Mortification of Sin – Some Observations

Image result for john owenBefore I get into my reading of John Owen and his classic book, Mortification of Sin, I would like to make a few observations.

First, depending on the version or edition of this book that you either purchase, or download off the internet, it is approximately 70 to 90 pages long.  So, in book form it would be a rather small book to take up and read.  But, I would like to bring to your attention two factors about this.  First, Owen, at least to me, is incredibly hard to read.  His style of writing and his use of logic seems to be far removed from what is commonly available to those of us today.  Which leads me to my second observation.  This work is around 40,000 words, BUT……those words are a careful, logical, exacting exegesis of ONE sentence of scripture, Romans 8:13 – “If you mortify the deeds of the body, you will live.”

I am absolutely blown away when I consider the time and effort that Owen put into a carefully exposition of just a few words of Scripture.  Can you just imagine what it must have been like to sit through one of his sermons?  How could a man devote so much time to one small sentence of scripture when we think we are doing good to read a chapter or two a day, and make it to church on Sunday?  Oh, it’s easy for us to think that they had less distractions and more time than we do today.  I submit that the probably didn’t.  Want dinner?  You can pick it up on your way home from a fast food place if you are really in a hurry. Or, you can stop off at a grocery store and get some food.  In those days, you either worked daily to get your food, or you grew it and then went out and gathered it to make a meal.  Our modern conveniences make just that one aspect of life so much easier today than it was for the people in the time of John Owen.

No, I am convinced that Owen purposed to set aside time to not only write, but to study the Word  and to meditate on the mysteries of God.  That is something I know I am most definitely lacking in.  So, right from the beginning, I am already seeing some of the inadequacies in my own spiritual life compared to John Owen.  Areas where I let my mind and body dictate what I will do with my time.  So, as you can see, mortification is something that is surely needed by me.

But, I also want to point out that Paul, in writing the book of Romans, was writing to Christians.  He was writing to people who were saved. This brings up an issue that I feel is totally missed by many today.  How do we deal with those passages of Scripture that seem to deal with what I call “conditionality?”  You know, those “if/then” statements, kind of like “If you mortify the deeds of the body, you will live.”  Almost sounds like something YOU need to do.  And after much study, I do believe that it is something we need to do but I want to qualify that statement.  It is something we do, but only because we “…. are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1.  Because of our union with Christ as Christians, we have a desire to want to live Godly, holy lives.  We have a desire to mortify the deeds of the body.  But I also want to make it perfectly clear that I do not believe it is something we do in and of ourselves.  Nor is it something that I believe that we fully attain in this life.  Ephesians 2:10 makes this clear when we are told, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  It is the Holy Spirit who has sealed us “in Christ” that gives us the power to do those good works that God prepared for us to do.  And it is because we understand that we are “in Christ” that we want to do them.  If we understand who we are, who God is, and the fact that once we become a Christian, we are “in Christ,” we should want and desire more than anything to mortify the deeds of the body.

So, these are my introductory thoughts up to this point after reading, rereading, and then reading again, just the first chapter of Owen’s Mortification of Sin.  As always, any thoughts, comments, cares, concerns, letters to the editor, etc. are welcome, just keep it civil.

Mortification of Sin – A Beginning

Image result for john owenJeremiah 6, verse 14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” This verse, in its context deals with the nation of Israel and their turning away from the commands of the Lord.  But a closer reading finds that this is chiefly directed at the leaders of the nation, those charged with teaching the nation the commands of the Lord.  Looking back at verse 13, we see that the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, condemns them all, “from the least to the greatest.”  All of them dealt falsely, there was no justice in them.  Micah 6:8 reveals that the Lord “required justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”  These were not suggestions that the nation of Israel could take or leave, they were commands that were to be obeyed.  Because the leaders in Jeremiahs time were soft on sin, the entire nation slowly fell into corruption.  Much can be said of a comparison to the times we live in.

Now, I know that some will say that we live in the age of grace and the nation of Israel was under the law and hasn’t Christ freed us from the bondage of the law? Yes He has. But if you think that the law was abolished and done away with, then I suggest that you do not know much about the holiness, righteousness and justice of the sovereign God of heaven, not to mention the fact that He doesn’t change.  Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God, through the mystery of our union with Christ, has ordained that we walk in good works.  Works that He ordained before the foundation of the world.

