven and earth are utterly ignorant of these things, except the infinite and all-seeing God. In this unsearchable heart dwells the law of sin; and much of its security, and consequently of its strength, lies in this: that it is past our finding out.
We fight with an enemy whose secret strength we cannot discover, and whom we cannot follow into its retirements. Hence, often, when we think sin is quite ruined, we find after a while that it was only out of sight. It has coverts and retreats in an unsearchable heart, where we cannot pursue it. The soul may persuade itself that all is well, when sin may be safe in the hidden darkness of the mind, where it is impossible for the soul to look into — for what makes sin manifest is light. It may suppose the will of sinning is utterly taken away, when there is yet an unsearchable reserve for a more suitable object, a more vigorous temptation than it has yet tried. Has a man had a contest with any lust, and a blessed victory over it by the Holy Ghost (as to that present trial) such that when he thinks it is utterly expelled, he finds before long that it had only retired out of sight? It can lie so close in the mind’s darkness, in the will’s indisposition, in the disorder and carnality of the affections, that no eye can discover it. The best of our wisdom is but to watch for its first appearance, to catch its first under-earth heavings and workings, and to set ourselves in opposition to them; for we cannot follow it into the secret corners of the heart. It is true, there is still relief in this case — namely, the one to whom is principally committed the work of destroying the law of sin and the body of death in us: the Holy Ghost. He comes with his axe to the very root;1 nor is there anything in an unsearchable heart that is not “naked and open to him,” Heb 4:13. But we, in a way of duty, may see from this what an enemy we have to deal with.
2. Just as the heart is unsearchable, so it is deceitful, as in the passage mentioned above: “It is deceitful above all things,” — incomparably so. There is great deceit in the dealings of men in the world — in their counsels and contrivances; in reference to their affairs, both private and public; in their words and actings — the world is full of deceit and fraud. But all this is nothing compared to the deceit that is in a man’s heart towards himself, and not towards others; for that is the meaning of the expression in this place. Now, incomparable deceitfulness, added to unsearchableness, gives a great addition and increase of strength to the law of sin, on account of its seat and subject. I do not yet speak of the deceitfulness of sin itself, but of the deceitfulness of the heart where it is seated. Pro 26:25, “There are seven abominations in the heart;” that is, not only many, but an absolute and complete number, as seven denotes. And they are abominations that consist in deceitfulness — so that the foregoing caution insinuates, ‘Do not trust him.’ For it is only deceit that would make us not trust in that degree and measure which the object of our search is capable of.
Now, this deceitfulness of the heart, by which it has an exceeding advantage in harboring sin, lies chiefly in these two things: —
(1.) That it abounds in contradictions, so that it is not to be found and dealt with according to any constant rule and way of procedure. There are some men who, from a natural constitution or other causes, have much of this in their conversation. They seem to be made up of contradictions; sometimes they are very wise in their affairs, sometimes very foolish; very open, and very reserved; very facile, and very obstinate; very easy to be entreated, and very revengeful — all in a remarkable height. This is generally considered a bad character, and it is seldom found except when it proceeds from some notable and predominant lust. But, in general, in respect to moral good or evil, duty or sin, it is so with the heart of every man — it is flaming hot, and key cold; weak, and yet stubborn; obstinate, and facile. The frame of the
Footnote: 1 Mat 3:10 “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
heart is ready to contradict itself at every moment. Now you would think you had such a frame or such a way entirely; but shortly it is quite otherwise: so that none know what to expect from it. The rise of this is the disorder that is brought upon all the faculties by sin. God created them all in a perfect harmony and union. The mind and reason were in perfect subjection and subordination to God and his will; the will corresponded, in its choice of good, to the discovery made of good by the mind; the affections constantly and evenly followed the understanding and the will. The mind’s subjection to God was the spring of the orderly and harmonious motion of the soul and all the wheels in it.
The heart being disturbed by sin, the rest of the faculties act cross and contrary to one another. The will does not choose the good which the mind discovers; the affections do not delight in what the will chooses; but they all jar and interfere with, cross and rebel against each other. This we have gotten by falling from God. Hence sometimes the will leads, and the judgment follows. Indeed, the affections — which should serve the rest — commonly get sovereignty, and draw the whole soul captive after them. And this is why it is, as I said, that the heart is made up of so many contradictions in its actings. Sometimes the mind retains its sovereignty, and the affections are in subjection, and the will is ready for its duty. This puts a good face on things. But immediately the rebellion of the affections, or the obstinacy of the will, arise and prevail, and the whole scene is changed. This, I say, is what makes the heart deceitful above all things: it does not agree at all in itself; it is not constant to itself; there is no order to which it is constant; it has no certain conduct that is stable. Rather, if I may so say, it has a rotation in itself, where oftentimes the feet lead and guide the whole.
(2.) Its deceit lies in its full promises at the first appearance of things;1 and this proceeds from the same principle as the former. Sometimes the affections are touched and worked on; the whole heart appears in a fair frame; it promises all will be well. Within a short while, the whole frame is changed; the mind was not at all affected or turned; the affections acted their parts a little, but now have departed, and all the fair promises of the heart depart with them. Now add to this deceitfulness the unsearchableness mentioned before, and we will find at least, that the difficulty of dealing effectually with sin in its seat and throne, has exceedingly increased. Who can deal with a deceiving and a deceived heart? — especially considering that the heart employs all its deceits to the service of sin — contributes them all to its furtherance. All the disorder that is in the heart, all of its false promises and fair appearances, promote the interest and advantages of sin. Hence God cautions the people to look to it, lest “their own hearts entice and deceive them.” Deu 11.16
Who can mention the treacheries and deceits that lie in the heart of man? It is not for nothing that the Holy Ghost says, “It is deceitful above all things,” Jer 17.9 — it is uncertain in what it does, and false in what it promises. Moreover, this is why (among other causes), in the pursuit of our war against sin, we not only have the old work to do over and over, but still new work while we live in this world, still new stratagems and wiles to deal with, as the manner will be wherever unsearchableness and deceitfulness are to be contended with.
There are many other properties of this seat and subject of the law of sin which might be insisted on, to the same end and purpose; but that would too far divert us from our particular design. And therefore I will pass these over with a few considerations: —
First, Never let us reckon that our work in contending against sin — in crucifying, mortifying, and subduing it — is at an end. The place of its habitation is unsearchable; and when we think we have thoroughly won the field, there is still some reserve remaining that we did not see, that we did not know of. Many conquerors have been ruined by their carelessness after a victory; and many believers have been spiritually wounded after great successes against this enemy. David
Footnote: 1 That is, it promises more at the start, than it delivers at the end.
was so wounded. His great surprise entry into sin was after a long profession, manifold experiences of God, and watchfully keeping himself from his iniquity. And hence it has come to pass in part, that the profession of many has declined in their old age, or at a riper time (this must be more distinctly addressed afterward). They have abandoned the work of mortifying sin before their work was at an end. There is no way for us to pursue sin in its unsearchable habitation, except by being endless in our pursuit. And on this account, that command of the apostle which we have in Col 3:5, is as necessary for those to observe who are towards the end of their race, as it is for those who are only at the beginning: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth;” always be doing it while you live in this world. It is true, great ground is obtained when the work is vigorously and constantly carried on; sin is much weakened so that the soul presses forward towards perfection: yet the work must be endless — I mean, while we are in this world. If we give up, we will quickly see this enemy exerting itself with new strength and vigor. It may be under some great affliction, in some eminent enjoyment of God, or in the sense of the sweetness of blessed communion with Christ, that we have been ready to say there was an end of sin, that it was dead and gone forever. But have we not found it to be the contrary by experience?
Hasn’t it been obvious that it was only retired into some unsearchable recesses of the heart, as to its in-being and nature, though maybe greatly weakened in its power? Let us then reckon on it: that there is no way to have our work done, except by always doing it; he who dies fighting in this warfare, dies assuredly a conqueror.
Secondly, Does it have its residence in what is various, inconstant, and deceitful above all things? Then this calls for perpetual watchfulness against it. An open enemy that deals only by violence, always gives some respite. You know where to have him and what he is doing, so that sometimes you may sleep quietly without fear. But against adversaries that deal by deceit and treachery (which are long swords that reach at the greatest distance) nothing will give security except perpetual watchfulness. It is impossible for us in this case to be too jealous, doubtful, suspicious, or watchful. The heart has a thousand wiles and deceits; and if we are the least off our watch, we may be sure to be surprised. Hence those reiterated commands and cautions are given for watching, for being circumspect, diligent, careful, and the like. There is no living for those who have to deal with an enemy that is deceitful above all things, unless they persist in such a frame. All cautions that are given in this case are necessary, especially this —“Remember not to believe.” Does the heart promise fair? — then do not rest on it, but say to the Lord Christ, “Lord, you undertake for me.” Does the sun shine fair in the morning? — do not reckon therefore on a fair day; the clouds may arise and fall. Though the morning gives a fair appearance of serenity and peace, turbulent affections may arise and cloud the soul with sin and darkness.
Thirdly then, commit the whole matter with all care and diligence to Him who can search the heart to the uttermost, and knows how to prevent all its treacheries and deceits. Our duty lies in the things mentioned before; but here lies our safety. There is no treacherous corner in our hearts that he cannot search to the uttermost. There is no deceit in them that he cannot disappoint. David takes this course in Psalm 139. After he sets forth the omnipresence of God and his omniscience, verses 1-10, he expands on it: verse 23, “Search me, O God, and try me” — as if he had said, ‘I know but little of my deceitful heart; only, I would be sincere. I would not have reserves for sin retained in it. Therefore You who are present with my heart, who know my thoughts long before I do, undertake this work; perform it thoroughly; for you alone are able to do so.’
