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DIRECTION 2

Get a clear and abiding sense upon thy mind and conscience of the guilt, danger and evil of sin.

The guilt of it.

It is one of the deceits of a prevailing lust to extenuate its own guilt. "Is it not a little one?"

Owen urges us to remember that since we know God and have experienced his grace, our sinning is even more terrible.

So, then, let these things, and the like considerations, lead thee to a clear sense of the guilt of thy indwelling lust, that there may be no room in thy heart for extenuating or excusing thoughts, whereby sin insensibly will get strength and prevail.

The danger of it.

(1) Of being hardened by the deceitfulness … thou shalt be able to pass over duties, praying, hearing, reading, and thy heart not in the least affected. Sin will grow a light thing to thee; thou wilt pass it by as a thing of nought …

(2) The danger of some great temporal correction.

(3) The loss of peace with God and strength to walk with God.

(4) There is the danger of eternal destruction. … That there is such a connection between a continuance in sin and eternal destruction, that though God does resolve to deliver some from a continuance in sin that they may not be destroyed, yet he will deliver none from destruction that continue in sin; so that whilst any one lies under an abiding power of sin, the threats of destruction and everlasting separation from God are to be held out to him.

The evils of it.

It grieves the Holy Spirit …

The Lord Jesus is wounded afresh by it …

It takes away a man’s usefulness … His works, his endeavours, his labours, seldom receive blessing from God. If he be a preacher, God commonly blows upon his ministry, that he shall labour in the fire, and not be honoured with any success or doing any work for God … The world is at this day full of poor withering professors. How few are there that walk in any beauty or glory! how barren, how useless are they, for the most part! Amongst the many reasons that may be assigned of this sad estate, it may justly be feared that this is none of the least effectual, — many men harbour spirit-devouring lusts in their bosoms …

This, then, is my second direction, and it regards the opposition that is to be made to lust in respect of its habitual residence in the soul :– Keep alive upon thy heart these or the like considerations of its guilt, danger, and evil; be much in the meditation of these things; cause thy heart to dwell and abide upon them; engage thy thoughts into these considerations; let them not go off nor wander from them until they begin to have a powerful influence upon thy soul, — until they make it to tremble.

source: John Owen’s Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 10.

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John Owen gives nine directions as to how to mortify sin or lust (The puritans used the word lust of sinful passions generally). The first direction is to consider whether there be any dangerous symptoms attending or accompanying indwelling lusts.

Inveterateness. If it hath lain long corrupting in thy heart, if thou hast suffered it to abide in power and prevalency, without attempting vigorously the killing of it, and the healing of the wounds by it, for some long season, thy distemper is dangerous. … When a lust hath lain long in the heart, corrupting, festering, cankering, it brings the soul to a woeful condition. … [Over a long period of time a lust will] insinuate itself more or less into all the faculties of the soul, and habituate the affections to its company and society; it grows familiar to the mind and conscience, that they do not startle at it as a strange thing, but are bold with it as that which they are wonted unto … It may be it hath tried mercies and afflictions, and those possibly so remarkable that the soul could not avoid the taking special notice of them; it may be it hath weathered out many a storm, and passed under much variety of gifts in the administration of the word … Old neglected wounds are often mortal, always dangerous. Indwelling distempers grow rusty and stubborn by continuance in ease and quiet. Lust is such an inmate as, if it can plead time and some prescription, will not easily be ejected. As it never dies of itself, so if it be not daily killed it will always gather strength.

Countenancing. Owen says that sometimes when a man has "perplexing thoughts about sin, instead of applying himself to the destruction of it, a man searches his heart to see what evidences he can find of a good condition". In other words he considers his good points so as not to feel too miserable about his sin. Alternatively, a man might cheaply apply grace and mercy to an unmortified sin without adequately dealing with it.

These and many other ways and wiles a deceitful heart will sometimes make use of, to countenance itself in its abominations. Now, when a man with his sin is in this condition, that there is a secret liking of the sin prevalent in his heart, and though his will be not wholly set upon it, yet he hath an imperfect velleity towards it, he would practise it were it not for such and such considerations, and hereupon relieves himself other ways than by the mortification and pardon of it in the blood of Christ; that man’s "wounds stink and are corrupt," and he will, without speedy deliverance, be at the door of death.

Frequency of success in sin’s seduction, in obtaining the prevailing consent of the will unto it, is another dangerous symptom. … When the sin spoken of gets the consent of the will with some delight, though it be not actually outwardly perpetrated, yet it hath success. A man may not be able, upon outward considerations, to go along with sin to that which James calls the "finishing" of it, as to the outward acts of sin, when yet the will of sinning may be actually obtained; then hath it, I say, success.

