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The Mortification of Sin (1656)

by John Owen

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Written by John Owen, one of the best known of the Puritans. In The Mortification of Sin, John Owen insisted on the importance of the Christian dealing effectively with their sinful tendencies and attitudes. He believed that God, through his Word and Spirit, had provided the guidelines and the power for this to be achieved. Owen effectively dismisses various excuses for not engaging in self scrutiny and yet avoids the current trend of self absorption. In so doing he provides principles to help believers live lives of holiness. As with all of Owen's writings, continues to be widely read and greatly appreciated to this day.… (more)
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This edition was very easy to read. Owen's writing tends to be systematic in its explorations of a subject, as he doesn't want to miss a thing, and this book was no exception. But it was still helpful and searching, and stirred me up to pray on multiple occasions when I felt cold in heart. ( )
  lachlanp | Dec 14, 2020 |
A great little book that will make you think differently about the sin that so easily entangles us causes us to not look to the Jesus and the finished work on the cross. ( )
  david__clifford | Feb 3, 2016 |
I'm thankful for this abridgment, easing my way into this difficult but enduringly helpful classic. I plan to re-read it in the future. It's a how-to manual for an exceedingly difficult procedure (killing sin) that we're constantly and insidiously bending away from; these short pages show you how and convince you towards action. Praise God for His sanctification work in His people! ( )
  acotnoir | Oct 13, 2013 |
LibraryThing The Mortification of Sin, John Owen, 1656, abridged by Richard Rushing, Banner of Truth, 2004

Originally entitled Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers; the Necessity, Nature and Means of It, it is essentially an exposition of Romans 8:13. Owens dealt with a topic seldom expounded today, the need for Christian to engage in a life-long struggle, through faith in Christ and by the power of the Spirit [this is what is meant by “mortify”], against the sinful and corrupt tendencies which continue to work in them till the day they die. The Publishers, January 2004 p. xii

If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom. 8:13). p. 1

… “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Col. 3:5, AV). Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? You must always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work; always be killing sin or it will be killing you. 5

Every time sin rises to tempt or entice, it always seeks to express itself in the extreme. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression and every unbelieving thought would be atheism. It is like the grave that is never satisfied. 8
Today, true mortification is all but lost between the rigid, stubborn frame of spirit which is earthly, legal, harsh, critical, consistent with wrath, envy, malice and pride, on the one hand, and pretenses of liberty, grace, and I know not what [the cross, “the Gospel”], on the other. 10
The main point thus far: Even while we claim the meritorious mortification of our sin through the work of the cross of Christ, and though the implantation of our new life in Christ is in opposition to and destructive of the expression of sin, sin remains, acts, and works in the best of believers while we are yet in this world. It must be our constant daily duty to mortify it. 11
… most of the professors that have apostatized … after having become acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel, they became weary of their spiritual duties. 12
They [who falsely teach about mortification] have their outside endeavors, bodily exercises, self-performances, and mere legal duties without the least mention of Christ or His Spirit. 15
Praying, fasting, watching, mediation, and the like, certainly have their use for the business at hand, but many consider them as the fountain and not the stream coming from the fountain. … In a word, they have many means to mortify the natural man, but none to mortify lust and corruption. … They have fallen upon the natural man instead of the corrupt old man. They have fallen upon the body that we live in, instead of the body of death. 16
But how does the Spirit give us victory? By our living in the Spirit and walking after the Spirit. As we abound in the graces of the Spirit and walk according to them, the fruits of the Spirit restrict the fruits of the flesh, because the works of the flesh are contrary to the works of the Spirit. This renewing of us by the Holy Spirit, as it is called (Titus 3:5), is one great way of mortification. He causes us to grow, thrive, flourish, and abound in the graces which are contrary, opposite, and destructive to all the works of the flesh, and contrary to the thriving of indwelling sin itself. … He begins this work, as to its kind, and then carries it on by degrees. 18

As we walk with God we desire greatly His strength, comfort, power and peace. The realization of these, and thus the joy of our spiritual life, depends greatly upon the mortification of sin. But notice: 1. I do not say they proceed from it, as though they were necessarily tied to it. A man may be carried on in a constant course of mortification all his days, and yet perhaps never enjoy a good day of peace and consolation. So it was with Heman in Psalm 88. His life was a life of perpetual mortification and walking with God, yet terrors and wounds were his portion all his days. But God singled out Heman, a choice friend, to make him an example to those who afterwards should be in distress. Can we complain if it is with us as it was with Heman, that eminent servant of God? This shall be his praise to the end of the world. God makes it His prerogative to speak peace and consolation. ‘I will do that work,’ says God, ‘I will comfort him’ (see Isa. 57:18-19). But how? By an immediate work of the [a] new creation: ‘I create it,’ says God. The use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative. 2. Mortification is not the immediate means that God has instituted to give us life, vigor, courage and consolation. The immediate cause of these privileges is [the resting in and experiencing of] our adoption. ‘The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God’ (Rom. 8:16). Our spiritual life, vigor, courage, and consolation, then, come at the hand of the Spirit as we sense and understand our adoption and justification. 21-22

