Benjamin Needler, Biblical Counseling, Conditioning, Determinism, Discipleship, How May Beloved Lusts be Discovered and Mortified, L.A. Times, Matthew 5, Matthew 5:29-30, Mortification, Psychology, Puritan Sermons, Sermon on the Mount, Sin
How May Beloved Lusts Be Discovered and Mortified
Benjamin Needler’s sermon How May Beloved Lusts be Discovered and Mortified? Considers the text of Matthew 5:29-30:
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Matthew 5:29–30 (ESV)
We Must Kill Our Sin
He first makes a series of observations on the text. He principally takes the text as referring to the need to stop all beloved lusts which draw us unto sin. He explains that mortification is a synergistic act of human and God:
(i.) That we ourselves must engage in the mortifying of our lusts.—Sinners, with their own hands, must pull out their own eyes. It is not enough to cry unto God for help, and, in the mean time, to be careless and idle, as if nothing were to be done on our part. Mortification is a work incumbent upon us, although we are empowered thereunto by the Spirit: “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Rom. 8:13.) We must mortify, although by the Spirit. The duty is ours, though the strength be God’s. So here: “If thy right eye offend thee, thou thyself pluck it out, and cast it from thee.”
(ii.) That we must be a willing people in this, as in all other duties.—A Christian dieth to sin, is not put to death.
(2.) It is not said, “If thine eye offend thee, observe it more than ordinarily, look narrowly to it,” but, “pluck it out;” to note, that nothing less is like to do our souls good, than the mortifying, the killing, the cutting off of our corruptions.—
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 52. The degree of this break must be absolute, a death:
It is not only said, “Pluck it out,” but, “Cast it from thee;” to note, that it is not enough for a man to leave his sin for the present, but he must renounce it for ever.—We must not part with sin, as with a friend, with a purpose to see it again, and to have the same familiarity with it as before, or possibly greater. Amantium irœ amoris redintegratio est: “The falling-out of lovers is the renewing of love.” We must not only shake hands with it, but shake our hands of it, as Paul did shake the viper off his hand into the fire: “Pluck it out, and cast it from thee.”
James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 53.
Our Particular Life Will Affect Our Particular Sins
After a discussion as to why sin is often denoted by terms for the body, he asks the question of why some people have inclinations toward particular sin. He gives four reasons: First, there are differences in our bodies. Second, there are sins which are which are most common for those of certain stages of life: children have different temptations than old men. Third, there are differences in our circumstances. Fourth, there are differences in our upbringing.
Notice the subtle difference between Needler’s understanding of sin and our general contemporary understanding of behavior. We might say that one’s circumstance (body, education, age, et cetera) somehow causes the life we see manifested. A man’s childhood caused him to be a criminal. Needler does not discount a contribution of circumstance. However, the circumstances conditioned rather than cause the adult life.
The sin exists in the God-ward relationship (or lack thereof). The circumstances affect how that sin is expressed.
This is a particular nuance which Christians must realize when looking at various sinful actions; many of which are being normalized on the basis of circumstance (If one has a question as to whether this line of argument goes, consider this: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2013/01/many-experts-now-view-pedophilia-as-a-sexual-orientation-google-hangout.html). For the person who experiences the inclination toward a particular sin, the experience may very well seem automatic. Temptation is not a rational process, but rather the process of a lust (which is a broader word than sexual desire).
Part of the difficulty Christians have had when considering the relationship between sin, temptation & circumstance lies a failure to take seriously the biblical instruction on heart desires, lust, sin & the ability of one’s circumstances to affect the temptation. Moreover, the argument “God made me this way” need not be immediately dismissed as irrelevant. Romans 1 portrays strong inclinations towards sin as judgment themselves (God gave them over) which ends in a mind which cannot rightly think.
The difficulty is so great that only the supernatural invention of God can disrupt the experience and behavior.