Mortification of Sin chapter 9: 6 Marks of a deadly sin

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.

The Mortification of Sin, chapter 8: You gotta be all in

If a man is going to mortify sin he must be a believer. If a man is to mortify sin, he must really desire to mortify sin. This is Owen’s second general principle for anyone seeking victory over sin: do you really want it? The battle with sin cannot be entered into half-heartedly. Anyone not ready battle to the death should just stay at home (Deut. 20:5-9; Luke 14:26-33; Matt. 8:21-22).

When Owen calls for total dedication, he is calling for total dedication. It is not enough to be devoted to the idea of mortification. It is not enough to be devoted to the duty of mortifying a particular sin. To secure victory, one must be devoted to mortification of all sins. It is not enough for me to devote myself to cleaning up one area of my like while I still pleasure in mud baths is other areas of life.

Key to this endeavor is hating sin as sin. Mortification of sin does not mean, just the really big sins; just the really gross sins; just the sins that are really embarrassing to me; just the sins that could really get me in trouble… We must be watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets God, not just the things that grieve us. Paul exhorts us to cleanse ourselves of every defilement and to bring holiness to completion (2 Cor. 7:1). “So…it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil, and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.”

Owen does not make it clear in so many words in this chapter; but by this counsel he is not expecting a believer to gain complete mastery over all sins simultaneously. The emphasis is on devotion to the entire task. I cannot expect to gain victory over any one sin while I am simultaneously cherishing another sin in my heart. WE are limited and finite. We are not holy- i.e. not complete in perfections. I simply cannot fight differing manifestations of the lusts of the eyes and flesh and the pride of life with equal vigor. But it is certain I am not going to mortify this lust with my right hand while I am feeding that lust with my left hand.

In my fight against sin, I need to realize that it is a fight against all sin. I cannot kill one sin while coddling another.

John Chrysostom on Mortification

How then are we to be freed from this pest? I f we can drink a potion that is able to kill the worm within us and the serpents. “And of what nature,” it will be asked, “may this potion be, that has such power?” The precious blood of Christ, if it be received with full assurance, (for this will have power to extinguish every disease); and together with this the divine Scriptures carefully heard, and almsgiving added to our hearing; for by means of all these things we shall be enabled to mortify the affections that mar our soul.

John Chrysostom, Homily IV on St. Matthew

Confronting sin: Do I have to?

Sin can occur in multiple ways. One believer can sin against another individual. One believer could sin against a small group of people. A believer could sin against the church. Or, a believer could sin in a public manner. I am thinking mainly of the first 2 examples: I think they bring distinct challenges that broader, or more public sin, does not. What happens when someone sins against me?

In thinking through this matter, the first question that comes to mind is, “Do I really have to do something about this?” Peter says “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Proverbs indicates the wise person knows “love covers all offenses” (10:12) and covering an offense is seeking love (17:9). Paul says love “endures” and “bears” all things (1 Cor. 13:7). Do I really have to confront sin? For the sake of peace and love shouldn’t I just let it go? I mean what about that 70 times 7 stuff?

On the other hand, believers are not even to eat a meal with a professing believer who is guilty of gross sin (1 Cor. 5:9-11). Such sin includes anyone refusing to work (2 Thess. 3:6); anyone disobeying apostolic instruction (2 Thess. 3:14); anyone disagreeing with apostolic teaching (2 John 10-11); and anyone stirring up division by arguing over trivial matters (Titus 3:9-11). Whatever “covering” sin might mean, just ignoring it is certainly not included.

The apostle James points us toward reconciliation: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20). The way to cover sin is not to ignore it, or get over it; the way to cover sin is to bring someone back from it. Confronting sin is the biblical way to cover sin.

In worship, Psalm 32 teaches us how to cover sin. Sin will always be hidden. It is just a matter of who is doing the covering. The blessed man has his sin covered (Ps. 32:1). The blessed man has gone through the painful process of trying to cover his sin (Ps. 32:3-4). His body aches from trying to hide his sin from God and man. Finally, he cries out to the Lord confessing his sin and bringing it out into the open. When he uncovers his sin (32:5), he finds the Lord covers it in His own forgiveness (32:1). Instead of hiding his sin, he hides himself in the Lord (32:7) and finds himself surrounded by the Lord’s faithful love (32:10).

In wisdom, Proverbs 28:13 echoes Psalm 32: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Yes, strictly speaking, this applies to the sinner and not to the one sinned against. If loving another person, however, means seeking their best, than we should desire to see someone guilty of sin confess that sin and not simply ignore it.

So one stream of biblical texts seems to encourage overlooking, covering, hiding sin; while another stream encourages not hiding sin, but confessing it. Both of these come together in well know sin-confronting passage of Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus, in whom is hid the treasures of all wisdom, lays out the path of confronting sin while covering it.

You do have to confront sin. But you have to do it as quietly as possible. Sin is not confronted on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Sin is confronted in person: face-to-face. If that does not work, some trusted friends are taken along to try to bring about confession. As a final resort, things are laid out before the church so the body of Christ may press and pray for confession and saving from death.

Mortification of sin chapter 7

Having completed a basic description of what mortification of sin is and is not, in chapter 7 Owen begins describing how mortification is accomplished. Chapter 7 presents the first rule: only believers can mortify sin. “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.” So only the one who is truly “in Christ” has the ability to mortify sin.

Only the believer in Christ is able to mortify sin because only the believer in Christ is given the Holy Spirit of Christ. And it is only the Holy Spirit who makes the work of mortification effectual. The Spirit unites us to Christ and all his benefits. It is the Spirit who unites us into the death and resurrection of Jesus: the death that makes killing sin possible; the resurrection that makes living to righteous possible.

