Daily Devotional – Mortification of Sin

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March 1, 2019 by directorfsm

by John Owen – March 1st, 2019 


4. To Preachers

   Let me add this to them who are preachers of the Word or intend that employment through the good hand of God. It is their duty to plead with men about their sins, to lay load on particular sins, but always remember that it be done with that which is the proper end of law and gospel: that is, that they make use of the sin they speak against to discover the state and condition of the sinner. Otherwise, perhaps they may work men to formality and hypocrisy, but little of the true end of preaching the gospel will be brought about. It will not profit to beat a man off from his drunkenness into a sober formality. A skillful master of the assemblies lays his axe at the root and drives still at the heart (Ecc 12:11).

   To attack particular sins of ignorant, unregenerate persons, such as the land is full of, is a good work. However, though it may be done with great effectiveness, vigor, and success, if this be the only result of preaching (that is, that they are set upon the most diligent endeavors to mortify the sins preached against), all that is accomplished is but like the beating of an enemy in an open field, and driving him into an impregnable castle, not to be prevailed against. Do you ever gain the advantage [in reproving] a sinner on the account of any one sin whatever? Do you have anything to take hold of him by? Apply it to his state and condition, drive it up to the head, and there deal with him. To break men off of particular sins, and not to break their hearts, is to deprive ourselves of advantages in dealing with them.

   And herein is the Roman mortification grievously sinful. They drive all sorts of persons to mortifying without the least consideration whether the persons have a principle for it or not. Yea, they are so far from calling on men to believe, so that they may be able to mortify their lusts, that they call men to mortification instead of believing. The truth is: they neither know what it is to believe nor what mortification itself intends. Faith with them is but a general as-sent to the doctrine taught in their church; and mortification with them is a man’s commitment by a vow to some certain course of life wherein he denies himself something of the use of the things of this world, not without a considerable compensation. Such men know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. Their boasting of their mortification is but their glorying in their shame.

   Some casuists(65) among ourselves overlook the necessity of regeneration and confidently give this for a direction to all sorts of persons that complain of any sin or lust: that they should vow against it at least for a season, a month or so. These seem to have barely any light in the mystery of the gospel, much like that of Nicodemus when he first came to Christ (Joh 3). They bid men vow to abstain from their sin for a season. This commonly makes their lust more impetuous. Perhaps with great perplexity they keep their word—and perhaps not, which increases their guilt and torment. Is their sin at all mortified hereby? Do they find a conquest over it? Is their condition changed, though they attain a relinquishment of it? Are they not still in the gall of bitterness? Is not this to put men to make brick, if not without straw, yet, which is worse, without strength (Ex 5:7)?

   What promise has any unregenerate man to encourage him in this work? What assistance for the performance of it? Can sin be killed without an interest in the death of Christ, or mortified without the Spirit? If such directions should prevail to change men’s lives, as seldom they do, yet they never reach to the change of their hearts or conditions. They may make men self-righteous or hypocrites, but not Christians.

   It often grieves me to see poor souls who have a zeal for God and a desire of eternal welfare, kept by such directors and directions under a hard, burdensome, outside worship and service of God all their days, with many specious(66) endeavors for mortification, in an utter ignorance of the righteousness of Christ and unacquaintedness with His Spirit. Persons and things of this kind I know too many. If ever God shine into their hearts to give them the knowledge of His glory in the face of His Son Jesus Christ, they will see the folly of their present way (2Cor 4:6).

(65)  casuists – theologians and others who study and resolve cases of conscience regarding duty and conduct.
(66)  specious – deceptively promising.
Excerpts from Mortification of Sin by John Owen from:The Chapel Library •  chapel@mountzion.org

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