This is a category of sin which the Puritans referred to variously as one’s “bosom” or “darling” sin. Sometimes they used the line of Lot referring to Zoar, “Is it not a little one?” (Genesis 19:20).
Love gave two categories of symptoms to mark the “bosom” sin. First, a bosom sin is the sin of frequency and ease. It is the one which promises the greatest delights and which will command the most attention. It is the sin which draws other sins into its wake to support and protect its continuance.
Second, and perhaps surprisingly, Love notes that the bosom sin also draws the greatest pains of conscience:
That sin is most unmortified in you which of all other sins most vexes and galls your conscience; for the conscience is God’s messenger in you to check you when you are ill and speak of peace to you when you do well.
It is sin which perplexes you when you are in trouble or trial, on a sickbed or death bed; it is the sin which your enemies raise against you. It is the sin which, when reproved, strikes hardest at your conscience. Love draws out an implication: This is why a general complaint of sin may be tolerated by a congregation, while a specific rebuke will draw ire.
Thomas Brooks, in The Crown and Glory of Christianity gives an indication of how the holy heart responds to bosom sins. While the bosom sin seeks protection, the dearest friend of Christ seeks out the bosom sin with greatest force. Note: to get the correct feel of Thomas Brooks, you must read him aloud. Pay attention to the pacing and sounds and parallels and contrasts. Spurgeon’s favorite Puritan was Thomas Brooks – and that can be seen in Spurgeon’s sermons:
(3.) Thirdly, As a holy heart rises against the least sins; so a holy heart rises against bosom-sins, against constitution-sins, against those that either his calling, former custom, or his present inclination or condition, do most dispose him to. It is true, a prodigal person may abhor covetousness, and a covetous person may condemn prodigality: a furious person may hate fearfulness, and a fearful person may detest furiousness.
But now the hearts of those that are holy rise against complexion sins, against darling sins, against those that make for present pleasure and profit, against those that were once as right hands and right eyes; that were that to their souls, that Delilah was to Samson, Herodias to Herod, Isaac to Abraham, and Joseph to Jacob: Ps. 18:23, ‘I was also upright before him; and I kept myself from mine iniquity;’ that is, from my darling sin, whereunto I was most inclined and addicted. What this bosom-sin was that he kept himself from, is hard to say. Some suppose his darling sin was lying, dissembling; for it is certain, he often fell into this sin: others suppose it to be some secret iniquity, which was only known to God and his own conscience: others say it was uncleanness, and that therefore he prayed that ‘God would turn away his eyes from beholding vanity,’ Ps. 119:37: others judge it to be that sin of disloyalty, which Saul and his courtiers falsely charged upon him. It is enough for our purpose that his heart did rise against that very sin, that either by custom or some strong inclination he was most naturally apt, ready, and prone to fall into.
Idolatry was the darling sin of the people of Israel; they called their idols delectable, or desirable things, Isa. 44:9; they did dearly affect and delight in their idols; but when God should come to put a spirit of holiness upon them, then their hearts should rise in hatred and detestation of their idols, as you may see in Isa. 30:18, 25; mark ver. 22, ‘Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence.’ They were so delighted and enamoured with their idols, that they would deck them up in the greatest glory and bravery; they would attire them with the most rich, costly, pompous, and glorious raiment. Oh, but when a spirit of holiness should rise upon them, then they should defile, deface, and disgrace their idols, then they should so hate and abhor them, they should so detest and loathe them, that in a holy indignation they should cast them away as a menstruous cloth, and say unto them, Get ye hence, pack, begone, I will never have any more to do with you. God hath now made an everlasting divorce between you and me.
And so in Isa. 2:20, ‘In that day’—that is, in the day of the Lord’s exaltation in the hearts, lives, and consciences of his people, ver. 17—‘a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats.’ In the day of God’s exaltation they shall express such disdain and indignation against their idols, that they shall take not only those made of trees and stones, but even their most precious and costly idols, those that were made of silver and gold, and cast them to the moles and to the bats; that is, they shall cast them into such blind holes, and into such dark, filthy, nasty, and dusty corners, as moles make underground, and as bats roost in: so when holiness comes to be exalted in the soul, then all a man’s darling and bosom sins, which are his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, these are with a holy indignation cast to the moles and to the bats; they are so loathed, abandoned, and cashiered, that he desires they may be for ever buried in oblivion, and never see the light more. Idols were Ephraim’s bosom-sin: Hosea 4:17, ‘Ephraim is joined,’ or glued, ‘to idols, let him alone;’ but when the dew of grace and holiness fell upon Ephraim, as it did in chap. 14:5–7, ‘Then saith Ephraim, What have I any more to do with idols?’ ver. 8.
