Mortification Chapter 14

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

Now, the considerations which I have hitherto insisted on are rather of things
preparatory to the work aimed at than such as will effect it. It is the heart’s
due preparation for the work itself, without which it will not be accomplished,
that hitherto I have aimed at.
Directions for the work itself are very few; I mean that are peculiar to it.
And they are these that follow:
Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the
great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conqueror;
yea, you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your
lust dead at your feet.
But you will say, “How shall faith act itself on Christ for this end and purpose?”
I say, sundry ways—
By faith fill your soul with a due consideration of that provision which
is laid up in Jesus Christ for this end and purpose, that all your lusts, this very
lust wherewith you are entangled, may be mortified. By faith ponder on this,
that though you are no way able in or by yourself to get the conquest over
your distemper, though you are even weary of contending, and are utterly
ready to faint, yet that there is enough in Jesus Christ to yield you relief (Phil.
4:13). It staid1 the prodigal, when he was ready to faint, that yet there was
bread enough in his father’s house; though he was at a distance from it, yet
it relieved him, and staid him, that there it was [Luke 15:17]. In your greatest
distress and anguish, consider that fullness of grace, those riches, those
treasures of strength, might, and help [Isa. 40:28-31], that are laid up in him
for our support (John 1:16; Col. 1:19). Let them come into and abide in your
mind. Consider that he is “exalted and made a Prince and a Savior to give
repentance unto Israel” (Acts 5:31); and if to give repentance, to give mortification,
without which the other is not, nor can be. Christ tells us that we
obtain purging grace by abiding in him (John 15:3). To act faith upon the fullness
that is in Christ for our supply is an eminent way of abiding in Christ,
1 steadied, stabilized
for both our insition2 and abode is by faith (Rom. 11:19-20). Let, then, your
soul by faith be exercised with such thoughts and apprehensions as these:
I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption
is too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and
what to do I know not. My soul is become as parched ground, and an habitation
of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and
engagements have been as a thing of naught. Many persuasions have I had
that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so
that I plainly see, that without some eminent succor and assistance, I am
lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet,
though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be
lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Christ,
that has all fullness of grace in his heart [John 1:16], all fullness of power
in his hand [Matt. 28:18], he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is
sufficient provision in him for my relief and assistance. He can take my
drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror [Rom. 8:37].
“Why do you say, O my soul, My way is hid from the LORD, and
my judgment is passed over from my God? Have you not known,
have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the
Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary?
There is no searching of his understanding. He gives power to the
faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength. Even
the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall
utterly fall: but they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their
strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run,
and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:27-31).
He can make the “dry, parched ground of my soul to become a pool, and
my thirsty, barren heart as springs of water”; yea, he can make this “habitation
of dragons,” this heart, so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations,
to be a place for “grass” and fruit to himself (Isa. 35:7).
So God staid Paul, under his temptation, with the consideration of the sufficiency
of his grace: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). Though he
were not immediately so far made partaker of it as to be freed from his temptation,
yet the sufficiency of it in God, for that end and purpose, was enough
to stay his spirit. I say, then, by faith, be much in the consideration of that
2 engraftment
supply and the fullness of it that is in Jesus Christ, and how he can at any
time give you strength and deliverance. Now, if hereby you do not find success
to a conquest, yet you will be staid in the chariot, that you shall not fly
out of the field until the battle be ended; you will be kept from an utter
despondency and a lying down under your unbelief, or a turning aside to false
means and remedies, that in the issue will not relieve you. The efficacy of this
consideration will be found only in the practice.
Raise up your heart by faith to an expectation of relief from Christ. Relief
in this case from Christ is like the prophet’s vision: “It is for an appointed
time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, yet wait for it;
because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Hab. 2:3). Though it may seem
somewhat long to you, while you are under your trouble and perplexity, yet
it shall surely come in the appointed time of the Lord Jesus; which is the best
season. If, then, you can raise up your heart to a settled expectation of relief
from Jesus Christ—if your eyes are toward him “as the eyes of a servant to
the hand of his master” [Ps. 123:2] when he expects to receive somewhat
from him—your soul shall be satisfied, he will assuredly deliver you; he will
slay the lust, and your latter end shall be peace. Only look for it at his hand;
expect when and how he will do it. “If you will not believe, surely you shall
not be established” [Isa. 7:9].
