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Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Chapter 4)

Reading Classics Together Collection cover image

Today we continue reading the classics together by turning to the second 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.

For a couple of years I met every Friday morning with a group of friends and we would read books together. We read some great books like Os Guinness’ The Call and Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. These were enjoyable and beneficial times. One thing we often found frustrating, though, was that books are really not meant to be read at the pace of one chapter per week with long periods of analysis after each chapter. This may be particularly true of a book like Overcoming Sin and Temptation where the chapter divisions are seemingly less logical than in many other books. All this to say that I found this week’s chapter was short and really did not have quite as much gold to mine as in the previous ones (and, I’m sure, as in the ones to come). It was necessary, no doubt, but seems like a short pause before digging into the real treasure that is to follow.


The chapter outline goes something like this. Following on the chapter’s main point that the life, vigor, and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification of sin, we have these divisions:

  1. Life, vigor, and comfort are not necessarily connected to mortification
  2. Adoption and justification, not mortification, are the immediate causes of life, vigor, and comfort
  3. However, in the ordinary relationship with God, the vigor and comfort of our spiritual lives depend much on our mortification of sin
    1. Mortification alone keeps sin from depriving us of vigor and comfort
      1. Every unmortified sin will weaken the soul and deprive it of its vigor
        1. It untunes and unframes the heart itself, by entangling its affections
        2. It fills the thoughts with contrivances about it
        3. It breaks out and actually hinders duty
      2. Every unmortified sin will darken the soul and deprive it of its comfort and peace
    2. Mortification prunes all the graces of God and makes room for them in our hearts to grow
    3. As to our peace; as there is nothing that has any evidence of sincerity without it, so I know nothing that has such an evidence of sincerity in it


As you already know, I found less to chew on in this chapter than in the ones that preceded it. But this is certainly not to say that it was an unprofitable read. Owen’s warning was well taken—that a refusal to mortify sin will and must have to consequences: it will weaken the soul, depriving it of its vigor and it will darken the soul, depriving it of its comfort and peace. I also found this worth pondering: “[Sin] is a cloud, a thick cloud, that spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts all the beams of God’s love and favor. It takes away all sense of the privilege of our adoption; and if the soul begins to gather up thoughts of consolation, sin quickly scatters them.”

And, of course, the chapter’s closing words were pure gold. “Mortification is the soul’s vigorous opposition to itself.” We are too often prone to believe that sin is extrinsic and is caused by forces outside of ourselves. “The Devil made me do it!” we say. But sin comes from within. Sure, we need to oppose the devil. But even more so, we need to oppose our own sinful flesh.

Maybe I am just a restless person, but I flipped ahead one page to take a peek at chapter five. Already I like what it promises. “These things being premised, I come to my principal [concern] of handling some questions or practical cases that present themselves in this business of mortification of sin in believers.” I’m ready!

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the fifth chapter of the book (which will mark the beginning of the book’s second part). We have only just begun so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along.

Your Turn

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.

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