by John Owen – March 15th, 2019
3. Load Your Conscience with the Guilt of Sin
This is my third direction for the mortification of sin:
Load your conscience with the guilt of it. Not only consider that it has guilt but load your conscience with the guilt of its actual eruptions and disturbances.
For the right improvement of this rule, I shall give some particular directions.
a. Begin with general aspects of your guilt
Take God’s method in it and begin with general aspects, and then descend to particular aspects.
1). Guilt from the holiness of the Law
Charge your conscience with the guilt that appears in it from the righteousness and holiness of the Law. Bring the holy Law of God into your conscience, lay your corruption to it, pray that you may be affected with it. Consider the holiness, spirituality, fiery severity, inward-ness, absoluteness of the Law, and see how you can stand before it. Be much, I say, in affecting your conscience with the terror of the Lord in the Law, and how righteous it is that every one of your transgressions should receive a just punishment.(82)
Perhaps your conscience will invent shifts and evasions to keep off the power of this consideration—such as, that the condemning power of the Law does not belong to you, that you are set free from it, and the like—and so, though you have not fulfilled the Law, yet you need not to be so much troubled by it. However,
a). Tell your conscience that it cannot manage any evidence to the purpose that you are free from the condemning power of sin while your unmortified lust lies in your heart; because, perhaps, the Law may make good its plea against you for a full dominion, and then you are a lost creature. Wherefore it is best to ponder to the utmost what it has to say.
Some plead in the most secret reserve of their hearts that they are freed from the condemning power of the Law. They do this in order to secretly countenance themselves in giving small allowances to sins and lusts. Those who do so are surely not able, on gospel grounds, to man-age any evidence unto any tolerable spiritual security that indeed they are in a due manner freed from what they so pretend to be delivered.
b). Whatever be the issue, yet the Law has commission from God to seize upon transgressors wherever it finds them, and so bring them before His throne, where they are to plead for themselves. This is your present case: The Law has found you out, and it will bring you before God. If you can plead a pardon, well and good; if not, the Law will do its work.
c). However, this is the proper work of the Law: to reveal the guilt of sin, to awaken and humble the soul for it, to be a glass to represent sin in its colors. If you refuse to deal with it on this account, it is not through faith, but through the hardness of your heart and the deceitfulness of sin.
This is a door at which too many professors have gone out unto open apostasy.(83) Such a deliverance from the Law they have pretended, as that they would consult its guidance and direction no more; they would measure their sin by it no more. By little and little, this principle has insensibly, from the notion of it, proceeded to influence their practical understandings and, having taken possession there, has turned the will and affections loose to all manner of abominations.
By such ways as these, then, persuade your conscience to hearken diligently to what the Law speaks, in the name of the Lord, unto you about your lust and corruption. Oh, if your ears be open, it will speak with a voice that shall make you tremble, that shall cast you to the ground and fill you with astonishment. If ever you will mortify your corruptions, you must tie up your conscience to the Law and shut it from all shifts and exceptions until it owns its guilt with a clear and thorough apprehension—so that thence, as David speaks, your iniquity may ever be before you (Ps 51:3).
(82) See Holiness by J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), The Law and the Saint by A. W. Pink (1886-1952), and A Just God (gospel tract) by Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892); all available from CHAPEL LIBRARY.
(83) apostasy – abandoning the faith one had professed.