Today we continue reading the classics together by turning to the sixth chapter of John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation. If you’d like to know more about this project, you can read about it right here: Reading Classics Together.
We are now in the book’s second section—a section that turns the focus from introductory materials to “the nature of mortification.” In this portion of the book he will answer this question: “Suppose a man to be a true believer, and yet finds in himself a powerful indwelling sin, leading him captive to the law of it, consuming his heart with trouble, perplexing his thoughts, weakening his soul as to duties of communion with God, disquieting him as to peace, and perhaps defiling his conscience, and exposing him to hardening through the deceitfulness of sin, what shall he do? What course shall he take and insist on for the mortification of this sin, lust, distemper, or corruption, to such a degree as that, though it be not utterly destroyed, yet, in his contest with it, he may be enabled to keep up power, strength, and peace in communion with God?”
Through the last chapter and those to come, he will approach it in this form:
- Show what it is to mortify any sin, and that both negatively and positively, that we be not mistaken in the foundation (the fifth chapter provided the negative and this week we look at the positive aspect).
- Give general directions for such things as without which it will be utterly impossible for anyone to get any sin truly and spiritually mortified.
- Draw out the particulars whereby this is to be done.
The chapter follows this outline:
- Mortification consists in a habitual weakening of sin
- Mortification consists in constant fighting and contending against sin
- Mortification consists in frequent success
I am going to need to keep my portion of the discussion a little bit short today. I am just about to head for Atlanta with my family, so we’ll be spending a good fifteen or sixteen hours driving over the next day-and-a-half. And somehow, though I read the chapter a few times in advance, with work and family and other pressing obligations, I didn’t manage to sit down and write this soon enough!
There were several areas in this chapter that spoke to me. It was a deep and dense and often difficult one. Yet there was one aspect that really hit home more than the rest. It was Owen’s comparison of the actions of a crucified man with a mortified sin. It’s an image, a metaphor, that I think will stay in my mind.
As a man nailed to the cross he first struggles and strives and cries out with great strength and might, but, as his blood and spirits waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries low and hoarse, scarce to be heard; when a man first sets on a lust or distemper, to deal with it, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved; but when by mortification the blood and spirits of it are let out, it moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly, and is scarce heard in the heart; it may have sometimes a dying pang, that makes an appearance of great vigor and strength, but it is quickly over, especially if it be kept from considerable success.
And if that is true of a sin, if it at first fights hard but then, after a period of mortification, it must also be true of a sinner. When I first fight against a sin, a new sin that has been brought to my attention, I struggle hard. As Owen says, “When sin is strong and vigorous, the soul is scarce able to make any head
against it; it sighs, and groans, and mourns, and is troubled.” It is difficult to put this sin to death and to vanquish it. Yet as time goes on, and as the Spirit helps me put that sin to death, I find that I struggle less. As that sin begins to be destroyed in my life, it cries sparingly and soon is scarce heard. I guess the metaphor breaks down eventually since that sin will sooner or later come calling again, raising its head to see if I’ve lowered my guard against it, but still, I think it’s an effective word picture and one that helps me understand why it is at first so difficult to fight and to beat those sins.
And I apologize, but that is all you’ll get out of me this time! I have much to do before we hit the road this morning. I trust you’ll be able to share your insights to make this discussion more worthwhile…
Next Thursday, despite the date falling in the midst of holidays, we will continue with the seventh chapter of the book. Though we are now well into our study, it is not too late for you to join in the fun!
I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post 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 anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been great and have aided my enjoyment of the chapter. I trust this week will prove the same.