What are these good works?  Justice, love, mercy, humbleness, compassion, gentleness……and the list could go on and on and on.  Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of God, he came to fulfill it, something we in our sinful nature could never do.  If we have been saved, truly saved, we will realize that not only do we abhor sin, but we want to fulfill the Law.  That is God writing His law on our heart!  Will you or I succeed in fulfilling God’s law?  Not in this life.  Oh, and on a side note, I have met people who have told me that they do find a way to fulfill God’s law on a regular and consistent basis.  I even had one gentleman tell me, without even batting an eye or showing any shame whatsoever, that he could go days without sinning.  Pffffff…….  That is a man who has no idea the depth of his sin, nor the holiness of God.

So, if we do know God, we will get a sense of His holiness and the depth of our sin and realize that there is a great gulf that no human could ever cross in his own works.  It is only in Christ’s absolute obedience to the entire Law of God, and his death on the cross, where Gods just wrath was poured out, to the last drop, on his Son, that the gulf that separated us from God was bridged.  Because of that perfect sacrifice, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When this “peace with God” floods our soul, it isn’t long before we realize that while we have peace with God, a battle still rages.  That battle is sin.  Unfortunately it has been my observation that many pastors, and laity as well, do nothing to look into the battle with sin.  Instead, pithy little slogans are preached, “Let go and let God,” or “it’s ok, no one is perfect,” or “just be controlled by the Spirit.” But in the end, if we truly understand the scriptures, we will understand that as a new creature, a new creation, we WILL bring forth fruit.  Using the analogy in John 15, Christ is the vine who will supply the life giving nutrients for the fruit that we will bear. Fruit will be born of us, but it will not be “our” fruit, but we will be the conduit through which Christ displays that fruit.  And at this point, it’s easy to say, “well then, sir, all I have to do is let God do the work.” Yes, you do, but Christ also said that we are to strive to enter the narrow gate in Luke 12:24.  We are to strive to overcome all sinful tendencies, which will show the world who we belong to.

Having dwelt on this for quite some time, I have come to the conclusion that sin, in my own life, is a putrid, horrific thing.  And yes, I use words that put sin in a very bad light, but, since I am surrounded by nothing but sin, I cannot even begin to grasp the utter sinfulness of sin as seen from God’s perspective. Paul himself could find no worse word for sin, than sin, see Romans 7:13.  Yet, when was the last time you heard a sermon or a preacher talk about sin, and it’s sinfulness?  When did you last read the Bible and fall under conviction of the horrendous nature of the sin in your own heart when held up to the righteousness of God through His Word?  We take sin so lightly.  We “heal the wounds of the people lightly,” which was the exact same case in Jeremiahs day.

This is why I consider Owen to be so important and I have embarked on this journey. My hope is that I will better understand the holiness of God, His righteousness, His perfections, as well as see the depths of the sin my flesh wallows in and desires.  Am I saved?  Most assuredly yes!  Am I perfect?  Yes, and no…….  Perfect in that I am Justified and because of Christs active and passive obedience, I am one with Him.  But on the other hand, imperfect in this life because I am captive to this fleshly, sin craving body and have not yet been glorified, Romans 8:28-30.  Sanctification has happened, is happening, and will ultimately happen, which is another way of saying, I was saved at a point in time, I am being saved daily, and I will ultimately be saved either when Christ returns, or when I die.  So, I need the Gospel every day, every minute, every second, and I need to strive by the power of the Holy Spirit to “be killing sin, or sin will be killing me,” to paraphrase one of Owen’s most famous quotes.

Also, as I blog through my study of The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, I want to mention that I am using the work that Owen originally wrote, as well as supplementing that with another book, Overcoming Sin and Temptation.  As my pastor has said about his preaching, you preach from the overflow of the sources you study, I will be using other sources to clarify and better grasp this important work of Owen.  I will try and make sure I provide citations and references to them when I use them.

