Saturday, February 28, 2009

John Owen on Why the Flesh Must Be Mortified (and a bit of cheese on the side)

We bid a sad farewell to James (the epistle of). Much straightforward practical wisdom there and much to think about and work out in our lives. Now that manybooks are visible at a glance, have been reunited with the Puritans. They don't profess to be the complete word of God but there's much biblical truth in their writing. A good follow-on from James.

Gouda Fermier, Brie de Meux, Dried Apricots, Dried Figs, Dried Raisins, Rye crispbread knäckebröd, Carr's cheese melts
Here's John Owen on Why the Flesh Must Be Mortified* from The Mortification of Sin. Good stuff. Well worth a bunch of friends, accompanied by low GI nibbles (as if there will be any appetite after Owen's punches to the solar plexus), settling in for a mass read:

So Paul challenges the Colossian believers in Colossians 3:5, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth." To whom does he speak? To those who were "risen with Christ" (3:1); those who were "dead" with him (3:3); those whose life Christ was, and who should "appear with him in glory" (3:4).

Do you mortify**? Do you make mortification your daily work? You must always be at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; always be killing sin or it will be killing you.

Your position of being dead with Christ, your new life with him, will not excuse you from this work. And our Saviour tells us how his Father deals with every branch in him that bears fruit, every true and living branch. "He prunes it, that it may bring forth more fruit," John 15:2. He prunes it and that not for a day or two, but while it is a branch in this world. And the apostle tells you what was his practice, 1 Corinthians 9:27, "I discipline my body and keep it under control" "I do it," says he, "daily; it is the work of my life: I omit it not; this is my business." And if this were the work and business of Paul, who was so incomparably exalted in grace, revelations, enjoyments, privileges, consolations, above the ordinary measure of believers, where may we possibly be exempt from this work and duty*** while we are still in this world?

There are 6 reasons why we need to be at this important work:

1. Indwelling sin always abides while we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified.
Some vain, foolish, and ignorant men think they can perfectly keep the commands of God, and attain perfection in this life, and be wholly and perfectly dead to sin. It is more than probable that the men of those abominations never knew what belonged to the keeping of any one of God's commands, and are so much below perfection, that they never attained to a perfection of parts in obedience or universal obedience in sincerity. And, therefore, many in our days who have talked of perfection have been wiser, and have affirmed it to consist in knowing no difference between good and evil. Not that they are perfect in the things we call good, but that all is alike to them, and the height of wickedness is their perfection. Others who have found out a new way to it, by denying original, indwelling sin, and tempering the spirituality of the law of God unto men's carnal hearts, as they have sufficiently discovered themselves to be ignorant of the life of Christ and the power of it in believers, so they have invented a new righteousness that the gospel knows not of, being vainly puffed up by their fleshly minds.

For us, who dare not be wise above what is written, nor boast by other men's conjectures of what God has not done for us, we say that indwelling sin lives in us, in some measure and degree, while we are in this world. We dare not speak as "though we had already attained, or were already perfect," Philippians 3:12. Our "inward man is to be renewed day by day" while we live, 2 Corinthians 4:16; and according to the renovations of the new are the breaches and decays of the old. While we are here we "know but in part," 1 Cor. 13:12, having a remaining darkness to be gradually removed by our "growth in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ," 2 Peter 3:18; and "the flesh lusts against the Spirit, so that we cannot do the things that we would," Galatians 5:17; and are therefore defective in our obedience as well as in our light, 1 John 1:8. We have a "body of death," Romans 7:24; from whence we are not delivered but by the death of our bodies, Philippians 3:21. Now, it being our duty to mortify, to be killing of sin while it is in us, we must be at work. He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he quits before the other ceases living, does only half his work, Galatians 6:9; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Corinthians 7:1.

2. Sin not only still abides in us, but is still acting, still labouring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh.
When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion. Sin not only abides in us, but "the law of the members is still rebelling against the law of the mind," Romans 7:23; and "the spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy," James 4:5. It is always in continual work; "the flesh lusts against the Spirit," Galatians 5:17; lust is still tempting and conceiving sin, James 1:14; in every moral action it is always either inclining to evil, or hindering from that which is good, or disframing the spirit from communion with God. It inclines to evil. "The evil which I would not, that I do," says Paul, Romans 7:19. Why is that? Why, "Because in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing." And it hinders from good: "The good that I would do, that I do not," verse 19;-- "Upon the same account, either I do it not, or not as I should; all my holy things being defiled by this sin." "The flesh lusts against the Spirit, so that you cannot do the things that you would," Galatians 5:17. And it unframes our spirit, and is called "The sin that so grievous complaints that the apostle makes of it, Romans 7. So that sin is always acting, always conceiving, always seducing and tempting. Who can say that he had ever any thing to do with God or for God, that indwelling sin had not a hand in the corrupting of what he did? And this trade will it drive more or less all our days.

