I recently had the privilege of reading John Owen’s classic The Mortificaiton of Sin.
I really do mean it was a privilege. The version I read was lightly edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, and it was easier to read than I anticipated. More than that I was really helped in seeing the seriousness of my sin afresh, the glorious balm that is ours in the gospel, and specific strategies in how I can kill my sin.
Here are twenty quotes from The Mortificaiton of Sin, which I pray are helpful for you as you strive to “put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit” (Romans 8:13).
1. Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you (50).
2. Sin does not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still laboring 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 (51).
3. 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 toward his journey’s end. He who finds not opposition from it, and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it (55).
4. Men in [old] age do not usually persist in the pursuit of youthful lusts, although they have never mortified any one of them. And the same is the case of bartering of lusts, and leaving to serve one that a man may serve another. He that changes pride for worldliness, sensuality for Pharisaism, vanity in himself to contempt of others, let him not think that he has mortified the sin that he seems to have left. He has changed his master, but is a servant still (71).
5. Now the first thing in mortification is the weakening of this habit of sin or lust, that it shall not, with that violence, earnestness, frequency, rise up, conceive, tumultate [agitate], provoke, entice, disquiet, as naturally it is apt to do (74).
6. To labor to be acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions of its [sins] success is the beginning of this warfare. So do men deal with enemies. They inquire out of their counsels and designs, ponder their ends, consider how and by what means they have formerly prevailed, that they may be prevented. In this consists the greatest skill in conduct. Take this away, and all waging of war, wherein is the greatest improvement of human wisdom and industry, would be brutish. So do they deal with lust who mortify it indeed (76).
7. Frequent success against any lust in another part and evidence of mortification. By success I understand not a mere disappointment of sin, that it be not brought forth not accomplished, but a victory over it and pursuit of it to a complete conquest. For instance, when the heart finds sin at any time at work, seducing, forming imaginations to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof, it instantly apprehends sin and brings it to the law of God and the love of Christ, condemns it, follows it with execution to the uttermost (77).
8. A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit (80).
9. When the Jews, upon the conviction of their sin, were cut to the heart and cried out, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), what does Peter direct them to do? Does he bid them to go and mortify their pride, wrath, malice, cruelty, and the like? No; he knew that was not their present work, but he calls them to conversion and faith in Christ in general (v. 38). Let the soul be first thoroughly converted, and then, “looking on him whom they had pierced” [Zech. 12:10; John 19:37], humiliation and mortification will ensue (81).
9. Hatred of sin as sin, not only as galling or disquieting, a sense of love of Christ in the cross, lies at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification (87).
10. If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul (87).
11. No. God says, “Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost” (88).
12. That God does sometimes leave even those of his own under the perplexing power of at least some lust or sin, to correct them for former sins, negligence, and folly, I no way doubt (94).
13. Examine your heart and ways. What was the state and condition of your soul before you fell into the entanglements of that sin which now you so complain of? Have you been negligent in duties? Have you lived inordinately to yourself? Is there the guilt of any great sin lying upon you unreported of? A new sin may be permitted, as well as a new affliction sent, to bring an old sin to remembrance (95).
14. 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, stupefying of the affections, and deceiving of the whole soul (99).
15. Among those who walk with God, there is not 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 (102).
16. Suffer not your heart one moment to be contented with your present frame and condition… 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 (106).
17. Rise up with all your strength against [your sin], with no less indignation than if it had been 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 (110).
18. I say, to keep your heart in continual awe of the majesty of God, that persons of the most high and eminent attainment, of the nearest and most familiar communion with God, do yet in this life know but a very little of him and his glory… we speak much of God, can talk of him, his ways, his works, his counsels, all the day long; the truth is, we know very little of him. Our thoughts, our meditations, our expressions of him are low, many of them unworthy of his glory, none of them reaching his perfections (111).
19. We may suppose that we have here attained great knowledge, clear and high thoughts of God; but, alas! when he shall bring us into his presence we shall cry out, “We never knew him as he is; the thousandth part of his glory, and perfection, and blessedness, never entered into our hearts” (113).
20. Let a man make what application he will for healing and peace, let him do it to the true Physician, let him do it the right way, let him quiet his heart in the promises of the covenant; yet, when peace is spoken, if it not be attended with the detestation and abhorrence of that sin which was the wound and caused the disquietment, this is no peace of God’s creating, but of our own purchasing (121).