Top 10 Puritan Books On Sin

As I’m often asked for book recommendations on various subjects, I decided to put together an online list of my top ten books in various categories. Basically, if I was only allowed 10 books in my library on that subject, these are the ten I would choose. Previous posts include:

Now, I can’t say that I’ve ever been asked for my “Top 10 Books on Sin” (not exactly a list of bestsellers), but as we’ve been looking at the subject of sin the last few days I thought I’d highlight the books that I and others have found most helpful. We’ll start today with the Top 10 Puritan Books on Sin and next week I’ll post Top 10 Modern Books on Sin.

If you know of other good Puritan books on this topic in general or dealing with specific sins, please leave your suggestion in the comments and I’ll add them under “Reader Suggestions.”

1. Overcoming Sin and Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen

Overcoming Sin and Temptation includes three of Owen’s classic works: “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers,” “Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It,” and “Indwelling Sin.” The editors have updated the language and added other features to make Owen’s writing much more accessible.

2. The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About the Power and Defeat of Sin by Kris Lundgaard

This book is also based upon two of Owen’s classic books on sin, but Lundgraard offers lots of his own insight, encouragement, and counsel too. To give you an idea of the level it’s pitched at our church youth group went through this book last Spring.

3. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks

A balanced look at spiritual warfare. A deeply spiritual book that is especially good for those in the heat of the battle.

4. The Evil of Evils: The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin (Puritan Writings) by Jeremiah Burroughs

The Evil of Evils contains sixty-seven short chapters that will sensitize your conscience and make you want to choose affliction rather than sin. Difficult to find a copy of this today but you can download a pdf here.

5. Keeping the Heart: How to maintain your love for God by John Flavel

A timeless book on maintaining union and fellowship with God as the ultimate bulwark against sin.

6. The Mischief of Sin by Thomas Watson

Watson: “My design in this small treatise is to give check to sinners and sound a pious retreat in their ears, to make them return from hot pursuit of their impieties.”

7. Sinfulness of Sin by Ralph Venning

First published in the aftermath of the Great Plague of London and entitled Sin, The Plague of Plagues, this book gives a crystal-clear explanation of what sin is, why it is so serious, and what we need to do about it. Here is reliable medicine for a fatal epidemic.

8. Sin The Greatest Evil by Samuel Bolton 

Three titles in this book, each of them looking at how a sinner is converted. (1) Sin: The Greatest Evil, (2) The Conversion of a Sinner, (3) The One Thing Necessary.

9. The Jerusalem Sinner Saved; or, Good News for the Vilest of Men by John Bunyan

A hope-filled book for sinners as the title says, “Good News for the Vilest of Men.”

10. The Anatomy of Secret Sins by Obadiah Sedgwick

Reader Suggestions

Any other Puritan works you’d recommend on this subject? Leave a note in the comments and I’ll add them here.

14 Sobering Reminders When Confronting Sin

The last couple of days we’ve been looking at the important, difficult, and oft-avoided duty of confronting or rebuking sin. We looked at the general attitude we should have when approaching someone about their sin and then listed a bank of 30 questions to ask when challenging sin.  Today I want to suggest 14 truths to remember throughout this process:

