Why Preach/Teach Sin?

  In a pastoral way, I feel sorry for Christians who sit under preaching that doesn’t clearly, consistently, and convictingly discuss sin (total depravity, radical corruption, etc.).  If you think about it from a human perspective, I can understand why one might avoid the topic of sin, for it is hard to hear that our anger, lust, and pride offend the living God.  However, if you think about it from a biblical perspective, there are tremendous benefits in knowing what the Bible teaches about sin and misery (including our own dark hearts).  Here’s how puritan Ralph Venning stated it.

“…It cannot but be extremely useful to let men see what sin is: how prodigiously vile, how deadly mischievous, and therefore how monstrously ugly and odious a thing sin is.”

He then explained the benefits of knowing sin and its vile aspects:

1) It helps us better admire the free and rich grace of God.

2) It makes us flee – by faith – to our Lord Jesus Christ.

3) It vindicates the holy, just, and good law of God and his justice in condemning those who break his law.

4) It leads us to hate sin, repent from it, and take a holy, just, and good revenge on it and ourselves.

5) It helps us love and serve God better than we did before we understood the depth of depravity.

6) Seeing sin’s ugliness and darkness makes God’s incomparable and transcendent beauty of holiness stand out all the more.

Of course we shouldn’t take sinful pleasure in talking about sin, but avoiding the issue isn’t the biblical and Christian way.  If we do avoid or downplay the doctrine of sin, we will not understand the other truths of Scripture: God’s holiness, the justice of his law, the amazing aspect of his grace, the work of Jesus, true repentance and faith, and growing in godliness (plus several more).  In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, before we truly know what it  means to live and die in the comfort of the gospel, we must know how great our sin and misery are (cf. Q/A #2).  In other words, if we don’t know the depths of our depravity, we won’t know the greatness of grace displayed on the cross.  God, have mercy on me, a sinner!  Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more!

For the above Venning quotes (which I slightly edited), see page 18 of The Sinfulness of Sin.

shane lems

sunnyside wa


Sin’s Sinful Sinfulness

This is a tough book.  Reading 284 pages of a Puritan’s discussion about sin’s hideousness is neither fun nor enjoyable.  It was hard to read.  There were even times in this book where Ralph Venning (the author) basically said “This is tough for me, and I simply cannot write any more on this area of sin.”  Here’s one of his difficult summaries (from p. 172-173).

“That which sin is accused of and proved to be guilty of is high treason against God.  It attempts nothing less than the dethroning and un-godding of God himself.  It has unmanned man, made him a fool, a beast, a devil, and subjected him to the wrath of God and made him liable to eternal damnation.  It has made men deny that God is, or affirm that he is like themselves.  It has put the Lord of Life to death and shamefully crucified the Lord of Glory.  It is always resisting the Holy Spirit.  It is continually practicing the defiling, the dishonor, the deceiving, and the destruction of all men.  What a prodigious, devilish thing sin is!”

“It is impossible to speak worse of sin than it really is, or even as badly of it as it really deserves, for it is hyperbolically sinful.  There are not enough words; we need more, and stronger ones to speak of its vileness.  And if we were to say that it is worse than death and the devil, the very Hell of Hell, this would not be to rail at it, but tell it only the truth about itself.  Sin is the quintessence of evil; it has made all the evils that there are and is itself worse than all the evils it has made. …It is not only ugly but ugliness, not only filthy but filthiness, not only abominable but abomination.  There is not a worse thing in Hell itself….”

While this book isn’t a joy to read, it is necessary.  Probably many of us are accustomed to speaking of depravity, bondage, guilt, and corruption, but it is tough to explain those truths in a “deep” way that people haven’t heard a hundred times.  This book will help you explain and view sin in a deep way, a way that draws out its vileness in a biblical manner.  Of course, we shouldn’t do this because we have a perverse joy in telling people they are sinners or to show off (pride!) our orthodox doctrine of sin.  We uphold and teach the biblical emphasis of sin’s sinfulness because of Paul’s great statement: Where sin abounds, grace does all the more!  The Heidelberg Catechism captures this well by saying that we need to know sin/misery and deliverance from it so we can live in die in the comfort of belonging to Jesus in body and soul.

Read this book, be shocked by it, and then meditate on the truth that Jesus came to save sinners.

Quotes taken from Ralph Venning, The Sinfulness of Sin (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Learning in Christ’s School

 I finally read Learning in Christ’s School by Puritan Ralph Venning (d. 1674).  To be honest, it isn’t my favorite Puritan Paperback.  It’s not that I didn’t like it, but for me it was quite tedious and seemingly repetative.   I did, however, appreciate Venning’s use of Scripture to point out the different maturity levels of Christians.  Here’s a rough outline of the book, in case you’re interested.

1) Babes in the faith (1 Cor 1.3.1-2 & Heb. 5.11-14).
2) Little children (1 John 2.12-13)
3) Young men (1 John 2.13-14)
4) Fathers (1 John 2.13-14)

Venning spends half the book on that first point (babes in the faith).  This section really drug on for me; I kept looking ahead to see when he’d move on to the next point. Its hard to explain, but I just wasn’t captivated with this book like I was when reading some other Puritan Paperbacks.  

Here’s a sort of summary of the book in Venning’s words (p. 22).

“They [the above named Christians] are all members of the body, the foot as well as the hand, the ear as well as the eye.  Though the stars differ from one another in glory, they are all stars.  The fathers, the young men, the little children, and the babes also have this iin common, that they are of God’s family and of the household of faith, the sons of God.  They are all in Christ’s school, though not in the same class.”

In summary, if you’re studying those texts listed above, the book might be helpful.  Or, if you’re familiar with other Puritan works, you’d like it.  On the other hand, if you’ve not read many Puritans, don’t start with this volume.  Get the shorter ones first (like Watson on Repentance) and then in a few years maybe check into this one by Venning if the topic interests you.

shane lems

sunnyside wa