This week’s assignment in Octavius Winslow’s book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, is chapter 8, “The Lord, the Restorer of His People”.
I appreciate the way Winslow opened this chapter by giving two reasons why it is necessary for the Lord to restore his people continually, namely: enmity within (indwelling sin) and without (Satan and the world). After thus identifying the root causes for the perpetual proneness to declension on the part of every believer, Winslow then highlighted the underlying principle of all departures from God:
We look at a believer’s lax practice, we mourn and weep over it, and we do well; we trace our own, and still deeper shame and confusion of face cover us: but we forget that the cause of our bitterest sorrow and humiliation should be, the concealed principle of evil from whence springs this unholy practice. How few among the called of God, are found confessing and mourning over the sin of their nature – the impure fountain from whence flows the stream, the unmortified root from whence originates the branch, and from which both are fed and nourished! This is what God looks at, — the sin of our fallen, unsanctified nature, — and this is what we should look at, and mourn over. Indeed, true mortification of sin consists in a knowledge of our sinful nature, and its subjection to the power of Divine grace. The reason why so few believers ‘through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body,’ is, a forgetfulness that the work has to do first and mainly with the root of sin in the soul: ‘Make the tree good, and the fruit will also be good’; purify the fountain, and the stream will be pure. Oh, were there a deeper acquaintance with the hidden iniquity of our fallen nature, — a more thorough learning out of the truth, — that ‘in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing,’ – a more heartfelt humiliation on account of it, and more frequent confession of it before God, — how much higher than they now are would be the attainments of holiness of many believers.
I’m indebted to Winslow for prompting this question when reflecting on that passage: How well do I know my own mortal enemy of indwelling sin, my own Moriarty? That metaphor didn’t originate with me. It is found toward the end of chapter 5 in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis:
When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue – even attempted virtue – brings light; indulgence brings fog. [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 102]
Proverbs 4:19 describes the “fog” that ensues from sinful indulgence as being even thicker:
“The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” (ESV)
So the struggle is a good thing. It is always part of keeping up the good fight of the faith (1 Tim. 6:12). Even better is the slow but steady progress that comes in mortifying the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit:
“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Prov. 4:18, ESV)