Posted by: William | January 5, 2008

Mortification of Sin: Chapter 8

Along with a community of people from Challies.com, I am reading Of The Mortification of Sin in Believers as found in the collection of classics by John Owen Overcoming Sin and Temptation. It’s not too late to join this adventure. Go here and read this. Then go here and buy this.

In last week’s chapter, Mr. Owen explained how the endeavor to mortify a sin belongs only to the believer; to that effect, Mr. Owen employs a metaphor using men as metals and God as a refining fire, “men must be gold and silver at the bottom, or else refining will do them no good.”

In this week’s chapter, chapter eight, Mr. Owen continues with another qualification for mortification: “There will be no mortification of any sin without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience.” When I first read this, I tracked with it all the way up to “a universality of obedience.” The phrasing forces my mind into a kind of chicken versus egg scenario where I start to wonder how someone is supposed to mortify a sin if in order to do so they must be wholly obedient and if their wholly obedient, what is there to mortify? This chapter was only two pages long, but I had to read it very, very slowly. What sounds like a chicken/egg statement, is really just a very uncommon phrasing.

Mr. Owen argues that in order for sin to be mortified, sin must be hated as sin. Not simply just as something that causes us discomfort. “Hatred of sin as sin, not only as galling or disquieting, a sense of love of Christ in the cross, lies at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification. Now, it is certain that that which I speak of proceeds from self-love.” Mortification, as with anything we do, must be selfless! He goes on to make good explanation of this standpoint when asking why we seek to mortify our sins: “what is the reason of it? It disquiets you, it has taken away your peace, it fills your heart with sorrow and trouble and fear; you have no rest because of it. Yea, but friend, have you neglected prayer or reading; you have been vain and loose in your conversation in other things, that have not been of the same nature with that lust where with you are perplexed. These are no less sins and evils than those under which you groan. Jesus Christ bled for them also. Why do you not set yourself against them also? If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul.”

Mr. Owen’s argument is that a sin couldn’t possibly be mortified when our only reason for doing so is that it is a discomfort to our conscience. But of course, if God desires our comfort and our holiness, why wouldn’t he give us leave from a sin which grieves us as well as him? This too is explained. “Do you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to do that which no less grieves him? No. God says, ‘Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost.’ ”. This is where Mr. Owen’s use of the term “universal obedience” becomes clear. He explains that man can’t simply set himself against a single sin that injures him, he must set himself against all sin with a “universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil” because it injures God!

In this way, God may use our contest with one sin to set us against the greater sins in our heart. As in Peter, who’s “vain confidence” Jesus leveled by allowing that he would deny his beloved master. I pray that as I ponder these things my heart would bet set against all sins and every evil that lurks in my heart and when I cry out to God against my sin it would be for the injuries that it has caused him, not only me.

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