Mortification Chapter 11

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

Load Your Conscience with the Guilt of Sin
This is my third direction: Load your conscience with the guilt of it. Not only
consider that it has a guilt, but load your conscience with the guilt of its actual
eruptions and disturbances. For the right improvement of this rule I shall give
some particular directions:
Take God’s method in it, and begin with generals, and so descend to particulars:
Charge your conscience with that guilt which appears in it from the rectitude
and holiness of the law. Bring the holy law of God into your conscience,
lay your corruption to it, pray that you may be affected with it. Consider the
holiness, spirituality, fiery severity, inwardness, absoluteness of the law, and
see how you can stand before it. Be much, I say, in affecting your conscience
with the terror of the Lord in the law, and how righteous it is that every one
of your transgressions should receive a recompense of reward. Perhaps your
conscience will invent shifts and evasions to keep off the power of this consideration—
as, that the condemning power of the law does not belong to you,
you are set free from it, and the like; and so, though you be not conformable
to it, yet you need not to be so much troubled at it. But—
Tell your conscience that it cannot manage any evidence to the purpose
that you are free from the condemning power of sin, while your unmortified
lust lies in your heart; so that, perhaps, the law may make good its plea
against you for a full dominion, and then you are a lost creature. Wherefore
it is best to ponder to the utmost what it has to say.
Assuredly, he that pleads in the most secret reserve of his heart that he is
freed from the condemning power of the law, thereby secretly to countenance
himself in giving the least allowance unto any sin or lust, is not able, on gospel
grounds, to manage any evidence, unto any tolerable spiritual security, that
indeed he is in a due manner freed from what he so pretends himself to be
Whatever be the issue, yet the law has commission52 from God to seize
upon transgressors wherever it find them, and so bring them before his
throne, where they are to plead for themselves. This is your present case; the
law has found you out, and before God it will bring you. If you can plead a
pardon, well and good; if not, the law will do its work.
However, this is the proper work of the law, to discover sin in the guilt
of it, to awake and humble the soul for it, to be a glass to represent sin in its
colors; and if you deny to deal with it on this account, it is not through faith,
but through the hardness of your heart and the deceitfulness of sin.
This is a door that too many professors have gone out at unto open apostasy.
Such a deliverance from the law they have pretended, as that they would
consult its guidance and direction no more; they would measure their sin by
it no more. By little and little this principle has insensibly, from the notion of
it, proceeded to influence their practical understandings, and, having taken
possession there, has turned the will and affections loose to all manner of
By such ways, I say, then, as these, persuade your conscience to hearken
diligently to what the law speaks, in the name of the Lord, unto you about
your lust and corruption. Oh! If your ears be open, it will speak with a voice
that shall make you tremble, that shall cast you to the ground and fill you
with astonishment. If ever you will mortify your corruptions, you must tie up
your conscience to the law, shut it from all shifts and exceptions, until it owns
its guilt with a clear and thorough apprehension; so that then, as David
speaks, your “iniquity may ever be before you” [Ps. 51:3].
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Bring your lust to the gospel—not for relief, but for further conviction
of its guilt; look on him whom you have pierced [Zech. 12:10; John 19:37],
and be in bitterness. Say to your soul:
What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have
I despised and trampled on! Is this the return I make to the Father for his
love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Ghost for his grace? Do I thus
requite53 the Lord? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, that
the blessed Spirit has chosen to dwell in? And can I keep myself out of the
dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head
with any boldness before him? Do I account communion with him of so
little value, that for this vile lust’s sake I have scarce left him any room in
my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great salvation? In the meantime,
what shall I say to the Lord? Love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy,
consolation—I have despised them all, and esteemed them as a thing of
naught, that I might harbor a lust in my heart. Have I obtained a view of
God’s fatherly countenance, that I might behold his face and provoke him
to his face? Was my soul washed, that room might be made for new defilements?
Shall I endeavor to disappoint the end of the death of Christ? Shall
I daily grieve that Spirit whereby I am sealed to the day of redemption?
Entertain your conscience daily with this treaty. See if it can stand before this
aggravation of its guilt. If this make it not sink in some measure and melt, I
fear your case is dangerous.
Descend to particulars. As under the general head of the gospel all the
benefits of it are to be considered, as redemption, justification, and the like;
so, in particular, consider the management of the love of them toward your
own soul, for the aggravation of the guilt of your corruption. As—
Consider the infinite patience and forbearance of God toward you in particular.
