Mortification Chapter 8

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

There Will Be No Mortification of Any Sin Without Sincerity and
Diligence in a Universality of Obedience
The second principle which to this purpose I shall propose is this: Without
sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification
of any one perplexing lust to be obtained. The other [principle] was to
the person; this to the thing itself. I shall a little explain this position.
A man finds any lust to bring him into the condition formerly described;
it is powerful, strong, tumultuating, leads captive, vexes, disquiets, takes
away peace; he is not able to bear it; wherefore he sets himself against it, prays
against it, groans under it, sighs to be delivered: but in the meantime, perhaps,
in other duties—in constant communion with God—in reading, prayer,
and meditation—in other ways that are not of the same kind with the lust
wherewith he is troubled—he is loose and negligent. Let not that man think
that ever he shall arrive to the mortification of the lust he is perplexed with.
29 those who believe they can attain righteousness by their own action or nature
This is a condition that not seldom befalls men in their pilgrimage. The
Israelites, under a sense of their sin, drew nigh to God with much diligence
and earnestness, with fasting and prayer (Isaiah 58); many expressions are
made of their earnestness in the work: “They seek me daily, and delight to
know my ways; they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in
approaching to God” (v. 2). But God rejects all. Their fast is a remedy that
will not heal them, and the reason given of it is because they were particular
in this duty (vv. 5-7). They attended diligently to that, but in others were negligent
and careless. He that has a “running sore”30 (it is the Scripture expression)
upon him, arising from an ill habit of body, contracted by
intemperance31 and ill diet, let him apply himself with what diligence and skill
he can to the cure of his sore, if he leave the general habit of his body under
distempers, his labor and travail will be in vain. So will his attempts be that
shall endeavor to stop a bloody issue of sin and filth in his soul, and is not
equally careful of his universal spiritual temperature and constitution. For—
This kind of endeavor for mortification proceeds from a corrupt principle,
ground, and foundation; so that it will never proceed to a good issue. The
true and acceptable principles of mortification shall be afterward insisted on.
Hatred of sin as sin, not only as galling or disquieting, a sense of the love of
Christ in the cross, lies at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification. Now,
it is certain that that which I speak of proceeds from self-love. You set yourself
with all diligence and earnestness to mortify such a lust or sin; what is
the reason of it? It disquiets you, it has taken away your peace, it fills your
heart with sorrow and trouble and fear; you have no rest because of it. Yea,
but friend, you have neglected prayer or reading; you have been vain and
loose in your conversation in other things, that have not been of the same
nature with that lust wherewith you are perplexed. These are no less sins and
evils than those under which you groan. Jesus Christ bled for them also. Why
do you not set yourself against them also? If you hate sin as sin, every evil
way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets
the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your
own soul. It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your
own trouble by it. Would your conscience be quiet under it, you would let it
alone. Did it not disquiet you, it should not be disquieted by you. Now, can
you think that God will set in with such hypocritical endeavors—that ever
his Spirit will bear witness to the treachery and falsehood of your spirit? Do
30 discharge associated with illness or uncleanness
31 lack of moderation; indulgence, especially of intoxicating drink
you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at
liberty to that which no less grieves him? No. God says, “Here is one, if he
could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with
this, or he is lost.” Let not any man think to do his own work that will not
do God’s. God’s work consists in universal obedience; to be freed of the present
perplexity is their own only. Hence is that of the apostle: “Cleanse yourselves
from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear
of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). If we will do anything, we must do all things. So, then,
it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal
humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and
for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.
How do you know but that God has suffered32 the lust wherewith you have
been perplexed to get strength in you, and power over you, to chasten you
for your other negligences and common lukewarmness in walking before
him; at least to awaken you to the consideration of your ways, that you may
make a thorough work and change in your course of walking with him?
The rage and predominancy of a particular lust is commonly the fruit and issue
of a careless, negligent course in general, and that upon a double account:
As its natural effect, if I may so say. Lust, as I showed in general, lies in the
heart of everyone, even the best, while he lives; and think not that the Scripture
speaks in vain, that it is subtle, cunning, crafty—that it seduces, entices, fights,
rebels. While a man keeps a diligent watch over his heart, its root and fountain—
while above all keepings he keeps his heart, whence are the issues of life and
death—lust withers and dies in it. But if, through negligence, it makes an eruption
any particular way, gets a passage to the thoughts by the affections, and from
them and by them perhaps breaks out into open sin in the conversation, the
strength of it bears that way it has found out, and that way mainly it urges, until,
having got a passage, it then vexes and disquiets and is not easily to be restrained:
thus, perhaps, a man may be put to wrestle all his days in sorrow with that
which, by a strict and universal watch, might easily have been prevented.
As I said, God oftentimes suffers it to chasten our other negligences: for as
with wicked men, he gives them up to one sin as the judgment of another, a
32 permitted, allowed
greater for the punishment of a less, or one that will hold them more firmly and
securely for that which they might have possibly obtained a deliverance from
[Rom. 1:26]; so even with his own, he may, he does, leave them sometimes to
some vexatious distempers, either to prevent or cure some other evil. So was
the messenger of Satan let loose on Paul, that he “might not be lifted up through
the abundance of spiritual revelations” [2 Cor. 12:7]. Was it not a correction
to Peter’s vain confidence that he was left to deny his Master? Now, if this be
the state and condition of lust in its prevalency, that God oftentimes suffers it
so to prevail, at least to admonish us, and to humble us, perhaps to chasten and
correct us for our general loose and careless walking, is it possible that the effect
should be removed and the cause continued, that the particular lust should be
mortified and the general course be unreformed? He, then, that would really,
thoroughly, and acceptably mortify any disquieting lust, let him take care to be
equally diligent in all parts of obedience, and know that every lust, every omission
of duty, is burdensome to God [Isa. 43:24], though but one is so to him.
While there abides a treachery in the heart to indulge to any negligence in not
pressing universally to all perfection in obedience, the soul is weak, as not giving
faith its whole work; and selfish, as considering more the trouble of sin than
the filth and guilt of it; and lives under a constant provocation of God: so that
it may not expect any comfortable issue in any spiritual duty that it does undertake,
much less in this under consideration, which requires another principle
and frame of spirit for its accomplishment.

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