There are still other arguments for evidencing the power and strength of indwelling sin, from which it is termed a “law,” but which we must take notice of according to the order in which we laid them down.
Indwelling sin is enmity against God —Its power comes from this — It allows no peace or rest — It is against God himself — It acts in aversion to God, with a propensity to evil — It is universal — To all of God — In all of the soul — Constantly.
SECONDLY, its natural properties. We have seen the seat and subject of this law of sin. In the next place we might take a view of its nature in general, which also will manifest its power and efficacy; but I will not enlarge upon this. It is not my business to declare the nature of indwelling sin: it has also been done by others.
Therefore, first, in reference to our special design in hand, I will only consider one property of it that always belongs to its nature, wherever it is. And this is what is expressed by the apostle, Rom 8:7, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace; Because the carnal mind is ENMITY against God.”
What is called here carnally minded, or “the wisdom of the flesh,”1 is the same as “the law of sin” which we insist on. And what does he say about it? Why, it is “enmity against God.”2 It is not only an enemy — for then possibly some reconciliation might be made of it to God — but it is enmity itself; and so it is not capable of accepting any terms of peace. Enemies may be reconciled, but enmity cannot; indeed, the only way to reconcile enemies is to destroy the enmity. So the apostle in another case tells us, Rom 5:10, “We, who were enemies, are reconciled to God.” That is, it is a work compassed and brought about by the blood of Christ — the reconciling of the greatest enemies. But when he comes to speak of enmity, there is no way for it, but it must be abolished and destroyed: Eph 2:15, “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity.” There is no way to deal with any enmity whatsoever, except by its abolition or destruction.
And this also lies in it as it is enmity: that every part and parcel of it, if we may so speak, the least degree of it that can possibly remain in anyone, while and where there is anything of its nature, is still enmity. It may not be so effectual and powerful in operation as it is where it has more life and vigor, but it is enmity still. Just as every drop of poison is poison, and it will infect, and just as every spark of fire is fire, and will burn; so is everything of the law of sin, whether the last or least of it — it is enmity, it will poison, it will burn. That which is anything in the abstract, is still that thing while it has any being at all.
Our apostle, who may well be supposed to have made as great a progress in subduing sin as any on earth; yet he cries out for deliverance, as from an irreconcilable enemy, Rom 7:24. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The meanest acting, the meanest and most imperceptible working of it, is the acting and working of enmity. Mortification abates its force, but it does not change its nature. Grace changes the nature of man, but nothing can change the nature of sin. Whatever effect is wrought on it, there is no effect wrought in it, such that it is not still enmity, still sin. This then is our sinful state and condition: — “God is love,” 1Joh 4:8. He is so in himself, eternally excellent, and desirable above all. He is so to us; he is so in the blood of his Son, and in all the inexpressible fruits of that blood, by which we are what we are, and in which all our future hopes and expectations are wrapped. Against this God, we carry about with us an enmity all our days; an enmity that has this from its nature: that it is incapable of cure or reconciliation. It may be destroyed, it shall be; but it cannot be cured. If a man has an enemy to deal with that is too mighty for him, as David had with Saul, he may take the course that David did — he considered what it is that provoked his enemy against him, and so he addressed himself to remove that cause, and make his peace:
Footnotes: 1 fro,nhma th/j sarko,j, phronema tes sarkos [NT:5427,4561] 2 e;cqra eivj Qeo,n, exthra eis Theon [NT:2189,1519,2316]
1Sam 26:19, “If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering: but if they are the children of men, may they be cursed before the LORD.”
Whether it comes from God or man, there is yet hope of peace. But when a man has enmity itself to deal with, nothing is to be expected but continual fighting, to the destruction of the one party. If it is not overcome and destroyed, it will overcome and destroy the soul.
And in this lies no small part of its power, which we are inquiring after — it can allow no terms of peace, of any composition. There may be a composition where there is no reconciliation — there may be a truce where there is no peace; but with this enemy, we can obtain neither the one nor the other. It is never quiet, conquering nor conquered — which was the only kind of enemy the famous warrior of old complained about.1 It is in vain for a man to have any expectation of rest from his lust except by its death; of absolute freedom except by his own death. Some, in the agitating of their corruptions, seek quietness by laboring to satisfy them, “making provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts,” as the apostle says in Rom 13:14. This is to quench fire by wood and oil. Just as all the fuel in the world, all the fabric of the creation that is combustible, being cast into the fire, it will not at all satisfy it, but increase it; so it is with satisfaction given to sin by sinning — it only inflames and increases. If a man will part with some of his goods to an enemy, it may satisfy him; but enmity will have all his goods, and it is not one whit more satisfied than if he had received nothing at all — like the lean cattle that were never less hungry for having devoured the fat.2 You cannot bargain with fire to take only so much of your houses; you have no other way than to quench it. This case is like the contest between a wise man and a fool: Pro 29:9, “Whether he rages or laughs, there is no rest.” Whatever frame or temper he is in, his importunate folly makes him troublesome. It is the same with this indwelling sin. If it violently agitates (as it will at provocations and temptations), then it will be outrageous in the soul; or if it seems to be pleased and contented — to be satisfied — it is all the same: there is no peace, no rest to be had with it or by it. If it had been of any other nature, then, some other way might have been fixed on; but seeing that it consists in enmity, all the relief the soul has, lies in its ruin.
Secondly, It is not only said to be “enmity,” but it is said to be “enmity against God.” It has chosen a great enemy indeed. It is proposed as our enemy in various places: 1Pet 2:11, “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;” they are enemies to the soul, that is, to ourselves. Sometimes they are an enemy to the Spirit that is in us: “The flesh lusts” or fights “against the Spirit,” Gal 5:17. It fights against the Spirit, or the spiritual principle that is in us, to conquer it; it fights against our souls, to destroy them. It has special ends and designs against our souls, and against the principle of grace that is in us; but its proper and formal object is God: it is “enmity against God.” Its work is to oppose grace; it is a consequent of its work to oppose our souls, which follows upon what it does, more than what it intends to do; but its nature and formal design is to oppose God — God as the lawgiver, God as holy, God as the author of the gospel, a way of salvation by grace, and not by works — this is the direct object of the law of sin. Why does it oppose our duty so that the good we would do, we do not do, either as to its matter or manner? Why does it render the soul carnal, indisposed, unbelieving, unspiritual, weary, and wandering?
It is because of its enmity to God, whom the soul aims to have communion with in its duty. It has, as it were, that command from Satan which the Assyrians had from their king:
1Kng 22:31, “Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the King of Israel.”
It is neither great nor small, but God himself, the King of Israel, that sin sets itself against. There lies the secret and formal reason for all its opposition to good — because it relates to God. If a
Footnotes: 1 NET Jdgs 1:19 The LORD was with Judah. They conquered the hill country, but they could not conquer the people living in the coastal plain, because they had chariots with iron-rimmed wheels.
2 Gen 41.20-21.
road, trade, or a way of duties were set up, where communion with God is not the aim, but only the duty itself — which is the way of men in most of their superstitious worship — the opposition that will lie against it from the law of sin will be very weak, easy, and gentle. Or as with the Assyrians, they assaulted Jehoshaphat because he showed that he was a king; but when they found that it was not king Ahab, they turned back from pursuing him.1 So too, because there is a show and an appearance of the worship of God, sin may make headway against it at first; but when duty cries out in the heart that indeed God is not there, sin turns away to seek its proper enemy elsewhere,2 even God himself. Hence many poor creatures spend their days in dismal, tiring superstitions, without any great resistance from within; while others cannot be troubled to freely watch with Christ one hour in a spiritual manner. It is no wonder that men fight with carnal weapons for their superstitious worship without, when they are not fighting against it within. For God is not in it; and the law of sin does not oppose any duty, unless it is to oppose God in every duty.
This is our state and condition: All the opposition that arises in us to anything that is spiritually good — whether it arises from darkness in the mind, or aversion in the will, or sloth in the affections — all the secret arguings and reasonings that are in the soul who is in pursuit of what is spiritually good, have God himself as their direct object. The enmity lies against him; this consideration should surely influence us to a perpetual, constant watchfulness over ourselves.
It is this way also in respect to all propensity for sin, as well as aversion from God. It is God himself that is aimed at. It is true, the pleasures, the wages of sin, greatly influence the sensual, carnal affections of men: but it is the holiness and authority of God that sin itself rises up against; it hates the yoke of the Lord. “You have been weary of me,” says God to sinners; and he says that during their performance of an abundance of duties. Every act of sin is a fruit of being weary of God. Thus Job tells us what lies at the bottom in the heart of sinners: “They say to God, Depart from us;” — it is enmity against him and aversion to him. Here lies the formal nature of every sin: — it is an opposition to God, a casting off of his yoke, a breaking off of the dependence which the creature ought to have on the Creator. And the apostle, in Rom 8:7, gives the reason why he affirms that “the carnal mind is enmity against God,” — namely, “because it is not subject to the will of God, nor indeed can it be.” It never is, nor will it be, nor can it be subject to God, because its whole nature consists in opposition to him. The soul in which a carnal mind is found, may be subject to the law of God; but this law of sin sets itself up in contrariety to it, and it will not be in subjection to it.