There are three dangers of an unbeliever attempting mortification: first, it is not the work God calls unbelievers to. God calls unbelievers to repent of their sin and place faith in Jesus Christ. Secondly, an unbeliever might seem outwardly successful in the task! As the Bible indicates, even worldly wisdom is effective in changing outward behavior. But “human precepts and teachings…are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:22-23). Third, the unbeliever will ultimately fail. This failure is likely to convince him that mortification is impossible. Not realizing that mortification is impossible for the unregenerate; his failure will keep him from turning to the fountain of living waters.

Last week was not the best for me. I let other things crowd my thinking and I devote myself to mortifying my sin. This chapter basically gives me a week off of from active duties. I am a believer in Christ. He is my only hope of salvation and I am depending on him for all righteousness. So I have a week to go back and review some previous weeks…and try to do what I should be doing to put Owen’s counsel in practice. By the Spirit…

Advent versed 2

What then could ever be equal to these good tidings?

God on earth, man in Heaven;

and all became mingled together,

angels joined the choirs of men,

men had fellowship with the angels,

and with the other powers above:

and one might see the long war brought to an end,

and reconciliation

made between God

and our nature

the devil brought to shame,

demons in flight,

death destroyed,

Paradise opened,

the curse blotted out,

sin put out of the way,

error driven off,

truth returning,

the word of godliness everywhere sown, and flourishing in its growth,

the polity of those above planted on the earth,

those powers in secure intercourse with us,

and on earth angels

continually haunting,

and hope abundant

touching things to come.


John Chrysostom Homily 1 The Gospel of St. Matthew

Mortification of Sin chapter 6: 3 General Descriptions of what mortification is

In chapter 6 of The Mortification of Sin, John Owen gives three general descriptions of what the mortification of sin is .This follows the 5 general descriptions in chapter 5 of what mortifying a sin is not. (I wonder if the book should be entitled The Mortifying of Sin as the continual nature of the work of mortification is often repeated.)  Owen is widely circling the prey. These general principles will give way to general directions in the next chapter which will give way to particular directions in still future chapters.

Since every sin is the result of a habitual lust, such lust and sin must be fought habitually. The only reason one particular sin does not overcome a man is because he is related to sin like a  your old with five dollars in a candy store- there is just so much to choose from. Nevertheless, his general inclination is toward himself and sin. And eventually, he will find his favorite candy. Mortifying sin is attacking the roots of sin and the strengths of its habituating nature. Sin with violence, earnestness, and frequency rises up to provoke, entice, and disquiet the soul. It must be confronted at the foundational and fundamental levels.

The strongest temptations and lusts seek hospitable ground to grow in. Lust and sin find out where a man is naturally weakest, and there take root. Lust “falls in with the natural constitution and temper, with a suitable course of life, with occasions.” Sin attacks and latches on where are most prone to give in.

Just as men have many different constitutions and tempers, so does sin. Some sins are obvious, open, and visible; e.g. sexual sins. Some sins primarily focus internally on the destruction of the soul; e.g. worldliness. A man might outwardly appear well, serene, and holy; but sin might be as dominant in his life as in the most flamboyant of sodomites.

Such sin must be weakened at the habit. The life and vigor animating sin must be cut off. Sin must be attacked continuously at the root. A man can pick the bitter fruit off a tree as long as he wants. As long as the root remains, the fruit will be rotten. As long as you are content to focus on the “appearing lust” of sin but leave the “principle and root untouched” little to no progress will be made in mortifying sin.

Turning to myself, as long as my goal is only to stop swearing when I am alone in the car or when I think no one can hear me, my soul will remain profane. I am not really going to put profanity to death until I get to the death-giving roots of my profanity.

Secondly, mortification is always mortifying. Man must be under sure conviction of the sinfulness of sin. Man must be convinced of the danger of sin; the peril of sin; the end of sin. As long as man thinks lightly of sin, he will not take up arms against it. Under the conviction of the sinfulness of sin, man will be eager to do battle with it.

The one doing battle with sin, will wage a wise warfare. A crucial aspect of this is studying the enemy. What are the “counsels and designs” of my lusts? What are the ends of my sin? “How and by what means” has temptation formerly prevailed in my life? What are sin’s ways and progress in my life? What are its advantages? How has it triumphed? The wise man finds out “the subtleties, policies and depths of any indwelling sin.”

When this is done, one is ready to load sin daily with all the things that are “grievous, killing, and destructive to it.” The wise soldier is tenacious and never stops fighting, even when the enemy is quiet. The one fighting against sin is always seeking to give it “new wounds, new blows, every day.”

Thirdly, mortifying does result in mortification! The one fighting against sin does actually gain victory over sin. Not victory in the sense that sin never bothers him again. But victory in the sense that sin is immediately confronted and successfully overcome whenever lust stirs temptations.

Now I saw when a man comes to this state and condition that lust is weakened in the root and principle, that its motions and actions are fewer and weaker than formerly, so that they are not able to hinder his duty nor interrupt his peace; when he can, in a quiet, sedate frame of spirit, find out and fight against sin, and have success against it; then sin is mortified in some considerable measure, and notwithstanding all its opposition, a man may have peace with God all his days.

And this victory all comes from man’s wise warfare? No. The deep-rooted lusts of sins are replaced by contrary “graces of the Spirit.” Pride is weakened by the Spirit’s gift of humility; passion by patience; uncleanness by purity; worldliness by heavenly-mindedness. Daily fighting against sin is only by the promptness and vigor of the new man created by the Spirit using all the comforts and weapons He provides. This is the victory granted by the new covenant of grace: the covenant in which God promises to place is Spirit in all His people.