“So that the first part of conversion is a recession from all sin.—” He then proves this with a series of Scriptural citations. Our relationship to sin is one of “departing” (Ps. 34:14, 37:237), ceasing (Is. 1:16), “forsaking” (Is. 55:7), abhorring (Rom. 13:2), and: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph. 5:11)
Crofton concludes with the image of political rebellion, “Nay, it is an apostasy from sin, to break league with, and violate all those bonds in which we stand bound to profaneness; and with rage and resolution rebel against the sovereignty of sin which it hath exercised over us.” I have often heard of apostacy from God, but not from sin. And yet, this is quite similar to the image used in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian is met by Apollyon:
APOL. By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that thou hast run away from thy king? Were it not that I hope thou mayest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground.
CHR. I was, indeed, born in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on; for the wages of sin is death, Rom. 6:23; therefore, when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out if perhaps I might mend myself.
APOL. There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose thee; but since thou complainest of thy service and wages, be content to go back, and what our country will afford I do here promise to give thee.
CHR. But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I with fairness go back with thee?
APOL. Thou hast done in this according to the proverb, “changed a bad for a worse;” but it is ordinary for those that have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do thou so to, and all shall be well.
CHR. I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him; how then can I go back from this, and not be hanged as a traitor.
APOL. Thou didst the same by me, and yet I am willing to pass by all, if now thou wilt yet turn again and go back.
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).
There is value in this understanding, because it underscores the extent to which sin is not merely a passive state but is an active ruler. To repent is to rebel:
“If we will call on the name of the Lord, and become his subjects, we must recede, rebel against sin, bid open defiance, and proclaim open war against it, notwithstanding all those engagements that lie upon us: “Let him depart [from iniquity],” saith our translation; in the original, αποστητω απο αδικιας, “apostatize from unrighteousness.” (2 Tim. 2:19.)”
Having made the point, Crofton returns again to the proposition that sin makes a demand upon us: “Sin hath an interest in and engagement upon men. By nature they are obliged to follow it; and the whole man is too much devoted to pursue and obey the dictates of lust.”
This is a standard element of biblical psychology, if you will. And, I think it a point which we rarely consider. John Owen speaks about sin being a “law” to the one outside of Christ.
What then is the nature of the turn from sin: He gives three elements: cognitive, affective, behavioral.
First, cognitive, the turn takes place in the mind, “By the apprehension of his mind.—Seeing sin and its sinfulness, he discerns the contrariety of it to the image of God.” The nature of this apprehension is that sin violates the law of God. “By the law, which is, by the spirit of repentance, engraven on his heart, he now knows sin, which he never knew before; he discovereth abundance of evil, in what he deemed exceeding good.” He knows sin violates the law of God.
Second, there is a change in the nature of desire. He turns from sin, “By the alteration of his will and affections.” Crofton here seems to anticipate Jonathan Edwards in seeing the tight connection between affection and will [rather than seeing will as a self-determining force]. Rather than loving the sin or having desire for the sin, he hates the sin: “David, he hateth “every false way,” and the very workers of iniquity. (Psalm 119:104.)”
Here Crofton wisely concedes that sin does continue even in the repentant. What the repentant do when he sees that he has sinned? “If he be surprised, by the difficulty of his estate, or distemper of his mind, with an act of sin, he loatheth himself because of it.” Here he takes Romans 7 to reference a believer in his struggle with sin [this is a debated point], “with Paul, professeth, ‘I do the things that I would not do.’”
How greatly is sin detested? “Death is desired, because he would sin no more. He would rather be redeemed from his “vain conversation,” than from wrath to come; penitent Anselm had rather be in hell without, than in heaven with, his iniquity.” Thomas Brooks makes a similar point :
“First, Keep at the greatest distance from sin, and from playing with the golden bait that Satan holds forth to catch you; for this you have Rom. 12:9, ‘Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good.’ When we meet with anything extremely evil and contrary to us, nature abhors it, and retires as far as it can from it. The Greek word that is there rendered ‘abhor,’ is very significant; it signifies to hate it as hell itself, to hate it with horror.
“Anselm used to say, ‘That if he should see the shame of sin on the one hand, and the pains of hell on the other, and must of necessity choose one, he would rather be thrust into hell without sin, than to go into heaven with sin,’ so great was his hatred and detestation of sin.”
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 13.
Third, the repentance is in action: “Into an abstinence from, nay, actual resistance of, sin.” He abstains from sinful conduct. He avoids occasions for temptation. He seeksto reclaim others and is grieved by their sin. He mortifies his “earthly members” (Col. 3:5). “All his complaint under sorrows is against sin. His care is to be rid of sin; his fear, of falling into sin.”
Here Crofton pauses. Yes, it is true that all the life must be thrown into the revulsion against sin; but that rebellion against sin is always imperfect in us. He is concerned this discussion of leaving sin may leave us fearful for ourselves. “Yet take along with you this cautionary note, that you run not into sinful despair and despondency, in observing your penitent recession from sin.”
Sin is a powerful persistent foe; though beaten it persists. When the allies landed on D-Day, the Nazis fate was sealed and still the war persisted. “Sin’s existency, and sometimes prevalency, is consistent with a penitent recession and turning from it.—Sin may remain, though it doth not reign, in a gracious soul.”
No one can say that he has no sin and will not sin again. “Who is there that lives, and sins not? (1 Kings 8:46.) “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8.)”
Here is his caveat at length:
“The righteous themselves often fall. Noah, the preacher of repentance to the old world, becomes the sad pattern of impiety to the new world. Penitent Paul hath cause to complain, “When I would do good, evil is present with me.” (Rom. 7:21.) Sin abides in our souls, whilst our souls abide in our bodies. So long as we live, we must expect to bear the burden of corruption. Sin exists in the best of saints, by way of suggestion, natural inclination, and violent instigation and enforcement of evil; and so, taking advantage of the difficulty of our estate, and distemper of our minds, it drives us sometimes into most horrid actions, even David’s adultery, or Peter’s denial of Christ.
“Which of the saints have not had a sad experience hereof? Nor must it seem to us strange; for repentance doth not cut down sin at a blow; no, it is a constant militation, and course of mortification; a habit and principle of perpetual use; not action of an hour or little time, as we have noted before; it is a recession from sin all our days, though sin run after us. If once we be perfectly freed from sin’s assaults, we shake hands with repentance; for we need it no more. So that let it not be the trouble of any, that sin is in them; but let it be their comfort, that it is shunned by them: that you fall into sin, fail not in your spirits; let this be your support, that you fly from, fall out with, and fight against sin.”
What then is the mark of the true repentant? There is a conflict in his life between sin and mortification. “The true penitent doth evidence the truth and strength of his repentance, by not admitting sin’s dictates without resistance; not acting sin’s precepts without reluctance. When he deviseth evil, his mind is to serve the law of God; and he approveth of that as good. He doeth what he would not: the law in his members rebels against the law of his mind, and leadeth him captive; and therefore he abides not under sin’s guilt or power without remorse. If he be drawn to deny his Master, he goeth out, and weepeth bitterly. He is in his own eye a wretched man, whilst oppressed with a body of corruption. Nay, he retireth not into sinful society without repining; his soul soon thinks he hath dwelt too long “in Mesech,” and “in the tents of Kedar.” (Psalm 120:5.)”