To distinguish a little further the power of this law of sin, from this property of its nature — that it is enmity against God — one or two of its inseparable adjuncts may be considered, which will further evince it: —
1. It is universal. Some contentions are bound to some particular concerns: this is about one thing, that is about another. It is not so here: the enmity is absolute and universal, as are all enmities that are grounded in the nature of the things themselves. Such enmity is against the whole kind of what is its object. And such is this enmity: for,
(1.) It is universal to all of God; and, (2.) It is universal in all of the soul.
Footnotes: 1 2Ch 18:29-32 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle; but you put on your robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself, and they went into battle. 30 Now the king of Syria had commanded the captains of the chariots who were with him, saying, “Fight with no one small or great, but only with the king of Israel.” 31 So it was, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, “It is the king of Israel!” Therefore they surrounded him to attack; but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him, and God diverted them from him. 32 For so it was, when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him.
2 That is, there is no battle to be fought: the person offers no resistance, or has left the field of battle altogether.
(1.) It is universal to all of God. If there were anything of God which sin did not have enmity against — whether his nature, his properties, his mind or will, his law or gospel, any duty of obedience to him, or duty of communion with him — then the soul might have a constant shelter and retreat within itself, by applying itself to that aspect of God, to that of duty towards him, to that communion with him, for sin would make no opposition against it. But the enmity lies against God, and all of God, and everything in which or by which we deal with him. It is not subject to the law, nor any part or parcel, word or tittle of the law. Whatever is opposite to anything as it is in itself, it is opposite to all of it. Sin is enmity to God as God, and therefore to all of God — not his goodness, not his holiness, not his mercy, not his grace, not his promises. There is nothing of him which sin does not seek to make headway against; nor is there any duty, private or public, in the heart or in external works, which sin does not oppose. And the nearer (if I may say so) anything is to God, the greater is sin’s enmity towards it. The more of spirituality and holiness that is in anything, the greater is sin’s enmity. What has most of God has most of sin opposition. Concerning those in whom this law of sin is most predominant, God says,
Pro 1:25, “You have ignored all my counsel, and would have none of my reproof.”
It is not this or that part of God’s counsel, his mind, or his will that is opposed, but all of his counsel; whatever he calls for or guides us to, in every particular of it, all is ignored, and none of his reproof is attended to. A man would think that it is not very strange that sin should maintain enmity against God in his law, which comes to judge it, to condemn it; but it raises a greater enmity against him in his gospel, in which he tenders mercy and pardon as a deliverance from sin; and that is merely because more of the glorious properties of God’s nature, more of his excellencies and condescension, are manifested in the gospel than in the reproof.
(2.) It is universal in all of the soul. If this law of sin would have contented itself to subdue any one faculty of the soul — if it would it have left any one faculty at liberty, any one affection free from its yoke and bondage — it might possibly have been opposed or subdued with more ease. But when Christ comes with his spiritual power upon the soul, to conquer it for himself, he has no quiet landing-place. He sets foot on no ground that must not be fought for and conquered. Not the mind, not an affection, not the will — but all is secured against him. And when grace has made its entrance, sin still dwells in all its coasts. If anything in the soul were at perfect freedom and liberty, a stand might be made there to drive sin from the rest of its holds; but sin is universal, and it wars in the whole soul. The mind has its own darkness and vanity to wrestle with; the will has its own stubborness, obstinacy, and perverseness; every affection has its own frowardness and aversion to God, and its sensuality to deal with — so that one cannot yield relief to another as it should; they all have their hands full at home, as it were. Hence it is that our knowledge is imperfect, our obedience is weak, our love is not unmixed, our fear is not pure, our delight is not free and noble. But I must not insist on these particulars, or I could abundantly show how diffused this principle of enmity against God is throughout the soul.
2. To this might be added its constancy. It is constant unto itself; it does not waver; it has no thoughts of yielding or giving up, notwithstanding the powerful opposition that is made to it both by the law and gospel — as will be shown afterward.
This, then, is a third evidence of the POWER of sin, taken from its nature and properties, in which I fixed on only one instance for its illustration — namely, that it is “enmity against God,” and that is both universal and constant. If we were to enter into a full description of it, it would require more space and time than we have allotted to this whole subject. What has been delivered might give us a little sense of it (if that is the will of God), and stir us up to watchfulness. What can be a more sad consideration than this: that we should constantly carry about with us what is enmity against God. And it is not enmity in this or that particular aspect
of him, but in all that he is, and in all in that he has revealed of himself? I cannot say it is good for those who do not find it. It is good for those, indeed, in whom it is weakened, and its power abated. Yet, for those who say sin is not in them, they only deceive themselves, and there is no truth in them.1Joh 1.10
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: —
Footnotes: 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 honor 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 vigor 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 apostatize 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 pretense, 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. Labor 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.”
Footnote: 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 harbor 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. Labor 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 savor 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 labor 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.
Footnotes: 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 fulfill the lust of the flesh;” Rom 13:14, “Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill 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
Footnotes: 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.2 “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 3 with a fault, or in a transgression.”
Footnotes: 1 In a military sense: a surprise attack or ambush that shocks and stuns the victim.
2 yTi[.d;y” aOl — Lo’ yada’ti [OT:03045,08804] 3 Ea.n prolhfqh/| ean prolephthe [NT:1437,4301]
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 1 — 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.2 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 7:24.3
(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.
Footnotes: 1 prolhfqh/| prolephthe [NT:4301]
2 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.
3 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:
Footnotes: 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 !wOkn” [lic,l. ynia]-yKi — 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 vigor — 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
Footnote: 1 Apo. pantoj. eid; ouj ponhrou/ apv ec, esqe apo pantos eidous ponerou apexesthe [NT:575, 3956, 1491, 4191, 567] 2 avntistrateuo,menon tw/| no,mw| tou/ noo,j 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 vigor 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.
Footnotes: 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,skw To katergazesthai to kalon ouk heurisko [NT:2716, 2570, 3756, 2147] 3 Diwk, w, 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 endeavor 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 vigor, 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.
Footnotes: 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
Footnotes: 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.j pro,noian mh. 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
Footnote: 1 That is, it will importune to have us satisfy the lusts of our flesh.
plough;” a labor 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 offenses — 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.
Footnote: 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.
The captivating power of indwelling sin, what it consists of — The prevalence of sin, from itself, from temptation — The rage and madness that is in sin.
The THIRD thing assigned to this law of sin, in its opposition to God and the law of his grace, is that it leads the soul captive:
Rom 7:23, “I find a law leading me captive to the law of sin.”
The law of sin is captivating. In that verse is the utmost height to which the apostle carries the opposition and warring of the remainders of indwelling sin. He closes its consideration with a complaint about the state and condition of believers by it, and an earnest prayer for deliverance from it: Rom 7.24, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” What this expression contains and intends by it, will be declared in the ensuing observations: —
1. It is not directly the power and actings of the law of sin that are expressed here, but its success in and upon its actings. Success is the greatest evidence of power; and leading captive in war is the height of success. None can aim at greater success than to lead their enemies captive; and it is a specific expression in the Scripture of great success. So the Lord Christ, on his victory over Satan, is said to “lead captivity captive,” Eph 4:8; that is, to conquer the one who had conquered and prevailed over others. And he did this when, Heb 2:14, “by death he destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Here then is revealed a great prevalence and power of sin in its warring against the soul. It wars so as to “lead captive;” if it did not have great power, it could not do, especially against that resistance of the soul which is included in this expression.
2. It is said that it leads the soul captive “to the law of sin;” Rom 7.23 — not to this or that sin, not to a particular or actual sin, but to the “law of sin.” God, for the most part, orders things so, and gives out such supplies of grace to believers, that they will not be made prey to this or that particular sin — that it should prevail in them and compel them to serve it in its lusts — that it should have dominion over them — that they should be captives and slaves to it. This is what David prays so earnestly against:
Psa 19:12, 13, “Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; do not let them have dominion over me: then I will be upright.”
He assumes the law of sin continues in him, verse 12, which will produce errors of life and secret sins. He finds relief against these in pardoning and cleansing mercy, which he prays for. “This,” he says, “will be my condition. But as for sins of pride and boldness, as are all sins that get dominion in a man and make him captive, may the Lord restrain your servant from them.” For whatever sin gets such power in a man, whether it is small or great in its own nature, it becomes in that person a sin of boldness, pride, and presumption. For these things are not reckoned from the nature or kind of the sin, but from its prevalence and habit. It is in this that its pride, boldness, and contempt of God consists. If I am not mistaken, Jabez prays to the same purpose:
1Chr 4:10, “Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, so that it may not grieve me!”
This holy man took occasion from his own name1 to pray against sin, so that it might not be a grief and sorrow to him by its power and prevalence. I confess, sometimes it may come to this with a believer, that for a season he may be led captive by some particular sin; it may have so much prevalence in him as to have power over him. So it seems to have been with David, when he lay so long in his sin without repentance; and this was plainly so in these verses:
Footnote: 1 Jabez means “pain,” sorrow, or trouble, 1Chr 4.9.
Isa 57:17, 18, “For the iniquity of his covetousness I was angry, and struck him: I hid myself, and was angry, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him.”
They continued under the power of their covetousness, so that no dealings of God with them, for so long a time, could reclaim them. But, for the most part, when any lust or sin so prevails, it is from the advantage and furtherance it has gotten by some powerful temptation of Satan.
He has poisoned it, inflamed it, and entangled the soul. So the apostle, speaking of those who had fallen away from their holiness, through sin, says,
2Tim 2:26, “They were in the snare of the devil, being taken captive by him at his will.”
