Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen
John Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers is divided into three
parts.1 Part 1 begins by explaining the necessity of mortification through an
exposition of Romans 8:13—“If you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds
of the body you shall live”—a foundational text in Owen’s theology of mortification.
Owen then sets forth three foundational principles for the mortification
of sin: first, believers, who are free from the condemning power of sin,
ought to make it their daily work to mortify the indwelling power of sin;
second, only the Holy Spirit is sufficient for this work; and third, the life,
vigor, and comfort of the believer’s spiritual life depends much upon this work
of mortifying sin.
In Part 2 Owen seeks to define the mortification of sin and to set forth
directions for this duty. He begins by explaining what mortification is not.
Mortification is not the utter destruction of sin, nor is it the concealing of sin.
Mortification has not occurred just because one’s disposition has been
improved, or because the sin has been diverted, or because the believer experiences
an occasional conquest. So what is mortification? Owen argues that
mortification is a habitual, successful weakening of sin that involves constant
warfare and contention against the flesh.
Having defined mortification, Owen then turns to pastoral counsel on
how to mortify sin. But first he sets forth some necessary conditions for mortification,
namely, that one must be a believer, and that one must seek for universal
mortification, before a single sin will be mortified.
Owen then offers nine particular directions for the soul with regard to
1 A detailed outline of this book is found at the end of this volume.
mortification: (1) consider whether the sin you are contending with has any
dangerous symptoms attending it; (2) get a clear and abiding sense upon your
mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of that sin; (3) load your
conscience with the guilt of it; (4) get a constant longing for deliverance from
the power of it; (5) consider whether the sin is rooted in your nature and exacerbated
by your temperament; (6) consider what occasions and advantages
your sin has taken to exert and put forth itself, and watch against them all;
(7) rise mightily against the first actings and conceptions of your sin; (8) meditate
in such a way that you are filled at all times with self-abasement and
thoughts of your own vileness; (9) listen to what God says to your soul and
do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken what he says
to your soul.
Finally, in Part 3 Owen explains that the foregoing is really preparation
for the work of mortification. When we turn to the work of mortification
itself, Owen offers two exhortations: first, we must set our faith on the crosswork
of Christ for the killing of sin; second, the entire work of mortification
must be done in the power of the Spirit.