Introductory Essay by Thomas Chalmers

WE hold it of prime importance, in the business of practical Christianity, that we understand well the kind of work which is put into our hands, both that we may go rightly about it, and also that we may have the comfort of judging whether it is actually making progress under our exertions. A mistake on this point may lead us perhaps to waste our efforts on that which is impracticable; and when these efforts of course turn out to be fruitless, may lead us to abandon our spirits to utter despondency; and thus, to use the language of the Apostle Paul, running as uncertainly, and fighting as one that beateth the air, we may spend our days, alike strangers to peace, and to progressive holiness.

Now we regard the doctrine which forms the main topic of the following admirable Treatise of Dr. OWEN, "ON INDWELLING SIN IN BELIEVERS," as one of those subjects, a right understanding of which has no small degree of influence on the believer's peace and progress in the divine life. And it is most important to attend to the Apostle's reasoning, in his exposition of this subject, in which he not only illustrates the general truth, but states his own experimental finding of the matter. And we regard certain of the terms which he employs in his exposition as big with significantcy. " Let not sin," says the Apostle, "reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." Now we cannot fail to perceive how widely diverse the injunction of the Apostle would have been, if instead of saying, " Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies," he had said, Let sin be rooted out of your mortal bodies; or if, instead of saying, Obey not its lusts, he had bid us eradicate them. It were surely a far more enviable state to have no inclination to evil at all, than to be oppressed with the constant forth-putting of such an inclination, and barely to keep it in check, under the power of some opposing principle.

Could we attain the higher state, on this side of time, we would become on earth, what angels are in heaven, whose every desire runs in the pure current of love and loyalty to a God of holiness. But if doomed to the lower state, during all the days of our abode in the world, then are we given to understand, that the life of a Christian is a life of vigilant and unremitting warfare - that it consists in the struggle of two adverse elements, and the habitual prevalence of one of them - that in us, and closely around us, there is a besetting enemy who will not quit his hold of us, till death paralyze his grasp, and so let us go - and that, from this sore conflict of the Spirit lusting against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit, we shall not be conclusively delivered, till our present tainted materialism shall be utterly taken down; and that the emancipated soul shall not have free and unconfined scope for its heavenly affections, until it has burst its way from the prison - hold of its earthly tabernacle.

Now, this view of the matter gives us a different conception of our appointed task from what may often be imagined. Sin, it would appear, is not to be exterminated from our mortal bodies; it is only to be kept at bay. It is not to be destroyed, in respect of its presence, but it is to be repressed in its prevalency and in its power. It will ever dwell, it would appear, in our present frame-work; but though it dwell, it may not have the dominion. Let us try then to banish it; and defeated in this effort, we may give up, in heartless despair, the cause of our sanctification, thus throwing away at once both our peace and our holiness. But let us try to dethrone it, though we cannot cast it out; and succeeding in this effort, while we mourn its hateful company, we may both keep it under the control of strictest guardianship, and calmly look onward to the hour of death, as the hour of release from a burden that will at least adhere to us all our days, though it may not overwhelm us.

We see then the difference between a saint in heaven, and a saint upon earth. The former may abandon himself to such feelings and such movements as come at pleasure, for he has no other pleasure than to do the will of God, and to rejoice in the contemplation of his unspotted glory. The latter cannot with safety so abandon himself. It is true, that there is an ingredient of his nature, now under an advancing process of regeneration, which is altogether on the side of godliness; and were this left unresisted by any opposing influence, he might be spared all the agonies of dissolution, and set him down at once among the choirs and the companies of paradise. But there is another ingredient of his nature, still under an unfinished process of regeneralion, and which is altogether on the, side of ungodliness; and were this left without the control of his new and better principle, sin would catch the defenceless moment, and regain the ascendency from which she had been disposted. .

Now it is Death which comes in as the deliverer. It is death which frees away the incumbrance. It is death which over- throws and grinds to powder that corrupt fabric on the walls of which were inscribed the foul marks of leprosy, and the inmost materials of which were pervaded with an infection, that nothing, it seems, but the sepulchral process of a resolution into dust, and a resurrection into another and glorified body, can clear completely and conclusively away. It is death that conducts us from the state of a saint on earth, to the state of a saint in heaven: but not till we are so conducted, are we safe to abandon ourselves for a single instant to the spontaneity of our own inclinations; and we utterly, mistake our real circumstances in the world - we judge not aright of what we have to do, and of the attitude in which we ought to stand - we lay ourselves open to the assaults of a near and lurking enemy, and are exposed to most humiliating overthrows, and most oppressive visita:tions of remorse and wretchedness, if, such being our actual condition upon earth, we go to sleep, or to play among its besetting dangers; if we ever think of the post that we occupy being any other than the post of armour and of watchfulness; or falsely imagining, that there is but one spiritual ingredient in our nature, altogether on the side of holiness, instead of two, whereof the other is still alive, and on the side of sin, we ever let down the guardianship, and the jealousy, and the lowliness of mind, and the prayers for succour from on high, which such a state of things so urgently and so imperiously demands.