Though it was their own lusts that they served, yet they were brought into bondage to it by being entangled in some snare of Satan; and from this they are said to be “taken alive,” like a poor beast in a snare.
And here, by the way, we may inquire a little, whether the prevailing power of a particular sin in anyone is from the sin itself, or from the influence of temptation upon it; concerning this, for the moment I will make only these two observations: —
(1.) Much of the prevalence of sin upon the soul is certainly from Satan, when the perplexing and captivating sin has no particular footing or advantage in the nature, constitution, or condition of the sinner. When any lust grows high, and prevails more than others on its own account, it is from the particular advantage that it has in the natural constitution, or in the station or condition in the world that this person has. For otherwise, the law of sin gives an equal propensity to all evil, and an equal vigor to every lust. Therefore, when it cannot be discerned that the captivating sin is particularly fixed in the nature of the sinner, or that it is advantaged from his education or employment in the world, its prevalence is specifically from Satan. He has gotten to the root of that sin, and has given it poison and strength. Indeed, sometimes what may seem to the soul to be the corrupt lusting of the heart, is perhaps nothing but Satan’s imposing his suggestions on the imagination. Then, if a man finds an importunate rage from any corruption that is not evidently seated in his nature, let him (as the Papists say) cross himself — or flee by faith to the cross of Christ — for the devil is near at hand.
(2.) When a lust is prevalent to the point of captivity, where it brings no advantage to the flesh, it is from Satan. All that the law of sin does by itself, is to serve the provision of the flesh, Rom 13:14; it must bring to it something of the profits and pleasures that are its object. Now, if the prevailing sin does not do so in itself — if it is more spiritual and inward — then it is much more from Satan by way of the imagination, than it is from the corruption of the heart itself. But this is incidental.
I say then, that the apostle does not address here our being captivated to this or that sin, but to the law of sin; that is, we are compelled to bear its presence and burden whether we would or not. Sometimes the soul thinks or hopes that through grace, it may be utterly freed from this troublesome inmate. Upon some sweet enjoyment of God, some full supply of grace, some return from wandering, some deep affliction, some thorough humiliation, the poor soul begins to hope that it will now be freed from the law of sin. But after a while, it perceives that it is quite otherwise. Sin acts again, and makes good its old station; and the soul finds that, whether it would or not, it must bear its yoke. This makes it sigh and cry out for deliverance.
3. This leading captive argues for a prevalence against the reluctant or contrary actings of the will. This is intimated plainly in this expression — namely, that the will opposes and makes headway, as it were, against the working of sin. The apostle declares this in these expressions:
Rom 7:19, 20, “For the good that I would do, I do not do; but the evil which I would not do, that I do. Now if I do what I would not do, it is no more I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
And this is what the lusting of the Spirit against the flesh consists in;Gal 5:17 that is, in grace contending to expel and subdue sin. The spiritual habits of grace that are in the will, resist and act against sin in this way; and the excitation of those habits by the Spirit, are directed to the same purpose. This leading captive is contrary, I say, to the inclinations and actings of the renewed will. No man is made a captive except against his will. Captivity is misery and trouble, and no man willingly puts himself into trouble. Men choose captivity in its causes, and in the ways and means leading to it, but not in itself. So the prophet informs us in Hos 5:11, “Ephraim was,” not willingly, “oppressed and broken in judgment,” — that was his misery and trouble; but he “willingly walked after the commandment” of the idolatrous kings, which brought him to it. Whatever consent the soul may give to sin then — which is the means of this captivity — it gives no consent to the captivity itself; that is wholly against the will. Hence these things follow: —
(1.) That the power of sin is great — which is what we are demonstrating; and this appears in its prevalence to captivity against the actings and contendings of the will for liberty from sin. If it had no opposition to it, or its adversary were weak, negligent, and slothful, then making captives would be no great evidence of its power; but its prevailing against diligence, activity, watchfulness, and the constant reluctance of the will — this evinces its efficacy.
(2.) This leading captive intimates that there are manifold and particular successes. If it did not have any particular success, it could not be said to lead captive at all. It might rebel, it might assail; but without some successes, it cannot be said to lead captive. And there are several degrees of the success of the law of sin in the soul. Sometimes it carries the person to outward actual sin, which is sin’s utmost aim; sometimes it obtains the consent of the will, but it is thrown out by grace, and it proceeds no further; sometimes it wearies and entangles the soul that it turns aside, as it were, and leaves it contending — which is a success also. One or more, or all of these, must exist where there is captivity. The apostle ascribes this kind of course to covetousness, 1Tim 6:9, 10.1
(3.) This leading captive manifests that this condition is miserable and wretched. How sad it it to be thus yoked and dealt with: against the judgment of the mind, against the choice and consent of the will, against its utmost strivings and contendings! To be compelled to bear the yoke again, when the neck is still sore and tender from former pressures — this pierces, this grieves, this even breaks the heart. When the soul is principled by grace to loathe sin and every evil way, to hate the least discrepancy between itself and the holy will of God, and then it is imposed on by this law of sin, with all that enmity and folly, that deadness and filth with which it is attended — what could be a more dreadful condition? All captivity is dreadful in its own nature; but its greatest aggravation comes from the sort of tyrant that has captivated a person. Now, what can be a worse tyrant than this law of sin? Hence the apostle, having mentioned this captivity, cries out as one who is quite weary and ready to faint, Rom 7:23, 24.
(4.) This condition is specific to believers. Unregenerate men are not said to be led captive to the law of sin. They may, indeed, be led captive to this or that particular sin or corruption — that is, they may be forced to serve it against the power of their convictions. They are convinced of the evil of it — an adulterer is convinced of his uncleanness, a drunkard of his abomination — and maybe they make some resolutions against it; but their lust is too hard for them; they cannot cease to sin, and so they are made captives or slaves to this or that particular sin. But they cannot be said to be led captive to the law of sin. And that is because they are willingly subject to it. It has, as it were, a rightful dominion over them, and they do not oppose it, except when it has eruptions that disturb their consciences. And then the opposition they make to it is not from their wills, but it is the mere acting of a frightened
Footnote: 1 1Tim 6:9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
conscience and a convinced mind. They do not regard the nature of sin, but only its guilt and consequences. But to be brought into captivity is what befalls a man against his will.
This is all that will be spoken about this degree of the actings of the power of sin, manifesting itself in its success.
4. The fourth and last degree of the opposition made by the law of sin to God, and to the law of his will and grace, is in its rage and madness. There is madness in its nature:
Ecc 9:3, “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart.”
The evil that the heart of man is full of by nature, is that indwelling sin of which we speak; and this is so much in their heart, that it rises up to madness. The Holy Ghost expresses this rage of sin by a fit similitude, which he uses in various places such as Jer 2:24; Hos 8:9.1 It makes men like “a wild ass;” “she traverses her ways,” and “sniffs at the wind,” and runs wherever her mind or lust leads her. And he says of idolaters who are enraged with their lusts, that they are “mad with their idols,” Jer 50:38.2 We may consider a little what lies in this madness and rage of sin, and how it rises up to it: —
1. For the nature of it; it seems to consist in a violent, heady, pertinacious pressing toward evil or sin. Violence, importunity, and pertinacity3 are in it. It is the tearing and torturing of the soul by any sin, to force its consent and to obtain satisfaction. It rises up in the heart, is denied by the law of grace, and then rebuked — it returns and exerts its poison again; the soul is startled, throws it off — it returns again with new violence and importunity; the soul cries out for help and deliverance, looks round about to all springs of gospel grace and relief; it trembles at the furious assaults of sin, and it throws itself into the arms of Christ for deliverance. And if it is not able to take that course, it is foiled and hurried up and down through the mire and filth of foolish imaginations, corrupt and nauseous lusts, which rend and tear it, as if they would devour its whole spiritual life and power. See 1Tim 6:9, 10; 2Pet 2:14.4
It was not much different with those whom we instanced before, Isa 57:17.5 They had an inflamed, enraged lust working in them, even “covetousness,” or the love of this world; by which (as the apostle puts it) men “pierce themselves through with many sorrows.” God is angry with them, and reveals his wrath by all the ways and means that it was possible for them to be made sensible of it. He was “angry, and struck them;” but even though this may have staggered them a little, yet they “went on.” He is angry, and “hides himself” from them — he deserts them as to his gracious, assisting, comforting presence. Does this work the effect? No; they still go on frowardly, like men who are mad on their covetousness. Nothing can put a stop to their raging lusts. This is plain madness and fury. We need not look far for instances. We see men mad upon their lusts every day; and (which is the worst kind of madness) their lusts do not rage so much in them, as they rage in the pursuit of them. Are those greedy pursuits of things in the world — which we see some men engaged in, though they have other pretences for them — anything other than plain madness in the pursuit of their own lusts? God, who
Footnotes: 1 Jer 2:24 A wild donkey used to the wilderness, That sniffs at the wind in her desire; In her time of mating, who can turn her away? All those who seek her will not weary themselves; In her month they will find her. Hos 8:9 For they have gone up to Assyria, Like a wild donkey alone by itself; Ephraim has hired lovers.
2 Jer 50:38 A drought is against her waters, and they will be dried up. For it is the land of carved images, And they are insane with their idols.
3 Holding tenaciously to a purpose, belief, opinion, or course of action.
4 2Pet 2:14 having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart
trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children.
5 Isa 57:17 For the iniquity of his covetousness I was angry and struck him; I hid and was angry, And he went on backsliding in the way of his heart.
searches the hearts of men, knows that most things done in the world with other pretences, are nothing but the actions of men who are mad, and furious in the pursuit of their own lusts.
