The Dangers of Not Mortifying Sin
Ezekiel Hopkins, 1634-1690
In an unmortified course, you frustrate the very end of your graces. Has God implanted in you a noble, active, and divine principle that will certainly, in the end, prove victorious if it be employed? And will you—while lusts and temptations are overrunning your souls and making a prey of you—will you, I say, check it and keep it under a restraint?
Grace has in it a natural antipathy and repugnance against sin and would, where it has its free scope, naturally and necessarily destroy it. The apostle tells us, "The flesh lusts against the Spirit" (Galatians 5:17). And, what! Does the Spirit sit down tame and quiet under such opposition? No, says he, "the Spirit" also lusts "against the flesh." It does no sooner see a corruption begin to heave and stir in the heart, but it would be presently upon it. It would beat it down and keep it under, did not your deceitful hearts betray it or did they but concur with it. Now consider,
Is not this a foul piece of ingratitude and insincerity against God, the God of all grace? He, seeing your weakness and impotence to deal with those mighty corruptions that storm, rage, and domineer within you—has sent the auxiliaries and supports of His divine grace to aid you. And you either turn treacherous and deliver them up bound to be abused, yes, if possible to be slaughtered by your lusts
Is it not desperate madness and folly to neglect or hinder that which would side with you and fight for you? Alas! The quarrel is not grace's, but yours; and it is no less than your eternal salvation or your eternal damnation about which this war is commenced. When corruption comes up against you in a full body and the devil in the head of it leading it on, do you think you can of yourself stand against these many legions? Yet shall grace stand by and offer you a sure aid, and you refuse or neglect it? What else is this, but to make void the use and office of grace and to be injurious to the goodness of God, Who has therefore given you grace to this very end that you should employ it against your lusts?
Unmortified sin does not only frustrate the end and use of grace; but, what is worse, it also miserably weakens and wastes grace. It is impossible that both grace and corruption should at once be strong and vigorous in the same soul. If the one thrive, the other must needs languish...if your soul be overspread with unmortified sins, like so many noxious and hurtful weeds sprouting up in it, grace must needs decay and wither; for your soul cannot have its sap to nourish it.
There are two things that do, as it were, nourish grace unto a mighty increase both of strength and beauty: and they are holy thoughts and holy duties.
A man ordinarily needs nothing more to strengthen him but food and exercise. Holy thoughts are, as it were, the food of grace. Holy duties are, as it were, its exercise, whereby grace is breathed and preserved in health. But an unmortified lust hinders grace from gathering strength from thoughts or duties. For,
I. An unmortified lust usually takes forcible possession of a man's thoughts to itself. How does such a lust summon all the thoughts to attend upon it! Some it sends out upon one errand, some upon another, and all must be busied about its object. Where covetousness, pride, or wantonness is the unmortified sin, how is the imagination crowded full of thoughts that are making provision for these lusts! Some fetch in their objects, and some beautify and adorn them, and some buzz and whisper the commendations of those objects to the soul. Nay, and lest any thought should be vacant, some it will employ in imagining fictions and chimeras, things that never were nor are likely to be, if they have but any tendency to feed and nourish that corruption. I appeal to your own experience for the confirmation of this.
And this indeed is a good mark, whereby we may find out what is our unmortified sin: see what it is that most of all defiles your imagination, that the stream and current of your thoughts most run out after. Do your thoughts, when they fly abroad, return home loaded with the world? Do they ordinarily present to you fantastic riches, possessions, gains, purchases, and still fill you with contrivances how to make them real? Then covetousness is your unmortified lust.
Do they dwell and pore upon your own perfections? Can you erect an idol to yourselves in your own imaginations, and then fall down and worship it? Or do your thoughts, like flies, settle only upon the sores and imperfections of others? Then your unmortified sin is pride. And the like trial may be made of the rest.
Now, I say, when an unmortified lust has thus seized all the thoughts and pressed them to the service of a corrupted imagination, grace then lacks its food: it is ready to be starved. No wonder if it languishes and decays!
II. An unmortified lust much hinders and interrupts the life, vigor, and spirituality of holy duties. This it does two ways: either by deadening the heart through the guilt of it, or by distracting the heart through the power of it.
