Mortification of Sin – Part 5: Particular Directions

Part 1: John Owen // Part 2: Relevance // Part 3: General Principle One  // Part 4: General Principle Two

I will end my reflections on Owen’s Mortification of Sin (for the time being) by simply providing a summation to his particular directions for mortification. Really, I have just reprinted Kapic & Taylor’s outline with quotations and comments in paragraph form. Nevertheless, I would urge you to take this material and simplify it into an accessible how-to list for mortification in your life.

  1. Consider whether your lust has these dangerous symptoms accompanying it (90-96).[1] Owen makes a distinction in sins. Not all sins carry the same potential for damaging the Christian life. A sin may be in exceptional need of mortification if they have these symptoms: 1) inveterateness (firmly established by long persistence); 2) secret pleas of the heart to tolerate sin outside of gospel mortification; 3) applying grace and mercy to unmortified sin; 4) frequency of success in sin’s seduction; 5) arguing against sin only because of impending punishment; 6) probable judiciary hardness; 7) when your lust has already withstood particular dealings from God against it.
  2. Get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of your sin (97-102). Though the power of sin is weakened by inherent grace, yet the guilt of remaining sin is aggravated and heightened by it. Consider the danger of it: 1) of being hardened by its deceitfulness; 2) of some great temporal correction; 3) of loss of peace and strength; and 4) of eternal destruction. Consider its present evils: 1) it grieves the Holy Spirit; 2) Jesus is wounded afresh; and 3) it will take away a man’s usefulness in his generation.
  3. Load your conscience with the guilt of sin (103-106). Whereas the previous particular was aimed at getting a “sense” of the guilt and quality of your sin, this particular is more of a weighty loading of the sin’s guilt upon your conscience. One ought to get a feel for the true weight of their sin. Begin with generals: 1) charge your conscience with that guilt which appears in it from the rectitude and holiness of the law, and then 2) bring your lust to the gospel. Then descend to particulars: 1) consider the infinite patience and forbearance of God toward you in particular; 2) consider the infinitely rich grace of God whereby you have been recovered to communion with Him again; 3) consider all of God’s gracious dealings with you.
  4. Constantly long and breathe after deliverance from the power of it (106). Then petition the Lord earnestly and constantly for a supply of His grace to triumph this sin. The next particulars all rest upon God’s working in you for His good will and pleasure. Labor in prayer as to be brought to God.
  5. Consider whether the distemper is rooted in your nature and increased by your constitution (107-108). Are you prone to this sin by your personality, genetics, etc.? Without extraordinary watchfulness, your nature will prevail against your soul. For the mortification of any distemper rooted in the nature of a man, there is one expedient peculiarly suited: bringing the body into subjection. This subjection must have two clarifications: 1) the outward weakening and impairing of the body should not be looked upon as a thing good in itself, and 2) the means whereby this is done should not be looked on as things that in themselves can produce true mortification of any sin
  6. Consider the occasions and advantages your distemper has taken to exert and put forth itself, and watch against them all (109) – e.g. gluttony: do not go to buffets; lust: do not visit risqué websites; gambling: do not go to casinos; etc.
  7. Rise mightily against the first actings and conceptions of your distemper (109). If you feel the urges of your lust, cut them down quick and at their conception. Sinful desires are going to “pop up;” they are inescapable reactions of sinfulness. This particular will help us limit the dominance of sin’s expression in our life until at once it may cease its beckoning altogether.
  8. Use and exercise yourself to such meditations as may serve to fill you at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of your own vileness (110-11). Think much of the excellency of the majesty of God and your infinite, inconceivable distance from Him. Think much of your unacquaintedness with him. Dwell on the greatness of God and His sufficiency, which conjures up thoughts of your own non-greatness and deficiency. Such meditations will generate a cleaving to God out of a pure desire for who He is and one’s absolute need for Him. The hungry do not need to be paid to eat.
  9. Do not speak to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken to what God says to your soul (118-129). God reserves the privilege to speak peace to whom, and in what degree, he pleases. It is the prerogative of Christ to speak peace to the conscience. Men speak peace to themselves without the detestation of sin and the abhorrence of themselves for it. Men speak false peace to themselves when they rely upon convictions and rational principles to carry them. We speak peace to ourselves when we do it slightly. If one speaks peace to himself upon any one account of sin, and at the same time has another evil of no less importance lying upon his spirit, without dealing with God, that man cries “Peace” when there is none. When men of themselves speak peace to their consciences, it is seldom that God speaks humiliation to their souls. Look to the gospel, and there let your peace be spoken to you from Christ alone.

[1] All page notations are from: John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006).


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