Habits in the “Old Man”

Some time ago I had some criticism about my book, Winning the War Within, in which it was alleged that no one had ever held such a maverick belief as the one that I set forth—that the sin remaining in a believer was habitual. One blogger recently referred to my view as “unique.” Thumbing through W.G.T. Shedd’s Commentary on Romans, (W.G.T. Shedd, Commentary on Romans, reprinted by Klock & Klock 1987 from the 1878 edition) I couldn’t help but notice that what I said was not really unique, as has been claimed by my detractors. While I’m not about to argue the case in this blog, I would like to note by a few scattered quotations that the view was held by John Owen and G.T.C. Shedd back in 1879, which, surely, means that it’s not a Johnnie-come-lately belief, as has been averred.

To begin, then, let me simply set forth a few lines from John Owen as he is quoted in Shedd. Here is the first, “This remaining corruption,” Owen asserts, “is sin in the heart with a constant habitual propensity unto evil.” Shedd approvingly comments, “This remaining corruption . . . Owen asserts to be of the nature of a habit. . . this sin in the heart hath a constant propensity to evil. . . . In other words, indwelling sin in the believer is of the nature of a habit or disposition, in distinction from an act.”

Then, Shedd continues to quote Owen: “. . . in this habit of sin, one is weakened and so disabled, so that it cannot but incline unto sin, with the constancy and prevelancy as formerly, nor pressed as certainly with the same urgency and violence.” (p. 196)

Owen, moreover, comments on the “flesh,” calling it “fragments of the principle [meaning in those days, “power” or “force”] of sin as “the remains of an habitual principle of sin” (p. 209).

Shedd says, “In v. 18 [of Romans 7] the principle of holiness lies alongside of the remaining corruption; here (in v. 21) the remaining corruption lies alongside of the principle of holiness”(p. 213). He further states that “regeneration had freed Paul from the “law of sin and death, but not from the law in his members” (p. 228).

Elsewhere, concerning his use of the term “flesh in Romans 7,” Paul says, that “the figure is taken from the habitual movement of the body” (p. 233), and later (p. 244) writes, “the ‘mortal body’ with its ‘members,’ is put for the entire man as corrupt. The sinful habits and practices of the body are killed in the believer, by suppressing their outward manifestations because of the principle of divine life within him (A very interesting concept that I should like to explore at some other time and place; p. 244).”

Now these quotations may seem a bit disjointed—as, indeed they are—but I have made no attempt to set forth the arguments in these pages. I just wanted to show that the views of flesh and habit that I hold with regard to Romans 7 are anything but novel.

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