Mortification Chapter 4

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

The last principle I shall insist on (omitting, first, the necessity of mortification
unto life, and, secondly, the certainty of life upon mortification) is that
the life, vigor, and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification
of sin. Strength and comfort, and power and peace, in our walking
with God, are the things of our desires. Were any of us asked seriously what
it is that troubles us, we must refer it to one of these heads51—either we want
strength or power, vigor and life, in our obedience, in our walking with God;
or we want peace, comfort, and consolation therein. Whatever it is that may
befall a believer that does not belong to one of these two heads does not
deserve to be mentioned in the days of our complaints.
Now, all these do much depend on a constant course of mortification,
about which observe:
Life, Vigor, and Comfort Are Not Necessarily Connected to
I do not say they proceed from it, as though they were necessarily tied to it.
A man may be carried on in a constant course of mortification all his days;
and yet perhaps never enjoy a good day of peace and consolation. So it was
with Heman (Psalm 88); his life was a life of perpetual mortification and
walking with God, yet terrors and wounds were his portion all his days. But
God singled out Heman, a choice friend, to make him an example to them
that afterward should be in distress. Can you complain if it be no otherwise
with you than it was with Heman, that eminent servant of God? And this
shall be his praise to the end of the world. God makes it his prerogative to
speak peace and consolation (Isa. 57:18-19). “I will do that work,” says God,
“I will comfort him” (v. 18). But how? By an immediate work of the new cre-
51 headings, categories
ation: “I create it,” says God (v. 19). The use of means for the obtaining of
peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.
Adoption and Justification, Not Mortification, Are the
Immediate Causes of Life, Vigor, and Comfort
In the ways instituted by God to give us life, vigor, courage, and consolation,
mortification is not one of the immediate causes of it. They are the privileges
of our adoption made known to our souls that give us immediately these
things. “The Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are the children
of God” [Rom. 8:16], giving us a new name and a white stone, adoption and
justification, that is, as to the sense and knowledge of them—are the immediate
causes (in the hand of the Spirit) of these things. But this I say:
In the Ordinary Relationship with God, the Vigor and Comfort
of Our Spiritual Lives Depend Much on Our Mortification of Sin
In our ordinary walking with God, and in an ordinary course of his dealing
with us, the vigor and comfort of our spiritual lives depend much on our mortification,
not only as a causa sine qua non,52 but as a thing that has an effectual
influence thereinto. For:
This alone keeps sin from depriving us of the one and the other. Every
unmortified sin will certainly do two things: It will weaken the soul and
deprive it of its vigor. It will darken the soul and deprive it of its comfort and
It weakens the soul and deprives it of its strength. When David had for
a while harbored an unmortified lust in his heart, it broke all his bones and
left him no spiritual strength; hence he complained that he was sick, weak,
wounded, faint. “There is,” says he, “no soundness in me” (Ps. 38:3); “I am
feeble and sore broken” (v. 8); “yea, I cannot so much as look up” (Ps. 40:12).
An unmortified lust will drink up the spirit and all the vigor of the soul, and
weaken it for all duties. For:
It untunes and unframes the heart itself by entangling its affections. It
diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion
with God; it lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved
and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father (1 John 2:15; 3:17); so that
the soul cannot say uprightly and truly to God, “You are my portion,” having
something else that it loves. Fear, desire, hope, which are the choice affec-
52 a necessary cause or an essential condition—lit., “a cause without which not”
tions of the soul, that should be full of God, will be one way or other entangled
with it.
It fills the thoughts with contrivances about it. Thoughts are the great
purveyors of the soul to bring in provision to satisfy its affections; and if sin
remain unmortified in the heart, they must ever and anon53 be making provision
for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. They must glaze, adorn, and
dress the objects of the flesh, and bring them home to give satisfaction; and
this they are able to do, in the service of a defiled imagination, beyond all
It breaks out and actually hinders duty. The ambitious man must be
studying, and the worldling must be working or contriving, and the sensual,54
vain person providing himself for vanity, when they should be engaged in the
worship of God.
Were this my present business, to set forth the breaches, ruin, weakness,
desolations, that one unmortified lust will bring upon a soul, this discourse
must be extended much beyond my intention.
As sin weakens, so it darkens the soul. It is a cloud, a thick cloud, that
spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts all the beams of God’s
love and favor. It takes away all sense of the privilege of our adoption; and if
the soul begins to gather up thoughts of consolation, sin quickly scatters
them: of which afterward.
Now, in this regard does the vigor and power of our spiritual life depend
on our mortification: It is the only means of the removal of that which will
allow us neither the one nor the other. Men that are sick and wounded under
the power of lust make many applications for help; they cry to God when the
perplexity of their thoughts overwhelms them, even to God do they cry, but
are not delivered; in vain do they use many remedies—“they shall not be
healed.” So, “Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound” (Hos.
5:13), and attempted sundry remedies: nothing will do until they come to
“acknowledge their offense” (v. 15). Men may see their sickness and wounds,
but yet, if they make not due applications, their cure will not be effected.
Mortification prunes all the graces of God and makes room for them in
our hearts to grow. The life and vigor of our spiritual lives consists in the vigor
and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts. Now, as you may see in
a garden, let there be a precious herb planted, and let the ground be untilled,
and weeds grow about it, perhaps it will live still, but be a poor, withering,
53 again, i.e., reoccurring
54 perceived by the senses (not necessarily sexual)
unuseful thing. You must look and search for it, and sometimes can scarce
find it; and when you do, you can scarce know it, whether it be the plant you
look for or not; and suppose it be, you can make no use of it at all. When, let
another of the same kind be set in the ground, naturally as barren and bad
as the other, but let it be well weeded, and everything that is noxious55 and
hurtful removed from it—it flourishes and thrives; you may see it at first look
into the garden, and have it for your use when you please. So it is with the
graces of the Spirit that are planted in our hearts. That is true; they are still,
they abide in a heart where there is some neglect of mortification; but they
are ready to die (Rev. 3:2), they are withering and decaying. The heart is like
the sluggard’s field—so overgrown with weeds that you can scarce see the
good corn. Such a man may search for faith, love, and zeal, and scarce be able
to find any; and if he does discover that these graces are there yet alive and
sincere, yet they are so weak, so clogged with lusts, that they are of very little
use; they remain, indeed, but are ready to die. But now let the heart be
cleansed by mortification, the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up
(as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), let room be made for
grace to thrive and flourish—how will every grace act its part, and be ready
for every use and purpose!
As to our peace; as there is nothing that has any evidence of sincerity
without it, so I know nothing that has such an evidence of sincerity in it—
which is no small foundation of our peace. Mortification is the soul’s vigorous
opposition to self, wherein sincerity is most evident.


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