But will you say, “What ground have I to build such an expectation upon, so
that I may expect not to be deceived?”
As you have necessity to put you on this course, you must be relieved and saved
this way or none. To whom will you go [John 6:68]? So there are in the Lord
Jesus innumerable things to encourage and engage you to this expectation.
For the necessity of it, I have in part discovered3 it before, when I manifested
that this is the work of faith and of believers only. “Without me,” says
Christ, “you can do nothing” (John 15:5), speaking with special relation to
the purging of the heart from sin (v. 2). Mortification of any sin must be by
a supply of grace. Of ourselves we cannot do it. Now, “it has pleased the
Father that in Christ should all fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19); that “of his fullness
we might receive grace for grace” (John 1:16). He is the head from
3 demonstrated
whence the new man must have influences of life and strength, or it will decay
every day. If we are “strengthened with might in the inner man” [Eph. 3:16],
it is by “Christ’s dwelling in our hearts by faith” (Eph. 3:16-17). That this
work is not to be done without the Spirit I have also shown before. Whence,
then, do we expect the Spirit? From whom do we look for him? Who has
promised him to us, having procured4 him for us? Ought not all our expectations
to this purpose to be on Christ alone? Let this, then, be fixed upon
your heart, that if you have not relief from him you shall never have any. All
ways, endeavors, contendings that are not animated by this expectation of
relief from Christ and him only are to no purpose, will do you no good. Yea,
if they are anything but supports of your heart in this expectation, or means
appointed by himself for the receiving of help from him, they are in vain.
Now, farther to engage you to this expectation:
Consider his mercifulness, tenderness, and kindness, as he is our great
High Priest at the right hand of God. Assuredly he pities you in your distress;
says he, “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you” (Isa.
66:13). He has the tenderness of a mother to a sucking child. “Wherefore in
all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be
a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation
for the sins of the people. For in that he himself has suffered being
tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18). How is
the ability of Christ upon the account of his suffering proposed to us? “In that
he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able.” Did the sufferings and temptations
of Christ add to his ability and power? Not, doubtless, considered
absolutely and in it itself. But the ability here mentioned is such as has readiness,
proneness, willingness to put itself forth, accompanying of it; it is an ability
of will against all dissuasions. He is able, having suffered and been tempted,
to break through all dissuasions to the contrary, to relieve poor tempted souls:
dunatai bo·th·sai—“He is able to help.” It is a metonymy of the effect, for he
can now be moved to help, having been so tempted. So Hebrews 4:15-16: “For
we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our
infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us
therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and
find grace to help in time of need.” The exhortation of verse 16 is the same
that I am upon—namely, that we would entertain expectations of relief from
Christ, which the apostle there calls charin eis eukairon bo·theian, “grace for
seasonable help.” “If ever,” says the soul, “help were seasonable, it would be
4 gained, obtained
so to me in my present condition. This is that which I long for—grace for seasonable
help. I am ready to die, to perish, to be lost forever; iniquity will prevail
against me, if help come not in.” Says the apostle, “Expect this help, this
relief, this grace from Christ.” Yea, but on what account? That which he lays
down (v. 15). And we may observe that the word which we have translated to
“obtain” is labømen. Hina labømen eleon, “That we may receive it” (v. 16);
suitable and seasonable help will come in. I shall freely say, this one thing of
establishing the soul by faith in expectation of relief from Jesus Christ, on the
account of his mercifulness as our high priest, will be more available to the
ruin of your lust and distemper, and have a better and speedier issue, than all
the rigidest means of self-maceration that ever any of the sons of men engaged
themselves unto. Yea, let me add that never any soul did or shall perish by the
power of any lust, sin, or corruption, who could raise his soul by faith to an
expectation of relief from Jesus Christ.
Consider his faithfulness who has promised; which may raise you up and
confirm you in this waiting in an expectation of relief. He has promised to
relieve in such cases, and he will fulfill his word to the utmost. God tells us
that his covenant with us is like the “ordinances” of heaven, the sun, moon,
and stars, which have their certain courses (Jer. 31:36). Thence David said
that he watched for relief from God “as one watched for the morning” [Ps.
130:6]—a thing that will certainly come in its appointed season. So will be
your relief from Christ. It will come in its season, as the dew and rain upon
the parched ground; for faithful is he who has promised. Particular promises
to this purpose are innumerable; with some of them, that seem peculiarly to
suit his condition, let the soul be always furnished.
