[CSF] More from John Owen on Mortification
A bit more difficult reading this morning, but well worth reading.
Okay, so I was reading this section from Owen’s ‘Mortification of Sin’:
Now, the reasons why Papists can never, with all their endeavours, truly mortify any one sin, amongst others, are, —
(1.) Because many of the ways and means they use and insist upon for this end were never appointed of God for that purpose. (Now, there is nothing in religion that hath any efficacy for compassing an end, but it hath it from God’s appointment of it to that purpose.) Such as these are their rough garments, their vows, penances, disciplines, their course of monastical life, and the like; concerning all which God will say, “Who hath required these things at your hand?” and, “In vain do ye worship me, teaching for doctrines the traditions of men.” Of the same nature are sundry self-vexations insisted on by others.
(2.) Because those things that are appointed of God as means are not used by them in their due place and order, — such as are praying, fasting, watching, meditation, and the like. These have their use in the business in hand; but whereas they are all to be looked on as streams, they look on them as the fountain. Whereas they effect and accomplish the end as means only, subordinate to the Spirit and faith, they look on them to do it by virtue of the work wrought. If they fast so much, and pray so much, and keep their hours and times, the work is done. As the apostle says of some in another case, “They are always learning, never coming to any sound truth;” so they are always mortifying, but never come to any sound mortification. In a word, they have sundry means to mortify the natural man, as to the natural life here we lead; none to mortify lust or corruption.
This is the general mistake of men ignorant of the gospel about this thing; and it lies at the bottom of very much of that superstition and will-worship that hath been brought into the world. What horrible self-macerations were practised by some of the ancient authors of monastical devotion! what violence did they offer to nature! what extremity of sufferings did they put themselves upon! Search their ways and principles to the bottom, and you will find that it had no other root but this mistake, namely, that attempting rigid mortification, they fell upon the natural man instead of the corrupt old man, — upon the body wherein we live instead of the body of death.
Neither will the natural Popery that is in others do it. Men are galled with the guilt of a sin that hath 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 this heat waxes cold, and the sense of sin is worn off: and so mortification goes also, and sin returns to its former dominion. Duties are excellent food for an unhealthy soul; they are no physic for a sick soul. He that turns his meat into his medicine must expect no great operation. Spiritually sick men cannot sweat out their distemper with working. But this is the way of men who deceive their own souls; as we shall see afterward.
That none of these ways are sufficient is evident from the nature of the work itself that is to be done; it is a work that requires so many concurrent actings in it as no self-endeavour can reach unto, and is of that kind that an almighty energy is necessary for its accomplishment; as shall be afterward manifested.
—– John Owen, Mortification, chapter 3
This is one of those ‘you must know what he’s talking about to understand what he’s talking about’ passages. ‘Papists’ are an old term for Roman Catholics.
His point: ‘religious works’ in that system cannot and do not bring about the killing of sin in the individual. The things they use (rough garments, monastic and ascetic life, taking vows, etc….) do nothing to kill sin. It is the equivalent of running in a wheel in a hamster cage. Lots of energy expended, but no progress will be made. By contrast, they only use the things which God has provided for mortification: prayer, fasting, keeping close watch over the soul, etc…. sparingly. Like a man in a sinking boat filling with water, they take a cup and dump out some of the water, while buckets of water gush into the boat each second.
Always killing sin, but never actually killing it. Sort of like stabbing Wolverine from the X-Men over and over again in his leg (those who know comics or have watched the movies, know that Wolverine has the ability to heal from most wounds very rapidly).
Owen does not stop there. He moves on to talk of the ‘natural Popery’ in men – men’s natural desires to say ‘I’ll change this or change that’…..’God, if you save me from this, I’ll do this….’ . So you get folks who are falsely converted or not converted at all – they pray and fast for a small amount of time, but then eventually return to their regular course of sin overtaking them.
This has been the major reason why teaching sound doctrine and preaching the gospel and sanctification according to what the Bible says is of such paramount importance. Men can be tricked and frenzied into doing all sorts of things and thinking that it is the working of the Spirit of God, when in fact it is simply their own emotion, enthusiasm and (in many cases) the delusions of their own mind ill-informed by a misquote of scripture that they have been following.
God-told-me should never be the first answer from the believer.
This-works-for-me is not how the Christian has been called to live his/her life.
What does scripture say ?
That should be the first question and the first reference for the believer in regard to how to live the Christian life.
Don’t be deceived, my friends. God doesn’t speak ‘new revelation’ to people who haven’t taken the time to dig deeply into His already revealed Word. And what He speaks is usually just a re-iteration of what’s already been said in His Word, revealed to us in scripture. It becomes our duty to devote ourselves to finding out what it teaches and applying that to our lives diligently. Not just with surface reading and skimming, as is the habit of some, but with deep study and application.
Let your song be the song of the Psalmist in Psalm 119:1-12:
Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.
8 I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!
9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes!
Soli Deo Gloria,
K. Joel Gilliard
Theologically Correct dot Com
Get Christian Soul Food in your in-box daily:
Join the conversation on this post: