John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, Chapter 8

31 08 2009

Summary of Chapter 8:

In this short but very powerful chapter, John Owen asserts, “There will be no mortification of any sin without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience.” In other words, one will never experience true mortification of sin in one area while neglecting their duties in another. “God’s work consists in universal obedience.” Nor will true mortification take place while one applies himself to “the cure of his sore, if he leave the general habit of his body under distempers…” It is in vain.

Therefore, Owen lays down this guiding principle: “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.” He contends that much attempt at mortification in our lives in fact “proceeds from self-love.” The reason that many want to be rid of sin is that “it disquiets you, it has taken away your peace, it fills your heart with sorrow and trouble and fear; you have no rest because of it.” It does not stem from a “hatred of sin as sin” or “a sense of love for Christ in the cross.”

Owen ends the chapter with a question and an answer. Is it possible that God permits lust to overpower for our own spiritual good; to “awaken” us and “admonish us” and “humble us” and “perhaps to chasten and correct us for our general loose and careless walking?” His answer: absolutely.

Possible Discussion Points:

• How can we as Biblical counselors help those whom we are called to help deal with the roots of their sin and not just the manifestation of it?

• Interact with Owen’s assertion that Paul’s thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, was actually strong temptation to keep him from the sin of pride concerning his spiritual revelations.

• Interact with Owen’s gut-wrenching statement, “He, then, that would really, thoroughly, and acceptably mortify any disquieting lust, let him take care to be equally diligent in all parts of obedience, and know that every lust, every omission of duty, is burdensome to God, though but one is so to him.” Ouch.


In the discussion of each chapter I have included a short summary of its content and some possible discussion points. Feel free to discuss whatever you want within the chapter though. So that our discussion has some organization, please identify the discussion point. For instance, if you are planning on posting a thought on the third discussion point, begin your post with “d. 3.” If you wanted to post on your own discussion point, then begin with “d. general.”




7 responses

1 09 2009

Wow. This is powerful stuff. I tend to make a particular issue (e.g. lust) the defining issue of my spiritual life. But God is grieved by all my sin, not just that which I find to be particularly scandalous and embarrassing.

So if I’m fighting lust—but not pride, selfishness, laziness, etc.—I’m probably doing so out of self-love? Wow, that’s brutal. But I see it.

Also, the idea that God might allow lust to prevail (again, as an example) in order to fight another vice (such as pride) is stunning. Part of God’s chastening for sin may be to allow others sin to overpower me? Again, wow.

1 09 2009
Jared Heatherly

Owen’s constant reference to selfishness in this chapter really hit home with me. As Chris said, certain temptations and sins agitate me the most. When I focus on those exclusively, I put myself in the place of God. It made me think of Psalm 50:21 (describing the attitude of the wicked) “thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.”
The challenge to “perfect holiness in the fear of God” is powerful- both the goal (perfecting holiness) and the attitude (in the fear of God). I must mortify sin in my life, not so that I will be more comfortable or feel better about myself (that’s a HUGE one), or that people would look up to me, but out of the fear of God. Great chapter.

1 09 2009
Jared Heatherly

Help me out here. I have read and re-read the chapter, but I cannot make sense out of one statement. If you get it, let me know. It is in the last paragraph. “… is it possible that the effect should be removed and the cause continued, that the particular lust should be mortified and the general course be unreformed?”

1 09 2009
Andrew Henderson

His statement concerning self-love really resonated with me. I work on mortifying the sins whose consequences bother me the most, not considering that each and every one of them equally bother the Lord. It is still, in many respects, all about me. Future glorification cannot come fast enough in my mind.

Jared, I had to read that several times myself. Here is my understanding. You cannot divorce the last part of that sentence from the very first line in that sentence: “Now, if this be the state and condition of lust in its prevalency… is it possible that the effect should be removed and the cause continued, that the particular lust should be mortified and the general course be unreformed?” The answer to that question is “Yes, absolutely.” What do we do then? “He, then, that would really, thoroughly, and acceptably mortify any disquieting lust, let him take care to be equally diligent in all parts of obedience, and know that every lust, every omission of duty, is burdensome to God…” He said that even though the premise of his argument in this chapter is that true mortification cannot take place without sincerity and diligence in universal obedience. I remain a little confused by this statement.

2 09 2009
Jared Heatherly

Andy- I have to say that your explanation left me even more confused :)! It did, however, spur me to read it again a few times. I think he is proposing the question, “is it possible for the sin that was sent judicially (the effect) to be removed and the cause (the sin that God was chastising me for by giving me up to another sin)?” My observation may be completely backwards, especially considering the next line that references particular lust and general course. All in all, I think I have it one way or another. Thanks Andy.

3 09 2009
Andrew Henderson

Jared, man this is just like us in grad school. The professor says something, you don’t understand, try and explain, leads to more confusion. Oh, wait… that was me.

I hate to pull a Bill Clinton here, but much of this statement seems to hinge on the meaning of “effect.” Does it mean “purpose” (i.e., the purpose of God in allowing the overpowering lust, as you claim) or does it mean “result” (i.e., the resulting lust, as I am claiming)? “Effect” can have both meanings. The primary meaning of “effect” is result, and when coupled with the word “cause,” it generally refers to result and not purpose.

3 09 2009
Taigen Joos

d.1. I hate to break up this enlightening discussion by focusing on one of the study questions suggested by our host, but I will anyway.

Counseling is an area of interest to me; not because I do alot of it (one on one) but because it has drawn so much attention in the last several years by many so called Christian counselors. In preaching through Mark’s gospel, I came to chapter 7’s dealing with the fact that it is what comes from within (his heart) that defiles a person rather than what goes in. A man’s heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. A person may think they are okay if all their exterior is in order. In fact, that was at least one problem of the Pharisees. However, the heart must be dealt with. When dealing with mortification of sin, it is not just the idea of plucking off bad fruit from the branch. When the tree produces bad fruit, it is because it is a bad tree and the roots must be dealt with.

Could it be that we have evolved into somewhat of a smorgasbord Christianity, rejecting those deeds which we feel disdainful and indulging in those deeds which we feel enjoyable? Owen’s statement “If thou hatest sin as sin, every evil way, thou wouldst be no less watchful against every thing that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets thine own soul.” Whether it is counseling others, or confronting ourselves (myself), I must hate what God hates, love what God loves, and mortify what God says to mortify, no matter how much I love it. I echo Chris’s “OUCH!” It is a heart issue more than anything…my own wicked heart.

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