Mortification Chapter 10

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

Get a Clear and Abiding Sense Upon Your Mind and Conscience
of the Guilt, Danger, and Evil of Your Sin
The second direction is this: Get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind
and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of that sin wherewith you are
Of the guilt of it. It is one of the deceits of a prevailing lust to extenuate
its own guilt. “Is it not a little one?” “When I go and bow myself in the house
of Rimmon, God be merciful to me in this thing” [2 Kings 5:18]. “Though
this be bad, yet it is not so bad as such and such an evil; others of the people
of God have had such a frame; yea, what dreadful actual sins have some of
them fallen into!” Innumerable ways there are whereby sin diverts the mind
from a right and due apprehension of its guilt. Its noisome46 exhalations
darken the mind, that it cannot make a right judgment of things. Perplexing
reasonings, extenuating promises, tumultuating desires, treacherous purposes
of relinquishment, hopes of mercy, all have their share in disturbing the
mind in its consideration of the guilt of a prevailing lust. The prophet tells us
that lust will do thus wholly when it comes to the height: “Whoredom and
wine and new wine take away the heart” [Hos. 4:11]—the heart, that is the
understanding, as it is often used in the Scripture. And as they accomplish this
work to the height in unregenerate persons, so in part in regenerate also.
Solomon tells you of him who was enticed by the lewd woman, that he was
“among the simple ones,” he was “a young man void of understanding”
(Prov. 7:7). And wherein did his folly appear? Why, says he (v. 23), “he knew
not that it was for his life,” he considered not the guilt of the evil that he was
involved in. And the Lord, rendering a reason why his dealings with Ephraim
took no better effect, gives this account: “Ephraim is like a silly dove without
heart” (Hos. 7:11)—had no understanding of his own miserable condition.
Had it been possible that David should have lain so long in the guilt of
that abominable sin, but that he had innumerable corrupt reasonings, hindering
him from taking a clear view of its ugliness and guilt in the glass of the
law? This made the prophet that was sent for his awaking, in his dealings with
him, to shut up all subterfuges and pretenses by his parable, that so he might
fall fully under a sense of the guilt of it. This is the proper issue of lust in the
46 dangerous, offensive, foul
heart—it darkens the mind that it shall not judge aright of its guilt; and many
other ways it has for its own extenuation that I shall not now insist on.
Let this, then, be the first care of him that would mortify sin—to fix a
right judgment of its guilt in his mind. To which end take these considerations
to your assistance:
Though the power of sin be weakened by inherent grace in them that
have it, [so] that sin shall not have dominion over them as it has over others,
yet the guilt of sin that does yet abide and remain is aggravated and heightened
by it [i.e., sin’s power]: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in
sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin,
live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2)—“How shall we, that are dead?” The
emphasis is on the word “we.” How shall we do it, who, as he afterward
describes it, have received grace from Christ to the contrary? We, doubtless,
are more evil than any, if we do it. I shall not insist on the special aggravations
of the sins of such persons—how they sin against more love, mercy,
grace, assistance, relief, means, and deliverances than others. But let this consideration
abide in your mind—there is inconceivably more evil and guilt in
the evil of your heart that does remain, than there would be in so much sin
if you had no grace at all. Observe:
That as God sees abundance of beauty and excellency in the desires of
the heart of his servants, more than in any [of] the most glorious works of
other men, yea, more than in most of their own outward performances, which
have a greater mixture of sin than the desires and pantings of grace in the
heart have; so God sees a great deal of evil in the working of lust in their
hearts, yea, and more than in the open, notorious acts of wicked men, or in
many outward sins whereinto the saints may fall, seeing against them there
is more opposition made, and more humiliation generally follows them. Thus
Christ, dealing with his decaying children, goes to the root with them, lays
aside their profession: “I know you” (Rev. 3:15)—“You are quite another
thing than you profess; and this makes you abominable.”
So, then, let these things, and the like considerations, lead you to a clear
sense of the guilt of your indwelling lust, that there may be no room in your
heart for extenuating or excusing thoughts, whereby sin insensibly will get
strength and prevail.
Consider the danger of it, which is manifold:
Of being hardened by the deceitfulness. This the apostle sorely charges
on the Hebrews (3:12-13), “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you
an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one
another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through
the deceitfulness of sin.” “Take heed,” says he, “use all means, consider your
temptations, watch diligently; there is a treachery, a deceit in sin, that tends
to the hardening of your hearts from the fear of God.” The hardening here
mentioned is to the utmost—utter obduration47; sin tends to it, and every distemper
and lust will make at least some progress toward it. You that were
tender, and used to melt under the word, under afflictions, will grow as some
have profanely spoken, “sermon-proof and sickness-proof.” You that did
tremble at the presence of God, thoughts of death, and appearance before
him, when you had more assurance of his love than now you have, shall have
a stoutness upon your spirit not to be moved by these things. Your soul and
your sin shall be spoken of and spoken to, and you shall not be at all concerned,
but shall be able to pass over duties, praying, hearing, reading, and
your heart not in the least affected. Sin will grow a light thing to you; you
will pass it by as a thing of naught; this it will grow to. And what will be the
end of such a condition? Can a sadder thing befall you? Is it not enough to
make any heart to tremble, to think of being brought into that estate wherein
he should have slight thoughts of sin? Slight thoughts of grace, of mercy, of
the blood of Christ, of the law, heaven, and hell, come all in at the same season.
