Book Review: Indwelling Sin in Believers, by John Owen
John Owen is perhaps the most worthy author of being read in the English language; and the doctrine of indwelling sin in a Christian â€“ what it is and how to fight against it without slipping into legalism or antinomianism â€“ is one of the most crucial topics in practical, twenty-first century Christianity. So then, what would hinder any Christian, young or old, from reading such a helpful-sounding title as Indwelling Sin in Believers, by John Owen? Until recently, the argument could perhaps have been made that Owen's style is just a little too obscure and prolix to be readily accessible to simple believers without a high education or theological training; but with the advent of the new Puritan Paperback, which abridges Owen's classic work and makes it easy to read, the last potential obstacle has fallen away. Christian, if you struggle with sin (and make no doubt, if you don't then you're not a Christian after all), read this book! You may just find it to be one of the most useful books you've read in a good, long while.
Owen, for those of you who may not have read him, has an ability to probe his subject, whatever it is, to its limits. After finishing one of his works, you get the distinct feeling that there is not one angle he has neglected to view the topic from, not one facet that he has left unexamined. But it is equally true, especially in his works on the Christian life, sanctification, the fight against sin, that he is eminently practical. Page after page of helpful, down-to-earth suggestions make this book one of the most applicational you'll ever read; but page after page of incisive, scriptural diagnosis ensure that the applications are firmly rooted in gospel truth. This is no â€œten steps to a better youâ€ kind of book â€“ but neither is it an abstract theological treatise. It is real Christian living founded upon real Christian truth.
I only wish to leave a couple of very brief excerpts from Indwelling Sin, to give the reader the merest hint of how the book deals with what indwelling sin is; why it is important to understand the doctrine; and how the Christian can go about fighting against it. The problem with excerpting Owen, however, is that every sentence is so pithy and full of wisdom that one could judicially excerpt just about the entire work! But if you're going to do that, you might as well just buy the book and be done with it â€“ a solution I hope quite a few of you come to!
What is indwelling sin like? â€œThrow it off â€“ it will come back. Rebuke it by the power of grace â€“ it withdraws for a while, and then returns. Set the cross of Christ before it â€“ it does as those that came to take him: at the sight of him they went backwards and fell to the ground, but then they rose again and laid hands on him. It gives way for a while, but it soon returns and presses on the soul again. Remind it of the love of God in Christ â€“ though it is stricken, it does not give up. Present hell-fire to it â€“ it rushes into the midst of the flames. Reproach it with its folly and madness â€“ it knows no shame, but presses on still. Let the thoughts of the mind struggle to flee from it â€“ it follows, as though on the wings of the wind. And by this importunity it wearies and wears out the soul, and if the great remedy, Romans 8:3, does not come in time, it gains the victory.â€
Why is it important to understand this? â€œThe one who understands the evil of his own heart is the only useful fruitful, solid believer. Others are fit only to delude themselves, and to disquiet families, churches, and every association. Let us wisely consider our hearts, and then see if we can be proud of our gifts and graces, and whether we can go and judge, condemn, and reproach others that have been tempted.â€
How can the Christian fight against it? â€œSet your affections on the cross of Christ. This is eminently effective in frustrating the whole work of indwelling sin. The apostle gloried and rejoiced in the cross of Christ. His heart was set on it. It crucified the world to him, making it a dead and undesirable thing (Gal. 6:14). The baits and pleasures of sin are all things of the world, 'the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life'. By these sin entices and entangles our souls. If the heart is filled with the cross of Christ, it casts death and undesirability on them all, leaving no seeming beauty, pleasure or comeliness in them.â€