We think it of very capital importance for us to know that the body wherewith we are burdened, and must carry about with us, is a vile body; that the nature which we received at the first, and from which we shall not be delivered on this side of the grave, is a corrupt nature; that all which is in us, and about us, and that is apart from the new spirit infused through the belief of the Gospel, is in a state of aversion to the will of God; that what may be clearly noted by the single word carnality, is of perpetual residence with us while upon earth; and that our distinct concern is, while it resides with us, that it shall not reign over us. It is ever present with its suggestions; amid this we cannot help: but it should not prevail with its suggestions; and this, by the aids and expedients provided for the regeneration of a polluted world, we may help. We shall feel with our latest breath, the motions of the flesh; and these motions, if not sins, are at least sinful tendencies, which, if yielded to, would terminate in sins.

Now our business is not to extirpate the tendencies, but to make our stand against them - not to root out those elements of moral evil which the body of a good man before death has, and after its resurrection has not - but to stifle, and to keep them down by that force wherewith the new creature in Jesus Christ is armed for the great battle, on the issue of which hangs his eternity. We cannot obtain such a victory as that we shall never feel the motions of the flesh, but we may obtain such a victory, as that we shall not walk after the flesh. The enemy is not so killed as that we are delivered from. his presence; but by an unremitting strenuousness on our part, we may keep him so chained as that we shall be delivered from his power.

Such is the contest, and such is the result of the contest, if it be a successful one. But we ought to be told, that it is a vain hope, while we live in the world to look for the extermination of the sinful principle. It ever stirs and actuates within us; and there is not one hour of the day, in which it does not give token that it is still alive, and though cast down from its ascendency, not destroyed in its existence. Forewarned, forearmed, and it is right to be informed, that near us, and within us, there is at all times an insidious foe, against whom we cannot guard too vigilantly, and against whom we cannot pray too fervently and too unremittingly.
The time is coming, when, without the felt counteraction of any adverse and opposing tendency, we shall expatiate in freedom over the realms of ethereal purity and love, just as the time is coming, when the chrysalis shall burst with unfettered wing from the prison in which it is now held, and where, we doubt not, that it is aspiring and growing into a meetness for traversing at large the field of light and air that is above it. The Christian on earth so aspires and so grows; but Christian though he be, there is on him the heaviness of a gross and tainted materialism, which must be broken down ere his spiritual tendencies can expand into their full and final development. Meanwhile, there is the compression upon him of downward, and earthward, and carnal tendencies, which will never be removed till he die; but which he must resist, so as that they shall not reign over him.. There are lusts which he cannot eradicate, but which he must not obey; and, while he deplores, in humility and shame, the conscious symptoms within him of a nature so degraded, it is his business, by the energies and resources of the new nature, so to starve, and weaken, and mortify the old, as that it may linger into decay while he lives, and when he dies may receive the stroke of its full annihilation.
This representation of a believer's state upon earth is in accordancy with Scripture. We find the apostle stating, that the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and in such a way too, as that the man cannot do what he would. He would serve God more perfectly. He would render him an offering untinctured by the frailty of his fallen nature. He would rise to the seraphic love of the upper paradise, and fain be able to consecrate to the Eternal, the homage of a heart so pure that no earthly feculence shall be felt adhering to it. But all this he cannot - and why? Because of a drag that keeps him, with all his soaring aspirations, among the dust of a perishable world. There is a counterpoise of secularity within, that at least damps and represses the sacredness, and it is well that it does not predominate over it. This secularity belongs to the old nature, being so very corrupt that Paul says of it, " In me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing." There is a law, then, which warreth against the law of our mind, even while that mind is delighting inwardly in the law of God. - The conflict is so exceedingly severe, that even they who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly, :,while waiting for the redemption of the body, and for. a translation into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Burdened with the mass of a rebellious nature, the apostle exclaims, " 0 wretched man that. I am - who shall deliver inc from the body of this death." Even grace, it would appear, does not deliver from the residence of sin; for Paul complains most.emphatically of his vile body, and, we have no doubt, would so have stigmatized it to the last half hour of his existence in the world. But grace still does something. It delivers from the reign of sin, so as that we do not obey its motions, though vexed and annoyed with the feeling ,of.them. And accordingly, from the exclamation of '0 wretched man!" does he pass in a moment to the grateful exclamation of, "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord," in whom it is that -"we walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
From such a representation as is given by the apostle of Indwelling Sin, we may deduce some distinct practical lessons, which may be of use to the believer.

