Chapter 4 is Owen’s last chapter addressing the statement: why believers must be about the business of mortifying sin. Why should I set to work putting to death the sinful speech patterns of my flesh? Because the life, vigor, and comfort of my spiritual life is greatly dependent upon putting such sin to death.
Whatever we want from God in our spiritual life falls under one of two heads: either a strong, powerful, vigorous spiritual life; or peace, comfort, and consolation in our spiritual life. We tend to oscillate between these two needs. I don’t know that one ever really needs or desires one part to the exclusion of the other, but there are certainly times when power is needed more than comfort and times when peace is more needed than power.
Whatever the spiritual need, it will not come without mortification. I appreciate how Owen is careful to say that the connection is not “necessarily tied to it.” Throughout these first chapters, he is careful to guard against the person who might be taking his counsel as some sort of spiritual legalism. Again, holiness is not a matter of keeping rules. Even when the rules are God’s rules. Paul did that, and he ended up counting it all worthless. We use God’s means for obtaining peace, but “the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.”
There is a chance I could completely, so much as lies in me, put to death the deeds of sinful speech and I might still feel weak and helpless before the Lord. By the Spirit I might so root out sinful speech that my first impulse when getting stuck behind a slow driver is not to utter profanity; and I might still be unsettled and restless in my spirit. But God does promise life…
It is the Spirit alone who communicates these two great blessings of life and peace. And the Spirit does this on the basis of God’s work of adoption and justification. The Spirit’s work alone, communicating to us the blessings of justification and adoption is the “immediate cause” of enjoying such spiritual blessings.
Still, in “our ordinary walking with God” peace and power of spiritual life depend on mortification as an “effectual influence” on spiritual vigor. This is true because of the harm sin does to the soul. Sin weakens the soul, depriving it of vigor. Sin darkens the soul, depriving it of peace. Sin “untunes and unframes the heart itself, by entangling its affections.”
I can be a pretty miserable person. Which is to say, I can be a pretty miserable Christian. These funks can go on for quite some time. As they occur, and are occurring now, I recognize that I am the one to blame. The Lord sometimes withdraws himself, or the blessings of his presence, for no apparent reason. But I am not sure I have ever experienced that. When I am miserable, it is pretty much my own fault.
Mortifying the deeds of sinful speech might not help me feel any better spiritually. I could go on, doing (or not doing) exactly the same things and my life would probably continue the same. Or I could fight sin. I could, by the Spirit, put to death the things that are killing me spiritually. As Owen illustrates in this chapter, when you start pulling out all the weeds, the good stuff grows better. Yes, it is God who gives the growth. But he gives men the ho. “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”
Do you want God’s power and peace? “Mortification is the soul’s vigorous opposition to self; wherein sincerity is most evident.”