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Those who are Christ’s, and are acted in their obedience upon gospel principles, have the death of Christ, the love of God, the detestable nature of sin, the preciousness of communion with God, a deep-grounded abhorrency of sin as sin, to oppose to any seduction of sin, to all the workings, strivings, rightings of lust in their hearts.

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.

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Let thy soul by faith be exercised with such thoughts and apprehensions as these:

"I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption if too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is become as parched ground, and an habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of nought. Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succour and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Christ, that hath all fullness of grace in his heart, all fullness of power in his hand, he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, drying soul and make me more than a conqueror. ‘Why sayest thou, O my soul, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgement is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint" He can make the ‘dry, parched ground of my soul to become a pool, and my thirsty, barren heart as springs of water;’ yea, he can make this ‘habitation of dragons,’ this heart, so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations, to be a place for ‘grass’ and fruit to himself".

AMEN

Source: John Owen’s Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 14.

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John Owen says that everything he has written is prepatory to the work of mortification especially with regard to heart preparation. As to the actual work of mortification he grounds in Christ and the Spirit. This is so much better than ‘try hard’.

Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet.

By faith fill thy soul with a due consideration of that provision which is laid up in Jesus Christ for this end and purpose, that all thy lusts, this very lust wherewith thou art entangled, may be mortified. By faith ponder on this, that though thou art no way able in or by thyself to get the conquest over thy distemper, though thou art even weary of contending, and art utterly ready to faint, yet that there is enough in Jesus Christ to yield thee relief … In thy greatest distress and anguish, consider that fullness of grace, those riches, those treasures of strength, might, and help, that are laid up in him for our support … Let them come into and abide in thy mind. … Christ tells us that we obtain purging grace by abiding in him … To act faith upon the fullness that is in Christ for our supply is an eminent way of abiding in Christ, for both our insition and abode is by faith …

Raise up thy heart by faith to an expectation of relief from Christ. … "as the eyes of a servant to the hand of his master" … thy soul shall be satisfied, he will assuredly deliver thee; he will slay the lust, and thy latter end shall be peace. Only look for it at his hand …

But wilt thou say, "What ground have I to build such an expectation upon, so that I may expect not to be deceived?" … For the necessity of it, I have in part discovered it before, when I manifested that this is the work of faith and of believers only. "Without me," says Christ, "ye can do nothing" …

Consider his mercifulness, tenderness, and kindness, as he is our great High Priest at the right hand of God. …. Yea, let me add, that never any soul did or shall perish by the power of any lust, sin, or corruption, who could raise his soul by faith to an expectation of relief from Jesus Christ. …

Consider His faithfulness … He hath promised to relieve in such cases, and he will fulfill his word to the utmost.

Mortification of sin is peculiarly from the death of Christ, which shall assuredly be accomplished by it. He died to destroy the works of the devil. Whatever came upon our natures by his first temptation, whatever receives strength in our persons by his daily suggestions, Christ died to destroy it all. … This was his aim and intendment (wherein he will not fail) in his giving himself for us. That we might be freed from the power of our sins, and purified from all our defiling lusts, was his design.

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 the parts and degrees of it; as, —

(1) He alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil and guilt and danger of the corruption, lust, or sin to be mortified.

(2) The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief; which is the consideration that stays the heart from false ways and from despairing despondency.

(3) The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ; which is the great sovereign means of mortification.

(4) The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power; for by the Spirit are we baptized into the death of Christ.

(5) The Spirit is the author and finisher of our sanctification; gives new supplies and influences of grace for holiness and sanctification, when the contrary principle is weakened and abated.

(6) In all the soul’s addresses to God in this condition, it hath supportment from the Spirit. Whence is the power, life, and vigour of prayer? whence its efficacy to prevail with God? Is it not from the Spirit?

Source: John Owen’s Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 14.

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NINETH DIRECTION

In case God disquiet the heart about the guilt of its distempers, either in respect of its root and indwelling, or in respect of any eruptions of it, take heed thou speakest not peace to thyself before God speaks it; but hearken what he says to thy soul.

That as it is the great prerogative and sovereignty of God to give grace to whom he pleases … so among those so called and justified, and whom he will save, he yet reserves this privilege to himself, to speak peace to whom he pleaseth, and in what degree he pleaseth, even amongst them on whom he hath bestowed grace.

He bears testimony concerning our condition as it is indeed. We may possibly mistake, and trouble ourselves in vain, or flatter ourselves upon false grounds, but he is the "Amen, the faithful Witness;" and what he speaks of our state and condition, that it is indeed.