First, we think it conducive to the peace of a believer that he is made aware of what be has to expect of the presence of corruptiou during his stay in this the land of immature virtue, and where the holiness of the new-born creature has to struggle its way through all those adverse elements, which nought but death will utterly remove from him. It must serve to allay the disturbance of his spirit, when pierced and humbled under the consciousness of an evil desire and wicked principle still lurking within him, and announcing themselves to be yet alive, - by the instigaions which they are ever prompting, and the thoughts which they are ever suggesting to the inner man. It is his business to resist the instigations, and to turn away from the thoughts - and. thus the old nature may be kept in practical check, though as to its being, it is not exterminated. Yet the very occurrence of a sinful desire, or an impure feeling, harasses a delicate conscience;- for no such occurrence happens to an angel, or to the spirit of a just man made perfect, in heaven; and he may be led to suspect his interest in the promises of Christ, when he is made to perceive that there is in him still so much of, what is uncongenial to godliness.

It may therefore quiet him to be told, that he is neither an angel nor a glorified saint; and that there is a distinction between the saint who is struggling at his appointed warfare below, and the saint who is resting and rejoicing in the full triumph of his victory above; and the distinction announces itself just by the very intimations which so perplex and so grieve him - just by the felt nearness of that corrupt propensity which is the plague of his heart, which it is his bounden duty to keep his guard against, and which, with his newborn sensibilities, on the side of holiness, he will detest and mourn over - but not to be overwhelmed in despair, on account of, as if some strange thing had happened to him, or as if any temptation had come in his way which was not common to all his brethren who are in the world.

But, secondly
, this view of the matter not only serves to uphold the peace of a believer, but conduces also to his progress in holiness; for it leads to a most wholesome distrust of himself, under the consciousness that there is still a part about him most alive to sin; and which, if not watched, and guarded, and kept under severe and painful restraint, would be wholly given over to it. And here there is a striking accordancy between the theoretical view which, the Bible gives of our nature, and the practical habit it labours to impress upon all who partake of it. An angel, perhaps, does not need to be warned against the exposure of himself to temptation; for there may be no ingredient in his constitution that can be at all affected by it: but not so with man, compounded as he is, and made up as his constitution is here, of two great departments, one of which is prone to evil, and that continually, and in the other of which lie all those principles and powers whose office it is, if not utterly to extinguish this proneness, at least to repress its outbreakings.

In these circumstances, it is positively not for man to thrust himself into a scene of temptation; and when the alternative is at his own will, whether he shall shun the encounter, or shall dare it, his business is to shun, and the whole of Scripture is on the side of cautiousness, rather than of confidence in this matter; and we may be assured, that it is our part, in every case, to expose nothing, and to hazard nothing, unless there be a call of duty, which is tantamount to a call of providence. ‘When the trial is of our own bringing on, we have no warrant to hope for a successful issue. God will grant succour and support against the onsets which temptation maketh upon us, but he does not engage himself to stand by us in the presumptuous onsets which we make upon temptation. We better consult the mediocrity of our powers, and better suit our habits to the real condition of our ruined and adulterated nature, when we keep as far as in us lies our determined distance from every allurement - when with all our might we restrain. our tendencies to evil within, -from coming into contact with the excitements to evil that are without - when we make a covenant with our eyes to turn them away from the sight of vanity - and whether the provocation be to anger, or evil speaking, or intemperance, or any wayward and vicious indulgence whatever, let us be assured, that we cannot be too prompt in our alarms, or too early in our measures, whether of prevention or resistance - and that in every one instance where we have it in our power, and no dereliction of duty is implied by it, it is our wise and salutary part, not most resolutely to face the provocative, but most resolutely to flee from it.

But, thirdly,
this view of the matter not only leads us to withdraw the vicious and wrong part of our constitution from every encounter with temptation that can possibly be shunned - it also leads us to such measures as may recruit and strengthen the gracious or good part of our constitution for every such encounter as cannot be shunned. For we must, in spite of all our prudence, have many such encounters in the world. Temptation will come to our door though we should never move a single unguarded footstep towards temptation - and then, What, we would ask, is the armour of resistance? W hat is the best method of upholding the predominance of the good principle over the evil one? We would say, a fresh commitment of ourselves in faith and in prayer to him who first put the good principle into our hearts - another act of recurrence to the fullness that is in Christ Jesus - a new application for strength from the Lord our sanctifier, to meet. this new occasion for strength which he himself has permitted to come in our way, and to cross the path of our history in the world.

