Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sexual Sins and the Gritty Realism of John Donne's Holy Sonnet 14

The only thing worse than a man captivated by vice and ignorant of its price is a Christian man pretending his struggle is ending without gracious intervention. To force purity through promise is to create both legalists and liars. Caution should be exercised lest a faulty perception be held by the promisor. To vow chastity and purity, even as a Christian, underestimates one's enemy and overestimates one's abilities. I am leading a group of about 25 men every Tuesday morning through a book entitled Surfing for God.  I highly recommend the book for anyone who struggles with Internet porn and other types of sexual vice. In chapter seven, author Michael Cusick gives an anecdote about John Donne (pronounced "Dunn"). Donne was the pastor of St. Paul's in London, England in the early 1600's. He struggled with various sexual vices, both in thought life and behavior. When King James sought to appoint Donne as pastor of St. Paul's, the appointment was refused several times. Nobody knows for sure why, but it could be the same reason many young men refuse a call to the mission field. Donne finally accepted King James' appointment, but he soon realized that his struggles did not end because of his new position. If anything, they intensified.  Reflecting on his own personal battle in pursuing freedom from sexual sins, Donne wrote Holy Sonnet 14. Contrary to many modern Christian leaders who seem to pretend the battle disappears when Christ becomes one's Savior and Lord, Donne's Sonnet 14 contains gritty, hopeful realism:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 
Take note of the powerful last phrase:

"Except you enthrall me, (I) never shall be free, nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."

The Bible teaches us that "it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance." Rather than reject the purveyor of porn, rather than cast aside the sexually immoral, rather than shun the man or woman who is addicted to sexual sin, maybe we ought to move toward them in grace and show them the goodness of Christ. I am convinced that until everything about Jesus so enthralls and captivates the heart of a sinner, there will never be true freedom from vice. Thank you John Donne, for saying it so much better than I.


Bob Cleveland said...

This is so true. And another fact that would well be learned young:

Age may take away the lust and the temptation, but it will not erase the habit. That takes supernatural intervention.

Victorious said...

I am convinced that until everything about Jesus so enthralls and captivates the heart of a sinner, there will never be true freedom from vice.

Oh how I wish that were true...

One of my sons has struggled with sexual sin for over 30 yrs. He has sobbed before the Lord at more church services than I can count. He attended more Christian groups than I can count and even led several. He authored a book about sexual sin. His wife has remained with him but recently my son has given up on ever being free and has decided to leave the marriage rather than cause her more pain.

I could go on with more heart-breaking information, but suffice it to say, the grief this sin causes is beyond comprehension. He recently came to visit me and told me of his depression. He accepts responsibility for the condition of his marriage but has all but given up and I worry about the depth of his depression. I prayed with him and reminded him that he has value and is loved but inside (I'm ashamed to admit) I'm repulsed by this type of sin.

Please say a prayer for him.

....and for me... thank you.

Wade Burleson said...


I have prayed for your son.

I wonder if maybe all the good and faithful promises of Jesus to a porn-addicted, divorced, and depressed man are lost in the midst of all the sobbing? Not that sobbing is bad - there's a time for weeping, but maybe that time needs to end. Strange as it seems, Jesus ravishes the heart of the sinner, not the self-righteous, and your son now qualifies for all the ravishes of grace. My prayers will continue for your son.

Anonymous said...


I was speaking to a person recently whose life was brought very low because of some compulsive behavior. In a composite prescribed program to restore greater temperance and control of the actions, modern pharmaceutical and fairly simple surgical treatment have a significant part to play.

Most people take some form of medication to assist them in controlling the chemistry of the body......from headaches to gout in the big toe ! It can be an effective aid for many who seek to restore good mental and physical health.

Of course, the body ,mind, soul and behavior are complex and closely inter-related aspects of a person. That is why I speak of the medical means only as an 'aid', albeit a significant one for some. My advice would be to find out more, and to try it if prescribed by a physician.

People should not try to manage a behavioral addiction or compulsion on their own. Christian group therapy, such as you provide , carries a great dynamic for good.


Tom said...

