Today we continue our study through John Owen’s book, The Mortification of Sin. The idea is we read this together and that we read the corresponding chapters prior to the blog post each week. This week we consider chapters 11 and 12.
As we read, may we keep in mind Owen’s goal in writing this book as stated in the preface: “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)
Chapter 11, A Tender Conscience and a Watchful Heart
Owen is in the midst of giving us nine preparatory directions for gaining victory over sin. In the process he emphasizes both the law and the gospel and speaks to both believers and unbelievers. It is important to pay attention and notice the difference. Owen is not shy or timid and he does not coddle his readers. Reading this book by Owen is different from most of what I read or even hear preached. He deals with matters of eternal life and death in a very serious manner. It’s hard, but good; challenging, but edifying. I’ve heard more than one person say they are “scared” to read Owen. Perhaps this is a good reason to read “together” and talk about any questions we may have.
Preparatory Direction 3: Charge your conscience with the guilt of indwelling sin.
Our first instinct may be to react against this charge, after all, hasn’t Christ freed us from the guilt of sin? I often pronounce this gracious truth during our gathered worship service following our confession of sin: Believer in Jesus Christ, you are free from the guilt and power of sin. Owen would say a hearty “Amen” to this. He is not saying that believers are guilty before God, but he is exhorting us to consider what sin is and what it rightly deserves...AND he is exhorting us to consider if we have truly been freed from this guilt. Owen speaks against a false assurance that claims freedom from the guilt and power of sin while at the same time purposely allows any sin to be indulged in. You cannot claim to be free from the guilt of sin if at the same time you actively pursue and engage in sin without repentance. Owen turns to the law of God to give us a clear view of our guilt. He then turns to the gospel, not for relief for guilt (as I expected), but for further conviction of our guilt!
Look on Him whom you have pierced, and let it trouble you. Say to your soul, ‘What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on!...Do I count fellowship with Him of so little value that, for this vile lust’s sake, I have hardly left Him any room in my heart?
Owen then encourages us to reflect on all the benefits we have under the gospel so that we might see, in comparison, the heinousness and guilt of sin.
Preparatory Direction 5: Consider whether the trouble that you are perplexed with is related to your particular make-up and nature.
How relevant this is in our day! Whatever we may claim about how we were made or what tendencies and desires we may have, Owen contends that “this is not in the least a just excuse for the guilt of your sin...It is from the Fall and the original depravity of our nature that the poison and nourishment of any sin abides in our natural temper.” This simply means we must be more humble and diligent in our fight against sin and use any and all means necessary to overcome sin, provided those means are undertaken in complete reliance upon the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, having summarized Owen’s exhortation on this point, if you find yourself having a particular craving for some sin in your make-up, I would not simply say to you: here, read Owen, it’s just further evidence of your guilt. We are reading the abridged version of Owen’s book, and I did not take the time to read the full version to find out what else he may say on this matter, but there is much more that ought to be considered in this struggle. The compassion of Christ and the hope of the gospel must undergird our thoughts on these matters. At the same time, if Owen is exhorting those who claim to know and love Jesus but who would excuse their sin because of their make-up, his serious dealings with sin are helpful and needed.
In the remainder of chapter 11 Owen wants us to give ourselves to serious, constant vigilance in our fight against sin. If we do this in other areas of our lives, should we not make the effort in the matters of the soul? For example, if, as the new year approaches, you will make all kinds of resolutions and commitments to losing weight and getting in shape, if you will pay money to join the gym, or give up sleep to get up early and spend up to an hour a day doing “Insanity”, if you will stop buying sweets, etc...all in an effort to improve your health, should you not also put forth that same kind of effort in your fight against sin? Or, as Owen asks: Are the things of the soul of less importance?
Chapter 12, Humility
In this chapter Owen encourages us to meditate on and think often about the greatness of God. This will not only lead us to praise and worship and love and serve God, but it will also cultivate humility in us as we have a clearer picture of our own vileness before this holy and majestic God. As the reality of God’s holiness grows in our minds and the corresponding reality of our own sinfulness also grows in our minds, the gap between the holy God and our sinful selves widens. What can possibly fill or bridge that gap? Only the good news of the gospel, the cross of Jesus Christ, the work of our wonderful Savior. Or as Paul said it: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)
Read chapter 13 by next Wednesday, December 9.
It would be great to hear what you gained from these chapters. Feel free to post comments below or talk with one another about what you are reading. Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.