(1) An unmortified lust deadens the heart in holy duties through the sense of the guilt of it lying upon the conscience. Alas! How can we go to God with any freedom of spirit, how can we call Him Father with any boldness, while we are conscious of an unmortified lust that lies still in the heart? Speak! Do not your consciences fly in your faces and even stop your mouths, when you are praying with some such suggestions as these? "What! Can I pray for pardon of sin, for strength against sin, though I harbor and foster a known lust unmortified? Do I beg grace against sin and yet maintain a known sin? Is not such a prayer mere hypocrisy and pretense? Will the Lord hear it? Or if He does hear it, will He not count it an abomination to Him?"
You, now, whose consciences thus accuse you, do you not find such reflections to be a great deadening unto duty? Certainly, guilt is the greatest impediment to holy duties in the whole world. It fills us with distrust, and a slavish fear of coming before God, rather as our Judge than as our Father.
(2) An unmortified lust hinders holy duty by distracting the heart through the power of it. It draws away the heart from God: it entangles the affections, it scatters the thoughts, it discomposes the whole frame of the soul, so that at best, it proves but a broken and a shattered duty.
And herein lies the cunning of Satan, that if there is any corruption in the soul more unmortified than another, that corruption, he will be sure to stir up and interpose between God and the soul in the performance of duty. Now when lust thus hinders duty, grace has not its breathing nor exercise. No wonder if it grows faint and decays!
III. Some foul and scandalous actual sin lies at the door of a neglected mortification. When we see a professor at any time break out into the commission of some notorious wickedness, what can it be imputed unto, but that corruption took advantage of his neglect of mortification? When inward motions are suffered perpetually to solicit, tempt, and beg the soul, it is a sign that lust has already gained the affections. And could conscience be laid asleep, nothing would hinder it from breaking out into open acts. And therefore beware that you do not allow corruption to stir and act within. You cannot set it bounds nor say to it, "Thus far you shall go, and no farther. You shall go as far as thoughts, as far as imagination. But, Conscience, look to it that it proceeds no farther."
If you would therefore secure yourselves from this danger, mortify lust in the very womb! Stifle and suppress the motions and risings of it. Otherwise, you know not to what a prodigious height of impiety it will grow.
The least and most inconsiderable sinful thought, tends to an infinite guilt.
An unworthy and unfitting thought concerning God, tends to horrid blasphemy.
Every lascivious thought, tends to open immorality.
Every envious thought, tends to blood murder.
Unless mortification is daily exercised to suppress and beat down these motions, you know not into how many soul-destroying sins they may hurry you.
4. One unmortified lust mightily alienates the heart from its acquaintance and communion with God.
There are but two things that keep up acquaintance between God and the soul:
1. On God's part, the gracious communications of His Spirit, through which, by enlightening, enlivening, supporting, and comforting influences, He converses with that soul to whom He grants them.
2. On our part, the spiritual frame of the heart, whereby it does with a holy delight, freedom, and frequency converse with God in the returns of sincere and cordial obedience.
But an unmortified lust breaks off this acquaintance, as to both the parts of it.
I. It provokes God to suspend the influences of His Spirit and so to cut off the fellowship on His part: "I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways." Isaiah 57:17
2. One unmortified lust mightily untunes the soul and disorders the spirituality of that frame and disposition in which it should be kept, if we would maintain communion with God.
Look how estrangement and distance grow between familiar friends. So likewise grows the estrangement between God and the soul. If a man is conscious of any injury that he has done his friend, this will make him afraid and ashamed to converse with him, less free and less frequent in his society. So it is here in this case: an unmortified lust fills the soul with a guilty shame, arising from the consciousness of an injury done to God.
Now reflect upon yourselves, you who have indulged any sin: has it not by degrees eaten out the spirituality of your hearts, and weakened the life and vigor of your communion with God? Has it not made you lethargic, cold, and indifferent unto the things and ways of God? Have you not beheld God as it were at a great distance and cared not for a closer communion with Him? Is it not high time that this lust, which has thus divided between God and your souls, should now at length be mortified; and, this hindrance being once removed, that you again should renew the nearness of your acquaintance with Him? Otherwise, let me tell you, it is sadly to be feared, lest this estrangement grows into a woeful apostasy and end in a fearful perdition!