The reading below contains excerpts from Andrew Fuller’s article for The Biblical Magazine titled, “Progressiveness of sin and of holiness.” The headings have been added and some of the language contemporized but the included excerpts are exclusively from Fuller.
When our Savior spoke of his making men free, the Jews were offended. It hurt their pride to be represented as slaves; yet slaves they were—and such is every sinner, however insensible of it, till Christ has made him free. And the longer he continues in this state, the more he is entangled, and the less capable he becomes of making his escape. Sin is a master that will not suffer its slaves to rest, but is always hurrying them on from one thing to another, till, having finished its operations, it brings forth death. The way of sin is a way in which there is no standing still—a kind of down-hill road, in which every step gives an accelerated force, till you reach the bottom. Such is the import of those emphatic words of the apostle, “Ye were servants to iniquity, unto iniquity.”
Opening the Door to Sin
First, He that yields himself a servant to sin, in any one of its forms, admits a principle which opens the door to sin in every other form. This principle is, that the authority of God is not to be regarded when it stands in the way of our inclinations; if you admit of this principle, there is nothing to hinder you from going into any evil which your soul lusts after. You may not, indeed, commit every bad practice; but while such is the state of your mind, it is not the fear of God, but a regard to man, or a concern for your own interest, safety, or reputation, that restrains you. If you indulge in theft, for instance, you would, with the same unconcern, commit adultery, robbery, or murder, provided you were tempted to such things, and could commit them with the hope of escaping punishment. It is thus that he who transgresses the law in one point is guilty of all: for He that forbids one sin forbids all; and a deliberate offence against Him in one particular is as really a rejection of his authority as in many.
Destroying the Principle of Resistance
Secondly, Every sin we commit goes to destroy the principle of resistance, and it produces a kind of desperate carelessness. Purity of mind, like cleanliness of apparel, is accompanied with a desire of avoiding everything that might defile; and even where this has no place, conscience, aided by education and example, is a great preservative against immoral and destructive courses; but if we once plunge into the vices of the world, emulation is extinguished. The child that is accustomed to rags and filth loses all shame, and feels no ambition to appear neat and decent.
The first time a person yields to a particular temptation it is not without some struggles of conscience; and when it is past, his soul is usually smitten with remorse; and, it may be, he thinks he shall never do the like again: but temptation returning, and the motive to resist being weakened, he becomes an easy prey to the tempter. And now the clamors of conscience subside, his heart grows hard, and his mind desperate.
Feeding Sinful Desires
Thirdly, Every sin we commit not only goes to destroy the principle of resistance, but produces an inordinate desire after the repetition of it; and thus, like half an army going over to the enemy, operates both ways against us, weakening our scruples, and strengthening our propensities.—This is manifestly the effect in such sins as drunkenness, gaming, and fornication. It is one of the deceits of sin to promise that, if we will but grant its wishes in this or that particular, it will ask no more, or to persuade its deluded votaries that indulgence will assuage the torrent of desire; but though this may be the case for a short time, sin will return with redoubled violence. It rises in its demands, from every concession you make to it. He that has entered the paths of the destroyer can tell, from experience, that it is a thousand times more difficult to recede than to refrain from engaging. The thirst of the leech at the vein, and of the drunkard at his bottle, are but faint emblems of the burnings of desire in the mind in these stages of depravity.
Sin Leads to Sin
Fourthly, If we yield to one sin, we shall find ourselves under a kind of necessity of going into other sins, in order to hide or excuse it.—This is a truth so evident that it needs only to be stated in order to be admitted. Examples abound, both in Scripture and common life. When sin is committed, the first thing that suggests itself to the sinner is, if possible, to conceal it; or, if that cannot be, to excuse it. Adam first strove to hide himself in the trees of the garden, and when this refuge failed him, it was the woman, and the woman that God gave to be with him too, who tempted him to do as he did. Nearly the same course was pursued by David. Having outraged decorum, he first betakes himself to intrigue, in hope to cover his crime; and when this failed him, he has recourse to murder; and, this being accomplished, the horrible event is, with an air of affected resignation, ascribed to Providence: “The sword devoureth one as well as another!” Nor is this the only instance wherein that which has begun in a wanton look has ended in blood. What numbers of innocent babes are murdered, and one or both of their unhappy parents executed, for that which is resorted to merely as a cover for illicit practices!
