Posted by: William | November 30, 2007

Mortification of Sin: Chapter 3

            Thus far in the book Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen, I’ve completed three chapters, along with a group over at (go here to read more). I must say, so far, chapter three has been by favorite, and in a way I think it maybe ought to have been the first chapter.

            The Holy Spirit, “He only is sufficient for this work” of mortification, as Mr. Owen states right in the beginning of this chapter. I think that is why this chapter has been my favorite. It is all about my insufficiency to mortify sin on my own; how can my flesh mortify itself? (Mark 3:25). With all of the schemes and ideas and plans we come up with to rid ourselves of sin, none will avail unless motivated, powered and completed by the Holy Spirit. I think Mr. Owen quotes our own hearts very well when he says, “Men are galled with the guilt of sin that has prevailed over them; they instantly promise to themselves and God that they will do so no more; they watch over themselves and pray for a season until the heat [becomes] cold and the sense of sin is worn off—and so mortification goes also, and sin returns to its former dominion.” How many times to we fall under some habitual sin and in our guilt put our foot down saying, “I’m done with this!” This is not mortification by the Spirit, it is by the flesh and will fail; or so my life has certainly shown.

            Mr. Owen explains that although there are many “streams” of mortification, they should never be confused with the “fountain.” To me this is key. It is not my discipline that overcomes my sin, it is the Holy Spirit, perhaps working through my discipline. The difference is subtle, but one leaves way for the returning of sins that would have me dead, if it were up to them.

In the later part of his text, Mr. Owen talks about the “saddest” state of warfare against sin; that “a soul under conviction from the law is pressed to fight against sin, but has no strength for the combat.” For me, this is a condition that I have found myself in, a pray against for myself and the church, Mr. Owen says, “Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin, when they have only raised a dust that they see it not; that is, they distemper their natural affections of fear, sorrow, and anguish, which makes them believe that sin is conquered when it is not touched. By the time they are cold, they must go to the battle again; and the lust which they thought to be slain appears to have had no wound.” I know this has been the condition of my heart before, and I confess the guilt of having realized this condition sometimes has put me in even rougher condition.

I appreciate this chapter greatly for acknowledging and bolstering the truth that mortification is a work of the Spirit, not of my putting my foot down and doing the job right!


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