Now Ephraim loathes his idols as much or more than before he loved them; he now abandons and abominates them, though before he was as closely glued to them, as the wanton is glued to his Delilah, or as the enchanter is glued to the devil, from whom by no means he is able to stir. Ephraim becoming holy, cries out, ‘What have I any more to do with idols?’ Oh, I have had to do with them too long and too much already! Oh, how doth my soul now rise against them! how do I detest and abhor them! surely I will never have more to do with them. But now unholy hearts are very favourable to bosom-sins; they say of them, as Lot of Zoar, ‘Is it not a little one? and my soul shall live!’ Gen. 19:20. And as David spake of Absalom, 2 Sam. 18:5, ‘Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom.’ ‘Beware that none touch the young man Absalom,’ ver. 12. ‘And the king said, Is the young man Absalom safe?’ ver. 29.
An unholy heart is as fond of his bosom-sins as Herod was of his Herodias; or as Demetrius was of his Diana; or as Naaman was of the idol Rimmon, which was the idol of the Syrians; or as Judas was of bearing the bag; or as the Pharisees were of having the uppermost seats, and of being saluted in the market-place with those glorious titles, ‘Rabbi, rabbi.’ Bosom-sins have at least a seeming sweetness in them; and therefore an unholy heart will not easily let them go. Let God frown or smile, stroke or strike, lift up or cast down, promise or threaten, yet he will hide and hold fast his darling sins; let God wound his conscience, blow upon his estate, leave a blot upon his name, crack his credit, afflict his body, write death upon his relations, and be a terror to his soul, yet will he not let go his bosom-lusts. He will rather let God go, and Christ go, and grace go, and heaven go, all go, than he will let some pleasurable or profitable lusts go.
An unholy heart may sigh over those sins, and make war upon those sins, that war against his honours, profits, or pleasures, and yet at the same time make truce with those that are as right hands and right eyes; an unholy person may set his sword at the breasts of some sins, and yet at the same time his heart may be secretly courting of his bosom-sins.
But now a holy heart rises most against the Delilah in his bosom, against the Benjamin, the son, the sin, of his right hand. And thus you see how a holy heart hates and disdains all sins; he abhors small sins as well as great, secret sins as well as open, and bosom-sins as well as others that have not that acquaintance and acceptance with the soul.
Real holiness will never mix nor mingle itself with any sin, it will never incorporate with any corruption. Wine and water will easily mix, so the wine of gifts and the water of sin, the wine of civility and the water of vanity, the wine of morality and the water of impiety, will easily mix; but oil and water will not mix, they will not incorporate; so the oil of grace, the oil of holiness, will not mix; it will not incorporate with sin, the oil of holiness will be uppermost.
Mark, natural and acquired habits and excellencies, as a pregnant wit, an eloquent tongue, a strong brain, an iron memory, a learned head, all these, with some high speculations of holiness, and some profession of holiness, and some commendations of holiness, and some visible actings of holiness, are consistent with the love of lusts, with the dominion of sin: witness the Scribes and Pharisees, Judas, Demas, and Simon Magus; but the real infused habits of true grace and holiness, will never admit of the dominion of any sin, whether great or little, whether secret or open.
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 4, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 116-18.
God often hews men by the sword of his word in that ordinance, strikes directly in their bosom-beloved lust, startles the sinner, makes him engage unto the mortification and relinquishment of the evil of his heart. Now, if his lust have taken such hold on him as to enforce him to break these bands of the Lord, and to cast these cords from him,—if it overcomes these convictions, and gets again into it old posture,—if it can cure the wounds it so receives,—that soul is in a sad condition.
John Owen, vol. 6, The Works of John Owen., ed. William H. Goold (Edinburg: T&T Clark), 49. Or:
It is possible there may be a falling out with a bosom sin, and that which has been much loved may be no less hated
David Clarkson, The Works of David Clarkson, Volume II (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 256.
Because the gospel puts persons upon very hard service, upon very difficult work, pulling out a right eye, cutting off a right hand, offering up an Isaac, throwing overboard a Jonas, parting with bosom lusts and darling sins. Herod heard John Baptist gladly, till he came to touch his Herodias, and then off goes his head. As they say, John 6, ‘This is a hard saying, and who can abide it?’ and from that time they walked no more with him. This is a hard gospel indeed, and at this their blood riseth.
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), lx. Or:
A darling sin.—Any bosom-sin, as it fills and employs every faculty, so it debauches, monopolizes, and disorders them all. Grace, though it rule every faculty, yet ruffles none; it composes the mind, and employs the memory in a rational manner; it rules, like a just king, orderly: but the serving of any lust breeds a civil war between one faculty and another; and that distracts the whole soul, whereby every power thereof is weakened; and, particularly, the memory, being pressed to serve the stronger side, is so stuffed with the concerns of that tyrant-lust, that it cannot intend any spiritual matter. And therefore, whatever “right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee,” (Matt. 5:29,) or else thy memory will never be cured. A table-book that is written and blotted all over, must be wiped before you can write any new matter upon it; and so must the lines of thy darling sin be effaced by real mortification, before any good things will abide legible in thy memory.
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, Volume 3 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 354.