I am told that exceeding the speed limit is a sin, however, I have come to realise that the manifestation of my true sin is expressed through exceeding the speed limit.

The supposed “sins” actually demonstrates to me I have already turned away from God and have begun to act “God like” in the things that I do yet the “Church” practices bandaid solutions which only suppresses the manifestations without dealing with the root cause of the manifestations by saying, if you do not speed you will not sin by exceeding the speed limit on the highway. However the reality of this approach is that the reason why I drive at the “speed” that I do is not dealt with and I feel content that I am able to mask the real sin that is eating at my very soul.

It is not until I face the truth about the root sin in my life that I am able to remove the various manifestations of “sin” within my life. If I will not deal with the root sin then I am caught by the application of the “law” and salvation eludes me.

God in the bible challenged people about their root sin of turning away from Him but did not condemn them for the manifestations of that root sin. Otherwise, Bathsheba and David would not have been found in the linage of Christ.

David repented of his recurring sin of turning away from God and each time God forgave him for turning away.

King Saul on the other hand instead of falling on his face and repenting would not accept responsibility for his sin of turning away and instead blamed others for causing him to sin.

King David took responsibility for his sin but the consequences of the “manifestation sins” still remained and he had to work through those issues and repair the harm that he had done to others. His “sins” had consequences that played out down through the generations of his descendants right up to this present day.

But David was redeemed and even I and others who turn away from God can receive redemption from the Lord for this sin but the mess that sin creates may need a lot of work on our part to bring healing to those around us that we love.


Tom Ross

Victorious said...

The supposed “sins” actually demonstrates to me I have already turned away from God and have begun to act “God like”

Hi Tom,

Are you suggesting that the root cause of every sin in a person's life is an desire to be "God like?"

I ask because I see that as a deliberate, purposeful act of rebellion. Some sins are the result of the weakness of the flesh. They are different root causes are they not?

Tom said...

1 Chronicles 3:1-9

3:(1) These were the sons of David who were born to him in Hebron:

The firstborn was Amnon, whose mother was Ahinoam from Jezreel;
the second was Daniel, whose mother was Abigail from Carmel;
(2) the third was Absalom whose mother was Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur;
the fourth was Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith;
(3) the fifth was Shephatiah, whose mother was Abital;
the sixth was Ithream, whose mother was Eglah.
(4) These six were born to David in Hebron, where he ruled for seven years and six months.

He ruled thirty-three years in Jerusalem.

(5) These were the sons born to him in Jerusalem:

Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon - the mother of these four was Bathsheba the daughter of Ammiel.
(6) The other nine were Ibhar, Elishua, Elpelet, (7) Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, (8) Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet.

(9) These were all the sons of David, not counting the sons of his concubines. Tamar was their sister.
(from The NET Bible)

Victorious, you have posed a great question. The above passage from 1 Chron 3:1-9 indicates to us that God sent the prophet Nathan to challenge David of his sin of turning away from God and acting God Like around eight years after he had committed the sin. Sadly the prophet had to remind David of his sin and it had nothing to do with adultery. It was his stealing of the affections of the Israelite people for God and transferring them to himself and acting God like because of it, that he was challenged about. We must remember that Solomon was conceived when David went in to Bathsheba to console her over the loss/death of Shim'e-a, her first son with David who was taken by God because of David’s sin.

The nation joined David in this sin of turning away from God when they would not stone David and Bathsheba for their known adulterous act which was the requirement of God’s statutes.

Now the question I have is when the sin is a result of the weakness of the flesh, am I not satisfying my heart’s desire of self pleasure by doing things where I become the centre of my desire. Is that not turning away from God?


Tom Ross

Victorious said...

Sadly the prophet had to remind David of his sin and it had nothing to do with adultery

Sure it did, Tom. David's sin is a perfect example of a deliberate, intentional sin. It wasn't enough that he lusted after Bathsheba while she was bathing, but plotted against her husband to have him killed.

A moment of weakness is very different than deliberately planning and scheming to arrive at a desired outcome.

There are unintentional sins and sins committed out of ignorance; i.e. Paul's blaspheming and persecuting Christians.