2. Sin does not arise to this height ordinarily, but only when it has a double advantage: —
(1.) That it is provoked, enraged, and heightened by some great temptation. Though it is a poison in itself, yet being inbred in nature, it does not grow violently outrageous without some new poison of Satan contributed to it in a suitable temptation. It was the advantage that Satan got against David, by a suitable temptation, that raised his lust to that rage and madness in which it went forth to the business of Bathsheba and Uriah. Though sin is always a fire in the bones, it does not burst into flame unless Satan comes with his bellows to blow it up. And let anyone in whom the law of sin arises to this height of rage seriously consider, and he may find out where the devil stands and contributes to the business.
(2.) It must be advantaged by some former entertainment and prevalence. Sin does not grow to this height at its first assault. If it had not been allowed to make its entrance, if there had not been some yielding in the soul, this would not have come about.
The great wisdom and security of the soul in dealing with indwelling sin is to put a forceful stop to its beginnings, its first motions and actings. Risk it all on the first attempt. Die rather than yield one step to it. If it makes any entrance into the soul, and is entertained at all — whether through the deceit of sin, or the negligence of the soul, or the soul’s fleshly confidence that it can set bounds on lust’s actings at other times — then indwelling sin gains strength and power, and will insensibly arise to the frame under consideration. You have never experienced the fury of sin if you have not been content with some of its dalliance. If you had not brought up this servant, this slave, so delicately, it would not have presumed now to be above a son.1 Now, once the law of sin in any particular has gotten this double advantage — the furtherance of a vigorous temptation, and some prevalence that was previously obtained, and by which it is let into the strengths of the soul — it often rises up to this frame of which we speak.
3. We may see what accompanies this rage and madness, what its properties are, and what effects it produces: —
(1.) There is in it the throwing off (for a time at least) of the yoke, rule, and government of the Spirit and law of grace. Where grace has the dominion, it will never be utterly expelled from its throne; it will still keep its right and sovereignty. But its influences may for a season be intercepted, and its government suspended by the power of sin. Can we think that the law of grace had any actual ruling influence on David’s heart when, upon being provoked by Nabal, he was so hurried with the desire for self-revenge that he cried, “Strap on your swords,” to his companions, and he resolved not to leave one man alive of Nabal’s whole household? (1Sam 25:34); or that Asa was in any better frame when he struck the prophet and put him in prison, that spoke to him in the name of the Lord? Sin in this case is like an untamed horse which, having thrown off its rider, runs away with fierceness and rage. Sin first throws off a present sense of the yoke of Christ and the law of his grace, and then it hurries the soul at its pleasure. Let us consider a little how this is done.
The seat and residence of grace is in the whole soul. It is in the inner man; it is in the mind, the will, and the affections: for the whole soul is renewed by grace into the image of God, Eph 4:23, 24,2 and the whole man is a “new creature,” 2Cor 5:17.1 And in all these grace
Footnotes: 1 Gen 21:9-10 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. 10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son (namely with Isaac).”
2 Eph 4:23-24 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
exerts its power and efficacy. Its rule or dominion is the pursuit of its effectual working in all the faculties of the soul, as they are one united principle of moral and spiritual operations. So then, interrupting the exercise of grace’s rule and power, by the law of sin, must consist in its contrary acting in and upon the faculties and affections of the soul, on which and by which grace should exert its power and efficacy. And the law of sin does this. It darkens the mind, partly through countless vain prejudices and false reasonings (as we will see when we consider its deceitfulness), and partly through steaming the affections, heated with the nauseous lusts that have laid hold on them. Hence that saving light which is in the mind is clouded and stifled, so that it cannot put forth its transforming power to change the soul into the likeness of Christ revealed to it, which is its proper work, Rom 12:2.2
The habitual inclination of the will to obedience, which is the next way that the law of grace works, is first weakened, and then tossed aside and rendered useless, by the continual solicitations of sin and temptation; so that the will first lets go of its hold, and argues whether it will yield or not, and at last it surrenders itself to its adversary. And as for the affections, the beginning of this evil is commonly found in them. They conflict with one another, and torture the soul with their impetuous violence. By this, the rule of the law of grace is intercepted by the law of sin: by imposing on it in the whole seat of its government. When this is done, sin will make sad work in the soul. The apostle warns believers to take heed of it in Rom 6:12, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.” Set to it that it does not get dominion, that it does not usurp rule, not even for a moment. It will labor to intrude itself to the throne; watch against it, or a woeful state and condition lies at the door.
This, then, accompanies this rage and madness of the law of sin: — It wholly throws off the rule of the law of grace during its prevalence; it speaks in the soul, but it is not heard; it commands the contrary, but it is not obeyed; it cries out, “Do not do this abominable thing which the Lord hates,” but it is not regarded — that is, not so as to be able to put a quick stop to the rage of sin, and to recover its own rule, which God restores to it in his own time by the power of his Spirit dwelling in us.
(2.) Madness or rage is accompanied with fearlessness and contempt for danger. It takes away the power of consideration, and all that influence that it ought to have on the soul. Hence sinners who are wholly under the power of this rage are said to “run at God, and the thick bosses of his buckler,” Job 15:26 — that in which God is armed for their utter ruin. They despise the worst that he can do to them, being secretly resolved to accomplish their lusts, even though it costs them their souls. A few considerations will further clear this up for us:
[1.] Often, when the soul has broken loose from the power of renewing grace, to keep it within bounds, God deals with it by a preventing grace. So the Lord declares that he will deal with Israel — Seeing that you have rejected me, I will take another course with you. I will lay obstacles before you that you will not be able to pass by, to where the fury of your lusts would drive you.3 He will oppose them from without, using that which will obstruct them in their progress.
Footnotes: 1 2Co 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
2 Rom 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
3 Hos 2:6 “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, And wall her in, So that she cannot find her paths.
[2.] These hinderances that God lays in the way of sinners, as will be declared at large afterward, are of two sorts: —
1st. Rational considerations, taken from the consequence of the sin and evil that the soul is solicited to and perplexed with. Such are the fear of death, judgment, and hell — falling into the hands of the living God, who is a consuming fire. While a man is under the power of the law of the Spirit of life, the “love of Christ constrains him,” 2Cor 5:14. The principle of his doing good and abstaining from evil is faith working by love, accompanied by following Christ because of the sweet savor of his name. But now, when this blessed, easy yoke is thrown off for a season, so that, as manifested before, God sets a hedge of terror before the soul, reminds it of death and judgment to come, flashes the flames of hell-fire in the face, fills the soul with consideration of all the evil consequence of sin, in order to deter it from its purpose. To this end he makes use of all the threatenings recorded in the law and gospel. To this subject also may be referred all the considerations that may be taken from temporal things, such as shame, reproach, scandal, punishments, and the like. By the consideration of these things, I say, God sets a hedge before them.
2dly. Providential dispensations, used by the Lord to the same purpose; and these are of two sorts: —
(1st.) Those which are suited to work on the soul, and cause it to desist and give up its lustings and pursuit of sin. Such are afflictions and mercies: “I was angry, and I struck them,” Isa 57:17 — I testified my dislike of their ways by afflictions.1 God chastens men with pains on their bodies, he says in Job, to turn them from their purpose, and to hide sin from them, Job 33:17-19.2 And he has other ways to come to them and touch them, such as in their names, relations, estates, and desirable things; or else he heaps mercies upon them, so that they may consider whom they are rebelling against. It may be that notable distinguishing mercies are made their portion for many days.
(2dly.) Those which actually hinder the soul from pursuing sin, though it is resolved to do so. The various ways by which God does this must be considered afterward.
These are the ways, I say, by which the soul is dealt with, before the law of indwelling sin has thrown off for a season the influencing power of the law of grace. But now, when lust rises up to rage or madness, it will also contemn all these, even the rod, and the One who has appointed it. It will rush at shame, reproaches, wrath, and whatever may befall it; that is, even though these are presented to it, it will risk them all. Rage and madness is fearless. And it does this in two ways: —
[1st.] It possesses the mind, so that it does not allow the mind to dwell upon the consideration of these things, but renders thoughts of them slight and evanescent;3 or if the mind does force itself to contemplate them, sin interposes itself between the mind and the affections, so that they will not be influenced by it in any proportion to what is required. The soul in such a condition will be able to take such things into contemplation, and not at all be moved by them; and where they do prevail for a season, they are insensibly worked from the heart again.
Footnotes: 1 Hos 2:9, 11, 12 “Therefore I will return and take away My grain in its time And My new wine in its season, And will take back My wool and My linen, Given to cover her nakedness… 11 I will also cause all her mirth to cease, Her feast days, Her New Moons, Her Sabbaths– All her appointed feasts. 12 “And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, Of which she has said, ‘These are my wages that my lovers have given me.’ So I will make them a forest, And the beasts of the field shall eat them.
2 Job 33:17 In order to turn man from his deed, And conceal pride from man, 18 He keeps back his soul from the Pit, And his life from perishing by the sword. 19 “Man is also chastened with pain on his bed, And with strong pain in many of his bones,
3 That is, frivolous and vanishing like a vapor.
[2dly.] By secret stubborn resolves to risk all on the way in which it is located.
And this is the second branch of this evidence of the power of sin, taken from the opposition that it makes to the law of grace, as it were, by force, strength, and violence. The consideration of its deceit now follows.
