Continuing, paraphrasing from Owen:
When a man fights against a lust in his life only with reasons relating to the punishment due to it, the lust has grabbed hold of his will and there is an excess of naughtiness. [Ed note: “Naughtiness” is Owen’s word, not mine!] This type of man does not oppose anything which seduces his heart to sin, with the exception of cases where he fears the shaming of others or punishment of hell from God. If such a punishment were removed, he’d indulge gladly. I’m sure I don’t see the difference between this state and actually living out that sin in a daily fashion.
Those who have Christ and act in obedience to gospel principles have the death of Christ, the love of God, the detestable nature of sin, the preciousness of communion with God, a deep-grounded hatred of sin as sin with which to oppose the seductive nature of sin in their hearts. Joseph wondered how he should do a great evil and sin against a good and gracious God (Genesis 34:9) and Paul spoke about the love of Christ constraining him (2 Cor. 5:14). Paul also commented, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
But if a man is under the power of his lust to the degree that he has nothing but the law with which to oppose its influence: if he cannot fight against it with gospel weapons, but resorts to fighting it with fear of hell and judgment (which of course, are the proper arms of the law), it is very evident that sin has taken over his will and affections in an all-consuming way. Such a person has disregarded the influence of renewing grace and is, instead, restrained only by restraining grace, being returned to the realm of the law. Can anyone seriously think that Christ himself is not provoked when a man casts off His light yoke and puts on again the heavy yoke of the law, simply to gratify their lusts?
So, then, examine yourself: When you are driven by sin to make a decision, to either bow to its command or to suppress it, what do you say to your soul? Do you say, “Hell will be the end of this course; vengeance will meet with me and find me out?” If this is what you say, look around you! Evil crouches at your door! Paul’s main argument to demonstrate that sin should not have dominion over the believer is that they “are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). If you contend with sin on purely legal grounds, what assurance do you have that sin will not overtake you?
Even this reserve will not hold out long for you. If your lust has driven you from stronger, Gospel forts, it will quickly drive you from the Law fort as well. Such considerations of punishment from the law will not save you when you have given up the thousand-times more powerful protection of the Gospel. Be assured that unless you quickly recover from this condition that the thing you fear will come upon you. That, which gospel principles do not accomplish, legal motives cannot accomplish!
Judiciary hardness is also a cause for concern. God sometimes leaves even his own people in a state of hardness for a time in order to correct them for some other sin which they have committed. This is reflected in the complaint of the church: “O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not” (Isaiah 63:17)?
There is no question in anyone’s mind that God deals with the unregenerate man in precisely this way. But what about the regenerate? How should someone know whether God’s chastening hand is involved in the stirring up of a man’s lust? Well, he should examine his heart and ways. What was the state of your heart before you got to this point of contending with the sin of which you are complaining? Have you neglected your Christian duties? Have you lived excessively unto yourself? Is there guilt from unrepentant sin? A new sin may be permitted, as well as a new affliction sent, in order to bring an old sin to the forefront of one’s thought.
Has your lust withstood particular dealings with God already? Look at Isaiah 57:17: “Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.” God had dealt with his people’s prevailing lusts by affiliction and by deserting them, but they had held out against them all. This is a sad condition which can only be relieved by the exercise of sovereign grace, which cannot be presumed upon by any man. God, in his provedential dispensations, will often meet with a man and speak particularly to the evil of his heart, as he did to Joseph’s brothers when they sold him into slavery. This results in a man reflecting on his sin and he judges himself accordingly. God can speak to this condition through situations, through the reading of the Word or through the preaching of the Gospel. If the lust has such a grip on him that the man casts off the bands which bind him to Christ and places the lust in its former place, displacing Christ, he is in a very sad condition indeed.
I have a caution for you, before I go on. I have said previously that the above-mentioned evils may befall a true Christian, but just because you may experience such things, you cannot automatically consider yourself a true believer! Romans 7 contains the description of a true believer, a regenerate man, and that is the standard by which you must consider yourself to be regenerate or not. To assume that one is a true Christian by way of looking at the evils which have been discussed here is like arguing that because a wise man may be sick and wounded and do something foolish that because YOU are sick, wounded and foolish, you are also wise! Such an argument does not follow. If you want evidence of your being a believer, it must come from another place.
I’ve been paraphrasing from Chapter 9 in the last two blog entries. These are harsh words indeed, folks. I shuddered as I read and re-wrote this material how often I’ve put myself under the Law to prevent me from sin. Owen argues (rightly, I believe) that abstention from a sin that you would readily give sway to is the same heart-condition as if one had done the sin in actuality. This is a lot to swallow for me because I’ve always been taught that abstaining is half the battle, and I think in one way it is. But Owen cuts right to the heart issue: what would the heart desire if there were no punishment?
I know I have a great deal in my life to repent of each day. I pray that I will be able, by God’s grace, to live under grace and not under the law…and to fully understand what that means for my life. I pray that I will be able to encourage other, weaker and stronger, brothers in their pursuit of a holy life. And I want to more fully hate sin as sin rather than as something that will cause me pain.