The sense of sin works for good in the godly

Watson WednesdaysWednesdays with Watson is a weekly reading taken from my favorite Puritan writer, Thomas Watson.  This week’s selection is taken from All Things for Good.

[The] sense of sin works for good, as it is an occasion of putting the soul upon six especial duties:

(1) It puts the soul upon self-searching. A child of God being conscious of sin, takes the candle and lantern of the Word, and searches into his heart. He desires to know the worst of himself; as a man who is diseased in body desires to know the worst of his disease. Though our joy lies in the knowledge of our graces, yet there is some benefit in the knowledge of our corruptions. Therefore Job prays, ‘Make me to know my transgressions’ (Job 13.23).  It is good to know our sins, that we may not flatter ourselves, or take our condition to be better than it is. It is good to find out our sins, lest they find us out.

(2) The inherency of sin puts a child of God upon self-abasing. Sin is left in a godly man, as a cancer in the breast, or a hunch upon the back, to keep him from being proud. Gravel and dirt are good to ballast a ship, and keep it from overturning; the sense of sin helps to ballast the soul, that it be not overturned with vain glory. We read of the ‘spots of God’s children’ (Deut. 32.5). When a godly man beholds his fate in the glass of Scripture, and sees the spots of infidelity and hypocrisy, this makes the plumes of pride fall; they are humbling spots. It is a good use that may be made even of our sins, when they occasion low thoughts of ourselves. Better is that sin which humbles me, than that duty which makes me proud. Holy Bradford uttered these words of himself ‘I
am a painted hypocrite’; and Hooper said, ‘Lord, I am hell, and Thou art heaven.’

(3) Sin puts a child of God on self-judging; he passes a sentence upon himself. ‘I am more brutish than any man (Prov. 30.2). It is dangerous to judge others, but it is good to judge ourselves. ‘If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged’ (I Cor. 11.31). When a man has judged himself, Satan is put out of office. When he lays anything to a saint’s charge, he is able to retort and say ‘It is true, Satan, I am guilty of these sins, but I have judged myself already for them; and having condemned myself in the lower court of conscience, God will acquit me in the upper court of heaven.’

(4) Sin puts a child of God upon self-conflicting. Spiritual-self conflicts with carnal-self. ‘The spirit lusts against the flesh’ (Gal. 5.17). Our life is a wayfaring life and a warfaring life. There is a duel fought every day between the two seeds. A believer will not let sin have peaceable possession. If he cannot keep sin out, he will keep sin under; though he cannot quite overcome, yet he is overcoming. ‘To him that is overcoming’ (Rev. 2.7).

(5) Sin puts a child of God upon self-observing. He knows sin is a bosom-traitor, therefore he carefully observes himself. A subtle heart needs a watchful eye. The heart is like a castle that is in danger every hour to be assaulted; this makes a child of God to be always a sentinel and keep a guard about his heart. A believer has a strict eye over himself, lest he fall into any scandalous enormity and so open a sluice to let all his comfort run out.

(6) Sin puts the soul upon self-reforming. A child of God not only finds out sin, but drives out sin. One foot he sets upon the neck of his sins, and the other foot he ‘turns to God s testimonies’ (Psalm 119.59). Thus the sins of the godly work for good. God makes the saints’ maladies their medicines.

But let none ABUSE this doctrine. I do not say that sin works for good to an impenitent person. No, it works for his damnation but it works for good to them that love God; and for you that are godly, I know you will NOT draw a wrong conclusion from this, either to make light of sin, or to make bold with sin. If you should do so, God will make it cost you dear. Remember David. He ventured presumptuously on sin, and what did he get? He lost his peace he felt the terrors of the Almighty in his soul, though he had all helps to cheerfulness. He was a king; he had skill in music yet nothing could administer comfort to him; he complains of his ‘broken bones’ (Psalm 51.8). And though he did at last come out of that dark cloud, yet some divines are of opinion that he never recovered his full joy to his dying day. If any of God’s people should be tampering with sin because God can turn it to good, though the Lord
does not damn them, He may send them to hell in this life. He may put them into such bitter agonies and soul-convulsions, as may fill them full of horror, and make them draw nigh to despair. Let this be a flaming sword to keep them from coming near the forbidden tree. And thus have I shown, that both the best things and the worst things, by the overruling hand of the great God, do work together for the good of the saints.


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