Take these two previous observations, and I shall give some rules whereby men may know whether God speaks peace to them, or whether they speak peace to themselves only:–

Men certainly speak peace to themselves when their so doing is not attended with the greatest detestation imaginable of that sin in reference whereunto they do speak peace to themselves …

Let a man make what application he will for healing and peace, let him do it to the true Physician, let him do it the right way, let him quiet his heart in the promises of the covenant; yet, when peace is spoken, if it be not attended with the detestation and abhorrency of that sin which was the wound and caused the disquietment, this is no peace of God’s creating, but of our own purchasing. It is but a skinning over the wound, whilst the core lies at the bottom, which will putrefy, and corrupt, and corrode, until it break out again with noisomeness, vexation, and danger. Let not poor souls that walk in such a path as this, who are more sensible of who address themselves for mercy, yea, to the Lord in Christ they address themselves for mercy, but yet will keep the sweet morsel of their sin under their tongue; — let them, I say, never think to have true and solid peace.

How shall we know that our speaking peace is of ourselves rather than from God?

When God speedily causes us to know otherwise.

When we do not wait to hear God’s voice.

When though our rationale conscience and minds feel quietened yet it doth not sweeten the heart with rest and gracious contentation.

When it amends not the life, it heals not the evil, it cures not the distemper. When God speaks peace, it guides and keeps the soul that it "turn not again to folly." When we speak it ourselves, the heart is not taken off the evil; nay, it is the readiest course in the world to bring a soul into a trade of backsliding. If, upon thy plastering thyself, thou findest thyself rather animated to the battle again than utterly weaned from it, it is too palpable that thou hast been at work with thine own soul … In God’s speaking peace there comes along so much sweetness, and such a discovery of his love, as is a strong obligation on the soul no more to deal perversely.

We speak peace to ourselves when we do it slightly.

When men of themselves speak peace to their consciences, it is seldom that God speaks humiliation to their souls. God’s peace is humbling peace, melting peace, as it was in the case of David; never such deep humiliation as when Nathan brought him the tidings of his pardon.

Source: John Owen’s Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 13.

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FOURTH DIRECTION

Being thus affected with thy sin, in the next place get a constant longing, breathing after deliverance from the power of it.

Longing, breathing, and panting after deliverance is a grace in itself, that hath a mighty power to conform the soul into the likeness of the thing longed after.

FIFTH DIRECTION

Consider whether the distemper with which thou art perplexed be not rooted in thy nature, and cherished, fomented, and heightened from thy constitution. A proneness to some sins may doubtless lie in the natural temper and disposition of men.

SIXTH DIRECTION

Consider what occasions, what advantages thy distemper hath taken to exert and put forth itself, and watch against them all.

SEVENTH DIRECTION

Rise mightily against the first actings of thy distemper, its first conceptions; suffer it not to get the least ground. Do not say, "Thus far it shall go, and no farther." If it have allowance for one step, it will take another. It is impossible to fix bounds to sin. It is like water in a channel, — if it once break out, it will have its course.

EIGHTH DIRECTION

Be much in thoughtfulness of the excellency of the majesty of God and thine infinite, inconceivable distance from him. Many thoughts of it cannot but fill thee with a sense of thine own vileness, which strikes deep at the root of any indwelling sin. When Job comes to a clear discovery of the greatness and the excellency of God, he is filled with self-abhorrence and is pressed to humiliation … Will not a due apprehension of this inconceivable greatness of God, and that infinite distance wherein we stand from him, fill the soul with a holy and awful fear of him, so as to keep it in a frame unsuited to the thriving or flourishing of any lust whatever? Let the soul be continually wonted to reverential thoughts of God’s greatness and omnipresence, and it will be much upon its watch as to any undue deportments.

Source: John Owen’s Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 12.

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THIRD DIRECTION

Load they conscience with the guilt of the perplexing distemper.

Owen urges that the Law of Moses be applied to your sin in all its holiness, spirituality, fiery severity, inwardness and absoluteness and then see how thou canst stand before it. He urges that one’s conscience be affected with the terror of the Lord in the Law and how righteous it would be that every one of thy transgressions should receive a recompense of reward. Owen says that the Law should be applied to allow it to do its work of exposing sin, guilt and humbling the soul.

Next he urges to “bring thy lust to the gospel”. I was hoping that he meant so one would find grace. But he says, “not for relief, but for farther conviction of its guilt”.

… look on Him whom thou hast pierced, and be in bitterness. Say to thy soul, "What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this the return I make to the Father for his love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Ghost for his grace? …

Consider the infinite patience and forbearance of God towards thee in particular. … Hast thou not often been ready to conclude thyself, that it was utterly impossible that he should bear any longer with thee; that he would cast thee off, and be gracious no more; that all his forbearance was exhausted, and hell and wrath was even ready prepared for thee and yet, above all thy expectation, he hath returned with visitations of love.

[Consider] how often hast thou been at the door of being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and by the infinite rich grace of God hast been recovered to communion with him again.

[Consider] all God’s gracious dealings with thee, in providential dispensations, deliverances, afflictions, mercies, enjoyments …

By these, I say, and the like means, load thy conscience; and leave it not until it be thoroughly affected with the guilt of thy indwelling corruption, until it is sensible of its wound, and lie in the dust before the Lord. Unless this be done to the purpose, all other endeavours are to no purpose. Whilst the conscience hath any means to alleviate the guilt of sin, the soul will never vigorously attempt its mortification.

source: John Owen’s Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 11.

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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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