The humility which leads us to flee whenever we can, and to pray when flight is impossible - this is the very habit of the soul, which removes it from the first set of temptations, and will most effectually strengthen it against the second. To the proud man who reckons upon his own capabilities, God refuses grace. To the humble man, who in himself has no other feeling than that of utter emptiness, - God gives grace in abundant measure for all his necessities - and thus it is, that by proceeding, as he ought, on the consideration that there is a part of his nature belonging properly and originally to himself, which he must keep at an assiduous distance from every excitement to evil; and then proceeding as he ought, on the consideration, that there is a part of his nature derived by grace from heaven, and nourished by constant supplies from the same quarter - thus it is, we say, that his knowledge of his own constitution, such as we have endeavoured to unfold it has a direct tendency both to deepen the humility of the believer, and to exalt and perfect his holiness.

It is this state of composition, in every one who has been born of the Spirit between the old man and the new creature, which explains the mystery of a Christian being more humble, just as he becomes more holy - of his growing at one and the same time in dissatisfaction with himself, and in those deeds of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ - of his being both more feelingly alive to the corruption that is in him from one part of his nature, and more fruitfully abundant in all those virtues which have their soil and their nutriment from the other part of his nature, so as to hold out. the palpable exhibition of one evidently rising, in positive excellence, and yet as evidently sinking into a profounder self-abasement than before; as if it required a so much deeper foundation to uphold the ascending superstructure. The truth is, that wherever there is any real growth of morality, there must be a growth of moral sensibility along with it - and in proportion to this sensibility will there be the annoyance that is felt, and.the touching grief and humility wherewith the heart is visited on every fresh evolution of that depraved nature, which is only subordinated, but not yet extinguished and done away.

And hence the want of sympathy, and the want of understanding betwee the children of this world, and the children of light - and, the misinterpretation that is sometimes given to the pains, and perplexities, and mental disquietudes which the latter do experience, and the puzzling appearance of inconsistency which is held out by the emotions and the exercises of a real Christian, who is troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed, bearing about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in his body, dying unto earthly honours and earthly gratifications, while the life of Jesus is becoming manifest in his mortal flesh.

And it is for the purpose of administering comfort, and inculcating watchfulness, and conducing to the believer's growth in holiness, that we would introduce to the notice of our readers the following admirable and instructive Treatise of DR. OWEN "ON THE NATURE, POWER, DECEIT, AND PREVALENCE OF IN-DWELLING SIN IN BELIEVERS." The writings of this venerable and much-admired author form a rich spiritual treasury, suited to the varied needs and conditions of almost every class of men; but perhaps there is no treatise of this learned and pious Author more fitted to be useful to the Christian disciple, than the one we have now ventured to recommend. And we regard it the more valuable, as the main topic on which he expatiates, though one of no light import to the Christian, is, we fear, by many not rightly understood, or, at least, not sufficiently adverted to. And thinking, as we do, that it possesses a most intimate and decided bearing on the peace and sanctification of the believer, we count it most important to be instructed in the nature and prevalency of Indwelling Sin, and in the means for keeping its operations in check, by one who had reached such lofty attainments in holiness, and whose profound and experimental acquaintance with the spiritual life so well fitted him for expounding its nature and operations.

He is skilful in detecting and exposing the lurking places of Indwelling Sin, and in discovering those avenues by which it makes its inroads on the heart, and at which the believer should post himself in most vigilant guardianship. And he unceasingly reminds him, that amidst the urgencies of business, and the companies of this world, which form the insnaring and besetting enemies of the Christian from without, and aided as they are by the treacherous enemies within, the darkness and vanity of the mind, the proneness of the heart to take up with the perishable interests of time, and the natural deadness of the affections to spiritual things, which betray him into the power of these insidious enemies, it is his only wisdom and safety to keep his spirit unremittingly in a jealous and wakeful posture of defence. Against enemies which, work by treachery and deceit, incessant watchfulness is our only security; and we know not a more valuable portion of this excellent Treatise than that in which its spiritually minded Author guards the believer against carelessness and sloth, which relax his watchfulness, and insensibly betray him into an indifference to spiritual things, and a remissness in those exercises, which are necessary to sustain the renewed spirit against the earthly and downward tendencies of his nature; carelessness in the cultivation of prayer and private meditation, and all those expedients which divine wisdom has provided for the nourishment of the spiritual life, he is in hazard of declension in religion, of losing a relish for divine things, of neglecting to cultivate close communion with God, and of provoking his heavenly Father to withdraw the light of his reconciled countenance.