Sin untunes and unframes the heart itself, by entangling its affections. It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God. 23
But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, and the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), there will be room for grace to thrive and flourish, the graces that God gives will act their part, and be ready for every use and purpose! 25
How can he gain victory enough, even though it [his sin, lust, corruption, flesh] is not utterly destroyed, yet, in his contest with it, he may be enabled to maintain his power, strength, and peace in communion with God? 26
There may doubtless be times of wonderful success by the Spirit and grace of Christ, and such a great victory that a man may have almost constant triumph over it; but the utter killing and destruction of it, we cannot expect in this life. Paul, who was a choice saint and a pattern for believers in faith, love, and all the fruits of the Spirit, who had no equal in the world, himself said: ‘Not that I had already obtained this or am already perfect’ (Phil. 3:12). 27
Our moral and holy habits exert themselves differently from lust. Moral habits speak to the soul gently and appropriately as they should. Sinful and depraved habits arrive with violence and impetuousness. 33
… lust gets its strength by temptation. When a suitable temptation falls in line with a lust, the lust obtains a new life, vigor, power, violence and rage that it did not seen capable of before. 34
… when the heart at any time recognizes sin and temptation in action, seducing it and forming sinful imaginations to put the lust into practice, the heart must immediately see what is happening, bring the sin to the law of God and the love of Christ, condemn it, and follow it to execute it to the uttermost. 38
We must implant, promote the continual residence of, and cherish those graces that stand in direct opposition to the lust. So, for example, by the implanting and growth by humility, pride is weakened. Passion is weakened by patience, uncleanness by purity of mind and conscience, and love of this world by heavenly-mindedness. These graces of the Spirit, as they are expressed in various ways, weaken the perplexing lusts that wage their warfare against us. 39
It is the duty of preachers to plead with men about their sins, but we must always remember to speak in such a way as to lead them to the discovery of their state and condition. Otherwise we may lead men to formality and hypocrisy and not accomplish the true end of preaching the gospel. … Drive the conviction to the heart, not just particular sins. We must not call men to mortification, but to believing. 47
We must hate all sin, as sin, and not just that which troubles us. Love for Christ, because He went to the cross, and hate for sin that sent Him there, is the solid foundation for true spiritual mortification. To seek mortification only because a sin troubles us proceeds from self-love. … These are just as sinful as the one that troubles you. 50
God delights in the abundance of beauty and excellencies in the hearts of his children more than in the most glorious works of other men. 67
To have peace with God and strength to walk before Him [to glorify Him] is the goal of the great promises of the covenant of grace. In these things is the life of our souls. Going on without these, in reasonable abundance, is to die while we live! 70
If ever you have enjoyed peace with God, if ever His terrors have made you afraid, if you have ever enjoyed strength to walk with Him, if you have ever mourned in your prayers, or if you have been troubled because of your weakness, then think of the dangers that hang over your head! 71
The Holy Spirit has chosen our hearts for a dwelling place, and He is there to do for us all that our souls desire. 74
How few are there that walk in beauty and glory! … Sin lies as a worm at the root of obedience and corrodes and weakens it day by day. 75
Lay your particular corruption next to the law and let its pressure weigh heavily on your conscience. Consider the law in its holiness, spirituality, severity, and see if you can stand before it in your corruption. … Consider how righteous it is that every one of your transgressions should receive a just reward of judgment. … If you can plead pardon, that will be well and good, but if not, the law will do its work and you will be condemned. 76-77
Bring your lust to the gospel. Not for relief, but for further conviction of your 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! … Allow your conscience to consider these things every day. … Consider how He might have been against you and made you a shame and reproach in the world. 78-80
Seek to keep your heart in a continual awe of the majesty of God. Realize that the most learned and eminent, and the nearest and most familiar in communion with God, still in this life, know but very little of Him and His glory. 89
There are some truths of God that He has taught us to speak of. He has even guided us in our expressions of them. But when we have done so we do not really fully understand these things. All we can do is believe and admire. 94
The truth is that we all know enough of Him to love Him more than we do, to delight in Him and serve Him, to believe Him and to obey Him, and to put our trust in Him much beyond our current attainments. Our darkness and weakness is no excuse for our negligence and disobedience. Who can say that he has lived up to the knowledge that he has of the perfections, excellencies and will of God? God’s purpose in giving us any knowledge of Himself is that we may glorify Him as God. … But we must all acknowledge that we have never thoroughly been transformed into the image of the knowledge that we have. If we had used our talents better, we might have been trusted with more. 97
The excellence of a believer is not that he has a large apprehension of things, but that what he does understand, which may be very little, he sees in the light of the Spirit of God. He has a saving, soul-transforming light. This is what gives us communion with God. 98
… the purpose of all gospel revelation is not to unveil God in His essential glory that we might see Him in the fullness of who He is. The gospel only declares so much of Him as is sufficient to be the foundation of our faith, love, obedience and coming to Him. 99
It is the great prerogative of God in His sovereignty to give grace to whom He pleases. ‘He has mercy on whom He wills’ (Rom. 9:18). … So, in His communication of peace and joy to those in a state of grace, He often acts in a way that confounds our expectations. 102
Our faith views Him in different ways, just as the reasons for which we seek communion with Him differ. Sometimes we view His holiness, sometimes His power, Sometimes His love, sometimes His favor with His Father. But when we come for healing and peace our faith looks especially to the blood of the covenant and to His sufferings, for, ‘with His stripes we are healed,’ and ‘upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace’ (Isa. 53:5). 104
So says the prophet Isaiah (8:17): ‘I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob.’ 109
Yes, but perhaps you were in too much of a hurry! You sought peace outwardly, but you did not feed upon the promise and mix it with your faith, so that it might diffuse all its virtues into your soul. You only dealt with your condition superficially. 112
God will justify us from our sins, but He will not justify the least sin in us. 112
In our communion with God, He is most troubled by our unbelieving fears. These keep us from receiving the strong comfort He is so willing to give us! But you will reply, ‘We are back where we started. When God speaks, we must receive it; that is true, but how shall we know when it is He who speaks?’ 113
… as to when we may take the comfort of a promise to ourselves: If the Word of the Lord does good to your soul, He is the one who speaks it. If it humbles you and cleanses you, it is fulfilling the purpose for which it was given you, namely to endear, to cleanse, to melt and bind to obedience, and to self-emptiness, and so on. 115