Now, there are two eminent advantages which always attend this expectation
of succor from Jesus Christ:
It engages him to a full and speedy assistance. Nothing does more engage
the heart of a man to be useful and helpful to another than his expectation
of help from him, if justly raised and countenanced by him who is to give the
relief. Our Lord Jesus has raised our hearts, by his kindness, care, and
promises, to this expectation; certainly our rising up unto it must needs be5
a great engagement upon him to assist us accordingly. This the psalmist gives
us as an approved maxim, “You, LORD, never forsake them that put their
trust in you” [Ps. 9:10]. When the heart is once won to rest in God, to repose6
himself on him, he will assuredly satisfy it. He will never be as water that fails;
5 is of necessity
6 rest
nor has he said at any time to the seed of Jacob, “Seek you my face in vain”
[Isa. 45:19]. If Christ be chosen for the foundation of our supply, he will not
fail us.
It engages the heart to attend diligently to all the ways and means whereby
Christ is wont to communicate himself to the soul; and so takes in the real
assistance of all graces and ordinances whatsoever. He that expects anything
from a man, applies himself to the ways and means whereby it may be
obtained. The beggar that expects an alms lies at his door or in his way from
whom he does expect it. The way whereby and the means wherein Christ communicates
himself is, and are, his ordinances ordinarily; he that expects anything
from him must attend upon him therein. It is the expectation of faith that
sets the heart on work. It is not an idle, groundless hope that I speak of. If now
there be any vigor, efficacy, and power in prayer or sacrament to this end of
mortifying sin, a man will assuredly be interested in it all by this expectation
of relief from Christ. On this account I reduce all particular actings, by prayer,
meditation, and the like, to this head; and so shall not farther insist on them,
when they are grounded on this bottom and spring from this root. They are
of singular use to this purpose, and not [anything] else.
Now, on this direction for the mortification of a prevailing distemper you
may have a thousand probatum est’s.7 Who have walked with God under this
temptation, and have not found the use and success of it? I dare leave the soul
under it, without adding any more. Only some particulars relating thereunto
may be mentioned—
First, act faith peculiarly upon the death, blood, and cross of Christ; that
is, on Christ as crucified and slain. Mortification of sin is peculiarly from the
death of Christ. It is one peculiar, yea, eminent end of the death of Christ,
which shall assuredly be accomplished by it. He died to destroy the works of
the devil [1 John 3:8]. Whatever came upon our natures by his first temptation,
whatever receives strength in our persons by his daily suggestions, Christ
died to destroy it all. “He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from
all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good
works” (Titus 2:14). This was his aim and intention (wherein he will not fall)
in his giving himself for us. That we might be freed from the power of our
sins, and purified from all our defiling lusts, was his design. “He gave himself
for the church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it; that he might present
it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such
thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). And
7 probatum est means “it is proved”
this, by virtue of his death, in various and several degrees, shall be accomplished.
Hence our washing, purging, and cleansing is everywhere ascribed
to his blood (1 John 1:7; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 1:5). That being sprinkled on us
“purges our consciences from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb.
9:14). This is that we aim at, this we are in pursuit of—that our consciences
may be purged from dead works, that they may be rooted out, destroyed, and
have place in us no more. This shall certainly be brought about by the death
of Christ; there will virtue go out from thence to this purpose. Indeed, all supplies
of the Spirit, all communications of grace and power, are from hence (as
I have elsewhereshowed8). Thus the apostle states it; Romans 6:2 is the case
proposed that we have in hand: “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any
longer therein?”—“Dead to sin by profession; dead to sin by obligation to be
so; dead to sin by participation of virtue and power for the killing of it; dead
to sin by union and interest in Christ, in and by whom it is killed: how shall
we live therein?” This he presses by sundry considerations, all taken from the
death of Christ, in the ensuing verses. This must not be: “Know you not, that
so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his
death?” (v. 3). We have in baptism an evidence of our implantation into
Christ; we are baptized into him. But what of him are we baptized into an
interest in? “His death,” says he. If indeed we are baptized into Christ, and
beyond outward profession, we are baptized into his death. The explication
of this, of one being baptized into the death of Christ, the apostle gives us:
“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ
was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should
walk in newness of life. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him,
that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve
sin” (vv. 4, 6). “This is,” says he, “our being baptized into the death of Christ,
namely, our conformity thereunto; to be dead unto sin, to have our corruptions
mortified, as he was put to death for sin: so that as he was raised up to
glory, we may be raised up to grace and newness of life.” He tells us whence
it is that we have this baptism into the death of Christ (v. 6); and this is from
the death of Christ itself: “Our old man is crucified with him, that the body
of sin might be destroyed”; sunestaurøthe, “is crucified with him,” not in
respect of time, but causality. We are crucified with him meritoriously, in that
he procured the Spirit for us to mortify sin; efficiently, in that from his death