And, amidst this desertion of light and of comfort, he is in danger of God, in whom he delighted, becoming a wilderness to him. This desertion, by desolating his own heart, and divesting spiritual exercises of the comfort and delight he wont to experience in them, will inevitably render God a weariness to him, and he will become indisposed to all those Christian exercises which are necessary to nourish and sustain the life of godliness in his soul. The Christian cannot be stationary. He must either be in an advancing career of holiness, or in a retrograde process of backsliding. To such as have either slackened their progress, or are falling, from their steadfastness, this Treatise may prove a faithful monitor, to apprise them of their danger. It forcibly reminds them that they are in the enemies country - that the Christian life is a state of incessant warfare - that, ever girt for the conflict, they must manfully and unremittingly fight their way to the heavenly rest. With the most assiduous diligence strengthening the things that remain, and are ready to die, and never resting satisfied with present attainments, they must press onwards to the triumphs of their final victory, ever keeping in remembrance, that he only that endureth to the end shall be saved. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

But while this Treatise is well fitted to administer both comfort and admonition to the believer, it is no less fitted to awaken the ungodly, in whom sin holds its prevailing and undisturbed ascendancy, to a sense of their fearful condition. As "when the strong man armed keeps his palace all is in peace," so, while sin holds its undisturbed possession, they are in peace though they are enemies to God in their hearts, and live in an utter forgetfulness of him. And it is a certain indication of spiritual death, when there are no strugglings of the renewed heart with sin, which reigns in their mortal bodies; a sure symptom that there is no principle of grace in the soul, when they feel not the warring of the Spirit against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit. Such a deadly repose of the inner man ought to force across their minds the troubling conviction that they have not yet passed from death unto life. This is a transaction which must be made ere they can see the kingdom of God. And those who have made this transition, and have the principles of a new life implanted in their souls, will feel the force and significaney of the Apostle's declaration, when he speaks of "crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts ;" and of the severe conflict which they have to maintain with "principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness ;" and the hazard to which they are exposed from the "adversary, who goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour;" and above all the danger to be apprehended from the most treacherous and deceitful of all their enemies, an evil heart of unbelief, which is constantly leading them to depart from the living God.

But those who experience no pain from the crucifixion of the flesh, nor any harassing warfare with their spiritual enemies, nor any sensitive alarm from the wiles of the adversary, nor any fear of being betrayed by their own deceitful hearts - .if they feel none of these plagues and annoyances which the believer who has acquired a new nature experiences in the divine life, then have they the most satisfying of all demonstrations, that no principle of grace has been infused into their souls - that the god of this world holds his exclusive and undisturbed empire over their hearts - and that they still remain among those who shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But on these fertile topics we must restrain ourselves, and leaving our readers to gather from this instructive, Treatise the many salutary lessons and admonitions which it is fitted to communicate, we shall conclude our remarks with the practical exhortation of the Apostle.

Let sin reside as it may, it must not be permitted to reign. He may be put rp with as a most offensive and unpleasant inmate in the house - but let him be curbed and guarded, and not one item of authority be conceded to him. It is enough that one has to bear his hateful precence, but his tyranny is not to be tolerated. Against this there is ever to be upheld a manful, and strenuous, and persevering resistance. He may distress, but he is not to influence us. There will be a constant prompting on his part to that which is evil - but the evil thing is not to be done, and the desire which incites to that thing is not to be obeyed. This is the strong and visible line of demarcation between the wilful sinner and the aspiring saint. Both of them have vile bodies charged with the elements of corruption, and impregnated with a moral virus, the working of which is towards sin and ungodliness. Both have one and the same constitutional tendency. But the one follows that tendency, the other resists it; and as the fruit of that resistance, though not freed from its detested presence, he is at least emancipated from its domineering power. It lives in the house, but it is not master of the house; and is there so starved, and buffeted, and subjected to such perpetual thwarting, and mortification of every sort, that it gradually languishes, and becomes weaker, and, at length, with the life of the natural body, it utterly expires. The soul which acquiesced in its dominion has been sowing all along to the flesh, and of the flesh it shall reap corruption. The soul that struggled against its dominion, and refused compliance therewith, has, through the Spirit, mortified the deeds of the body, and shall live, - has all along been sowing to the Spirit, and of the Spirit shall reap life everlasting.

St. Andrews, July, 1825

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