When a man fighteth against his sin only with arguments from the issue or the punishment due unto it, this is a sign that sin hath taken great possession of the will, and that in the heart there is a superfluity of naughtiness. Such a man as opposes nothing to the seduction of sin and lust in his heart but fear of shame among men or hell from God, is sufficiently resolved to do the sin if there were no punishment attending it … Those who are Christ’s, and are acted in their obedience upon gospel principles, have … a deep-grounded abhorrency of sin as sin. … But now if a man be so under the power of his lust that he hath nothing but law to oppose it withal, if he cannot fight against it with gospel weapons, but deals with it altogether with hell and judgement, which are the proper arms of the law, it is most evident that sin hath possessed itself of his will and affections to a very great prevalency and conquest. Such a person hath cast off, as to the particular spoken of, the conduct of renewing grace, and is kept from ruin only by restraining grace; and so far is he fallen from grace, and returned under the power of the law. … If thy contendings against sin be all on legal accounts, from legal principles and motives, what assurance canst thou attain unto that sin shall not have dominion over thee, which will be thy ruin? … What gospel principles do not, legal motives cannot do.

When it is probable that there is, or may be, somewhat of judiciary hardness, or at least of chastening punishment, in thy lust as disquieting. This is another dangerous symptom. That God doth sometimes leave even those of his own under the perplexing power at least of some lust or sin, to correct them for former sins, negligence, and folly. I no way doubt. … Hast thou received any eminent mercy, protection, deliverance, which thou didst not improve in a due manner, nor wast thankful for? or hast thou been exercised with any affliction without labouring for the appointed end of it?

When thy lust hath already withstood particular dealings from God against it. … God had dealt with them about their prevailing lust, and the several ways, — by affliction and desertion; but they held out against all. This is a sad condition, which nothing but mere sovereign grace can relieve a man in … God often hews men by the sword of his word in that ordinance, strikes directly on their bosom-beloved lust, startles the sinner, makes him engage unto the mortification and relinquishment of the evil of his heart. Now, if his lust have taken such hold on him as to enforce him to break these bands of the Lord, and cast these cords from him, — if it overcomes these convictions, and gets again into its old posture, — if it can cure the wounds it so receives, — that soul is in a sad condition.

source: John Owen, Mortification of Sin in Believers, chapter 9.

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Unless a man be a believer, — that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ, — he can never mortify any one sinMortification is the work of believers. … An unregenerate man may do something like it; [but]  the work itself so as it may be acceptable with God, he can never perform. … There is no death of sin without the death of Christ. … I have proved that it is the Spirit alone that can mortify sin; he is promised to do it, and all other means without him are empty and vain. How shall he, then, mortify sin that hath not the Spirit? A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.

Without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification of any one perplexing lust to be obtained. [John Owen argues that to mortify sin one must be working at mortifying all sin. Partial disobedience in one area of life will not allow successful mortification in another part of life.]

source: John Owen, Mortification of Sin in Believers, chapters 7,8.

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John Owen turns his discussion to what it means for a sin to be mortified. The things he mentions are only to be achieved in step with the Spirit. He notes that different men have different temperaments and some men’s sin is less violent than others. Nevertheless all must mortify sin.

The mortification of a lust consists in three things …

(1) An habitual weakening of it. Every lust is a depraved habit or disposition, continually inclining the heart to evil. … mortification is the weakening of this habit of sin or lust, that it shall not, with that violence, earnestness, frequency, rise up, conceive, tumultuate, provoke, entice, disquiet, as naturally it is apt to do. … Lust gets strength by temptation. … When a suitable temptation falls in with a lust, it gives it a new life, vigour, power violence, and rage, which it seemed not before to have or to be capable of.

A man may beat down the bitter fruit from a evil tree until he is weary; whilst the root abides in strength and vigour, the beating down of the present fruit will not hinder it from bringing forth more. This is the folly of some men; then set themselves with all earnestness and diligence against the appearing eruption of lust, but, leaving the principle and root untouched, perhaps unsearched out, they make but little or no progress in this work of mortification.

The weakening of its indwelling disposition … by the implanting, habitual residence, and cherishing of a principle of grace that stands in direct opposition to it and is destructive of it, is the foundation of it.

(2) In constant fighting and contending against sin. … To labour to be acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions of its success, is the beginning of this warfare. … And, indeed, one of the choicest and most eminent parts of practically spiritual wisdom consists in finding out the subtleties, policies, and depths of any indwelling sin; to consider and know wherein its greatest strength lies, — what advantage it uses to make of occasions, opportunities, temptations, — what are its pleas, pretences, reasonings, — what its stratagems, colours, excuses … and so to be always in readiness is a good part of our warfare. … To load it daily with all the things which shall after be mentioned, that are grievous, killing, and destructive to it, is the height of this contest. Such a one never thinks his lust dead because it is quiet, but labours still to give it new wounds, new blows every day.

