Friday, October 05, 2007

The Mortification of Sin - John Owen

J I Packer said of John Owen, "embodied all that was noblist in Puritan devotion". This book definitely was a mark of that. This was one of the most difficult books I have read - not in terms of length or subject matter, but of its power (by the Holy Spirit) to cut to the heart of sin in me. I would put this second to Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges on the subject of personal holiness.
These re just some quotes that I underlined while reading the book:
"When Scripture tells Christians to mortify sin, the meaning is not just that bad habits must be broken, but that sinful desires and urgings must have the life drained out of them." (p. 15)I was thinking about this in terms of the Office (NBC) show last night. I wondered why so many Christians liked it when it caused us (in our flesh) to laugh at things that weren't funny or God-glorifying (Phil 4.8, Eph 4)? I don't want to laugh at, crave, desire, or glimpse at sin - I want that personal holiness and integrity (being above reproach). There is a "deceitfulness of sin" (145) - Satan is not going to make sin look ugly and unattractive - or Oreos and Cheese fries wouldn't taste so good and tv wouldn't be so entertaining.
Nothing we can do on our own will help remedy sin. Being in NY this week (where there are many practicing/non-practicing Catholics) reminded me of how so many people's salvation is based on their good works. "In vain do men seek other remedies, they shall not be healed by them". (40) We can do all the things we want, "but being strangers to the Spirit of God, all in vain." (46)
If we want to be useful in ministry - and effective in reaching the lost and discipling others - then we must not let sin take root in our lives. "An unmortified lust will drink up the spirit and all its vigour of the soul, and weaken it for all its duties." (51) Owen says "surely it will take away a man's usefulness in his generation." (117)
I've even been reminded by people since I've been in L-ville to not try to outwit temptation, or think I can handle it on my own. The Word says to flee temptation, "lust gets strength by temptation." (65) Do you want to strengthen your relationship with God or strengthen your depravity by staying in sin?
This is not merely the outward remedying of sin - but we need to be killing sin at its root. "This is the folly of some men. They 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." (68) That's why I think it is hard for some people to understand and confess sin. They are waiting to find that outward sin - not realizing that most of our sin (or at least mine) comes from a wrong heart and attitude. But, God sees that heart and knows our thoughts (Ps 139).
But - praise be for the cross of Christ - "There is no death of sin without the death of Christ." (74) This is where our hope is (1 Cor 15). If not, we are, above all men, to be most pitied.
I was talking about this last night while I was at Carabba's with a friend, and she said "aren't you glad that God doesn't do all the refining at once." YES! God's process of sanctification doesn't happen all at once, it is gradual. But, I am glad that He convicts daily of sin in my heart and helps me to 'kill it." (Mal 3, p 76)
I am reminded of a CS Lewis quote about playing in mud puddles at the beach (meaning we settle for here when we are really made for something not here and something so much better). The glory of Christ is so much better than any of the fun sin can bring. "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." (86) God's glory is brighter! I think of the hymn Fairest Lord Jesus and Come Thou Fount. (Gen 39.9 - Joseph's thoughts on the matter). "All that he knows by it, is but little, low, compared to the perfection of his glory." (133)
God is so utterly gracious in his dealings with us and sin - as a breach to his holiness. "When God says, he will heal their breaches and disconsolations, he assumes this privilege to himself in an especial manner" (146) I am reminded of one of the passages in Gen and how JD brought that passage to life in a favorite marriage/sermon. Gen 15 is a clear demonstration of this thought by Owen.
We can be like the psalmist David when he pants for God (ps 42 I think). "Get thy heart into a panting and breathing frame; long, sigh cry out." (125). I know I don't do this enough, and I don't think we as a church do this enough? Do you?
So what is one way to do this: "Be much in thoughtfulness of the excellency of the majesty of God and thine infinite, inconceivable distance from him." (131). If we think on Christ more often - then we are less apt to sin.
"Mortification of any sin must be by a supply of grace. Of ourselves we cannot do it. We are freed from the condemning power of sin, and ought yet to make it their business, all their days, to mortify the indwelling power of sin." (25, 166)
This is where I will end. This came more from a talk with my pastor (thanks James) in the White Plains airport last week. I wasn't even done with the book, but conviction over sin was so strong. He said, go home, read Rom 8, and don't read another Puritan book for a while, follow this one up with a book on grace). Good advice! But, here is a way John Owen's puts it: "Consider the infinite patience and forbearance of God towards thee in particular. And yet, above all thy expectation, he hath returned with visitations of love, and wilt thou yet abide in the provocation of the eyes of his glory? 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!" (123)

If you need a thick book to read - go for it. It is going to be hard. But, read it in light of the amazing grace of Jesus - the cross has paid the penalty - and we have no condemnation. But, be thankful for the power of conviction of the Holy Spirit - he restores us to a right fellowship with our Creator and the Lover of Our Souls.

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