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OWEN EXHORTS US TO DEAL WITH SIN EARLY.

Consider what occasions, what advantages your sin has taken to exert and put forth itself, and watch against them all. This is one part of that duty which our blessed Saviour recommends to his disciples under the name of watching: Mark 8:37, “I say unto
you all, Watch;” Consider what ways, what companies, what opportunities, what studies, what businesses, what conditions, have at any time given, or do usually give, advantages to your distempers (besetting sins), and set yourself heedfully against them all. Men will do this with respect unto their bodily infirmities.  All things injurious to health they will generally avoid-JK. Are the things of the soul of less importance? Know that he that dares to dally with occasions of sin will dare to sin. He that will venture upon temptations unto wickedness will venture upon wickedness. Rise mightily against the first actings of your distemper, its first conceptions; suffer it not to get the least ground. Do not say, “Thus far it shall go, and no farther.” If it have allowance for one step, it will take another. It is impossible to fix bounds to sin. It is like water in a channel, if it once break out, it will have its course.  Remember James gives that gradation and process of lust, James 1:14, 15, that we may stop at the entrance. Dost you find your corruption to begin to entangle your thoughts? rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at. Consider what an unclean thought would have; it would have you roll yourself in folly and filth.

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Besetting sin is rooted in our nature, and often cherished, fomented, and heightened from our constitution.

1. This does not absolve of the guilt of your sin.
It is from the fall, from the original depravation of our natures, that the kindles and nourishment of any sin abides in our natural temper. David reckons his being shapen in iniquity and conception in sin aggravated his guilt. That you art peculiarly inclined unto
any sinful distemper is but a peculiar breaking out of original lust in your nature, which should peculiarly abase and humble you.

2. That in reference to your walking with God, without extraordinary watchfulness, care, and diligence, the sin will assuredly prevail against your soul.

3. For the mortification of any sin so rooted in the nature of a man, this is the key states the apostle, 1 Cor. 9: 27, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” The bringing of the very body into subjection is an ordinance of God tending to the mortification of sin. This gives check unto the natural root of the sin, and withers it.
That the means whereby this is done, — namely, by fasting and watching, and the like, — cannot of their own power, produce true mortification of any sin; for if they would, sin might be mortified without any help of the Spirit in any unregenerate person in the world. They are to be looked on only as ways whereby the Spirit may, and sometimes does, put forth strength for the accomplishing of his own work, especially in the case mentioned.

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More instruction from John Owen:

  • Load your conscience with the guilt of the besetting sin.
  • Have strong desire for deliverance.
  • Some besetting sins are deeply rooted in men’s natures. I Cor.9:27. Fast if need be.
  • Occasions and advantages of sin to be prevented. “Watch”
  • The first actings of sin vigorously to be opposed. James 1:14ff. “You cannot stop birds flying over your head but you can stop them nesting in your hair,” Luther.

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What happens when we cherish sin and don’t kill it?

Maggots eating flesh.

  • There is the danger of eternal destruction.  God will deliver some from a continuance in sin that they may not be destroyed, but he will deliver none from destruction that continue in sin; so that whilst any one lies under an abiding power of sin, the threats of destruction and everlasting separation from God are to be held out to him. If a man “draw back” through unbelief, “God’s soul has no pleasure in him;” — “that is, his indignation shall pursue him to destruction:” (Heb.3:2)
  • That such a person, under the power of any corruption, can have no assurance and destruction from the Lord may justly be a terror to him;  “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” Rom. 8:1. But who can assert this ? Only “They that walk after the Spirit, and not after the flesh.”
  • It grieves the holy and blessed Spirit. As a tender and loving friend is grieved at the unkindness of his friend, of whom he has well deserved, so is it with this tender and loving Spirit, who has chosen our hearts for a habitation to dwell in, and there to do for us all that our souls desire. He is grieved by our harbouring his enemies, and those whom he is to destroy, in our hearts with him. We are hardened by the deceitfullness of sin. Is it not a high aggravation of the countenancing of a lust, or suffering it to abide in the heart, when it is (as it must be, if we are believers) entertained under the peculiar eye and view of the Holy Ghost?
  • The Lord Jesus Christ is wounded afresh by it; his new creature in the heart is wounded; his love is foiled; his adversary gratified. As a total relinquishment of him, by the deceitfulness of sin, is the “crucifying him afresh, and the putting of him to open shame;” so every   harbouring of sin that he came to destroy wounds and grieves him.
  • It will take away a man’s usefullness in his generation. His works, his endeavours, his labours, seldom receive blessing from God. If he be a preacher, God commonly blows upon his ministry, that he shall labour in the fire, and not be honoured with any success or doing any work for God; and the like may be spoken of other conditions. God blasts such men’s undertakings.