Consider what advantages he might have taken against time, to have
made you a shame and a reproach in this world, and an object of wrath forever;
how you have dealt treacherously and falsely with him from time to
time, flattered him with your lips, but broken all promises and engagements,
and that by the means of that sin you are now in pursuit of; and yet he has
spared you from time to time, although you seem boldly to have put it to the
trial how long he could hold out. And will you yet sin against him? Will you
yet weary him, and make him to serve with your corruptions?
Have you not often been ready to conclude yourself that it was utterly
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impossible that he should bear any longer with you; that he would cast you
off, and be gracious no more; that all his forbearance was exhausted, and hell
and wrath was even ready prepared for you? And yet, above all your expectation,
he has returned with visitations of love. And will you yet abide in the
provocation of the eyes of his glory?
How often have you been at the door of being hardened by the deceitfulness
of sin, and by the infinite rich grace of God have been recovered to
communion with him again? Have you not found grace decaying; delight in
duties, ordinances, prayer and meditation, vanishing; inclinations to loose
careless walking, thriving; and they who before were entangled, almost
beyond recovery? Have you not found yourself engaged in such ways, societies,
companies, and that with delight, as God abhors? And will you venture
any more to the brink of hardness?
All God’s gracious dealings with you, in providential dispensations, deliverances,
afflictions, mercies, enjoyments, all ought here to take place. By
these, I say, and the like means, load your conscience; and leave it not until
it be thoroughly affected with the guilt of your indwelling corruption, until
it is sensible of its wound, and lie in the dust before the Lord. Unless this be
done to the purpose, all other endeavors are to no purpose. While the conscience
has any means to alleviate the guilt of sin, the soul will never vigorously
attempt its mortification.
Constantly Long and Breathe After Deliverance from the
Power of Sin
Fourthly, being thus affected with your sin, in the next place get a constant
longing, breathing after deliverance from the power of it. Suffer not your
heart one moment to be contented with your present frame and condition.
Longing desires after anything, in things natural and civil, are of no value or
consideration, any further but as they incite and stir up the person in whom
they are to a diligent use of means for the bringing about the thing aimed at.
In spiritual things it is otherwise. Longing, breathing, and panting after deliverance
is a grace in itself, that has a mighty power to conform the soul into
the likeness of the thing longed after. Hence the apostle, describing the repentance
and godly sorrow of the Corinthians, reckons this as one eminent grace
that was then set on work, “vehement desire” (2 Cor. 7:11). And in this case
of indwelling sin and the power of it, what frame does he express himself to
be in? His heart breaks out with longings into a most passionate expression
of desire of deliverance (Rom. 7:24). Now, if this be the frame of saints upon
the general consideration of indwelling sin, how is it to be heightened and
increased when thereunto is added the perplexing rage and power of any particular
lust and corruption! Assure yourself, unless you long for deliverance
you shall not have it.
This will make the heart watchful for all opportunities of advantage
against its enemy, and ready to close with any assistances that are afforded
for its [enemy’s] destruction. Strong desires are the very life of that “praying
always” [Luke 21:36] which is enjoined us in all conditions, and in none is
more necessary than in this; they set faith and hope on work, and are the
soul’s moving after the Lord.
Get your heart, then, into a panting and breathing frame; long, sigh, cry
out. You know the example of David [Psalm 38 and 42]; I shall not need to
insist on it.
Consider Whether the Distemper Is Rooted in Your Nature and
Increased by Your Constitution
The fifth direction is: Consider whether the distemper with which you are perplexed
be not rooted in your nature, and cherished, fomented,54 and heightened
from your constitution. A proneness to some sins may doubtless lie in
the natural temper and disposition of men. In this case consider—
This is not in the least an extenuation of the guilt of your sin. Some, with
an open profaneness, will ascribe gross enormities to their temper and disposition;
and whether others may not relieve themselves from the pressing
guilt of their distempers by the same consideration, I know not. It is from the
fall, from the original depravation of our natures, that the fomes55 and nourishment
of any sin abides in our natural temper. David reckons his being
shapen in iniquity and conception in sin as an aggravation of his following
sin, not a lessening or extenuation of it [Ps. 51:5]. That you are peculiarly
inclined unto any sinful distemper is but a peculiar breaking out of original
lust in your nature, which should peculiarly abase and humble you.
That you have to fix upon on this account, in reference to your walking
with God, is, that so great an advantage is given to sin, as also to Satan, by
this your temper and disposition, that without extraordinary watchfulness,
care, and diligence, they will assuredly prevail against your soul. Thousands
have been on this account hurried headlong to hell, who otherwise, at least,
might have gone at a more gentle, less provoking, less mischievous rate.
