John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, Chapter 9

7 09 2009

By Jared Heatherly


In chapter 5, Owen proposed the question, “Suppose a man to be a true believer, and yet finds in himself a powerful indwelling sin, leading him captive to the law of it, consuming his heart with trouble, perplexing his thoughts, weakening his soul as to duties of communion with God, disquieting him as to peace, and perhaps defiling his conscience, and exposing him to hardening through the deceitfulness of sin, what shall he do?”
In answer to that question, first, he showed what it is to mortify any sin (chapters 5-6). Next, he gave ways and means whereby a soul may proceed to the mortification of any particular lust and sin (chapters 7-8). In chapter 9, he begins to lay out more specific, practical considerations of guidance for a professing believer in such a state.
Chapter 9 is dedicated to exposing dangerous marks and symptoms that ought to put us on notice that our hearts are in big trouble, that extraordinary measures need to be taken that our hearts might be restored.
After listing 6 such dangerous marks and symptoms, he ends the chapter with a sobering caution that if we find these marks and symptoms in our hearts, we would do well to examine ourselves to see whether we be in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). “But that any man is so, he must look for other evidences if he will have peace.”

Possible discussion points:

D1- Under the first dangerous mark and symptom, Owen lists several things that “eat up” duties whereby we ought to hold constant communion with God. One of those listed is “greediness of study.” Reflect on the difference between study (especially bible study and theological study) and communion with God.
D2- At the end of the chapter, Owen says that if we find our hearts full of these dangerous marks and symptoms, we need to realize that true believers can be ensnared in these, but when these are persisting in the heart, that one should not conclude that he is a believer. Instead, Romans 7 contains the description of the regenerate man. He is clearly challenging us to examine our hearts. What is the difference between this examination and what he discusses under the second dangerous mark and symptom, trying to offset the conviction of sin with searching the heart “to see what evidences he can find of a good condition…”?
D3- Interact with Owen’s statement regarding applying grace and mercy to an unmortified sin, “The flesh would fain be indulged unto upon the account of grace, and every word that is spoken of mercy, it stands ready to catch at and to pervert it, to its own corrupt aims and purposes.”
D4- Under the fourth dangerous mark and symptom, he speaks a lot of trying to oppose sin by legal accounts (shame and fear) instead of “gospel weapons.” Discuss the connection between a believer trying to oppose sin by legal accounts and Owen’s connection of a lack of assurance of salvation.
D5- How can we personally, as well as in dealing with others, exercise our duty to mortify sin, while at the same time, seek and rely on the sovereign grace of God (mentioned in the last dangerous mark and symptom) to deal with our prevailing lusts?


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.”




4 responses

7 09 2009
Andrew Henderson

Jared, great job. Thank you so much for taking the chapter.

d. 2. – As to the two examinations that you mentioned, the first is an honest and sincere evaluation of the evidences in our lives of conversion. This is an important exercise in which every believer is to be involved on a regular basis. This is the examination spoken of by Paul in 2 Corinthians 13 (also in 1 Corinthians 9). The second examination and the one referred to by Owen in this chapter is not an honest and sincere examination. It is rather a smokescreen. Its only purpose is to excuse sin in their lives by attempting to show evidences of “righteousness” in other areas of their lives. It is a classic mark of “self-righteousness.”

8 09 2009

d.1.- Thanks Jared for the summary. It is interesting that he places “greediness of study” with worldliness and ambition. I have felt the tension between study and seeking expertise in ministerial study and communion in quiet through prayer and meditation. Both are necessary, but I think his warning in this case is very helpful–if I find myself greedy to study (a good thing usually) without an ongoing exercise of communion with God, then I should see this as a symptom of un(being)mortified desire in my life. I have a sense that “greediness of study” means more than just this though- maybe “greedy to study” so that my study of holy things allows my mind to busy itself and ignore the sin that should be confessed in communion with God. Does this make sense?

d.2.- agreed with Andy above- I will jump into the other points too tomorrow after others can contribute.

10 09 2009
Jared Heatherly

D4- More than once, Owen mentions fighting sin on “legal accounts” and lists “hell from God” as an example of trying to fight sin on legal accounts. I like how he addresses it. If I knew that others would never know, and that God would not chasten me for it, would I be more inclined to give in to temptation? I have not been able to stop thinking about the discussion in the last chapter about the tendency to resist sin just because it makes us feel bad (about ourselves) instead of perfecting holiness in the fear of God. I see this as a great tendency in my own life if left unchecked. The love of Christ must constrain me in the mortification of sin. In Luke 7, Jesus pointed Simon the Pharisee to the woman’s display of love as an evidence of her salvation. To her, He assured her of her salvation, not by her display of love, but by her faith. The strength of faith is not in my diligence to exercise it, but in its object (Christ). I think that many people struggle with assurance of salvation because they are constantly measuring their works as an attempted means of assurance. The key is to instead focus on communion with Christ. When that is where it should be, my works will fall into line because the love of Christ constrains me.

21 12 2009

I’m on vacation this week, and I’m hoping to catch up here. I’m sorry I’ve bailed on you guys for a while.

This is the toughest chapter to read so far, IMO. But as usual, it’s full of keen insights.

D2: I do find myself comforting myself after a fall by evidences of grace in other areas, of ministerial successes, etc. Similarly, like Pearson says, I like to get my mind busy with study to distract myself from an area where I’m indulging my flesh. I was surprised to see him describe my tendencies so exactly. It was a bit disconcerting—especially this: “To do it for this end, to satisfy conscience…is a desperate device of a heart in love with sin.” Ouch.

D4: I loved his emphasis on relying on gospel weapons vs. legal weapons (fear of consequences, etc.). The kicker is, preachers OFTEN rely on the latter to induce people to “do right.” And when we do, we’re setting them up for an eventual fall in that area, and (worse) teaching them to rely on something other than Christ’s finished work. This happens a LOT, especially with teens. Very convicting.

Loved this: “What gospel principles do not, legal motives cannot do.”

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