This morning we continue with our fourteen week journey through 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’ve now passed the halfway mark of the book and are beginning to get into the details of how we are to go about mortifying sin.
By way of reminder, for the past few chapters we have been 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 Owen is turning to 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?”
In the past chapters and those to come he approaches the subject this way:
- 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.
He has already shown both negatively and positively what it is to mortify a sin and this week he turns to the second of two general directions, without which it will be impossible for anyone to truly mortify sin.
This week’s chapter had but one point: “There will be no mortification of any sin without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience.”
The purpose of this chapter is to warn against the likelihood that as a person dedicates himself to putting a certain sin to death, he will overlook the disciplines which keep other sins at bay. Here is how Owen describes this:
A man finds any lust to bring him into the condition formerly described; it is powerful, strong, tumultuating, leads captive, vexes, disquiets, takes away peace; he is not able to bear it; wherefore he sets himself against it, prays against it, groans under it, sighs to be delivered: but in the meantime, perhaps, in other duties—in constant communion with God—in reading, prayer, and meditation—in other ways that are not of the same kind with the lust wherewith he is troubled—he is loose and negligent. Let not that man think that ever he shall arrive to the mortification of the lust he is perplexed with.
In other words, if a man is burdened by a particular sin and goes to war against it, but at the same time neglects communion with God and neglects prayer, reading the Bible, and meditating upon it, he should not expect to experience true mortification of his sin. Owen, always a master of the example, compares this to a man who is ill with a running sore (isn’t that something you want to picture first thing in the morning?) that has come about by indulgence and a poor diet. If that man focuses entirely on this sore and does so at the expense of taking care of the rest of his body, all of his work will be in vain. “So will his attempts that shall endeavor to stop a bloody issue of sin and filth in his soul, and is not equally careful of his universal spiritual temperature and constitution.” What a vivid word picture this is: “a bloody issue of sin and filth in his soul.”
People who do such a thing, says Owen, are people who mortify sin through a corrupt principle. They do so through self-love. “It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your own trouble by it.” Such a person is not troubled objectively by the nature of his sin, but is troubled by the trouble his sin brings.
And these are the two major points I am taking away this week. First, that any mortification of sin, and really any real growth in the Christian life, depends on a wide obedience. We are not to be people who emphasize one thing one day and another thing the next day. Rather, we are called to be obedient in all areas all the time. This was something that has becoming increasingly clear to me and especially so as I’ve studied the topic of discernment. God expects that we will simply obey and that we will do so in every area. There is no shortcut and no easy route to godliness. Second, we are all prone to hating our sin not because of what it means to God but because of what it means to us. We may often hate our sin not because it is an offense to God and not because it proves that our natures are set against God, but because we hate what sin does to us and we hate how it shows itself in our lives. This motive, this selfish motive, is not one that God will bless.
Armed with what Owen has taught, we are now ready, I think, to get into the real nitty-gritty beginning next week.
Next Thursday we will continue with the book’s ninth chapter. But you already knew that.
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.