Indwelling sin is proved powerful from its deceit — Proved to be deceitful — The general nature of deceit — Jas 1:14, opened — How the mind is drawn from its duty by the deceitfulness of sin — The principal duties of the mind in our obedience — The ways and means by which it is turned from it.
The SECOND part of the evidence of the power of sin, from its manner of operation, is taken from its deceitfulness. In its working, it adds deceit to power. The efficacy of that must necessarily be great. And so this is to be carefully watched against by all those who value their souls: where power and deceit are combined, especially advantaged and assisted by all the ways and means insisted on before.
Before we come to show what the nature of this deceitfulness of sin consists in, and how it prevails by it, some testimonies will be briefly given as to the thing itself, and some light will be given as to the general nature of it.
We have the express testimony of the Holy Ghost that sin, indwelling sin, is deceitful, such as Heb 3:13, “Take heed that you are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” It is deceitful; take heed of it, watch against it, or it will produce its utmost effect in hardening the heart against God. It is on account of sin that the heart is said to be “deceitful above all things,” Jer 17:9. Take a man in other things and, as Job puts it, though he “would be wise and crafty, he is like the wild ass’s colt,” Job 11:12 — a poor, vain, empty nothing; but consider his heart on account of this law of sin — it is crafty and deceitful above all things. “They are wise to do evil,” says the prophet, “but to do good they have no knowledge,” Jer 4:22. The apostle speaks to the same purpose in Eph 4:22, “The old man is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Every lust, which is a branch of this law of sin, is deceitful; and where there is poison in every stream, the fountain must necessarily be corrupt. No particular lust has any deceit in it, except what is communicated to it from this fountain of all actual lust, this law of sin. And the coming of the “man of sin” is said to be in and with the “deception of unrighteousness,” 2Thes 2:9, 10.
Unrighteousness is a thing generally decried and said to be evil among men; so that it is not easy to conceive why any man would avail for himself a reputation by it. But there is a deceivableness in it, by which the minds of men are turned aside from a due consideration of it, as we will show afterward. And thus the apostle gives an account of those who are under the power of sin, saying they are “deceived,” Titus 3:3. And the life of evil men is nothing but “deceiving, and being deceived,” 2Tim 3:13. So we have sufficient testimony given as to this qualification of the enemy with whom we deal: he is deceitful. Consideration of this, of all things, puts the mind of man at a loss in dealing with such an adversary. He knows he can have no security against one who is deceitful, except by standing on his own guard and defense all his days.
Further to manifest the strength and advantage that sin has by its deceit, we may observe that the Scripture places it for the most part as the head and spring of every sin, as though there were no sin followed after except where deceit went before it. So it is in 1Tim 2:13, 14.1 The reason the apostle gives as to why Adam, though he was first formed, was not first in the transgression, is because he was not first deceived. The woman, though made last, yet being first deceived, was first in the sin. Even that first sin began in deceit; and until the mind was deceived, the soul was safe. Eve therefore truly expressed the matter in Gen 3:13, even though she did not say it for a good end. “The serpent beguiled me,” she says, “and I ate.” She thought to extenuate her own crime by charging the serpent; and this was a new fruit of the sin she had thrown herself into. But the matter of fact was true — she was beguiled before she ate; deceit went before the
Footnotes 1 1Tim 2:13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
transgression. And the apostle shows that sin and Satan still take the same course, 2Cor 11:3.1 Essentially he says, “There is still the same way of working towards actual sin as there was of old: beguiling, deceiving goes before it; and sin, that is, its actual accomplishment, follows after.” Hence, all the great works that the devil does in the world, to stir men up to oppose the Lord Jesus Christ and his kingdom, he does by deceit: Rev 12:9, “The devil, who deceives the whole world.” It would be utterly impossible that men should be prevailed on to abide in Satan’s service, acting out his designs to their eternal, and sometimes their temporal ruin, if they were not exceedingly deceived.2
This is why those manifold cautions are given to us: if we would not sin, then take heed that we are not deceived. “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience,” Eph 5:6. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap,” Gal 6:7.3 From all these testimonies we may learn the influence that deceit has in sin, and consequently the advantage that the law of sin has to exercise its power by deceitfulness.
Where it prevails to deceive, it does not fail to produce its fruit.
The ground of this efficacy of sin by deceit is taken from the faculty of the soul that is affected by it. Deceit properly affects the mind; it is the mind that is deceived. When sin attempts any other way of entrance into the soul, such as by the affections, the mind, retaining its right and sovereignty, is able to check and control it. But where the mind is tainted, the prevalence must be great; for the mind or understanding is the leading faculty of the soul; and what that fixes on, the will and affections will rush after, being capable of no consideration except what the mind presents to them. This is why, even though the entanglement of the affections toward sin is often most troublesome, yet the deceit of the mind is always most dangerous — and that is because of the place that the mind possesses in the soul as to all its operations. Its office is to guide, direct, choose, and lead; and “if the light that is in us is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Mat 6.23
And this will further appear if we consider the nature of deceit in general. It consists in presenting to the soul (or mind), things otherwise than as they are, either in their nature, causes, effects, or present respect to the soul. This is the general nature of deceit; and it prevails in many ways. It hides what ought to be seen and considered; conceals circumstances and consequences; it presents what is not,4 or things as they are not,5 as we will show afterward in particular.
It was shown before that Satan “beguiled” and “deceived” our first parents; the Holy Ghost gives that term to Satan’s temptation and seduction. And the Scripture relates how he deceived them, in Gen 3:4, 5.6 He did it by representing things as otherwise than they really were. The fruit was desirable; that was apparent to the eye. Hence Satan takes advantage to secretly insinuate that in forbidding them to eat the fruit, God’s aim was merely to curtail their happiness. To test their obedience, he hides from them that certain though not immediate ruin would ensue upon eating it; he proposes only the present advantage of knowledge; and so he presents the whole case quite
Footnotes: 1 2Cor 11:3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
2 Rev 20:10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
3 See also, 1Cor 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites; 1Cor 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Luk 21:8 And He said: “Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them.
4 That is, fictions.
5 That is, falsehoods.
6 Gen 3:4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
otherwise to them than indeed it was. This is the nature of deceit: it is a representation of a matter under a disguise — hiding what is undesirable, and proposing what indeed is not in it — so that the mind may make a false judgment about it. So Jacob deceived Isaac by wearing his brother’s clothing, and putting the skins on his hands and neck.Gen 27.11-19
Again; deceit gains an advantage by that way of management which is inseparable from it. It is always carried on by degrees, little by little, so that the whole design and aim is not revealed at once. So Satan dealt in that great deceit mentioned before; he proceeds in it by steps and degrees, First, he removes an objection, and tells them they shall not die; then he proposes the good of knowledge to them, and of being like God by doing it. To hide and conceal ends, to proceed by steps and degrees, to make use of what is obtained, and from there to press on to further effects, is the true nature of deceit. Stephen tells us the king of Egypt “dealt subtly,” or deceitfully, “with their kindred,” Acts 7:19. He did not at first fall to killing and slaying them, but it says, Exo 1:10, “Come, let us deal shrewdly;” beginning to oppress them. This results in their bondage, verse 11. Having gotten this ground to make them slaves, he then proceeds to destroy their children, verse 16. He did not fall on them all at once, but by degrees. And this may suffice to show in general that sin is deceitful, and to show the advantages that it gains by it. For the way, manner, and progress of sin, in working by deceit, is fully expressed by the apostle James:
Jas 1:14, 15, “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.”
This passage, declaring the whole of what we aim at in this matter, must be particularly insisted on. In this verse, James manifests that men are willing to drive the old trade which our first parents set up at the entrance of sin; namely, excusing themselves in their sins, and casting the occasion and blame for them on others. It is not, they say, from themselves, from their own nature and inclinations, from their own designs, that they committed such evils, but merely from their temptations. And if they don’t know where to fix the evil of those temptations, they will lay them on God himself,1 rather than go without an excuse or extenuation of their guilt.
James rebukes this evil in the hearts of men: verse 13, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, nor does he tempt any man.” And to show the justness of this reproof, he reveals in these words the true causes of the rise and the whole progress of sin, manifesting that the whole guilt of it lies upon the sinner; and that the whole punishment of it, if not graciously prevented, will also be his lot.
We therefore have in these words, as was said, the whole progress of lust or indwelling sin, by way of subtlety, fraud, and deceit, expressed and delimited by the Holy Ghost. And from this we will manifest the particular ways and means by which it puts forth its power and efficacy in the hearts of men by deceitfulness and subtlety; and we may observe in these words —
First, the utmost end aimed at in all the actings of sin, or its tendency in its own nature, and that is death: “Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death,” the everlasting death of the sinner; pretend however it will, this is the end it aims at and tends to. Hiding ends and designs is the principal property of deceit. Sin does this to the uttermost; it pleads countless other things, but not once does it declare that it aims at the death, the everlasting death of the soul. And a fixed apprehension of this end of every sin is a blessed means to prevent its prevalence in its way of deceit or beguiling.
Secondly, the general way of its acting towards that end is by temptation: “Every man is tempted by his own lust.” I do not intend to speak in general about the nature of temptations, because it does not belong to our present purpose; and besides, I have done it elsewhere.2 It may
Footnotes: 1 Gen 3:12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
2 See Owen’s treatise Of Temptation.
suffice at present to observe that the life of temptation lies in deceit; so that, in the business of sin, to be effectually tempted, or to be beguiled or deceived, are the same thing. Thus it was in the first temptation. It is everywhere called the serpent’s beguiling or deceiving, as manifested before: “The serpent beguiled Eve;” that is, he prevailed upon her by his temptations. So that every man is tempted — that is, every man is beguiled or deceived — by his own lust, or indwelling sin, which we have often declared to be the same thing.