 

Treason Against the Soul

Remember that flesh-pleasing is a great contempt and treachery against the soul. It is a great contempt of an immortal soul, to prefer its corruptible flesh before it, and to make its servant to become its master, and to ride on horseback, while it goes, as it were, on foot. Is the flesh worthy of so much time, and cost, and care, and so much ado as is made for it in the world, and is not a never-dying soul worth more? Nay, it is a betraying of the soul: you set up its enemy before it; and put its safety into an enemy’s hands; and you cast away all its joys and hopes for the gratifying of the flesh. Might it not complain of your cruelty, and say, Must my endless happiness be sold to purchase so short a pleasure for your flesh? Must I be undone for ever, and lie in hell, that it may be satisfied for a little time? But why do I speak of the soul’s complaint? Alas! it is of itself that it must complain! For it is its own doing! It hath its choice: the flesh can but tempt it, and not constrain it: God hath put the chief power and government into its hands, if it has determined to sell its own eternal hopes to pamper worm’s meat, it will act accordingly. You would not think very honourably of that man’s intelligence or honesty, who would sell the patrimony of all his children, and all his friends that trusted him therewith, and later sell their persons into slavery, and all this to purchase for himself a delicious feast, with sports and entertainment for a day! And is he wiser or better that selleth (in effect) the inheritance of his soul, and betrayeth it to hell and devils for ever, and all just to purchase the fleshly pleasure of so short a life? – Richard Baxter

Half a Christ

This past weekend I attended a local church and ended up in a Sunday School class that was new to me, but had been recommended as one I might find interesting because, I was told, the teacher was extremely knowledgeable and knew his doctrine and theology.  To say that I was disappointed is an understatement.  I was mortified at the doctrine he was teaching.  While I agree that we live under the covenant of grace and not the covenant of law, I had to disagree that all we have to do is “let go and let God” in our Christian walk.  While justification is a one time pronouncement upon the truly regenerate heart, sanctification is an on going process whereby we learn to strive for holiness by the help and leading of the Holy Spirit.  This particular teacher did not agree with that assessment and basically taught the class that all one needed to do was “ask Jesus into their heart” and they were good to go.  Basically, without saying it, he was teaching and encouraging a 3rd class of people, the carnal Christian.  Yet, he said that there were only two classes, the lost and the saved.  The following quote by Walter Marshall makes it clear that there is a work of sanctification that we are involved with.  Read on and let me know what you think.

“What a strange salvation it is, if people who are saved do not care about holiness! In this case, people want to be saved, but they want to stay dead in sin, alien from the life of God, without the image of God, deformed by the image of satan, and in slavery to satan and to their own filthy lusts. They seem to prefer to stay totally unfit to enjoy God in glory. Christ never purchased such a salvation as this by His own blood. Those who think they have received a salvation such as this abuse the grace of God in Christ, and turn it into license for sin. They want to be saved by Christ, but apart from Christ, so to speak. They want to be saved, but they also want to remain in a fleshly state, with a fleshly lifestyle. This is simply not how salvation works! The only people Christ frees from condemnation are those who are ‘in Christ’ who do not walk according to the flesh but according the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:1-4). If this were not the case, people would divide Christ. They would take one part of his salvation, and leave out the rest. However, ‘Christ is not divided’ (1 Corinthians 1:13). You cannot have half a Christ!”

Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (1692)

The History of Redemption – Jonathan Edwards, Part 1

On one of the blogs I followed, it was suggested that we in the modern age should read some of the men of ages past like Jonathan Edwards.  I have read Edwards before and must admit that it is a hard read because of the way language was used 250 years ago.  But I for some reason, I have found that his treatise on The History of Redemption is really not all that hard to read from a language perspective, but it is extremely hard to read if you don’t read it slowly and take some time to digest it.  What follows is not a pureed meal, this is steak that requires a lot of chewing to savor the flavor of what Edwards is talking about.  I hope you will journey along with me as I share a classic work by Jonathan Edwards. 

The History of Redemption

GENERAL INTRODUCTION AND DOCTRINE

 “For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be forever, and my navigation from generation to generation.”  Isaiah 51:8

Jonathan EdwardsThe design of this chapter is to comfort the church under her sufferings, and the persecutions of her enemies. The argument of consolation insisted on is, the constancy and perpetuity of God’s mercy and faithfulness towards her, which shall be manifest in continuing to work salvation for her, protecting her against all assaults of her enemies, and carrying her safely through all the changes of the world, and finally crowning her with victory and deliverance.