If, then, sin will be always acting, if we be not always mortifying, we are lost creatures. He that stands still and suffers his enemies to double blows upon him without resistance, will undoubtedly be conquered in the issue. If sin is subtle, watchful, strong, and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and we are slothful, negligent, foolish, in bringing about the ruin of sin, can we expect a favourable outcome? There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so while we live in this world.

The saints know there is no safety against sin but only that to be found in a constant warfare.

3. Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.
Paul tells us what the works and fruits of sin are, Galatians 5:19-21, "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." You know what sin did in David and many others. Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head.

Sin may not be heard speaking a scandalous word in man's hearts, it may not seem to be provoking him to any great scandal; but yet every rise of lust, it is taking its course, and will soon come to the height of villainy: it is like the grave, it is never satisfied.

And herein lies the deceitfulness of sin, by which it prevails in hardening the hearts of men and so bring them to their ruin, Hebrews 3:13. It is modest in its first motions and proposals, but having once got footing in the heart by them, it constantly makes advances and presses on further. The advancement of sin makes the soul take little notice of how much it has already fallen away from God. The soul is ndifferent to sin and is hardened as sin continues to grow. And sin still presses forward because it has no bounds but the utter relinquishment of God and opposition to him; that it proceeds towards its height by degrees, making good the ground it has gotten by hardness, is not from its nature, but its deceitfulness.

Now nothing can prevent this but mortification; that withers the root and strikes at the head of sin every hour, so that whatever it aims at it is crossed in. There is not the best saint in the world but, if he should give over this duty, would fall into as many cursed sins as ever any did of his kind.

4. This is one main reason why the Spirit and the new nature is given to us, that we may have a principle within whereby to oppose sin and lust.
"The flesh lusts against the Spirit." Well! and what then? Why, "The Spirit also lusts against the flesh," Galatians 5:17. There is a propensity in the Spirit, or spiritual new nature, to be acting against the flesh, as well as in the flesh to be acting against the Spirit: so 2 Peter 1:4,5. It is our participation in the divine nature that gives us an escape from the pollutions that are in the world through lust; and, Romans 7:23, there is a law of the mind, as well as a law of the members.

Now this is, first, the most unjust and unreasonable thing in the world, when two combatants are engaged, to bind one and keep him up from doing his utmost, and to leave the other at liberty to wound him at his pleasure; and, secondly, the foolishest thing in the world to bind him who fights for our eternal condition, and to let him alone who seeks and violently attempts our everlasting ruin. The contest is for our lives and souls. Not to be daily employing the Spirit and new nature for the mortifying of sin, is to neglect that excellent succour which God has given us against our greatest enemy. If we neglect to make use of what we have received, God may justly hold his hand from giving us more. His graces, as well as his gifts, are bestowed on us to use, exercise, and trade with. Not to be daily mortifying sin, is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who has furnished us with a principle of doing it.

5. Negligence in this duty casts the soul into a perfect contrary condition to that which the apostle affirms was his, 2 Corinthians 4:16, "Though our outward man perishes, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."
Neglience in the duty of mortification ensures that the inward man perishes, and the outward man is renewed day by day. Exercise and success are the two main cherishers of grace in the heart; when it is suffered to lie still, it withers and decays: the things of it are ready to die, Revelations 3:2; and sin gets ground towards the hardening of the heart, Hebrews 3:13. By the omission of the duty of mortification, grace withers, lust flourishes, and the frame of the heart grows worse and worse. And the Lord knows what desperate and fearful issues it has had with many. Where sin, through the neglect of mortification, gets a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul, Psalm 31:10, and makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die, Psalm 38:3-5, so that he cannot look up, Psalm 60:12, Isaiah 33:24. And when poor creatures will take blow by blow, wound after wound, foil after foil, and never rouse up themselves to a vigorous opposition, can they expect any thing but to be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and that their souls should bleed to death? 2 John 8. Indeed, it is a sad thing to consider the fearful issues of this neglect, which lie under our eyes every day. Do we not see those, whom we knew humble, melting, broken-hearted Christians, tender and fearful to offend, zealous for God and all his ways, his Sabbaths and ordinances, grown, through neglect of watching unto this duty, earthly, carnal, cold, wrathful, complying with the men of the world and things of the world, to the scandal of religion and the fearful temptation of them that know them?

True evangelical mortification is all but lost between a rigid, stubborn frame of spirit, which is for the most part earthly, legal, censorious, partial, consistent with wrath, envy, malice, pride, on the one hand, and pretences of liberty, grace, and I know not what, on the other.

6. It is our duty to be "perfecting holiness in the fear of God," 2 Corinthians 7:1; to be "growing in grace" every day, 1 Peter 2:3, 2 Peter 3:18; to be "renewing our inward man day by day," 2 Corinthians 4:16.
Now, this cannot be done without the daily mortifying of sin. Sin sets its strength against every act of holiness, and against every degree we grow to. Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who does not kill sin in his way takes no steps towards his journey's end. He who finds no opposition from it, and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it.

