The Mortification of Sin. By John Owen. Abridged by Richard Rushing. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004.
I certainly can’t speak for you, my reader, but as for me, I have an ongoing battle with sins that is draining, frustrating, overwhelming, and confusing! (We probably all wrestle this way with some indwelling sin!) I need help in my battle against the flesh, and I always welcome good, sound counsel on the matter. Therefore, I found John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin one of the most insightful and meaningful tools for my personal struggles with sin. I prayed to the Lord that He would give me something in the reading of this book that would further equip me in the lifelong battle to dismantle sin in the heart. The Lord answered that prayer!
Owen prefaces his work by stating that his reasons for writing on this particular subject were (1) the difficulty most Christians have in dealing with temptations and (2) the dangerous mistakes some are making in dealing with this subject. The dangers he refers to are the many external disciplines or devices that are used in an effort to defeat indwelling sin. Owen warns that such practices are useless if divorced from the work of the Spirit, and many are unbiblical as well. Everything from asceticism to the setting of goals is vain if pursued apart from the Spirit! There is no doubt that Owen’s work is relevant today because contemporary Christians are still prone to fall into one of the above categories (reasons).
Owen’s work is grounded in Romans 8:13 which says, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” He divides this verse into 5 subsections and provides instructions and scriptures under each one. The following is his 5 headings along with some profitable quotes:
To whom it is directed: “You believers” “The choicest believers...should also make their business all of their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin” (p. 2)
The condition: “If you”
The means of accomplishment: “by the Spirit” “It is a work of the Spirit, and it is by Him alone that we are to experience victory. Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, to the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world” (p. 3)
A duty: “Put to death the deeds of the body” “This whole work is done by degrees, and is to be carried on towards perfection all of our days. Thus it is the constant duty of believers to render a death blow to the deeds of the flesh, that they may not have life and strength to bring forth their destructive influence” (p. 4)
A Promise: “You will live” “The life promised is eternal life” (p. 4)
Owen follows this exegetical work with 9 Preparatory Directions on how to properly approach and handle sin and the necessary work of putting it to death. I have listed them below along with some helpful quotes as well:
Consider the symptoms that accompany a lust.
Get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of the sin with which you are troubled.
Charge your conscience with the guilt of indwelling sin. - As long as your conscience is able to justify your failure, your soul will never vigorously attempt the mortification of sin (p. 81)
Seek a constant longing and thirsting to be delivered from the power of sin.
Consider whether the trouble that you are perplexed with is related to your particular make-up and nature.
Consider what occasions your sin has taken advantage of to exert itself in the past, and watch carefully at such times.
Rise mightily against the firs sign of sin “If you allow it one step, it will take another. It is impossible to fix boundaries for sin.” (p. 85) “If you do not in this way attack temptation, you will not win the battle. If sin gains ground in your affections so that you delight in it, your understanding will also come to think little of it.” (p. 86)
We need to be exercised with such meditations as will fill us at all times with self-abasement and thought os our own vileness.
When God stirs your heart about the guilt of your sin...be careful you do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it. “When God speaks, there is not only truth in His words, there is healing” (p. 110) “If the Word of the Lord does good to your soul, He is the one who speaks it. If it humbles you and cleanses you, it is fulfilling the purpose for which it was given to you...” (p. 115)
The final chapter contained the most beneficial material for me personally. Owen warns throughout the whole work that if one engages in this battle in his own strength, he will utterly fail. Mortification of sin if a work that one does through the Spirit. All through the book, I kept asking Owen, “But how? How do I fight through the Spirit?” He finally answered my question!
Owen directs the reader to the work of Christ and the work of the Spirit for the biblical way, the ONLY way, to deal the death blow to sin! Here are some of his statements.
“Set your faith upon Christ for the killing of your sin. Live in the light of Christ’s great work, and you will die a conquerer... You will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet.” (p. 116) “Mortification is based particularly upon the death of Christ...He died to destroy the works of the devil.” (p. 125)
“Consider the part the Holy Spirit plays in mortification...”(1) convinces the heart of sin, (2) reveals the fullness of Christ, (3) establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ, (4) brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power, (5) is the Author and Finisher of our sanctification, and (6) supports our soul’s prayers to God.
Dear friend, never give up in your battle against your own personal struggles against your own personal sins! Eternal life is promised to those who put those deeds to death! I commend this classic Puritan volume to you as an aid in your battle, and remember, as Owen said, “Always be killing sin or it will be killing you.” (p. 5)