There are five degrees by which sin proceeds in this work of tempting or deceiving; for we showed before that this belongs to the nature of deceit, that it works by degrees, gaining its advantage by one step, in order to gain another.
The FIRST of these consists in drawing off or drawing away: “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust.”
The SECOND is in enticing: “And is enticed.”
The THIRD in the conception of sin: “When lust has conceived.” When the heart is enticed,
then lust conceives in it.
The FOURTH is birthing sin in its actual accomplishment: “When lust has conceived it gives birth to sin.” In all of which there is a secret allusion to an adulterous deviation from conjugal duties, and conceiving or giving birth to children of whoredom and fornication.
The FIFTH is finishing sin, completing it, filling up the measure of it,1Thes 2.16 by which the end originally designed by lust is brought about: “Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death,” Just as lust in the act of conceiving, naturally and necessarily brings forth sin, so sin being finished, infallibly procures eternal death.
The first of these relates to the mind; it is drawn off or drawn away by the deceit of sin. The second relates to the affections; they are enticed or entangled. The third relates to the will, in which sin is conceived; the consent of the will is the formal conception of actual sin. The fourth relates to the conduct in which sin is brought forth; it exerts itself in the lives and courses of men. The fifth respects an obdurate course in sinning, that finishes, consummates, and encloses the whole work of sin, upon which death or eternal ruin ensues.
I will principally consider the first three (mind, affections, and will), in which the main strength of the deceit of sin lies; and that is because in believers, whose state and condition is principally proposed for consideration, God is, for the most part, pleased to graciously prevent the fourth instance (bringing forth actual sins in their conduct); and to prevent the last always and wholly (being obdurate in finishing a course of sin). What ways God makes use of in his grace and faithfulness to stifle the conceptions of sin in the womb, and to hinder its actual production in the lives of men, must be spoken to afterward.
The first three instances we will insist on fully, then, as those in which the principal concern of believers lies in this matter.
The first thing which sin is said to do, working by way of deceit, is to draw away or draw off; this is why a man is said to be drawn off, or “drawn away” and diverted: namely, from attending to that course of obedience and holiness which — in opposition to sin and its law — he is bound to attend to with diligence.
Now, this effect of the deceit of sin is worked upon the mind. The mind or understanding, as we have shown, is the guiding, the conducting faculty of the soul. It goes before — in discerning, judging, and determining — to make the way of moral actions fair and smooth to the will and the affections. The mind is to the soul, what Moses told his father-in-law he might be to the people in the wilderness: “eyes to guide them,” Num 10.31 and keep them from wandering in that desolate place. The mind is the eye of the soul, without whose guidance the will and affections would
perpetually wander in the wilderness of this world, led by any object with an apparent present good,1 as it offered or presented itself to them.
The first thing, therefore, that sin aims at in its deceitful working, is to draw away and divert the mind from the discharge of its duty.
There are two things which belong to the duty of the mind in that special office which it has in and about the obedience which God requires: —
1. To keep itself and the whole soul in such a frame and posture, that it may render it ready for all duties of obedience, and watchful against all enticements to conceive sin.
2. In particular, to carefully attend to all particular actions, so that they are performed as God requires — that their matter, manner, time and season, are agreeable to his will; and also for obviating 2 all particular tenders of sin in forbidden things (chap. 9).
The whole duty of the mind of a believer consists in these two things. And so indwelling sin endeavors to divert the mind and draw it away from both of them.
The first of these is the duty of the mind in reference to the general frame and course of the whole soul. And two things may be considered in this: that it is founded in a due and constant consideration
(1.) of ourselves — of sin and its vileness; and
(2.) of God — of his grace and goodness. Sin labors to draw the mind away from both of these.
Secondly, in attending to those duties which are suited to obviate the working of the law of sin in a special manner. 3
(1.) Sin endeavors to draw the mind away from a due consideration, apprehension, and sensibility of its own vileness, and the danger which attends it. A due and constant consideration of sin, in its nature, in all its aggravating circumstances, in its end and tendency, especially as represented in the blood and cross of Christ, should always abide with us:
Jer 2:19, “Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that you have forsaken the LORD your God.”
Every sin is a forsaking of the Lord our God. If the heart does not know, if it does not consider, that it is an evil thing and bitter — evil in itself, and bitter in its effects, fruit, and event — it will never be secured against it. Besides, that frame of heart which is most accepted by God in any sinner, is the humble, contrite, and self-abasing frame:
Isa 57:15, “Thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the spirit of the contrite ones.”
See also Luke 18:13, 14.4 This becomes a sinner; no garment sits so decently about him as this. “Be clothed with humility,” says the apostle, 1Pet 5:5. It is what becomes us, and it is the only safe frame. He that walks humbly, walks safely. This is the intent of Peter’s advice, 1Pet 1:17, “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” He gives this advice to all believers after he
Footnotes: 1 That is, with an apparent short-term benefit, regardless of long-term consequences.
2 Preventing them from “conceiving” and thus producing fruit.
3 See chapter 9.
4 Luk 18:13 “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
himself had miscarried by another frame of mind. It is not a bondage, servile fear, that he advises them to, disquieting and perplexing the soul. Rather it is such a fear as may keep men constantly calling upon the Father with reference to the final judgment, so that they may be preserved from sin, by which they were in so great a danger:
1Pet 1:17, “If you call on the Father, who without respect to persons judges according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”
This is the humble frame of soul. And how is this obtained? How is this preserved? In no other way than by a constant, deep apprehension of the evil, vileness, and danger of sin. So it was worked, so it was kept up, in the approved publican. “God be merciful,” he says, “to me a sinner.” Luk 18.13 A sense of sin1 kept him humble; and humility made way for his access to a testimony of the pardon of sin.
And this is the great preservative from sin through grace, as we have an example in the instance of Joseph, Gen 39:9. Upon the urging of his great temptation, he recoils immediately into this frame of spirit. He says, “How can I do this thing, and sin against God?” A constant, steady sense of the evil of sin gives him such preservation, that he risks liberty and life in opposition to it. To fear sin is to fear the Lord; so the holy man tells us that they are the same:
Job 28:28, “The fear of the Lord is wisdom; and departing from evil is understanding.”
This therefore, in the first place and in general, is what the law of sin puts forth its deceit about — namely, to draw the mind away from this frame, which is the strongest fort of the soul’s defense and security. It labors to divert the mind from a due apprehension of the vileness, abomination, and danger of sin. It either secretly and insensibly insinuates in the mind, lessening, excusing, and extenuating thoughts about sin; or else it draws the mind away from pondering the danger of sin, from being conversant about it in its thoughts as much as it should be, and has been formerly. And if, after the heart of a man has been made tender, soft, and deeply sensible of sin, through the word, Spirit, and grace of Christ — it has less, fewer, slighter, or less affecting thoughts of or about the danger of sin, on any account or by any means whatsoever, — the mind of that man has been drawn away by the deceitfulness of sin.
There are two ways, among others, by which the law of sin endeavors deceitfully to draw the mind away from this duty, and the frame that ensues from it: —
[1.] It does it by a horrible abuse of gospel grace. The gospel provides a remedy against the whole evil of sin, the filth, the guilt of it, with all its dangerous consequents. It is the doctrine of the deliverance of the souls of men from sin and death — it is a revelation of the gracious will of God towards sinners by Jesus Christ. What now is the genuine tendency of this doctrine, of this revelation of grace; and what should we use and employ it for? The apostle declares this,
Titus 2:11, 12, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”
This is what the gospel teaches; this is what we ought to learn from it and by it. Hence universal holiness is called “conduct that becomes the gospel,” Phi 1:27. It becomes the gospel, as that which corresponds to its end, aim, and design — as that which it requires, and which it ought to be improved toward. And accordingly it produces this effect where the word of the gospel is received and preserved in a saving light:
Footnote: 1 Not a sense of the meaning of sin per se, but a sensibility (an awareness) of the evil and the danger of sin. 50
Eph 4:20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.1
But the deceit of sin interposes itself in this: — It separates the doctrine of grace, from the use and the end of that doctrine. It stays on its notions, but it intercepts its influences in its proper application. From the doctrine of the assured pardon of sin, it insinuates a disregard of sin.2 God in Christ makes the proposition to pardon, and Satan and sin make the conclusion to disregard; for the deceitfulness of sin is apt to plead for a disregard of sin, from the very grace of God by which it is pardoned. The apostle declares his reproof and detestation of such an insinuation:
Rom 6:1, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.”
Men’s deceitful hearts, he is saying, are apt to draw that conclusion; but far be it from us to entertain that at all. Yet some have evidently improved that deceit to their own eternal ruin. Jude declares, verse 4, “Ungodly men turn the grace of God into lasciviousness.” And we have had dreadful instances of it in the days of temptation in which we have lived.
Indeed, in opposition to this deceit lies much of the wisdom of faith, and power of gospel grace. When the mind is fully possessed with, and cast habitually and firmly into the mould of the notion and doctrine of gospel truth (about the full and free forgiveness of all sins in the blood of Christ), then it is a great effect of gospel wisdom and grace to always be able to keep the heart in a deep, humbling sense of sin, in an abhorrence of it, and self-abasement for it. This is the test and touchstone of gospel light: — if it keeps the heart sensible of sin, humble, lowly, and broken on that account — if it teaches us to water a free pardon with tears, to detest forgiven sin, and to watch diligently for the ruin of what we are still assured will never ruin us — then it is divine, it is from above, of the Spirit of grace. But if it secretly and insensibly makes men loose and slight in their thoughts about sin 3 — then it is adulterated, selfish, and false. If it would be all, and answer all ends, then it is nothing.
