"Let me add this to them who are preachers of the word, or intend, through the good hand of God, that employment: It is their duty to plead with men about their sins, to lay load on particular sins, but always remember that it be done with that which is the proper end of law and gospel;-- that is, that they make use of the sin they speak against to the discovery of the state and condition wherein the sinner is; otherwise, haply, they may work men to formality and hypocrisy, but little of the true end of preaching the gospel will be brought about. It will not avail to beat a man off from his drunkenness into a sober formality. A skillful master of the assemblies lays his axe at the root, drives still at the heart. To inveigh against particular sins of ignorant, unregenerate persons, such as the land is full of, is a good work; but yet, though it may be done with great efficacy, vigour, and success, if this be all the effect of it, that they are set upon the most sedulous endeavours of mortifying their sins preached down, all that is done is but like the beating of an enemy in an open field, and driving him into an impregnable castle, not to be prevailed against. Get you at any time a sinner at the advantage, on the account of any one sin whatever? have you any thing to take hold of him by? -- bring it to his state and condition, drive it up to the head, and there deal with him. To break men off particular sins, and not to break their hearts, is to deprive ourselves of advantages of dealing with them."
This gets to the heart of the gospel ministry and our priorities as churches and believers. We can never only be about preaching against "particular sins" without leading people to a knowledge of their sinful condition. To do so may well drive unbelievers into that "impregnable castle" and make it more difficult to share the gospel. "Moral conservatives" find it hard to recognize their sinful condition and repent because they are "right" on the various moral issues. Folks on the other side may only hear a moralistic message and not the life changing truth of the gospel.
We need to become "skillful masters" at laying our axe to the root and driving to the heart--the need for the saving message of the gospel.
The Mortification of Sin online