Tom said...


You keep asking great question about what I have posted.

The area of sin that God is concerned about is not openly visible except in the visible manifestations of that sin. Yes, when David turned away from God, David manifested that sin through deliberate and intentional actions as you have described and the people also joined David in this sin of turning away from God and manifested it in other ways.

Below is a list of New Testament passages about acting in ignorance towards God that I found after I had read your previous post.

Acts 3:17-22, Acts 17:29-31, Ephesians 4:17-24, 1 Peter 1:13-21, 1 Peter 2:13-17.

Our sin is a reflection of our heart’s condition and manifests accordingly.

Gift’s of the Spirit naturally flows when it is towards God. When our heart is not turned towards God then evil abounds within our lives and we do not measure up to God’s plum line of righteous and in the things that we do.

“Road rage” is one such measure that I use to measure my hearts direction and the “person” who is at the centre of my life. When I find myself entering into “road rage” I know that I have displaced God from my life for a moment and intentionally begin to sin by becoming “God like.” “Do you not know that I am God like and you people should be getting out of my way and not impeding my travel as I have important work to do?” Instead of entering into road rage, should we not use this God provided time of slow travel to begin blessing the people around us through prayer and showing God’s love towards them by the manner in which we respond to our circumstances in which we may find ourselves in.

How often do I have to repent of “intentionally” turning away from God? Very frequently and I can miss it because it is so second nature to me that it slips into my life unnoticed and catches me out unaware of what has transpired. Am I being ignorant or unintentional in my sin?

I somehow think that the answer to that question is a big NO. It simply shows that I am not fully focused on becoming more like the one I want to model my life on and to become invisible so that He shines through my life.

Now does God want all of the warts gone that disfigures our lives?

I am not sure that that is absolutely necessary as it demonstrates to my friends that it is God’s grace in my life that hides my short coming and makes me acceptable unto the Lord and that they, {my friends and the people I rub shoulders with in the wider community}, can also come into and under God grace of redemption as they are.


Tom Ross

Victorious said...

Tom, you said,
I know that I have displaced God from my life for a moment and intentionally begin to sin by becoming “God like.”

You certainly know and can identify your sin better than I, but just reading your example of "road rage" I'm at a loss to see that as intentionally or even unintentionally becoming "God-like." I see it as indicative of a lack of patience. And traffic is a perfect time for learning patience, at least it is in Florida during tourist season. :)

Some sins are signs of weakness of the flesh; i.e. overeating, sexual addictions, etc. Those who have a problem with overeating can't avoid food so they must grow in the area of self-control and wise food choices. I don't know what the answer is for those with sexual addictions since our society is sex-saturated!

But both are normal appetites that require boundaries and self-control. I doubt anyone who struggles with either of these problems is deliberately indulging to displace God and see themselves as "God-like." Quite the opposite I think. I could be wrong but I rather think it's like an itch that wants to be scratched and is difficult to ignore.

But I'm no expert on these types of things. I know, however, that many, many Christians struggle with sins of the flesh and a life-time of struggles could have a devastating effect on a person's spiritual well-being like perhaps wanting to just give up.

Anonymous said...


I like the kindly,Biblical approach you have toward those who struggle with destructive behavior, and who need to be restored to fellowship with God and with their fellowmen.

The appropriate response is that of grace-base humility,compassion,wisdom,assistance and much patience .

It will be your experience that this does not happen without service, suffering and sacrifice on the part of the one who seeks to stand by those in need.

Our Savior is our perfect example in being the great Shepherd of the sheep in all these aspects of grace.

And God is not unmindful of a cup of cold water given in His name.


Victorious said...

Just wondering, Wade... If there a similar group at Enid ministering to the women/wives/girlfriends of these men?

Wade Burleson said...


Yes. There are several small groups that minister to men and women caught up in sexual vice.

Victorious said...

I hope some will read this comment because I want to ask forgiveness for saying I am repulsed by this sin.

The Lord knows my own sin is equally as repulsive.

I'm so sorry.

Wade Burleson said...



Wade Burleson said...