Before 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.