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Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Chapter 11)

This morning we continue with our reading of John Owen’s classic Overcoming Sin and Temptation. If you’d like to know more about this reading project, you can read about it right here: Reading Classics Together. We’re into the real heart of the book now and are looking at specific instructions on how to put sin to death.

In the past few chapters we have been in the book’s second section—a section that focuses on “the nature of mortification.” In the past chapters and those to come Owen approaches the subject this way:

  1. Show what it is to mortify any sin, and that both negatively and positively, that we be not mistaken in the foundation.
  2. Give general directions for such things as without which it will be utterly impossible for anyone to get any sin truly and spiritually mortified.
  3. Draw out the particulars whereby this is to be done.

He has already shown both negatively and positively what it is to mortify a sin and has given the general directions. He is now providing a list of instructions about how to actually do the business of mortifying sin.

Summary

  1. Load your conscience with the guilt of sin
    1. Begin with generals and descend to particulars
      1. Charge your conscience with that guilt which appears in it from the rectitude and holiness of the law
      2. Bring your lust to the gospel

    2. Descend to particulars

      1. Consider the infinite patience and forbearance of God toward you in particular
      2. Consider the infinitely rich grace of God whereby you have been recovered to communion with him again
      3. Consider all of God’s gracious dealings with you

  2. Constantly long and breathe after deliverance from the power of it
  3. Consider whether the distemper is rooted in your nature and increased by your constitution

    1. Particular sinful inclinations are an outbreak of original lust in your nature
    2. Without extraordinary watchfulness, your nature will prevail against your soul
    3. For the mortification of any distemper rooted in the nature of a man, there is one expedient peculiarly suited: bringing the body into subjection
      1. The outward weakening and impairing of the body should not be looked upon as a thing good in itself
      2. The means whereby this is done should not be looked on as things that in themselves can produce true mortification of any sin

Discussion

I continue to enjoy and to profit from reading this book. When faced with sin this past week I really felt my heart stirred by some of what I learned in reading the last chapter. How could I do this sin when I know how serious it is for me to ignore the work of the Spirit as He turns my heart from it? With an awareness of how serious sin is for a believer, how could I recklessly push forward and sin against God? It is always a delight to see a book impact my life. This is especially true when the book is as infused with Scripture as this one is.

I enjoyed this week’s chapter as well. I’ll admit, though, that I was quite confused by much of the first direction—load your conscience with the guilt of sin. Despite several readings I just could not get my mind around what Owen was trying to communicate. There were parts I understood: “Persuade your conscience to hearken diligently to what the law speaks, in the name of the Lord, unto you about your lust and corruption.” And I understand his direction about looking to the gospel for further conviction of sin. But I feel like I was only scratching the surface here rather than really digging in. Hopefully your comments will bring some clarity.

Thankfully, I gained more from the rest of the chapter. I enjoyed Owen’s exhortation to “get a constant longing, breathing after deliverance from the power of sin.” “Longing, breathing, and panting after deliverance is a grace in itself, that has a mighty power to conform the soul into the likeness of the thing longed after.” And I can see from my life when I began to long after deliverance from sin. There was a time when I really was not so troubled by my sin. I may have felt some guilt from it and may have dreaded its consequences, but I did not long after deliverance. But when God, in His grace, helped me to truly desire to see my sin put away, it made such a difference to my life. “Unless you long for deliverance you shall not have it.” Those words have proven true in my life.

I also appreciated Owen’s charge that we need to rise against the first actings and conceptions of sin. His illustration was a good one. When water is restrained by dikes or levees or walls or canals it follows the course we have set for it. But when those walls crumble, the water follows its own destructive course. It overflows the banks and runs to its inevitable conclusion. And sin is much the same. We need to restrain sin and to “nip it in the bud” before it comes to full bloom in our lives (I think I’m mixing metaphors now). And this it will inevitably do if we allow it. “Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had been fully accomplished what it aims at.” We do this with our help, taking measures to avoid sickness or reacting immediately at the first signs of the onset of illness. Why should we not do this with our sin?

And finally, a brief note. Is it just my lack of understanding a strange sentence structure, or is there a rather important not missing from this sentence: “The means whereby this is done—namely, by fasting and watching, and the like—should be looked on as things that in themselves, and by virtue of their own power, can produce true mortification of any sin.”

Next Week

Next Thursday we will continue by reading chapter twelve (the end is in sight!).

Your Turn

As always, I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Please post your comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say something exceedingly clever or profound. Simply share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause. You can also post any questions that came up. Let’s be certain that we are reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been very helpful and have aided my enjoyment of the book. I have every reason to believe that this week will prove the same.