Forming a Habit of Sin
Fifthly, Every act of sin tends to form a sinful habit; or, if already formed, to strengthen it.—Single acts of sin are as drops of water, which possess but little force; but when they become a habit, they are a mighty stream which bears down all before it. The drunkard had no natural thirst for strong liquors. Some worldly trouble, or the love of loose company, first brought him to make free with them; but having once contracted the habit, though he knows he is every day wasting his substance, shortening his life, and ruining his soul, yet he cannot desist. Even under the power of stupefaction, he calls for more drink: his very dreams betray his lusts. “They have smitten me,” says he, “and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.”—The gamester, at the first, thought but little of doing what he now does. He fell in company, it may be, with a card-party, or had heard of a lucky adventure in the lottery, or known a person who had made his fortune by a successful speculation in the stocks. So he resolves to try a little of it himself. He succeeds. He tries again; ventures deeper and deeper, with various success. His circumstances become embarrassed; yet, having begun, he must go on. One more great adventure is to recover all, and free him from his difficulties. He loses; his family is ruined; his creditors are wronged; and himself, it is not impossible, driven to the use of such means of support as shall bring him to an untimely end!—The debauchee was once, it may be, a sober man. His illicit connections might originate in what were thought at the time very innocent familiarities. But having once invaded the laws of chastity, he seta no bounds to his desires. “His eyes are full of adultery, and he cannot cease from sin.”
Trapped in Sin
Sixthly, When the sinner becomes thus besotted in the ways of sin, there are commonly a number of circumstances and considerations, besides his own attachment to it, which entangle his soul, and, if infinite mercy interpose not, prevent his escape. He has formed connections among men like himself … His interest will suffer.… His companions will reproach him.… The world will laugh at him. Many in such circumstances have been the subjects of strong convictions, have shed many tears, and professed great desire to return from their evil course; yet when it has come to the test, they could not recede: having begun and gone on so far, they cannot relinquish it now, whatever be the consequence.
Reader, is this, or something like it, your case? Permit a well-wisher to your soul to be free with you. Be assured you must return or perish forever, and that in a little time. Infidels may tell you there is no danger; but when they come to die they have commonly discovered that they did not believe their own words or writings. “Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth;” and before Him you must shortly give an account. Will you plunge yourself into the pit from whence there is no redemption? That tremendous punishment is represented as not prepared originally for you, but for the devil and his angels. If you go thither, you in a manner take the kingdom of darkness by force.
Let me add, It is not enough for you to return, unless in so doing you return to God.—“Ye have returned, but not unto me, saith the Lord.” If I felt only for your credit and comfort in this world, I might have contented myself with warning you to break off your outward vices, and cautioning you against the inlets of future evils. Animals, though void of reason, yet, through mere instinct, fly from present danger. “In vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird.” The fishes of the sea avoid the whirlpool. And shall man go with his eyes open into the net? Will he sail unconcerned into the vortex of destruction? But it is not from present danger only, or chiefly, that I would warn you to flee. My heart’s desire and prayer to God for you is, that you may be saved from the wrath to come. Know, then, though you should escape the grosser immoralities of the world, yet you may be still in your sins, and exposed to eternal ruin.
Your danger does not lie merely nor mainly in open vices. Satan may be cast out with respect to these, and yet retire into the strong holds of proud self-satisfaction. It is not the outward spot that will kill you, but the inward disease whence it proceeds. “From within, even from the heart,’ proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Every outbreaking of sin in your life is a proof of the inward corruption of your nature. If this fountain be not healed, in vain will you go about to purify the streams. I mean not to dissuade you from breaking off your sins; but to persuade you to break them off” by righteousness.” But the only way in which this is to be done is that to which our Savior directed in his preaching.… “Repent, and believe the gospel.” All reformation short of this is only an exchange of vices.
[Andrew Fuller, “Progressiveness of sin and of holiness,” in The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous, J. Belcher, Ed. (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), Vol. 3:660-663.]