Hence it comes to pass that sometimes we see men walking in a bondage-frame of spirit all their days, low in their light, little in their apprehensions of grace; so that it is hard to discern which covenant they belong to in their principles — whether they are under the law, or under grace; yet they may walk with a more conscientious tenderness about sinning than many who are advanced into higher degrees of light and knowledge than they are. It is not that the saving light of the gospel is somehow not the only principle of saving holiness and obedience; but that, through the deceitfulness of sin, the gospel is variously abused to countenance the soul in its manifold neglect of its duties; and it is used to draw the mind away from a due consideration of the nature, deservings, and danger of sin. And this is done in several ways: —
1st. Having a frequent need for relief by gospel grace, against a sense of the guilt of sin and the accusation of the law, the soul comes at length to make gospel grace a common and ordinary thing, such that it may be slightly performed. Having found a good medicine for its wounds, and having experienced its efficacy, it comes to apply it slightly, and skins over rather than
Footnotes: 1 Also, Rom 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
2 Rom 3:20-21 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed; Rom 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.
3 That is, they think of their sin as unimportant, minor, or trivial.
cures its sores. A little less earnestness, a little less diligence, serves every time, until the soul perhaps begins to convince itself of pardon in its course; and this tends directly to draw the mind away from its constant and universal watchfulness against sin. Someone whose light has made plain the way of access to obtain pardon, if he is not very watchful, is far more apt to become overly formal and careless in his work, than someone who, because of mists and darkness, beats about to find his way rightly to the throne of grace — a man who has often traveled a road, passes on it without regard or inquiry; but someone who is a stranger to it, by observing all its turns and asking all travellers, secures his journey beyond the other.
2dly. The deceitfulness of sin takes advantage of the doctrine of grace (by many ways and means) to extend the bounds of the soul’s liberty beyond what God has assigned to it. Some never thought they were free from a legal, bondage frame until they had been brought into the confines of sensuality, and for some, into the depths of it. How often sin pleads, “This strictness, this exactness, this solicitude is in no way necessary; relief is provided in the gospel against such things! Wouldn’t you rather live as though there were no need for the gospel, and as though pardon of sin served no purpose?” But we will have occasion later to speak more in particular concerning these pleas of sin from gospel grace.
3dly. In times of temptation, this deceitfulness of sin argues expressly for sin, from gospel grace; it will plead for at least these two things: —
(1st.) That there is no need for such a tenacious, severe contending against sin, as that principle which the new creature is fixed on. If it cannot wholly divert the soul or mind from attending to temptations in order to oppose them, it will endeavor to draw them away as to the manner in which they are attended: they need not use that diligence which the soul at first apprehends is necessary.
(2dly.) It will offer relief as to the event of sin: that it will not turn to the ruin or destruction of the soul because it is, will be, or may be pardoned by the grace of the gospel. And this is true; this is the great and only relief for the soul against sin, the guilt of which the soul has already contracted— it is the blessed and only remedy for a guilty soul. But when this is pleaded and remembered, by the deceitfulness of sin, to have us comply with a temptation to sin, then it is poison; poison is mixed in every drop of this balsam, to the danger, if not the death, of the soul.
And this is the first way by which the deceitfulness of sin draws the mind away from a due attendance to that sense of its vileness which alone is able to keep it in that humble, self- abased frame that is acceptable with God. It makes the mind careless, as though its work were unnecessary because of the abounding of grace. This is a soldier’s neglect of his station — trusting to a reserve1 that is provided only in case he keeps his own proper place.
[2.] Sin takes advantage to work by its deceit, in this matter of drawing the mind away from a due sense of sin, and from the state and condition of men in the world. I will give only one instance of its procedure in this kind. Men, in their younger days, naturally have affections that are quicker, more vigorous and active, and more sensibly at work in them, than afterward. As to their sensible working and operation, they naturally decay; and many things befall men in their lives that take off the edge and keenness of them. But as men lose in their affections, they grow and improve in their understandings, resolutions, and judgments — if they are not made drunk with sensuality, or by the corruptions that are in the world through lust. This is why, if what formerly had room in their affections does not find room in their minds and judgments, they will utterly lose them: they have no more room left in their souls for them. Thus men have no regard for (indeed, they utterly despise) those things which their affections
Footnotes: 1 Armed forces that are not on active duty, but can be called upon in an emergency.
were set on with delight and greediness in their childhood. But if they are things that by some means come to be fixed in their minds and judgments, they continue to have a high esteem for them, and cling to them as closely as they did when their affections were more vigorous; they have only changed their seat in the soul as it were. It is this way in spiritual things.
The first and greatest seat of the sensibility of sin is in the affections. Just as in natural youth these affections are great and large, so in spiritual youth our spiritual affections are great and large:
Jer 2:2, “I remember the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals.”
Besides, such [young believers] have newly come off their convictions, in which they have been cut to the heart, so they have been made tender. Whatever touches a wound is thoroughly felt; so the guilt of sin is felt before the wound given by conviction is thoroughly cured. But now, when affections begin to decay naturally, they also begin to decay as to their sensible actings and motions in spiritual things. Although believers improve in grace, yet they may decay in sense. At least, spiritual sense is not in them radically, but only by way of communication. Now, in these decays, if the soul does not take care to fix a deep sense of sin on the mind and judgment, and thereby to perpetually affect the heart and affections, it will decay.
And here the deceit of the law of sin interposes itself. It allows a sense of sin to decay in the affections, and it diverts the mind from entertaining a due, constant, and fixed consideration of it. We may consider this a little in persons who never make progress in the ways of God beyond conviction. How sensible of sin they will be for a season! How they will then mourn and weep under a sense of the guilt of it! How they will cordially and heartily resolve against it! Affections are vigorous and they rule in their souls, as it were. But they are like an herb that will flourish for a day or two with watering, even though it has no root: for a while after, we see that these men, the more experience they have had of sin, the less they are afraid of it, as the wise man intimates
Ecc 8:11 Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
And at length they come to be the greatest disdainers of sin in the world. There is no sinner like one who has sinned away his convictions of sin. What is the reason for this? The sense of sin was in their convictions, fixed on their affections. As it decayed in them, they took no care to have it deeply and graciously fixed on their minds. The deceitfulness of sin deprived them of this, and so it ruined their souls. In some measure this is true with believers. If the sensibility of the affections decays, if they grow heavy and obtuse, and great wisdom and grace are not used to fix a due sense of sin upon the mind and judgment — a sense which may provoke, excite, enliven, and stir up the affections every day — then great decays will ensue. At first, sorrow, trouble, grief, and fear affected the mind, and would give it no rest. But afterward, if the mind does not affect the heart with sorrow and grief over sin, the whole of it will be cast out, and the soul will be in danger of being hardened.
These are some of the ways by which the deceit of sin diverts the mind from the first part of its safe preserving frame, or by which sin draws the mind away from its constant watchfulness against sin and all its effects.
(2.) The second part of this general duty of the mind is to keep the soul in a constant, holy consideration of God and his grace. This evidently lies at the spring-head of gospel obedience. The way by which sin draws the mind away from this part of its duty, is open and sufficiently known, even though it is not sufficiently watched against. Now, the Scripture everywhere declares that this is filling the minds of men with earthly things. It places this in direct opposition to that heavenly frame of the mind which is the spring of gospel obedience:
Col 3:2, “Set your affections,” or set your minds, “on things above, not on things on the earth;”
It is as if he had said, “You cannot be set or fixed on both heavenly and earthly things together, so as to principally and chiefly mind them both.” And the affections toward one and the other, proceeding from these different principles of minding one and the other, are opposed — they are directly inconsistent:
1Joh 2:15, “Do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
And acting in a way that is suitable to these earthly affections is also proposed as contrary: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Mat 6.24 These are two masters whom no man can serve at the same time to the satisfaction of both. Every inordinate minding of earthly things, then, is opposed to that frame in which our minds ought to be fixed on God and his grace, in a course of gospel obedience.
There are several ways by which the deceitfulness of sin draws away the mind in this particular; but the primary one is by pressing these things on the mind under the notion of them being lawful things, and maybe necessary things. So all those who excuse themselves in the parable from coming to the marriage-feast of the gospel, did it on account of their being engaged in their lawful callings — one about his farm, another about his oxen, the means by which he ploughed in this world. By this plea, the minds of men were drawn away from that frame of heavenliness which is required for walking with God; and the rules of not loving the world, or using it as if we did not use it,1 are hereby neglected.
It is not my present business to declare what wisdom, what watchfulness, what serious and frequent trial and examination of ourselves, is required to keep our hearts and minds in a heavenly frame in the use and pursuit of earthly things. This is evident: that the engine by which the deceit of sin draws away and turns aside the mind in this matter, is the pretense of the lawfulness of those things about which sin would have the mind exercise itself; against this, very few are armed with sufficient diligence, wisdom, and skill.
And this is the first and most general attempt that indwelling sin makes upon the soul by deceit — it draws the mind away from a diligent attention to its course in a due sense of the evil of sin, and a due and constant consideration of God and his grace.
Footnote: 1 Joh 17:16 “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 54
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
Footnote: 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 —
Footnotes: 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
Footnote: 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.