In the text, this happiness of the church of God is set forth by comparing it with the contrary fate of her enemies that oppress her. And therein we may observe,

1. How short lived the power and prosperity of the church’s enemies is, “The moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool,” i.e. however great their prosperity is, and however great their present glory. They shall by degrees consume and vanish away a secret curse of God, until they come to nothing. All their power and glory, and so their persecutions, shall eternally cease. They will be finally and irrecoverably ruined, as the finest and most glorious apparel will in time wear away, and be consumed by moths and rottenness. We learn who those are that shall thus consume away, by the foregoing verse, viz. those that are the enemies of God’s people, “Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their reviling.”

2. The contrary happy lot and portion of God’s church, expressed in these words, “My righteousness shalt be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation.” Who are meant as those that shall have the benefit of this, we also learn by the preceding verse, viz. They “that know righteousness,” and “the people in whose heart is God’s law,” or, in one word, the church of God. And concerning this happiness of theirs here spoken of, we may observe two things, viz. 1. Wherein it consists. 2. Its continuance.

(1.) Wherein it consists, viz. In God’s righteousness and salvation towards them. By God’s righteousness here, is meant his faithfulness in fulfilling his covenant promises to his church, or his faithfulness towards his church and people in bestowing the benefits of the covenant of grace upon them. These benefits, though they are bestowed of free and sovereign grace, are altogether undeserved. Yet as God has been pleased, by the promises  of  the  covenant  of  grace,  to  bind  himself  to  bestow  them,  so  they  are bestowed in the exercise of God’s righteousness or justice. And therefore the Apostle says, Heb. 6:10, “God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labour of love.” And so, 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So the word righteousness, is very often used in Scripture for God’s covenant faithfulness. So it is used in Neh. 9:8, “Thou  hast  performed  thy  words,  for  thou  art  righteous.”  So  we  are  often  to understand righteousness and covenant mercy for the same thing, as Psa. 24:5, “He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Psa. 36:10, “Continue thy loving kindness to them that know thee, and thy righteousness  to  the  upright  in  heart.”  And  Psa.  51:14,  “Deliver me  from  blood guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” Dan. 9:16, “O Lord, according to thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away.” And so in innumerable other places.

The other word here used is salvation. Of these two God’s righteousness and his salvation, the one is the cause, of which the other is the effect. God’s righteousness, or covenant mercy, is the root of which his salvation is the fruit. Both of them relate to the covenant of grace. The one is God’s covenant mercy and faithfulness, the other intends that work of God by which this covenant mercy is accomplished in the fruits of it. For salvation is the sum of all those works of God by which the benefits that are by the covenant of grace are procured and bestowed.

2. We may observe its continuance, signified here by two expressions, forever, and from generation to generation. The latter seems to be explanatory of the former. The phrase forever, is variously used in Scripture. Sometimes thereby is meant as long as a man lives. So it is said, the servant that has his ear bored through with an awl to the door of his master, should be his forever. Sometimes thereby is meant during the continuance of the Jewish state. So of many of the ceremonial and Levitical laws it is said, that they should be statutes forever. Sometimes it means as long as the world shall stand, or to the end of the generations of men. So it is said, Ecc. 1:4, “One generation passeth away, and another cometh; but the earth abideth for ever.” Sometimes thereby is meant to all eternity. So it is said, “God is blessed for ever,” Rom. 1:25. And so it is said, John 6:51, “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” And which of these senses is here to be understood, the next words determine, viz. to the end of the world, or to the end of the generations of men. It is said in the next words, “and my salvation from generation to generation.” Indeed the Continue reading

All Things Created For Christ – A Sermon

  This is another sermon by Edward Payson.  I stand amazed at the relevance of this sermon that was preached almost 200 years ago and the way it speaks to the high view of God that seems to be prevalent in Paysons’ day and age, but is sadly lacking in our day and age.  As I was reading through this sermon, I determined that I wanted to know a little more about Edward Payson and the life he lived.  As it turns out, he died at the age of 44.  That is shocking to me as I am 4 years older than that right now and am just blown away at the depth of thought that is contained in this sermon.  It is rare that a preacher today has this kind of depth at the age that Payson must have been when he originally preached this message. 