  • Remember the depth of sin: This is not some shallow simple matter. It has deep origins and roots in the unfathomable depths of the human heart.
  • Remember the width of sin: Sin impacts every part of our beings – bodies, minds, emotions, desires, imaginations, personalities, relationships, and so on.
  • Remember the length of sin: Long-term habits are not easy to break – they create default pathways in our brain that we all too easily and automatically travel down.
  • Remember the height of sin: It is against God, the Holy and infinite God of heaven and earth.
  • Remember the power of sin: The person’s whole life may be dominated and consumed by it.
  • Remember the damage of sin: The destructive consequences for the person, his relationship with God, and his relationship with others.
  • Remember the love of sin: He is not doing it because he hates it but because he loves it and gets pleasure from it – no matter how temporary.
  • Remember the confusion of sin: It is illogical and irrational and makes those committing it illogical and irrational. You cannot rely on reasoning to defeat sin.
  • Remember the context of sin: Without absolving a person of responsibility, consider some of the factors that may have contributed to this person’s sin – genetic, social, providential, relationship factors. Other people’s sins may have triggered this sin.
  • Remember the memory of sin: Even when a person is delivered from it, the memory will often remain and continue to tempt.
  • Remember the deceitfulness of sin: We deny, downplay, shift blame, minimize, excuse, etc.
  • Remember the despair of sin: A person be hopelessly overwhelmed with shame and guilt.
  • Remember the ignorance of sin: Through ignorance, custom, context or seared conscience, a person may not realize what they are doing is sinful.
  • Remember the companions of sin: it rarely comes alone but brings lots of “friends” with it.

These reminders keep us serious, humble, and prayerful throughout this process.

But we must also remember the encouraging wonder of Christ’s glorious person and saving work. His redemption is deeper, wider, longer, and higher than any sin. His salvation is more powerful than sin and can heal the deepest wound. His love can expel and replace the love of sin. He can straighten out the most confused situation. He can overcome the most handicapping of contexts. He can produce total honesty in the most deceived and deceiving of hearts. He gives hope to the despairing, light to the ignorant, and sends many powerful and friendly graces along with His salvation.

Where sin abounds, there grace much more abounds!

30 Questions To Ask A Sinner

In How Do Sinners Help Sinners to Stop Sinning we began to look at the kind of approaches we need to take when trying to help a sinner stop sinning. Personal experience and the Lord’s dealing with sinners teach us that it’s often better to question than to accuse, at least to begin with. It’s usually more productive if the other person supplies the answers and draws the conclusions rather than us telling them.

So what are good questions to ask? What questions are most likely to produce honest answers, contrite conclusions, and repentant action? Here’s a bank of questions that I’ve built up over the years, some of them from my own experience and some of them I’ve learned from others.

NB: I’m not suggesting that you ask every question every time or that this is the order to follow! That’s where prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit comes in as we ask THE Counselor for His wisdom and blessing. So much depends upon the person, our relationship to them, and the situation.

DOUBLE NB: Ask yourself the questions first!!

  • Do you have any spiritual/mental/emotional/physical/moral/relational difficulties?
  • What did you do?
  • When do you do it?
  • When did you start doing this?
  • How often do you do this?
  • How long have you been doing it?
  • When do you find yourself doing this or wanting to do it?
  • What has this sin cost you/others?
  • How has this sin damaged you/others?
  • What do you gain from this sin?
  • What do you think about this sin and its consequences?
  • Do you want to stop?
  • What have you tried?
  • Have you ever succeeded in stopping?
  • Is the problem getting better or worse?
  • What are the usual steps that lead you into this sin?
  • Are there any common factors/places/people that lead to this sin?
  • Have you taken any precautions?
  • Do you know what God’s Word says about this sin?
  • What are you trying to achieve/attain through this sin?
  • Is there anyone else involved in this sin with you?
  • Where and how do you think I can help you?
  • Do you see a way out of this sin?
  • Do you know where this sin will take you?
  • Are you a Christian? Are you a believer in Jesus Christ?
  • What do you understand by “Christian”?
  • How were you converted?
  • What resources do you depend upon in your life? Family, friends, colleagues, Church.
  • What does your devotional life look like?
  • Do you have any other spiritual struggles and temptations?

And remember, people answer questions with their bodies as well as their tongues! Watch for changes in facial expressions, posture, and eye-contact. Listen for changes in tone of voice, volume, hesitation, etc.

What other questions have you found useful in speaking to people about sin? Please add them in the comments.

How Do Sinners Help Sinners Stop Sinning?

Christians are not only called to repentance but are also called to call others to repentance. This is often one of the hardest tasks in the Christian life. How do we approach someone who is sinning in a way that will help lead them to repentance?