This, then, is the first general principle of our ensuing discourse: Notwithstanding the meritorious mortification, if I may so speak, of all and every sin the cross of Christ; notwithstanding the real foundation of universal mortification laid in our first conversion, by conviction of sin, humiliation for sin, and the implantation of a new principle opposite to it and destructive of it; yet sin does so remain, so act and work in the best of believers, while they live in this world, that the constant daily mortification of it is all their days incumbent on them. Before I proceed to the consideration of the next principle, I cannot but by the way complain of many professors of these days, who, instead of bringing forth such great and evident fruits of mortification as are expected, scarce bear any leaves of it. There is, indeed, a broad light fallen upon the men of this generation, and together with many spiritual gifts communicated, which, with some other considerations, have wonderfully enlarged the bounds of professors and profession****; both they and it are exceedingly multiplied and increased. Hence there is a noise of religion and religious duties in every corner, preaching in abundance, and that not in an empty, light, trivial, and vain manner, as formerly, but to a good proportion of a spiritual gift, so that if you will measure the number of believers by light, gifts, and profession, the church may have cause to say, "Who hath born me all these?" But now if you will take the measure of them by this great discriminating grace of Christians, perhaps you will find their number not so multiplied. Where almost is that professor who owes his conversion to these days of light, and so talks and professes at such a rate of spirituality as few in former days were, in any measure, acquainted with (I will not judge them, but perhaps boasting what the Lord has done in them), that does not give evidence of a miserably unmortified heart? If vain spending of time, idleness, unprofitableness in men's places, envy, strife, variance, emulations, wrath, pride, worldliness, selfishness, 1 Corinthians 1, be badges of Christians, we have them on us and amongst us in abundance. And if it be so with them who have much light, and which, we hope, is saving, what shall we say of some who would be accounted religious and yet despise the gospel light, and for the duty we have in hand, know no more of it but what consists in men's denying themselves sometimes in outward enjoyments, which is one of the outmost branches of it, which they will seldom practice? The good Lord send out a spirit of mortification to cure our distempers, or we are in a sad condition!

There are two evils which certainly attend every unmortified professor - the first, in himself; the other, in respect of others:
1. In himself. Let him pretend what he will, he has slight thoughts of sin; at least, of sins of daily infirmity. The root of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. When a man imagines he has such apprehension of grace and mercy as to be able, without bitterness, to swallow and digest daily sins, that man is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Neither is there a greater evidence of a false and rotten heart in the world than to drive such a trade. To use the blood of Christ, which is given to cleanse us, 1 John 1:7, Titus 2:14; the exaltation of Christ, which is to give us repentance, Acts 5:31; the doctrine of grace, which teaches us to deny all ungodliness, Titus 2:11,12 to countenance sin, is a rebellion that in the issue will break the bones.

At this door have gone out from us most of the professors that have apostatised in the days wherein we live. For a while they were most of them under convictions; these kept them to their duties, and brought them to profession; so they "escaped the pollutions that are in the world, through the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ," 2 Peter 2:20: but having got an acquaintance with the doctrine of the gospel, and being weary of duty, for which they had no true desire, they began to allow themselves to neglect these things because of the doctrine of grace. Now, when once this evil had laid hold of them, they speedily tumbled into perdition.

2. To others. Unmortified professors have an evil influence on others in two ways:
(1.) It hardens them, by persuading them that they are in as good condition as the best professors whenever they see that their want of mortification does not concern them. These unmortified professors have a zeal for religion; but it is accompanied with want of forbearance and universal righteousness. They deny prodigality, but with worldliness; they separate from the world, but live wholly to themselves, taking no care to exercise loving-kindness in the earth; or they talk spiritually, and live vainly; mention communion with God, and are every way conformed to the world; boasting of forgiveness of sin, and never forgiving others. And with such considerations do poor creatures harden their hearts in their unregeneracy.

(2.) They deceive them, in making them believe that if they can come up to their standard of "holiness" it shall be well with them; and so it grows an easy thing to have the great temptation of repute in religion to wrestle withal, when they may go far beyond them as to what appears in them, and yet come short of eternal life.

*taken from Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Have tried to update the language a bit and have abridged the work slightly.

**mortify = putting a living thing to death, to take away all of its strength, vigour and power so that it cannot act, or exert, or put forth any proper actings of its own. Indwelling sin is compared to a person, a living person, called "the old man", with his faculties, and properties, his wisdom, craft, subtlety and strength. The "old man" is utterly mortified and slain by the cross of Christ. He is said to be "crucified with Christ" (Romans 6:6) and ourselves to be dead with him (v8). This takes place in regeneration. The work of the Holy Spirit, who is planted in our hearts, also opposes the lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5:17). This whole work is done by degrees, and is to be carried on towards perfection all of our days. (from John Owen, Introduction to The Mortification of Sin, as abridged and made easy to read by Richard Rushing)

***duty = "If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13)
"the body" = "the flesh" = indwelling sin

****professors - those who profess to have faith in Christ, not those worrying about their tenure
profession - profession of faith, not the career that is cast in jeopardy by this creditcrunchglobalfinancialcrisis

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