virtue comes forth for our crucifying; in the way of a representation and
exemplar we shall assuredly be crucified unto sin, as he was for our sin. This
8 See John Owen, Communion with God, chapters 7–8, in Works, 2.
is that [which] the apostle intends: Christ by his death destroying the works
of the devil, procuring the Spirit for us, has so killed sin as to its reign in
believers, that it shall not obtain its end and dominion.
Secondly, then act faith on the death of Christ, and that under these two
notions—first, in expectation of power; secondly, in endeavors for conformity.
For the first, the direction given in general may suffice; as to the latter,
that of the apostle may give us some light into our direction (Gal. 3:1). Let
faith look on Christ in the gospel as he is set forth dying and crucified for us.
Look on him under the weightof our sins, praying, bleeding, dying; bring him
in that condition into your heart by faith; apply his blood so shed to your corruptions.
Do this daily. I might draw out this consideration to a great length,
in sundry particulars, but I must come to a close.
I have only, then, to add the heads of the work of the Spirit in this business
of mortification, which is so peculiarly ascribed to him. In one word: this
whole work, which I have described as our duty, is effected, carried on, and
accomplished by the power of the Spirit, in all the parts and degrees of it; as—
He alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil and guilt and
danger of the corruption, lust, or sin to be mortified.Without this conviction,
or while it is so faint that the heart can wrestle with it or digest it, there will
be no thorough work made. An unbelieving heart (as in part we have all such)
will shift with any consideration, until it be overpowered by clear and evident
convictions. Now this is the proper work of the Spirit: “He convinces
of sin” (John 16:8); he alone can do it. If men’s rational considerations, with
the preaching of the letter, were able to convince them of sin, we should, it
may be, see more convictions than we do. There comes by the preaching of
the word an apprehension upon the understandings of men that they are sinners,
that such and such things are sins, that themselves are guilty of them;
but this light is not powerful, nor does it lay hold on the practical principles
of the soul, so as to conform the mind and will unto them, to produce effects
suitable to such an apprehension. And therefore it is that wise and knowing
men, destitute of the Spirit, do not think those things to be sins at all wherein
the chief movings and actings of lust do consist. It is the Spirit alone that can
do, that does, this work to the purpose. And this is the first thing that the
Spirit does in order to the mortification of any lust whatsoever—it convinces
the soul of all the evil of it, cuts off all its pleas, discovers all its deceits, stops
all its evasions, answers its pretenses, makes the soul own its abomination and
lie down under the sense of it. Unless this be done all that follows is in vain.
The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief; which
is the consideration that stays the heart from false ways and from despairing
despondency (Col. 2:8).9
The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ;
which is the great sovereign means of mortification, as has been discovered
(2 Cor. 1:21).
The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sinkilling
power; for by the Spirit are we baptized into the death of Christ [Rom.
6:3; 1 Cor. 12:13].
The Spirit is the author and finisher of our sanctification; gives new supplies
and influences of grace for holiness and sanctification, when the contrary
principle is weakened and abated10 (Eph. 3:16-18).
In all the soul’s addresses to God in this condition, it has support from
the Spirit. Whence is the power, life, and vigor of prayer? Whence its efficacy
to prevail with God? Is it not from the Spirit? He is the “Spirit of supplications”
promised to them “who look on him whom they have pierced” (Zech.
12:10), enabling them “to pray with sighs and groans that cannot be uttered”
(Rom. 8:26). This is confessed to be the great medium or way of faith’s prevailing
with God. Thus Paul dealt with his temptation, whatever it was: “I
besought the Lord that it might depart from me” [2 Cor. 12:8]. What is the
work of the Spirit in prayer, whence and how it gives us in assistance and
makes us to prevail, what we are to do that we may enjoy his help for that
purpose, is not my present intention to demonstrate.



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