John Bunyan, the well-known and much loved writer of Pilgrim's Progress, is the author of a lesser-known volume entitled The Greatness of the Soul, and The Unspeakable Loss Thereof. It does not, perhaps, compare to John Owen's work on the mortification of sin and on the indwelling of sin in the life of the believer, but it provides some valuable insight into the nature and effects of sin.
John Bunyan identified seven ways that the sinner's soul does what it can to save its sin:
It seeks to hide the sin: “They will, if possible, hide it, and not suffer it to be discovered, Prov. 28:13; Job 20:12, 13. ‘He that hideth his sins shall not prosper.’ And again, they hide it and refuse to let it go. This is an evident sign that the soul has a favour for sin, and that with liking it, entertains it.”
It seeks to excuse the sin: “As it will hide it, so it will excuse it, and plead that this and that piece of wickedness is no such evil thing; men need not be so nice,1 and make such a pother2 about it, calling those that cry out so hotly against it, men more nice than wise. Hence the prophets of old used to be called madmen, and the world would reply against their doctrine, ‘Wherein have we been so wearisome to God, and what have we spoken so much against him?’ Mal. 1:6, 7.
It attempts to cover the sin by portraying it as virtuous or good: “As the soul will do this, so to save sin it will cover it with names of virtue, either moral or civil; and of this God greatly complains, yea, breaks out into anger for this, saying, ‘Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; and put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter,’ Isa. 5:20.
It tries to keep it by promising God it will forsake it eventually: “If convictions and discovery of sin be so strong and so plain that the soul cannot deny but that it is sin, and that God is offended therewith, then it will give flattering promises to God that it will indeed put it away, but yet it will prefix a time that shall be long first, if it also then at all performs it, saying, Yet a little sleep, yet a little slumber, yet a little folding of sin in mine arms, till I am older, till I am richer, till I have had more of the sweetness and the delights of sin. Thus, ‘their soul delighteth in their abominations,’ Isa. 66:3.”
It tries to pick and choose which sins to keep: “If God yet pursues, and will see whether this promise of putting sin out of doors shall be fulfilled by the soul, why then it will be partial in God's law; it will put away some, and keep some; put away the grossest, and keep the finest; put away those that can best be spared, and keep the most profitable for a help at a pinch, Mal. 2:9.”
It forsakes sin sorrowfully and longingly: “Yea, if all sin must be abandoned, or the soul shall have no rest, why then the soul and sin will part (with such a parting as it is), even as Phaltiel parted with David's wife, with an ill-will and a sorrowful mind; or as Orpha left her mother, with a kiss, 2 Sam. 3:16; Ruth 1:14.”
It looks for the first opportunity to secretly reunite with sin: “And if at any time they can, or shall, meet with each other again, and nobody never the wiser, oh, what courting will be betwixt sin and the soul. And this is called doing of things in the dark, Ezek. 8:12.”3
The war against sin is never over. Never lay down your arms, never think you have a moment of rest, this side of glory, in battling the fleshly lusts, which war against the soul (I Pet. 2:11). Know your enemy.
1 - Nice: (Obs.) foolish, ignorant.
2 - Pother: (Obs.) bother.
3 - John Bunyan, The Greatness of the Soul: And the Unspeakableness of the Loss Thereof: No Way to Heaven but by Jesus Christ: The Strait Gate (London: Thomas Nelson, 1845), 58–59.