Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.” Romans 7:20
The entire testimony of God’s word, and the stories of all the saints recorded in its pages, go to confirm the doctrine of indwelling sin in a believer. The Lord has wisely, we must acknowledge, ordained it, that sin should yet remain in His people to the very last step of their journey; and for this He has graciously provided His word as a storehouse of promises, consolations, cautions, rebukes, admonitions, all referring to the indwelling sin of a believer.
The covenant of grace—its sanctifying, strengthening, invigorating, animating provision, all was designed for this very state. Yes, the gift of Jesus—all His fullness of grace, wisdom, strength, and sympathy—His death, resurrection, ascension, and advocacy—all was given with an especial view to the pardon and subjection of sin in a child of God. Perfect holiness, entire sinlessness, is a state not attainable in this life. He who has settled down with the conviction that he has arrived at such a stage has great reason to suspect the soundness, or at least the depth, of his real knowledge of himself. He, indeed, must be but imperfectly acquainted with his own heart, who dreams of perfect sanctification on this side of glory. With all meekness and tenderness, I would earnestly exhort such an individual to review his position well—to bring his heart to the touchstone of God’s word—to pray over the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and to ascertain if there are not periods when the experience of an inspired apostle, once “caught up to the third heaven,” will not apply to him—”I am carnal, sold under sin,”—the “sin that dwells in me.”
The writings and the preaching of men—mistaken views of truth—yes, I would add, even what was once a sincere and ardent desire for sanctification—either of these, or all combined, may have led to the adoption of such a notion as sinless perfection, the nature and tendency of which are to engender a spirit of human pride, self-trust, self-complacence; to throw the mind off its guard, and the heart off its prayerful vigilance, and thus render the man an easy prey to that subtle and ever-prowling enemy, of whose “devices” (and this is not the least one) no believer should be “ignorant.”
Oh yes, sin, often deep and powerful, dwells in a child of God. It is the source of his greatest grief, the cause of his acutest sorrow. Remove this, and sorrow in the main would be a stranger to his breast. Go, ask yon weary, dejected, weeping believer the cause of his broken spirit—his sad countenance—his tears. “Is it,” you inquire, “that you are poor in this world?” “No.” “Is it that you are friendless?” “No.” “Is it that worldly prosperity shines not upon you—your plans blasted—your circumstances trying—your prospects dark?” “No.” “What is it, then, that grieves your spirit, clouds your countenance, and that causes those clasped hands and uplifted eyes?” “It is sin,” the soul replies, “that dwells in me: sin is my burden—sin is my sorrow—sin is my grief—sin is my confession—sin is humiliation before my Father and God—rid of this, and the outward pressure would scarce be felt.”
Truly does the apostle say—and let the declaration never be read apart from its accompanying promise—”If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”