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The Guilt of Your Sin

This is my once-monthly post on the Puritan John Owen. In this series of posts I am sharing some of what John Owen says about putting sin to death, or what he calls mortification. I have been going through his book Overcoming Sin and Temptation and trying to distill each chapter to its essence—to a few choice quotes that capture the flavor of what Owen is trying to communicate.

So far we’ve looked at The Foundation of Mortification, we’ve been encouraged to Daily Put Sin to Death, to understand that It Is the Holy Spirit Who Puts Sin to Death and to acknowledge that Your Spiritual Life Depends Upon Killing Sin. Then we saw What It Is Not to Put Sin to Death and What It Is to Put Sin to Death. Then, at least, he began to move to the actual instruction on putting sin to death. First he dealt with a couple of foundational issues and then with dangerous sin symptoms. Last month he told us that when you identify a sin in your life you need to get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of your sin. Now he adds that you need to load your conscience with the guilt of sin and that you need to long for deliverance from sin’s power.

Load Your Conscience with the Guilt of Sin

Owen is going to take you to the gospel to put your sin to death, but he doesn’t want to get there too quickly. Before you begin to put that sin to death, he wants you to acknowledge the actual guilt of that sin, not just your guilt in a general sense. Here is how to do that:

Charge your conscience with the guilt which comes when you compare your sin with God’s holy law. You need to ponder God’s holiness as reflected in his revealed will, admit how far you have missed the mark, and then allow yourself to acknowledge the weight of that guilt. “Bring the holy law of God into your conscience, lay your corruption to it, pray that you may be affected with it. Consider the holiness, spirituality, fiery severity, inwardness, absoluteness of the law, and see how you can stand before it. Be much, I say, in affecting your conscience with the terror of the Lord in the law, and how righteous it is that every one of your transgressions should receive a recompense of reward. … Persuade your conscience to harken diligently to what the law speaks, in the name of the Lord, unto you about your lust and corruption. Oh! If your ears be open, it will speak with a voice that shall make you tremble, that shall cast you to the ground and fill you with astonishment.”

Bring your lust to the gospel, not for relief (yet!), but for further conviction of its guilt. Owen wants you to find hope and peace through the gospel, but only after you’ve seen all that the gospel tells you about the guilt of your sin. Say to your soul:

What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this the return I make to the Father for his love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Ghost for his grace? Do I thus requite the Lord? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, that the blessed Spirit has chosen to dwell in? And can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head with any boldness before him? Do I account communion with him of so little value, that for this vile lust’s sake I have scarce left him any room in my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great salvation? In the meantime, what shall I say to the Lord? Love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation—I have despised them all, and esteemed them as a thing of naught, that I might harbor a lust in my heart. Have I obtained a view of God’s fatherly countenance, that I might behold his face and provoke him to his face? Was my soul washed, that room might be made for new defilements? Shall I endeavor to disappoint the end of the death of Christ? Shall I daily grieve that Spirit whereby I am sealed to the day of redemption?

Consider the infinite patience and forbearance of God toward you in particular. Think of how kind and good and patient God has been toward you. “Consider what advantages he might have taken against time, to have made you a shame and a reproach in this world, and an object of wrath forever; how you have dealt treacherously and falsely with him from time to time, flattered him with your lips, but broken all promises and engagements, and that by the means of that sin you are now in pursuit of; and yet he has spared you from time to time, although you seem boldly to have put it to the trial how long he could hold out. And will you yet sin against him? Will you yet weary him, and make him to serve with your corruptions?”

Consider all God’s gracious dealings with you. God has graciously dealt with you in so many ways, and still you sin against him. Consider how he has given grace to you “in providential dispensations, deliverances, afflictions, mercies, enjoyments, all ought here to take place. By these, I say, and the like means, load your conscience; and leave it not until it be thoroughly affected with the guilt of your indwelling corruption, until it is sensible of its wound, and lie in the dust before the Lord. Unless this be done to the purpose, all other endeavors are to no purpose. While the conscience has any means to alleviate the guilt of sin, the soul will never vigorously attempt its mortification.”

Constantly Long for Deliverance from Sin’s Power

Once you know the guilt of your sin, you will long to be delivered from it. “Get a constant longing, breathing after deliverance from the power of it. Suffer not your heart one moment to be contented with your present frame and condition. Longing desires after anything, in things natural and civil, are of no value or consideration, any further but as they incite and stir up the person in whom they are to a diligent use of means for the bringing about the thing aimed at. In spiritual things it is otherwise. 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. … Assure yourself, unless you long for deliverance you shall not have it.”