13 September 2006

Westminster Wednesday—A “Deepening Sense of Sin”

Every once in a while, I am surprised by just how biblical the Puritans were.

The Puritans seldom concerned themselves with the moment, real or imagined, of a man’s turning to God; they were more concerned with a man’s present state. This does not mean, of course that they were indifferent to the question of conversion, it means rather that they realised clearly that a true conversion will be shown by its fruit, and they looked for that fruit as evidence that a work of grace had taken place in the man’s heart. If this work of grace had taken place then, they said, one great overriding result would follow, that is, the man would have a deep and continually deepening sense of sin. And they resolutely refused to offer any comfort unless they were convinced that a real sense of sin was present. Thus “the conscience is not to be healed if it be not wounded. Thou preachest and pressest the law, comminations, the judgment to come, and that with much earnestness and importunity. He which hears, if he be not terrified, if he be not troubled, is not to be comforted” [Augustine?]. Or again, says Perkins, “First of all a man must have knowledge of four things, of the law of God, of sin against the law, of the guilt of sin, and of the judgment of God against sin, which is eternal wrath.” Or again “never any of God’s children,” says Greenham, “were comforted thoroughly, but they were first humbled for their sins” (G. A. Hemming, “The Puritans’ Dealings with Troubled Souls,” in The Puritan Papers, vol. 1, p. 32).

I found this approach strikingly parallel to that of John in his first epistle. There too the first mark of perseverance is confession of sin, for ”if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

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