Take heed, this is that [which] your lust is working toward—the hardening
of the heart, searing of the conscience, blinding of the mind, stupifying
of the affections, and deceiving of the whole soul.
The danger of some great temporal correction, which the Scripture calls
“vengeance,” “judgment,” and “punishment.” Though God should not
utterly cast you off for this abomination that lies in your heart, yet he will
visit you with the rod; though he pardon and forgive, he will take vengeance
of your inventions (Ps. 89:30-33). Oh, remember David and all his troubles!
Look on him flying into the wilderness, and consider the hand of God upon
him. Is it nothing to you that God should kill your child in anger, ruin your
estate in anger, break your bones in anger, suffer you to be a scandal and
reproach in anger, kill you, destroy you, make you lie down in darkness, in
anger? Is it nothing that he should punish, ruin, and undo others for your
sake? Let me not be mistaken. I do not mean that God does send all these
things always on his in anger; God forbid! But this I say, that when he does
so deal with you, and your conscience bears witness with him what your
provocations have been, you will find his dealings full of bitterness to your
soul. If you fear not these things, I fear you are under hardness.
Loss of peace and strength all a man’s days. To have peace with God, to
47 hardening
have strength to walk before God, is the sum of the great promises of the
covenant of grace. In these things is the life of our souls. Without them in
some comfortable measure, to live is to die. What good will our lives do us
if we see not the face of God sometimes in peace? If we have not some
strength to walk with him? Now, [of] both these will an unmortified lust certainly
deprive the souls of men. This case is so evident in David, as that nothing
can be more clear. How often does he complain that his bones were
broken, his soul disquieted, his wounds grievous, on this account! Take other
instances: “For the iniquity of his covetousness I was angry, and hid myself”
(Isa. 57:17). What peace, I pray, is there to a soul while God hides himself,
or strength while he smites? “I will go and return to my place, till they
acknowledge their offense, and seek my face” (Hos. 5:15)—“I will leave
them, hide my face, and what will become of their peace and strength?” If
ever, then, you have enjoyed peace with God, if ever his terrors have made
you afraid, if ever you have had strength to walk with him, or ever have
mourned in your prayer, and been troubled because of your weakness, think
of this danger that hangs over your head. It is perhaps but a little while and
you shall see the face of God in peace no more. Perhaps by tomorrow you
shall not be able to pray, read, hear, or perform any duties with the least cheerfulness,
life, or vigor; and possibly you may never see a quiet hour while you
live—that you may carry about you broken bones, full of pain and terror, all
the days of your life. Yea, perhaps God will shoot his arrows at you, and fill
you with anguish and disquietness, with fears and perplexities; make you a
terror and an astonishment to yourself and others; show you hell and wrath
every moment; frighten and scare you with sad apprehensions of his hatred;
so that your sore shall run in the night season, and your soul shall refuse comfort;
so that you shall wish death rather than life, yea, your soul may choose
strangling. Consider this a little—though God should not utterly destroy you,
yet he might cast you into this condition, wherein you shall have quick and
living apprehensions of your destruction. Wont48 your heart to thoughts
hereof; let it know what [it] is like to be the issue of its state. Leave not this
consideration until you have made your soul to tremble within you.
There is the danger of eternal destruction. For the due management of
this consideration, observe—
That there is such a connection between a continuance in sin and eternal
destruction that though God does resolve to deliver some from a continuance
in sin that they may not be destroyed, yet he will deliver none from destruc-
48 accustom
tion that continue in sin; so that while anyone lies under an abiding power of
sin, the threats of destruction and everlasting separation from God are to be
held out to him (so Heb. 3:12; to which add Heb. 10:38). This is the rule of
God’s proceeding: If any man “depart” from him [Heb. 3:12], “draw back”
through unbelief, “God’s soul has no pleasure in him” [Heb. 10:38]—“that
is, his indignation shall pursue him to destruction” (so evidently Gal. 6:8).
That he who is so entangled, as above described, under the power of any
corruption, can have at that present no clear prevailing evidence of his interest
in the covenant, by the efficacy whereof he may be delivered from fear of
destruction; so that destruction from the Lord may justly be a terror to him;
and he may, he ought to look upon it, as that which will be the end of his
course and ways. “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus”
(Rom. 8:1). True; but who shall have the comfort of this assertion? Who may
assume it to himself? “They that walk after the Spirit, and not after the flesh.”