[Two directions for our part in the actual direct work of mortification conclude this book: (1) gaze upon the cross and (2) consider that it is the Holy Spirit entirely who accomplishes mortification.]

Direction 1: Set your faith upon Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in the light of Christ’s great work, and you will die a conqueror. You will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet. 116
By faith ponder this, that though you are in no way able to conquer your own disordered state, and though you are weary of fighting it, and though you are ready to faint, there is enough in Jesus Christ to give you relief! ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me’ (Phil. 4:13). 117
If He came to give repentance, then also mortification! True repentance must include mortification. Christ tells us that we obtain purging grace by abiding in Him (John 15:3). To trust in the fullness we have in Christ for our supply is an important part of our abiding in Christ. Both our introduction into Christ and our abiding in Christ are by faith (Rom. 11:19-20). 117
Therefore, let your soul, by faith, dwell on such thoughts as these: I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, and I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is the doorway to the ruin of my soul. I do not know what to do… Yes, He can make this habitation of dragons, this heart, which is so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations, to be a place of bounty and fruitfulness unto Himself (see Isa. 35:7)! … The effectiveness of this consideration will be found only in actual practice. 118-9
… raise up your heart in faith with an expectation of relief from Christ. 119
But you might say; ‘What ground do I have to build such an expectation on, so as not to be deceived?’ 120
Let this, then, be a fixed principle in your hearts. If you do not get help from Him, you will not find help from any one! 121
… we should expect relief from Christ in ‘time of need’! … …expecting relief from Christ, on the basis of His mercy as our high priest, will be a better and speedier means of destroying your lust and the disorder of your soul than all the most rigid efforts at self-mortification that the sons of men engage in. 123
Particular promises to this effect are innumerable; let your soul always be furnished with them, especially those that seem appropriate to your condition. 123
…make diligent use of every means by which Christ may reveal Himself to the soul. … All these are of great use when they are based on this expectation of help from Christ and spring from this root, though they are only of use when this is their basis. 124-5

