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[CSF] More from John Owen on Mortification

Recently on the Christian Soul Food list, we’ve been posting quotes from Flavel and Owen on things related to the heart and the mortification of sin. Here’s more. πŸ™‚

Every unmortified sin will certainly do two things:– [1.] It will weaken the soul, and deprive it of its vigour. [2.] It will darken the soul, and deprive it of its comfort and peace.

[1.] It weakens the soul, and deprives it of its strength. When David had for a while harboured an unmortified lust in his heart, it broke all his bones, and left him no spiritual strength; hence he complained that he was sick, weak, wounded, faint. “There is,” saith he, “no soundness in me,” Ps. 38:3; “I am feeble and sore broken,” verse 8; “yea, I cannot so much as look up,” Ps 40:12. An unmortified lust will drink up the spirit, and all the vigour of the soul, and weaken it for all duties. For, —

1st. It untunes and unframes the heart itself, by entangling its affections. It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God; it lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father, 1 John 2:15, 3:17; so that the soul cannot say uprightly and truly to God, “Thou art my portion,” having something else that it loves. Fear, desire, hope, which are the choice affections of the soul, that should be full of God, will be one way or other entangled with it.

2dly. It fills the thoughts with contrivances about it. Thoughts are the great purveyors of the soul to bring in the provision to satisfy its affections; and if sin remain unmortified in the heart, they must ever and anon be making provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. They must glaze, adorn, and dress the objects of the flesh, and bring them home to give satisfaction; and this they are able to do, in the service of a defiled imagination, beyond all expression.

3dly. It breaks out and actually hinders duty. The ambitious man must be studying, and the worldling must be working or contriving, and the sensual, vain person providing himself for vanity, when they should be engaged in the worship of God.

Were this my present business, to set forth the breaches, ruin, weakness, desolations, that one unmortified lust will bring upon a soul, this discourse must be extended much beyond my intendment.

[2.] As sin weakens, so it darkens the soul. It 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 favour. 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: of which afterward.

Now, in this regard doth the vigour and power of our spiritual life depend on our mortification: It is the only means of the removal of that which will allow us neither the one nor the other. Men that are sick and wounded under the power of lust make many applications for help; they cry to God when the perplexity of their thoughts overwhelms them, even to God do they cry, but are not delivered; in vain do they use many remedies, — “they shall not be healed.” So, Hos. 5:13, “Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound,” and attempted sundry remedies: nothing will do until they come (verse 15) to “acknowledge their offence.” Men may see their sickness and wounds, but yet, if they make not due applications, their cure will not be effected.

– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, chapter 3

Most churches don’t teach self-denial and the mortification (killing, making dead) of sin in the life of the believer.

For those who still wonder what this old word ‘mortify’ means, in this context, it means that you make a purposeful effort NOT to make any provisions for sin to grow and flourish. If you know, for example, that you have problems with your eyes straying, you will put forth a conscious effort to deny yourself brief glances upon the bodies of others – even to (innocently) ‘admire their beauty, but no more’. You know that even such small glances help to feed and give life to your lust so that it builds up slowly until one day you find yourself ‘triggered’ into having your entire person taken over to fulfill the lusts of the body.

Owen rightly notes the two things that unmortified sin will do two things in the life of the believer: weaken the soul, so that a believer will lack assurance, grow spiritually unproductive, dwell in guilt, make excuses for sin and grow further slothful in all areas of life and also to darken the soul, so that the individual’s desires and affections for sin grow and become entangled more and more with those that should be reserved for the worship of God and pursuing holiness.

Is this what your life looks like ? Do you find yourself struggling with something major and fighting it constantly, sometimes without the benefit of victory in any form ?

Look at the things which help to feed your sin. Find out what they are and set about the task of re-ordering your life so that you no longer have them as snares and points of stumbling. A man who knows he is lactose intolerant will not eat ice cream, no matter how tasty it is, lest he deal with the ‘effects’ of lactose passing from him later. A diabetic man will not, if he wants to live, snack on candy bars, lest his sugar levels go too high, he pass out and die, the sweet taste of death still upon his lips.

Are you feeding your sin or killing it ?

Soli Deo Gloria,
K. Joel Gilliard

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Published inEdification and Growth

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