An Informed Approach
If we want to help a sinner stop sinning, we need to study sin. We can do this by studying our own sinful hearts and the way sin begins, develops, and expands there. Though probably not on our summer reading list, we can also study sobering and searching books on sin.

A Humble Approach
Remember that you are a sinner. Before we start rebuking sin in others, we must rebuke it in ourself first and most.

A Gentle Approach
Whether the person has asked us for help, we are offering help, or a friend has asked us to help, we need to approach humbly, quietly, and lovingly. Raise the subject in the context of the Gospel of Grace and our own need and experience of it for our own sins and struggles (Gal. 6:1).

A Hopeful Approach
Although the sin may be wide, deep, high, and long, the Gospel is wider, deeper, higher, and longer. The goal is to help the sinner see the seriousness of sin, the misery of sin, and all that God can offer through the Gospel to conquer both.

A Biblical Approach
Phrases to avoid: “I think…In my opinion…I don’t agree…”

Phrases to use: ‘The Bible says…God’s Word tells us…The Scriptures are clear…”

A God-Centered Approach
We cannot fix anyone; only God can. Point the sinner away from yourself and to:

  • God’s sovereignty: He is in this, is in control, this is part of His plan, and He can even work it for your good.
  • God’s holiness: This is both our model and our motive (1 Pet. 1:16).
  • God’s wisdom: God knows all the answers and has a solution.
  • God’s power: especially when we feel our powerlessness.
  • God’s love: Willing to forgive, heal, accept, restore (1 John 1:9).
  • God’s Son: Show them the suitability, sufficiency, willingness, and ability of Christ to save.
  • God’s justice: He won’t stand by and see His law broken and smashed to pieces. 

A Realistic Approach
Be realistic about the sin. Call it what it is. Don’t soft-pedal or soft-filter it.

Be realistic about time. Rarely will a person change immediately or perfectly.

Be realistic about the difficulty. There’s going to be resistance, pain, failure, and disappointment along the way.

A Wise Approach
Choose the right place (not Starbucks).

Choose the right time for you and the other person (not too little time, not too late, not too busy and stressed).

Choose the right words: take account of the person’s world, vocabulary, education.

A Questioning Approach
It’s often better to question than to accuse, at least to begin with. Try to get the person to supply the answers and draw the conclusions rather than you telling them. Tomorrow, we’ll look at some good questions to ask when trying to help someone stop sinning.

A Prayerful Approach
Pray without ceasing: before the conversation, during the conversation, and after the conversation. Pray for the person and with the person.

What else have you found helpful in these difficult though necessary conversations?

Check out

Weekend Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman ($2.99)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Kain ($2.99)

The Elements of Style by William Strunk ($2.99)

First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by J Hansen ($1.99)

Thomas Jefferson (Author of America) by Christopher Hitchens ($1.99)

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever ($0.99)

How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem by Matt Perman ($4.99)

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew Davis ($0.99)

I Am Hutterite: The Fascinating True Story of a Young Woman’s Journey to reclaim Her Heritage by Mary-Ann Kirkby ($1.99)

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7 Things To Consider Before Sharing Online

The Foundation of Christian Joy

4 Characteristics of Earnest Preaching

So Your Child Is Dating a Non-Christian

A Word To The Introverted Pastor: Be Extroverted on Sunday

Thinking About Vocation (not Vacation)

Finding Hope for An Often-Fatal Genetic Disorder

Who Is The Most Important Person In Your Church

The Pastor’s Wife Who Went Crazy

Life As An Ordinary Pastor’s Kid

The Pastor’s Kid: My Happy Childhood

Special Friendship Between Preschooler and WWII Veteran

22 Facts About Sleep That Will Surprise You (Infographic)


Two outstanding podcasts on Faith and Mental Illness from Michael Horton.

Podcast 1: Faith & Mental Illness

Podcast 2: Darkness is My Only Companion

See Michael’s recent blog post on the issue and also this Faith & Mental Illness Study Kit.