[two final particulars regarding our part, our part of meditating on the cross:] 1. Place your faith particularly upon the death, blood, and cross of Christ; that is, on Christ as crucified and slain. Mortification is based particularly upon the death of Christ. This is one of the main purposes of the death of Christ, and shall assuredly be accomplished by it. He died to destroy the works of the devil [I Jn. 3:8; Heb. 2:14]. Both our fallen nature, as a result of Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, and the strength of his continued suggestions in daily life, were destroyed by the work of Christ! He died to destroy it all. He ‘gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good words’ (Titus 2:14). 125

1Jn 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
Heb 2:14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

This was His aim and intention in giving Himself for us. In this He will not fail! He died that we might be freed from the power of our sins, and be purified from all of our defiling lusts. This purpose of His cannot fail! 125 continued
This [our sanctification], by virtue of His death, will be accomplished by varying degrees. Our washing, purging, and cleansing is everywhere ascribed to His blood (I Jn. 1:7; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 1:5). … His virtue will go out to us for this purpose. All the supplies of the Spirit, and all the expressions of His grace and power come solely from this. 126
[How does this work?!] This Paul presses home by several considerations, all based upon the death of Christ, in the following verses of Romans 6 [vs. 3-6]… 126-7

The death of Christ crucified our old man [once-and-for-all, this happens at the moment of salvation], that the body of sin [evil character-habits and evil inclinations/flesh] might be destroyed [gradually—the character (what we call “Christlikeness”); the flesh is not destroyed, reduced or improved in this life—it can be weakened]. Our being crucified with Him does not refer to time [I think it does in the sense that we died in Him in “time and space”], but causality. His death was meritoriously the cause of our victory. By His death He secured the Holy Spirit for us to mortify sin. From His death comes virtue [grace] for our crucifying of the flesh. He was our Representative and Example. We shall surely be crucified to sin, as He was for our sin. This is what Paul means. In death, Christ destroyed the works of the devil, and secured the Holy Spirit for us, ensuring the destruction of sin, as to its reign in believers, that it should not obtain its end or dominion. 127

2. When you meditate upon the death of Christ, keep in mind the power available to us, and your desire to be conformed to Christ (Phil. 3:10; Col. 3:3; I Pet. 1:18-19). Let faith gaze upon Christ as He is set forth crucified and dying for us. Look upon Him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, and dying (I Cor. 15:3; I Pet. 1:18-19; 5:1-2; Col. 1:13-14). Bring Him in that condition into your hear by faith. Apply His blood so shed to your corruptions. Do this daily. 127-128

Direction 2: … In one word, this whole work, which I have described as our duty, is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit in all its parts and all its degrees. He alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil, guilt, and danger of the corruption, lust or sin that is to be mortified. An unbelieving heart (which we all have in part) will compromise easily, unless it is overpowered by clear and powerful convictions. Preaching and reasoning alone cannot cause the soul to feel these truths, and to produce a suitable response! The Spirit alone reveals to us the fullness of Christ for our relief. This consideration guards the heart from false ways, and from despair. The Spirit alone establishes the heart in the expectation of relief from Christ. The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power. By the Spirit we are baptized into the death of Christ. The Spirit is the Author and Finisher of our sanctification. All of our soul’s prayers to God in our need are supported by the Spirit. 128-130
1 vote | keithhamblen | Apr 6, 2012 |

(37) Even when we think that a lust is dead because it is quiet, we must labour to give it new wounds and new blows every day.

(43) Mortification is not the present duty of unregenerate men. God calls them to conversion first.

(50) To seek mortification only because a sin troubles us proceeds from self-love.

(57) ...to satisfy your conscience when your heart is convicted of sin is a desperate device of the heart that is in love with sin.

(67) But consider in your mind that the guilt of sinning against grace is more serious than if you did not have any grace at all.

(87) We need to be exercised with such meditations as will fill us at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of our own vileness.

(103) If men are wounded by sin, disturbed and perplexed, and realize that there is no remedy for them except in the mercy of God and through the blood of Christ; and if such look to Him and His covenant promises, and upon this basis quiet their hearts, believing that it will indeed be well with them, and that God will be gracious to them -- and yet they do not detest with utter hatred the sin in question -- this is to heal themselves and not to be healed by God. ( )
  dtjohnnymonkey | Sep 19, 2006 |
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Written by John Owen, one of the best known of the Puritans. In The Mortification of Sin, John Owen insisted on the importance of the Christian dealing effectively with their sinful tendencies and attitudes. He believed that God, through his Word and Spirit, had provided the guidelines and the power for this to be achieved. Owen effectively dismisses various excuses for not engaging in self scrutiny and yet avoids the current trend of self absorption. In so doing he provides principles to help believers live lives of holiness. As with all of Owen's writings, continues to be widely read and greatly appreciated to this day.

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