  My prayer and I’m sure that of Praying Payson, as Edward Payson came to be known, is that this sermon open your eyes to a new depth of glory in Christ.  May God bless you richly –

ALL THINGS CREATED FOR CHRIST.

 Colossians 1:16.

 All things were created by him and for him.

 By whom were all these worlds and beings made, is, probably, the first question, which a view of the created universe would excite in a seriously inquisitive mind. For what purpose and with what view were they created, would no less probably be the second. There are two inspired passages, one ill the Old Testament and the other in the New, which contain a direct answer to both these questions. In the Old Testament we are told, that Jehovah hath made all things for himself, yea, even the wicked for the day of evil: and in the New, that all things were created by Christ and for Christ. At first view these passages appear to differ, not only in language, but in sentiment. The former asserts that Jehovah made all things. The latter declares that all things were created by Christ. The former assures us that Jehovah made all things for himself; the latter that all things were created for Christ. To those, however, who believe that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New, these apparently different assertions will appear perfectly consistent. They will recollect and readily assent to the declaration of our Lord, He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; I and my Father are one; and will feel that the expression, Jehovah hath made all things for himself, is synonymous with the declaration in our text, All things were created by Christ, and for him.

In discoursing on this passage, we shall endeavor to illustrate, particularly, the general assertion, that all things were created for Christ. That none may suspect us of EdwardPaysonasserting more than our text will warrant, it may be proper to quote the remaining part of the verse which contains it. “By him,” says the apostle, speaking of Christ, “were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.” From this passage it appears that there are invisible, as well as visible creatures; things in heaven, as well as things on earth. But whether visible or invisible, whether in heaven or on earth, they were all created for Christ; all created to promote his glory and subserve his purposes. This I shall now attempt to illustrate in several particulars.

1. Heaven was created for Christ. That there is a place called heaven, where the presence of God is specially manifested, and which is, in a peculiar sense, the habitation of his holiness and glory, is abundantly taught by the inspired writers. Some, it is true, have supposed that heaven is only a state of happiness, and not a place; but the supposition may be easily shown to be groundless; for, though God is everywhere, and though his presence would render any place a heaven to holy beings; yet the glorified body of Christ cannot be everywhere. A body, however purified and refined, must be in some place; and the place, where now exists the glorified body of our Redeemer, is heaven. Agreeably, St. Paul informs us, that Christ has entered into heaven itself; that he is seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places; and he elsewhere speaks of desiring to depart and be with Christ. Our Saviour himself, in his last prayer, says, “Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me, where I am, that they may behold my glory.” In addition to these proofs we may observe, that the bodies of Enoch and Elijah must have been in some place, since their removal from this world, and that the glorified bodies of the saints, which are to be raised at the last day, must be in some place after their resurrection. Heaven is, therefore, not only a state, but a place, as really a place as this world. And the same arguments Continue reading

Valley of Vision Prayers

Choices

O God,

Though I am allowed to approach thee

I am not unmindful of my sins,

I do not deny my guilt,

I confess my wickedness, and earnestly plead forgiveness.

May I with Moses choose affliction

Rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin.

Help me to place myself always under thy guiding and guardian care,

To take firmer hold of the sure covenant that binds me to thee,

To feel fore of the purifying, dignifying,

Softening influence of the religion I profess,

To have more compassion, love, pity, courtesy,

To deem it an honour to be employed by thee

As an instrument in thy hands,

Ready to seize every opportunity of usefulness,

And willing to offer all my talents to they service.

Thou hast done for me all things well,

Hast remembered, distinguished, indulged me.

All my desires have not been gratified,

But thy love denied them to me

When fulfillment of my wishes would have proved my ruin or injury.

My trials have been fewer than my sins,

And when I have kissed the rod it has fallen from thy hands.

Thou hast often wiped away my tears,

Restored peace to my mourning heart,

Chastened me for my profit.

All thy work for me is perfect,

And I praise thee.