Inspire Her Mind

Unique Surf Photographer

Triple Lightning Strike On Chicago’s Tallest Buildings

Technology Cannot Replace Love

“The Greatest Failing of The American Church Today”

Notice I put that headline in quotation marks. That means two things. First, I didn’t say it; Greg Forster did, in his book Joy For The World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. Second I may not agree with it; quotations marks around a headline often say, “Hey, we’re not necessarily agreeing with this, just quoting it.”

These qualifications out of the way, what is “the greatest failing of the American church today?” Greg Forster says it’s “the failure of the American church to affirm the goodness of civilizational life” (p. 89). Quite a surprising claim isn’t it?

The context for this remarkable assertion is Greg’s passion for sound cultural engagement which, he says, integrates two things:

First, we must begin with affirmation of the God-given goodness of civilizational activity. Second, the special transformation of our hearts by the Spirit must flow into our civilizational activity, so that we stand against all that is sinful and wrong in the world and pursue a more excellent way. We must integrate these two commissions into a single, unified civilizational life that expresses the joy of God. (88)

Affirmation of our civilization is first and fundamental “for the simple reason that creation comes before fall…Christians say good is primary and evil is parasitic.” Thus Greg concludes, “when we approach civilization, we must always be careful to keep the affirmation of the good in the primary position and let transformation of the bad follow.”

Do you see why I said yesterday that this might make some VanTillians’ hair fall out? Van Til and his followers, (including some of them in the nouthetic/biblical counseling field) start out with antithesis rather than affirmation. They begin by highlighting the evil in the world, the fallenness in the world, the enmity in the world. The world is bad, bad, bad, etc. Slash and burn, fight and critique, expose and ridicule, and so on.

Then, when they’ve wasted the field and strangled every last breath out of any “worldly” thing or idea, they quietly creep back onto the battlefield and start breathing some life back into the massacred corpses via the doctrine of common grace. ANTITHESIS is upfront in big, bold, capital letters. Affirmation is whispered in small (and often contradictory) print (that hopefully no one notices).

It’s always struck me as an extremely strange way to try and win an argument or win people over to your side.

Affirmation First
Greg Forster insists that, without affirming everything or toning down our opposition to things that are sinful, we should should put AFFIRMATION up front in big, bold capital letters, and that prioritizing it rather than antithesis “will actually help us bear witness more powerfully against sin, strengthening and empowering our transformative impact.” He present five reasons for this (p. 89):

1. Within a framework of affirmation for the good our opposition to the bad will be more accurate. I agree with Greg that when we pretend that evil is primary when it’s not, we will end up saying things that are not true, the world will notice, and we’ll lose credibility.

2. Affirmation of the good will also make our opposition to the bad more meaningful. You have to start with the good to help people feel the badness of evil.

3. It will make our opposition more graceful. This is what’s baffled me most about Van Tillian apologetics and the way it’s been applied in some nouthetic/biblical counseling. I would have thought that counselors of all people would grasp the basic human psychology of keeping opposition within a framework of affirmation, indicating a desire to build up our neighbours rather than look down and tear down.

4. It will allow us to criticize aspects of our civilization as members of it, rather than as outsiders. “If we don’t place ourselves within American civilization before we criticize it, we’re just busybodies. sticking our noses into other people’s societies.”

5. It will make our opposition more effective. #1-4 will make our opposition more accurate, meaningful, graceful, integral, and therefore more effective in pushing back evil.

A Great Failure (But Not The Greatest Failure)
I don’t agree with Greg that “the failure of the American church to affirm the goodness of civilizational life is our greatest failing today.” That’s overstating a good case. I do agree with him that it’s a great failure, even a very great failure. And I also agree with him on the need to prioritize affirmation for all five reasons that he gives.

That’s going to give many of us painful whiplash, because we’ve been barreling down the antithesis road for so long. But where’s it got us? And where’s it taking us? Isn’t it worth at least considering if we’ve got this wrong and if it’s worth trying another road or direction?

Joy For The World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It by Greg Forster.