(3) In success. Frequent success against any lust is another part and evidence of mortification. By success I understand not a mere disappointment of sin, that is be not brought forth nor accomplished, but a victory over it, and pursuit of it to a complete conquest. For instance, when the heart finds sin at any time at work, seducing, forming imaginations to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill that lusts thereof, it instantly apprehends sin, and brings it to the law of God and love of Christ, condemns it, follows it with execution to the uttermost.

Now, I say, 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.

source: John Owen, The Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 6

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The life, vigour, and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification of sin.

Strength and comfort, and power and peace, in our walking with God, are the things of our desires. Were any of us asked seriously, what it is that troubles us, we must refer it to one of these heads: — either we want strength or power, vigour and life, in our obedience, in our walking with God; or we want peace, comfort, and consolation therein.

Every unmortified sin will certainly … weaken the soul, and deprive it of its vigourdarken the soul, and deprive it of its comfort and peace.

[Every unmortified sin weakens the soul as it] 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; it lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father … It fills the thoughts with contrivances about it.

Mortification prunes all the graces of God, and makes room for them in our hearts to grow. The life and vigour of our spiritual lives consists in the vigour and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts. Now, as you may see in a garden, let there be a precious herb planted, and let the ground be untilled, and weeds grow about it, perhaps it will live still, but be a poor, withering, unuseful thing. … When, let another of the same kind be set in the ground, naturally as barren and bad as the other, but let it be well weeded, and every thing that is noxious and hurtful removed from it, — it flourishes and thrives … So it is with the graces of the Spirit that are planted in our hearts.

source: John Owen, The Mortification of Sin in Believers, chapter 4.

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He only is sufficient for this work; all ways and means without him are as a thing of nought; and he is the great efficient of it, — he works in us as he pleases.

Praying, fasting, watching, meditation, and the like … are all to be looked on as streams, they look on them as the fountain. … they effect and accomplish the end as means only, subordinate to the Spirit and faith …

Men are galled with the guilt of a sin that hath prevailed over them; they instantly promise to themselves and God that they will do so no more; they watch over themselves, and pray for a season, until this heat waxes cold, and the sense of sin is worn off: and so mortification goes also, and sin returns to its former dominion.

It is, then, the work of the Spirit. For, He is promised of God to be given unto us to do this work. … We have all our mortification from the gift of Christ, and all the gifts of Christ are communicated to us and given us by the Spirit of Christ.

How doth the Spirit mortify sin?

(1) By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh, and the fruits thereof and principles of them. … This "renewing of us by the Holy Ghost," as it is called, Tit. 3:5, is one great way of mortification; he causes us to grow, thrive, flourish, and abound in those graces which are contrary, opposite, and destructive to all the fruits of the flesh, and to the quiet or thriving of indwelling sin itself.

(2)  By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin, for the weakening, destroying, and taking it away … really consuming and destroying our lusts. He takes away the stony heart by an almighty efficiency; for as he begins the work as to its kind, so he carries it on as to its degrees. He is the fire which burns up the very root of lust.

(3) He brings the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith, and gives us communion with Christ in his death, and fellowship in his sufferings.

If this be the work of the Spirit alone, how is it that we are exhorted to it?

He doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself.

source: John Owen, The Mortification of Sin in Believers, chapter 3.

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For if ye live after the flesh ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Romans 8:13)

The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.

The deeds of the flesh. The apostle calls them deeds, as that which every lust tends unto; though it do but conceive and prove abortive, it aims to bring forth a perfect sin.

To mortify. To kill a man, or any other living thing, is to take away the principle of all his strength, vigour, and power, so that he cannot act or exert, or put forth any proper actings of his own; so it is in this case. … The intendment of the apostle in this prescription of the duty mentioned is, — that the mortification of indwelling sin remaining in our mortal bodies, that it may not have life and power to bring forth the works or deeds of the flesh is the constant duty of believers.

The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.

Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.

Sin doth not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still labouring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.

So that sin is always acting, always conceiving, always seducing and tempting. …  If, then, sin will be always acting, if we be not always mortifying, we are lost creatures. He that stands still and suffers his enemies to double blows upon him without resistance, will undoubtedly be conquered in the issue. If sin be subtle, watchful, strong, and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and we be slothful, negligent, foolish, in proceeding to the ruin thereof, can we expect a comfortable event? There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so whilst we live in this world.

Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.

Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head.

it is modest, as it were, in its first motions and proposals, but having once got footing in the heart by them, it constantly makes good its ground, and presseth on to some farther degrees in the same kind. This new acting and pressing forward makes the soul take little notice of what an entrance to a falling off from God is already made …

source: John Owen, The Mortification of Sin in Believers, chapters 1-2.

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