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Moreover, if sin has no place in our affections, it has none in our choice; for choice is an affection of the mind, by which it prefers one thing to another, or likes this rather than that. When the acts of the will are distinguished from those of the affections, it is rather a distinction of degree than of nature. But if all evil choice were eradicated, all sin would be eradicated. Whatever there was, it must absolutely be involuntary; and that which is such is not sin. It is impossible for the mind to feel any conscious guilt on account of it, any more than for the contortions of a convulsed state of the body.
Dr. Owen, in his admirable treatise on The Nature of Indwelling-sin,' has proved, I think, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the essence of all sin lies in aversion of heart, and that this aversion is 'universal, to all of God, and in all of the soul.' Nor need we have recourse to the judgment of Dr. Owen: experience will teach every reflecting mind, that he sins not, but as his will and affections are drawn away from God, after things which are forbidden.
I have observed this opinion to be maintained on very different grounds. Some worthy characters, observing the loose conduct of certain professors, and their attempts to excuse themselves by pleading that believers are not free from the love of sin, and therefore they ought not to be criminated or suspected on that account, may have been tempted to maintain the contrary, as necessary to the honour of God and religion. But God does not require us to defend his cause, by stretching any doctrine beyond what it will bear. Such characters ought rather to be told, that every plea for self indulgence taken from the sins of God's people, indicates a prevailing love of sin, which is inconsistent with true religion.
In other instances, the same thing is maintained by loose characters themselves, who while they are living in sin, contrive to transfer the love of it from themselves to the old man' that is within them. Paul, speaking of himself as a renewed man, represents the working of evil
in him as contrary to the habitual bias of his soul; as repugnant to the governing principle of his mind; and therefore as being not him, but sin that dwelleth in him. Paul however was not a loose character; nor did he speak in this manner from a desire to excuse himself in sin. That which he said of himself in an improper or figurative sense, such people understand literally, and infer that sin in them is absolutely involuntary. The opposite principle of good and evil, denominated 'the old and new man,' they consider as distinct agents, or as voluntary beings, who carry on a contest, of which the man himself is only an involuntary spectator. But as in all the exercises of grace, it is we that repent, believe, love &c.; so in all the exercises of evil, it is we that sin, and that must be accountable.
The Querist asks, 'Whether sin, though it dwells in the regenerate, be not to their sorrow and detestation.' Undoubtedly it is; and herein the experience of Paul is opposed to theirs, who make use of his language to excuse themselves in sin. The body of sin was to him 'a body of death,' which rendered him wretched,' and from which he longed more than any thing to be delivered.' But a detestation of sin, unless it were perfect in degree, does not imply the eradication of love to it. The same soul, as influenced by opposite principles, may be the subject of both hatred and love. In proportion however as one operates, the other must necessarily subside.
PRESERVATIVES AGAINST BACKSLIDING.
IT is usual to confine the idea of a backslider to a good man; but I apprehend, the scriptures do not use the term always in this sense. Backsliding always supposes
a religious profession, but does not necessarily imply that this profession is sincere. The ungodly Israelites, who had not the fear of God in them, are termed backsliders. Jer. ii. 19. Saul and Judas would be accounted backsliders, in the scriptural sense of the term, as well as David and Peter. The backslidings of the latter were partial, and of the former total.
But I shall suppose the querist to be a good man, and that he feels a proneness to depart from the living God. Perhaps some particular temptation may entangle him, or easy-besetting sin perplex him: he may have had several narrow escapes from open scandal, and may be apprehensive that, in some unguarded moment, he may be drawn into that which would ruin his future peace and usefulness.
Were I a stranger to such exercises, I should be ill qualified to write upon the subject. The case of backsliders has lately been much impressed upon my mind, and a few thoughts upon the subject will probably soon appear in print.* Great numbers, I am persuaded, among professing christians, come under this denomination. At present, I shall only offer three or four directions to the consideration of the querist, or any other whose case they may suit.
1. Every means should be used to stop the avenues of temptation, or prevent its coming in contact with the evil propensities of the heart. If there be nitre in our habitations, it becomes us to beware of fire. Such was the counsel of our Lord to his disciples, in a season of peculiar danger. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.' He had himself entered that field, and came out a conqueror; but he knew what was in man, and counselled them rather to avoid than court the contest. In cases where the heart begins to be seduced by temptation, it will soon become restless, solicitous, and impor
* Mr. Fuller's excellent treatise, entitled "The Backslider," was published the same year, 1801.
tunate; it will moan after it, and be exceedingly fruitful in devices to get into the way of it. It will persuade conscience, for once at least, to be silent; it will blind the mind to the evil, and paint the desirableness of the good; and if all this will not do, it will promise to be only a looker-on, or that, thus far it will go and no farther.But if thou hast any regard to God or his cause, or to the welfare of thine own soul, 'consent thou not.' Temptation leads to sin, and sin to death. Whatever company, amusement, occupation, or connection, has frequently 'caused thee to offend;' that is the eye that requires to be plucked out, lest thy soul bleed in the end, beneath the stroke of God's displeasure.
2. Beware of the first stages of departure from God. All backslidings begin with the heart, from whence are 'the issues of life.' Private prayer, it may be, at first becomes wearisome; there is no communion with God in it. It is then occasionally neglected; hence public ordinances cease to afford their wonted pleasure, christian society is dropped, the world takes up your attention, and you have little or no time to spare for religion. Some carnal acquaintance, perceiving you to be coming, draws you on. He recommends you to read some one of the liberal productions of the times, by which you are to learn that there is no need to be so rigid in religion, and no harm in frequenting the theatre, or in devoting at least a part of the Lord's day to visiting or amusement. These are a few of the seeds of death, from whence have sprung many a bitter harvest.
"Beware of sin then, crush it at the door;
3. If thou hast in any degree been drawn aside, give no rest to thy soul till thy sin is crucified, and thy conscience reconciled by the blood of the cross. It is too common for sin to be worn away from the memory by time and new occurrences, instead of being washed away
at the gospel fountain. But where this is the case, the stain is not removed, and its effects will sooner or later appear, perhaps in a form that may cause the ear of every one that heareth it to tingle. He that honoureth me, saith the Lord, will I honour; and he that despiseth me shall be lightly esteemed.' If we care so little for the honour of God's name, as to be unconcerned for secret faults, we may expect he will care as little for the honour of ours, and will give us up to some open vice, that shall cover us with infamy.
4. If some extraordinary temptation, or easy-besetting sin perplex thee, bend not thine attention so much to the subduing of that particular evil, as to the mortification of sin in general; and this not so much by directly opposing it, as by cherishing opposite principles. We may heal an eruption in a particular part of the body, and yet the root of the disease may remain, and even be gathering strength. We may also be employed in thinking of our sins, without gaining any ascendency over them: on the contrary they may, by those very means, obtain an ascendency
If we go about to quench a fire by directly contending with it, we shall presently be consumed by its flames; but by applying the opposite element, it is subdued before us. It is thus that the scriptures direct us: 'Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.' The heart cannot be reduced to a vacuum: if spiritual things do not occupy it, carnal things will. It is by walking with God, and conversing with the doctrine of the cross, that we shall become dead to other things; and this will go to the root of the evil, while other remedies only lop off the branches.