Losing Sight of Land

I thought it appropriate to share some of T.S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday with you all today. Had my old computer not bit the dust, I would have shared a poem I wrote about Ash Wednesday a couple of years ago. Two stanzas in particular stand out to me from the first section of the poem.

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not…

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Little Sins

The word Puritan seems to evoke mixed reactions among Christians today, which I’m guessing has something to do with a widespread, misinformed caricature of our Puritan brothers as “all truth and no love,” or “all law and no grace.”  In fact, these descriptions are far from accurate, and it saddens me that our modern attitude toward religion automatically tends to castigate folks who “take their Christianity too seriously,” as if such zealous devotion to Christ were anything more than what the Bible commands.  Did the Puritans emphasize the effort required of a Christian who seeks to walk in obedience to God?  Yes.  Did the Puritans then believe that salvation is a matter of human earning?  No.  The gospel is opposed to earning, but not to effort.  In his first epistle, John writes,

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (I John 3:2-3)

Recently I was blessed with the opportunity to read a book called Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices by Puritan author Thomas Brooks.  Brooks describes many of the various lies, temptations, and tactics employed by the devil to draw us into sin, following each with several considerations for the Christian who would seek to avoid and/or withstand it.  Simply put, the work is excellent, and I recommend it to all.  I doubt I could find anybody too experienced or too wise to be substantially edified and thoroughly challenged by it.

To that end, I would like to share with you one of the passages that I found especially convicting.  It concerns Satan’s lie to us that “little sins” are not dangerous to us and don’t really matter–a lie which, even if you’ve never put into words, you’ve definitely chosen to believe before (probably on more occasions than you could bear to know).  The following is excerpted from Brooks’ proposed “remedies” against this devilish device, and I encourage you to meditate on these truths which can strengthen our resistance toward sin and our perseverance in righteousness.

It is sad to stand with God for a trifle….  It is the greatest folly in the world to adventure the going to hell for a small matter.  ‘I tasted but a little honey,’ said Jonathan, ‘and I must die’ (I Sam 14:29).  It is a most unkind and unfaithful thing to break with God for a little.  Little sins carry with them but little temptations to sin, and then a man shows most viciousness and unkindness, when he sins on a little temptation.  It is devilish to sin without a temptation; it is little less than devilish to sin on a little occasion.  The less the temptation is to sin, the greater is that sin.  Saul’s sin in not staying for Samuel, was not so much in the matter, but it was much in the malice of it; for though Samuel had not come at all, yet Saul should not have offered sacrifice; but this cost him dear, his soul and kingdom.

“It is the greatest unkindness that can be showed to a friend, to adventure the complaining, bleeding, and grieving of his soul upon a light and slight occasion.  So it is the greatest unkindness that can be showed to God, Christ, and the Spirit, for a soul to put God upon complaining, Christ upon bleeding, and the Spirit upon grieving, by yielding to little sins.  Therefore, when Satan says it is but a little one, do thou answer, that oftentimes there is the greatest unkindness showed to God’s glorious majesty, in the acting of the least folly, and therefore thou wilt not displease thy best and greatest friend, by yielding to his greatest enemy….

There is great danger, yea, many times most danger, in the smallest sins. ‘A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump’ (I Cor 5:6).  If the serpent wind in his head, he will draw in his whole body after.  Greater sins do sooner startle the soul, and awaken and rouse up the soul to repentance, than lesser sins do.  Little sins often slide into the soul, and breed, and work secretly and undiscernibly in the soul, till they come to be so strong, as to trample upon the soul, and to cut the throat of the soul.  There is oftentimes greatest danger to our bodies in the least diseases that hang upon us, because we are apt to make light of them, and to neglect the timely use of means for removing of them, till they are grown so strong that they prove mortal to us.  So there is most danger often in the least sins.  We are apt to take no notice of them, and to neglect those heavenly helps whereby they should be weakened and destroyed, till they are grown to that strength, that we are ready to cry out, ‘The medicine is too weak for the disease; I would pray, and I would hear, but I am afraid that sin is grown up by degrees to such a head, that I shall never be able to prevail over it; but as I have begun to fall, so I shall utterly fall before it, and at last perish in it, unless the power and free grace of Christ doth act gloriously, beyond my present apprehension and expectation.’  The viper is killed by the little young ones that are nourished and cherished in her belly: so are many men eternally killed and betrayed by the little sins, as they call them, that are nourished in their own bosoms….

There is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction; and this appears as clear as the sun, by the severe dealing of God the Father with his beloved Son, who let all the vials of his fiercest wrath upon him, and that for the least sin as well as for the greatest.  ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Rom 6:23); of sin indefinitely, whether great or small.  {Footnote: Death is the heir of the least sin; the best wages that the least sin gives his soldiers is, death of all sorts.  In a strict sense, there is no sin little, because no little God to sin against.}  Oh! how should this make us tremble, as much at the least spark of lust as at hell itself; considering that God the Father would not spare his bosom Son, no, not for the least sin, but would make him drink the dregs of his wrath!”

There is much more to learn from Brooks, and I may well return to his Precious Remedies in the future, as precious they are indeed.  But for today, I leave you with the admonitions of James, which I pray will not be the less effective for their familiarity to us:

“‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’  Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:6-10)