Chapter 9 begins the specific instructions for mortifying sin. The Mortification of Sin is quite short. In my edition, its 14 chapters cover 160 pages. In chapter 9 Owen finally gets to “the main thing I aim at”! In other words, the first half of the book is merely an introduction.
The first direction for mortifying sin is: consider the dangerous symptoms of your lust and whether or not those symptoms are deadly. Owen describes 6 marks and symptoms of temptation and sin that mark it out as particularly deadly. He describes these 6 marks as “some” of the deadly signs. So this list of 6 should not be considered exhaustive.
The first mark of a deadly lust is inveterateness. I can’t recall the last time I used “inveterate” in conversation. Probably because I never have. Inveterate refers to something that is long-established and unlikely to change. It is something that is habituated. The longer sin has made its home in your heart, the harder it will be to remove.
The second mark someone is infected with a particularly deadly sin is when the heart convinces him peace should be made with sin. What believer would possibly tell himself that it is okay to sin? Not many, so the heart takes more indirect routes to arrive at the same destination. First, the heart may convince the man that everything else is okay, so this sin must not be so bad. A second way to excuse sin is to simply gain allowance for it by asking God to forgive it. I will obey God in other matters, but in this, God will just have to give me mercy.
The third sign of a particularly deadly sin is frequent success of temptation. This temptation and sin is so successful, that the soul actually comes to delight in it. So strong is the temptation and sin, that even when on occasion the sin is not carried out, the soul inwardly delights in the sin and regrets not being able to bring forth the action of sin.
The fourth sign sin has taken possession of the will is when a man will only fight sin with the un-beneficial consequences of it. When men seek to fight sin only be the fear or shame of getting caught; by the discomfort of punishment sin might bring; they are near to death. A man who fights sin with law, instead of the gospel is one who is possessed by sin and on the verge of utter defeat.
The fifth dangerous symptom is when a sin is sent as a chastening judgment by God. This is terrifying to me. What a horrible possibility to consider: that God would use entangling sin to punish his child. How could one know if God was punishing your sin with more sin? How were you dealing with sin before entanglement in this sin? Have you been leading a life of spiritual negligence? Have you been living with no self-control? Do you have other un-repented sin that you are content to live with? Have you spurned God’s previous mercies? Are you basically conformed to the world? If these things are true, God may have cast you into even greater sin. Your soul is in peril.
The sixth sign of a deadly sin is when you have already withstood God’s previous dealings with it. If God has dealt with you in your sin, and you have hardened your heart against God’s Spirit; your only hope is a sovereign act of God’s grace (Is. 57:17-18). While Owen does not cite the passage, the situation seems very similar to the one in Hebrews 6:4-6. Someone who has refused the conviction from the reading and preaching of God’s word, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is close to unspeakable evil.
Chapter 9 of The Mortification of Sin is a thunderbolt. Books could be written from it. An entire of series of sermons could be preached from it.