Last time we saw what Mortification is NOT. This time Owen will begin showing us what mortification is. Remember Owen's central question in this section: "What must I do to mortify sin in my life?". Today we will see three things that mortification of sin consists of.
- Mortification of sin consists of a habitual weakening of sin
- Mortification of sin consists of a constant fighting and contending against sin
- Mortification of sin consists of frequent success
As a man nailed to the cross he first struggles and strives and cries out with great strength and might, but, as his blood and spirits waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries low and hoarse, scarce to be heard; when a man first sets on a lust or distemper, to deal with it, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved; but when by mortification the blood and spirits of it are let out, it moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly, and is scarce heard in the heart; it may have sometimes a dying pang, that makes an appearance of great vigor and strength, but it is quickly over, especially if it be kept from considerable success.Owen also helps us see two things under this point. 1) Some lusts are stronger in some people than in others. For example, one man might struggle mightily with lust and not be tempted by alcohol. Another man may be just the opposite. 2) Some lusts are more visible in their vileness. Fornication is particularly noteworthy here. This often can lead men to believe they are mortified when they are not. This is why Owen advises: A man may beat down the bitter fruit from an evil tree until he is weary; while the root abides in strength and vigor, the beating down of the present fruit will not hinder it from bringing forth more. This is the folly of some men; they set themselves with all earnestness and diligence against the appearing eruption of lust, but, leaving the principle and root untouched, perhaps unsearched out, they make but little or no progress in this work of mortification.
Owen closes the chapter by giving us a foretaste (hopefully) of what is to come. He mentions briefly two things that must be in order for mortification to take place. 1) The flesh must be replaced by grace. Pride must be replaced by the grace of humility; unbridled passion by patience; love of the world by heavenly mindedness; and so on. Or, if we want to get Piper-esque we would say that to mortify flesh then our sinful passions must be replaced by a superior passion (pleasure) for Christ. 2) The new man combined with the work of the Spirit using the means of mortification are necessary. (At least that is what I think Owen is saying).
As I read Owen and ponder my own battle with sin I find mixed thoughts. On one hand I see how the Lord's grace in my life has created in me more Christ-likeness and a passion for Jesus. On the other hand I see less of a battle with sin. I wonder is it because I find more pleasure in Christ or because I am no longer passionate about rooting all sin out? Am I as passionate about holiness as I once had been? Regardless of the answer my prayer is that Jesus might take me to the root of all my sinful rebellion and there through his sacrifice we might chop down the roots. I pray that my roots may be deep not in sin but in grace!