Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24
In Thomas Watson’s penetrating book The Godly Man’s Picture, the Puritan arrives at a section along his journey of identifying the characteristics of a godly man which he entitles, “A Godly man does not indulge himself in any sin.”
He begins this section by means of question and answer propositions beginning with, “What is it to indulge sin?” Watson provides two answers, the first of which reads, “To give the breast to it and feed it. As a fond parent humours his child and lets him have what he wants, so to indulge sin is to humour sin.”
His second answer gives us insight into our affections for these sins, “to indulge sin is to commit it with delight: ‘they had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ 2 Thess. 2:12”
Those sins in which we indulge may be called pet sins. They are the sins which are dearest to us, the ones toward which we run so often and so quickly. They are the ones which have the deepest roots that are most difficult to hew out, in fact, we may be less likely to address them at all because of their intertwining nature. In this respect they may also be the most dangerous of sins because of the ease with which they hinder us. These are the sins from Watson’s analogy which we coddle and nurture.
Watson identifies for his audience four sorts of sins which a godly man will not allow himself to indulge.
- Secret Sins
- Gainful Sins
- A Beloved Sin
- Those sins which the world counts lesser
As to the first, secret sins, he writes, “Some are more modest than to commit gross sin. That would be a stain on their reputation. But they will sit brooding upon sin in a corner. All will not sin on a balcony but perhaps they will sin behind the curtain.” Watson then details three reasons why, “a godly man dare not sin secretly”. First, a godly man knows that “God sees in secret.” Secondly, because “a godly man knows that secret sins are in some sense worse than others. They reveal more guile and atheism. The curtain sinner makes himself believe that God does not see.” Third, “a godly man knows that secret sins shall not escape God’s justice.”
Next, Watson turns his focus toward the second type of sin in which a godly man will resist indulgence, gainful sins. These he describes as “the golden bait with which Satan fishes for souls.” He points out that it was this type of sin that Satan tempted our Lord with, though Christ was quick to see the hidden hook and resist him.
The third sin, beloved sins, are central to his entire focus of sins in which we indulge and it is the one that rightly deserves the expansive treatment that Watson devotes towards it. He writes, “There is usually one sin that is the favourite, the sin which the heart is most fond of.” It is this type of sin, perhaps above the others described here, that is most nurtured in the bosom of man. Therefore it becomes all the more critical that the godly man recognize his particular affinities and kill them. “If we would have peace in our souls, we must maintain a war against our favourite sin and never leave off till it is subdued.”
Further unpacking this particular peccadillo, Watson asks, “How shall we know the beloved sin?” before expanding on six answers which are summarized below:
- The sin which a man does not love to have reproved is the darling sin.
- The sin on which the thoughts run most is the darling sin.
- The sin which has the most power over us and most easily leads us captive is the one beloved by the soul.
- The sin which men use arguments to defend is the beloved sin.
- The sin which most troubles us, and flies most in the face in an hour of sickness and distress, that is the Delilah sin.
- The sin which a man finds most difficulty in giving up is the endeared sin.
Summarizing this section on beloved sins, Watson concludes, “The besetting sin is a God-provoking sin. The besetting sin is of all others most dangerous. A godly man will lay the axe of repentance to this sin and hew it down. He sets this sin, like Uriah, in the forefront of the battle, so that it may be slain. He will sacrifice this Isaac, he will pluck out this right eye, so that he may see better to go to heaven.”
The fourth sin, according to the Puritan, is those sins which the world counts lesser are defined as sins of omission, vain oaths, and slander. Which brings us to how Watson concludes this section, namely with nine consequences for indulgence in sin:
- One sin gives Satan as much advantage against you as more sins.
- One sin lived in proves that the heart is not sound.
- One sin will make way for more.
- One sin is as much a breach of God’s law as more sins.
- One sin lived in prevents Christ from entering.
- One sin lived in will spoil all your good duties.
- One sin lived in will be a cankerworm to eat out the peace of conscience.
- One sin allowed will damn as well as more sins.
- One sin harboured in the soul will unfit us for suffering.
“If, then, you would show yourselves godly, give a certificate of divorce to every sin. Kill the Goliath sin: ‘Let not sin reign’ (Rom. 6:12). In the original it is ‘Let not sin king it over you’. Grace and sin may be together, but grace and the love of sin cannot. Therefore parley with sin no longer, but with the spear of mortification, spill the heart blood of every sin.”
Unlike other sins, those in which we so easily indulge ourselves are like the invasive species of plants, which if left unattended will not maintain the status quo, but will grow and spread quickly and without warning. Therefore it becomes all the more critical to stay on top of our eradication of this species of sins.
Let us concur with the author of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2