But you will say, “Is not this to persuade men to unbelief?” I answer, “No.”
There is a twofold judgment that a man may make of himself: first, of his person;
and, secondly, of his ways. It is the judgment of his ways, not his person,
that I speak of. Let a man get the best evidence for his person that he
can, yet to judge that an evil way will end in destruction is his duty; not to
do it is atheism. I do not say that in such a condition a man ought to throw
away the evidence of his personal interest in Christ; but I say, he cannot keep
them. There is a twofold condemnation of a man’s self:
First, in respect of desert,49 when the soul concludes that it deserves to be
cast out of the presence of God; and this is so far from a business of unbelief
that it is an effect of faith. Secondly, with respect to the issue and event, when
the soul concludes it shall be damned. I do not say this is the duty of anyone,
nor do I call them to it. But this I say, that the end of the way may be provoked
to fly from it. And this is another consideration that ought to dwell
upon such a soul, if it desire to be freed from the entanglement of its lusts.
Consider the evils of it; I mean its present evils. Danger respects what is
to come; evil, what is present. Some of the many evils that attend an unmortified
lust may be mentioned:
It grieves the holy and blessed Spirit, which is given to believers to dwell
in them and abide with them. So the apostle, dehorting50 them from many
lusts and sins (Eph. 4:25-29), gives this as the great motive of it: “Grieve not
the Holy Spirit, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption” (v. 30).
49 that which is deserved (such as punishment)
50 exhorting, in an effort to dissuade
“Grieve not that Spirit of God,” says he, “whereby you receive so many and
so great benefits,” of which he instances in one signal51 and comprehensive
one—“sealing to the day of redemption.” He is grieved by it. As a tender and
loving friend is grieved at the unkindness of his friend, of whom he has well
deserved, so is it with this tender and loving Spirit, who has chosen our hearts
for a habitation to dwell in, and there to do for us all that our souls desire.
He is grieved by our harboring his enemies, and those whom he is to destroy,
in our hearts with him. “He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve us” (Lam.
3:33); and shall we daily grieve him? Thus is he said sometimes to be
“vexed,” sometimes “grieved at his heart,” to express the greatest sense of
our provocation. Now, if there be anything of gracious ingenuity left in the
soul, if it be not utterly hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, this consideration
will certainly affect it. Consider who and what you are; who the Spirit
is that is grieved, what he has done for you, what he comes to your soul
about, what he has already done in you; and be ashamed. Among those who
walk with God, there is no greater motive and incentive unto universal holiness,
and the preserving of their hearts and spirits in all purity and cleanness,
than this, that the blessed Spirit, who has undertaken to dwell in them, is continually
considering what they give entertainment in their hearts unto, and
rejoices when his temple is kept undefiled. That was a high aggravation of
the sin of Zimri, that he brought his adulteress into the congregation in the
sight of Moses and the rest, who were weeping for the sins of the people
(Num. 25:6). And is it not a high aggravation of the countenancing of a lust,
or suffering it to abide in the heart, when it is (as it must be, if we are believers)
entertained under the peculiar eye and view of the Holy Ghost, taking
care to preserve his tabernacle pure and holy?
The Lord Jesus Christ is wounded afresh by it; his new creature in the
heart is wounded; his love is foiled; his adversary gratified. As a total relinquishment
of him, by the deceitfulness of sin, is the “crucifying him afresh,
and the putting of him to open shame” (Heb. 6:6), so every harboring of sin
that he came to destroy wounds and grieves him.
It will take away a man’s usefulness in his generation. His works, his
endeavors, his labors seldom receive blessing from God. If he be a preacher,
God commonly blows upon his ministry, that he shall labor in the fire, and
not be honored with any success or doing any work for God; and the like may
be spoken of other conditions. The world is at this day full of poor withering
professors. How few are there that walk in any beauty or glory! How bar-
51 significant, remarkable, out of the ordinary
ren, how useless are they, for the most part! Among the many reasons that
may be assigned of this sad estate, it may justly be feared that this is none of
the least effectual—many men harbor spirit-devouring lusts in their bosoms,
that lie as worms at the root of their obedience, and corrode and weaken it
day by day. All graces, all the ways and means whereby any graces may be
exercised and improved, are prejudiced by this means; and as to any success,
God blasts such men’s undertakings.
This, then, is my second direction, and it regards the opposition that is
to be made to lust in respect of its habitual residence in the soul:
Keep alive upon your heart these or the like considerations of its guilt,
danger, and evil;
be much in the meditation of these things;
cause your heart to dwell and abide upon them;
engage your thoughts into these considerations;
let them not go off nor wander from them
until they begin to have a powerful influence upon your soul—
until they make it to tremble.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *