Book Review: Knowing Sin, by Mark Jones
Mark Jones, Knowing Sin: Seeing A Neglected Doctrine Through the Eyes of the Puritans. Moody Publishers, 2022. 209 pages.
I imagine there are few topics Christian authors write less about than sin. I also imagine there are few topics Christians read less about than sin. And that is strange, considering the daily struggle with sin in the life of the believer.
While our freedom from sin’s penalty is a present reality, our freedom from sin’s presence remains a (guaranteed but) future reality in our pending glorification. Therefore, between now and then, the battle against sin wages on. And we need all the ammunition we can get.
Which is why I am thankful for Mark Jones. He has gifted the church with a number of practically applied, doctrinal books in recent years, and this one is no less helpful. Knowing Sin is a gift to pastors and the church. Jones gives a treatment of sin that is meticulously explained and historically illustrated.
A NEGLECTED DOCTRINE METICULOUSLY EXPLAINED
In a concise but systematic way, Jones walks us through the various categories of sin, fine-tuning our thinking and equipping us theologically to stare down the monster within. For pastors, reading this book will be especially helpful in our preaching and teaching and deliver us from unnecessary ruts in our thinking about sin.
A brief survey of the table of contents reveals 18 chapters on the subject of sin. One might think this is excessive, but the doctrine of sin requires such an explanation. In our battle with sin, no amount of ammunition will help us if we don’t first know our enemy. Therefore, Jones unfolds aspects of sin that are often overlooked, but crucial to understand.
Analyzing it from a variety of vantage points, Jones explores sin’s pernicious origin and the way it has infected the totality of our humanity. It affects our thinking, feeling, and doing. It’s subtle effects cross all aspects of body and soul. It grows in isolated darkness, but withers in relational light. It’s committal brings sorrow in its wake, but its mortification gives way to freedom and joy.
A NEGLECTED DOCTRINE HISTORICALLY ILLUSTRATED
In addition to faithful exegetical and doctrinal explanation, Jones also provides a rich variety of illustrations from church history, especially those master “physicians of the soul,” the Puritans. Knowing Sin is historically aware, bringing us treasures along the way from the well-worn paths of Reformation soul care.
One such example would be from John Owen. Commenting on indwelling sin, Owen writes:
The soul is its home; there it dwells, and is no wanderer. Wherever you are, whatever you are about, this law of sin is always in you; in the best that You do, and in the worst. Men little consider what a dangerous companion is always at home with them. When they are in company, when alone, by night or by day, all is one, sin is with them. There is a living coal continually in their houses; which, if it be not looked unto, will fire them, and it may be consume them. (66)
Whether eluding to classic treatments of sin from Owen, or mining riches from other Puritan sources, Knowing Sin helps us escape the malaise of our present moment—with all of its individualism and self-indulgence—and transports us to another time when sin was known, felt, considered, and remedied.
My soul benefitted from Knowing Sin. Each chapter concluded with an application section, helping me to think through how each particular perspective on sin should find an on-ramp into my life. The book “re-sensitized” me to sin’s sinfulness. I was reminded all sin has consequences, and the pain of resisting sin is much less devastating that the consequences of committing it.
“Choosing suffering over sin is better because all sin involves suffering anyway,” Jones said. “Richard Sibbes was right to say, ‘It is better to go bruised to heaven than sound to hell’” (89). Fighting sin is worth the ache.
Pastors will find Knowing Sin useful not only for preaching and teaching, but also for help in preparing prayer meetings and prayers of confession. What if a pastor read one chapter before writing or thinking through a prayer of confession during their Sunday gathering each week? How might our confession be enriched as our understanding of sin is enlarged? How might prayer meetings grow in depth and breadth as our people are led to into more specific repentance?
This book would be useful to hand out to Christians new and old for discipleship. Buy a stack, and give two of them to a handful of members, encouraging them to find someone to read the book with.
On a topic where authors write little and Christians read less, Knowing Sin is a vital resource.