54 incited, agitated
55 diseased material
For the mortification of any distemper so rooted in the nature of a
man, unto all other ways and means already named or further to be
insisted on, there is one expedient peculiarly suited; this is that of the apostle,
“I discipline my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27). The
bringing of the very body into subjection is an ordinance of God tending
to the mortification of sin. This gives check unto the natural root of the
distemper and withers it by taking away its fatness56 of soil. Perhaps,
because the papists—men ignorant of the righteousness of Christ, the work
of his Spirit, and [the] whole business in hand—have laid the whole weight
and stress of mortification in voluntary services and penances, leading to
the subjection of the body, knowing indeed the true nature neither of sin
nor [of] mortification, it may, on the other side, be a temptation to some
to neglect some means of humiliation which by God himself are owned
and appointed. The bringing of the body into subjection in the case
insisted on, by cutting short the natural appetite, by fasting, watching,
and the like, is doubtless acceptable to God, so it be done with the ensuing
The outward weakening and impairing of the body should not be looked
upon as a thing good in itself, or that any mortification does consist therein—
which were again to bring us under carnal ordinances; but only as a means
for the end proposed—the weakening of any distemper in its natural root and
seat. A man may have leanness of body and soul together.
The means whereby this is done—namely, by fasting and watching, and
the like—should be looked on as things that in themselves, and by virtue of
their own power, can produce true mortification of any sin; for if they would,
sin might be mortified without any help of the Spirit in any unregenerate person
in the world. They are to be looked on only as ways whereby the Spirit
may, and sometimes does, put forth strength for the accomplishing of his own
work, especially in the case mentioned. Want of a right understanding and
due improvement of these and the like considerations has raised a mortification
among the papists that may be better applied to horses and other beasts
of the field than to believers.
This is the sum of what has been spoken: When the distemper complained
of seems to be rooted in the natural temper and constitution, in
applying our souls to a participation of the blood and Spirit of Christ, an
endeavor is to be used to give check in the way of God to the natural root
of that distemper.
56 richness, fertility
Consider the Occasions and Advantages Your Distemper Has
Taken to Exert and Put Forth Itself, and Watch Against Them All
The sixth direction is: Consider what occasions, what advantages your distemper
has taken to exert and put forth itself, and watch against them all.
This is one part of that duty which our blessed Savior recommends to his
disciples under the name of watching: “I say unto you all, Watch” (Mark
13:37); which, in Luke 21:34, is: “Take heed lest your hearts be overcharged.”
Watch against all eruptions of your corruptions. I mean that duty
which David professed himself to be exercised unto. “I have,” says he, “kept
myself from mine iniquity” [Ps. 18:23]. He watched all the ways and workings
of his iniquity, to prevent them, to rise up against them. This is that which
we are called unto under the name of “considering our ways.” Consider what
ways, what companies, what opportunities, what studies, what businesses,
what conditions, have at any time given, or do usually give, advantages to
your distempers, and set yourself heedfully against them all. Men will do this
with respect unto their bodily infirmities and distempers. The seasons, the
diet, the air that have proved offensive shall be avoided. Are the things of the
soul of less importance? Know that he that dares to dally with occasions of
sin will dare to sin. He that will venture upon temptations unto wickedness
will venture upon wickedness. Hazael thought he should not be so wicked as
the prophet told him he would be. To convince him, the prophet tells him no
more but, “You shall be king of Syria” [2 Kings 8:13]. If he will venture on
temptations unto cruelty, he will be cruel. Tell a man he shall commit such
and such sins, he will startle at it. If you can convince him that he will venture
on such occasions and temptations of them, he will have little ground
left for his confidence.
Particular directions belonging to this head are many, not now to be
insisted on. But because this head is of no less importance than the whole doctrine
here handled, I have at large in another treatise, about entering into
temptations, treated of it.57
Rise Mightily Against the First Actings and Conceptions of
Your Distemper
The seventh direction is: Rise mightily against the first actings of your distemper,
its first conceptions; suffer it not to get the least ground. Do not say,
“Thus far it shall go, and no farther.” If it have allowance for one step, it will
57 See Owen’s Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, reprinted in this volume.
take another. It is impossible to fix bounds to sin. It is like water in a channel—
if it once break out, it will have its course. Its not acting is easier to be
compassed than its bounding. Therefore does James give that gradation and
process of lust (1:14-15), that we may stop at the entrance. Do you find your
corruption to begin to entangle your thoughts? Rise up with all your strength
against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it
aims at. Consider what an unclean thought would have; it would have you
roll yourself in folly and filth. Ask envy what it would have—murder and
destruction is at the end of it. Set yourself against it with no less vigor than if
it had utterly debased you to wickedness. Without this course you will not
prevail. As sin gets ground in the affections to delight in, it gets also upon the
understanding to slight it.

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