This week, I (Andy) have the distinct privilege of writing the Mortification of Sin blog. Troy asked me to do it this week while he enjoys a Thanksgiving week vacation with his family. I do confess, I have not been reading along with the blog (although I have read the book several times), so I will do my best to provide some continuity between Troy's format for the blog and my style of writing.
I do appreciate that Troy has been reminding you of John Owen's purpose in writing this book, “to promote the work of gospel mortification in the hearts of believers and direct them into safe paths where they will find rest for their souls.” (viii) This well stated and important to keep in mind. The gospel alone, through the working of the Holy Spirit in us, has the power to mortify sin in our hearts.
Chapter 9, The Dangerous Symptoms of Sin
John Owen will, in this chapter, outline several "symptoms" of sin to help us determine how deep-seated our sin is and what measures we must take in mortifying it. However, the beginning of this chapter is one of the most frightening passages in the work. Consider this portion from the first section:
If a sin has been corrupting your heart for a long time, and you have allowed it to prevail and abide in power, without vigorously attempting to kill it, and heal the wounds that it causes, this is a serious condition...When a lust has remained a long time in the heart, corrupting festering, and poisoning, it brings the soul into a woeful condition. In this instance an ordinary course of humiliation will not be sufficient. Such a lust will make deep imprints on the soul. It will make its company a habit in your affections. It will grow so familiar to your mind and conscience that they are not disturbed at its presence as some strange thing. It will so take advantage in such a state that it will often exert itself without you even taking notice of it at all. Unless a serious and extraordinary course is taken, a person in this state has no grounds to expect that his latter end shall be peace.
Owen gives us much cause to examine our lives. Let's think about our sins. Many of us struggle and fight against habitual sin. Many of us are in a battle against a sin that continues to haunt us. It is indeed painful, and sometimes frustrating. But this battle is good. It shows us that the sin has no dominion over us. We continue to fight to mortify it. We see it as a foreign invader, remnants of the old nature trying to corrupt who we are now in Christ. What Owen is talking about here, though, is a sin that we do not fight against. Notice what he says. He talks about sin that becomes familiar. He talks about sin that is so deep rooted that we do not consider it alien to ourselves. This is very different. What I think Owen is truly getting at here is this. We should not claim to belong to Christ if we are not making an effort to mortify all indwelling sin. If we are under the bondage of a sin, a sin that is so deep-rooted that we don't fight against it, we don't repent of it, we don't consider it foreign to our new nature, then we must ask the question, "Do I truly belong to Christ?" Owen sums this up when he says,
How will such a person be able to distinguish between the long abode of an unmortified lust and the dominion of sin, which cannot happen to a regenerate person?
What Owen really describes here is a person who is still in bondage to sin. This is not someone who struggles against a habitual sin, someone with desires to mortify their sin, but rather, someone who is still in need of deliverance from the bondage of sin and death. And this truly is the most deadly "symptom" of sin.
Chapter 10, Seeing Sin for What It Is
Seeing sin for what it is can be incredibly difficult, even in the lives of Believers. We become too familiar with sin, too comfortable with it, and here John Owen wants to remind us of how deadly sin truly is. Owen will give us several things to keep in mind so as to remind us of the gravity of all sin. Again, some of these are frightening as we consider the dangers of a mindset that becomes too familiar and too happy to let sin reign in our lives. Owen reminds us of not only the temporal consequences of being in bondage to sin, but also the eternal consequences.
These are difficult chapters to read and grasp. Owen is not trying to scare us or lead us to some kind of works-based salvation. Instead, what he is trying to do, I think, is spur the believer on in his battle against sin. It's as if he's saying, "Do you claim to be a believer in Jesus Christ? Then this is how we must think about sin and strive to deal with it. If we make too little of our sin, if we allow sin to have dominion over us, if we give up in our battle against sin, the we should seriously be asking whether or not we truly are new creations in Christ Jesus!" This is why he closes chapter 10 with this statement:
We must keep in mind the danger of such lust. We must keep alive in our hearts the guilt, danger, and evil of it. We should be much in the meditation of these things, and cause the heart and mind to swell on them. We should engage our thoughts in these considerations. We should not let them go from us until they have powerful influence upon our souls, and make us tremble.