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Believers must have constant longing, breathing after deliverance from the power of  sin. Longing desires must incite and stir up the person in whom they are to a diligent use of means for the bringing about the thing aimed at.  Longing, breathing, and panting after deliverance is a grace in itself, that has a mighty power to conform the soul into the
likeness of the thing longed after. Hence the apostle, describing the repentance and godly sorrow of the Corinthians, reckons this as one eminent grace that was then set on work, “Vehement desire,” 2 Cor. 7:11. And he himself expresses his desire  for deliverance in Rom. 7: 24. So even more needs to be the rage against any particular lust and corruption!  Unless you long for deliverance you shalt not have it. This will make the heart watchful for all aids against its enemy, and means that are afforded for the destruction of any particular sin. Strong desires are the very life of that “praying always” which is enjoined us in all conditions, and in none is more necessary than in this; they set faith and hope on work, and are the soul’s moving after the Lord. Get your heart, then, into a panting and breathing frame; long, sigh, cry out. You know the example of David; (Psalm 51).

John Owen

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Owen likens our lives to a garden and our lusts as weeds that choke our graces. “But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), let room be made for grace to thrive
and flourish, how will every grace act its part, and be ready for every use and purpose!

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The use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.

The privileges of our adoption made known to our souls are the ways instituted by God to give us life, vigour, courage, and consolation. “The Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are the children of God,” giving us a new name and a white stone, adoption and justification, that is, as to the sense and knowledge of them, the immediate cause is the Spirit.

But this I say, in our ordinary walking with God, and in an ordinary course of his
dealing with us, the vigour and comfort of our spiritual lives depend much on our mortification, because this alone keeps sin from depriving us of the one and the other.

Every unmortified sin will certainly do two things:

[1.] It will weaken the soul, and deprive it of its vigour.

[2.] It will darken the soul, and deprive it of its comfort and peace.

[1.] It weakens the soul, and deprives it of its strength. When David had for a while harboured an unmortified lust in his heart, it broke all his bones, and left him no spiritual strength; hence he complained that he was sick, weak, wounded, faint. “There is,” saith he, “no soundness in me,” Ps. 38:3; “I am feeble and sore broken,” verse 8; “yea, I cannot so much as look up,” Ps. 40:12. An unmortified lust will drink up the spirit, and all the vigour of the soul, and weaken it for all duties.

Because it entangles the affections. It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God; it lays hold on the affections (lusts), rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father, 1 John. 2:15, 3:17; so that the soul cannot say uprightly and truly to God, “You art my portion,” having something else that it loves. Fear, desire, hope, which are the choice affections of the soul, that should be full of God, will be one way or other entangled with this unmortified lust.

It fills the thoughts with schemes as to how to satisfy the lust, so the imagination is defiled.

As sin weakens, so it darkens the soul. It is a cloud, a thick
cloud, that spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts
all the beams of God’s love and favour. It takes away all sense of the
privilege of our adoption;

 

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To recap: In Owen’s exposition of Romans 8:13…

1.The necessity of mortification (killing sin) unto life.

2. The certainty of life upon mortification.

3. The usefulness of mortification:

That the life, vigour, and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification of sin. Strength and comfort, and power and peace, in our walking with God, are the things of our desires. Were any of us asked seriously, what it is that troubles us, we must refer it to one of these heads:– either we want strength or power, vigour and life, in our obedience, in our walking with God; or we want peace, comfort, and consolation therein.

Owen continues under these headings:

  • The vigour and comfort of our spiritual lives depend on our mortification.
  •  The desperate effects of any unmortified lust; it weakens the soul.
  •  All graces improved by the mortification of sin.
  •  The best evidence of sincerity.

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Continuing the adaptation of Owen’s work.

If this is the work of the Spirit alone, why are we exhorted? Why not let the work be left wholly to him?

Though it is his work he “works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure,” Phil. 2:13; he works “all our works in us,” Isa. 26:12; he causes us to pray, and is a “Spirit of supplication,” Rom. 8:26,  yet we are exhorted rightly in all these.

He works our mortification in us  but we still must act obediently. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, but so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work.

I might here bewail the endless, foolish labour of poor souls, who, being convinced of sin, and not able to stand against the power of their convictions, do set themselves, by innumerable perplexing ways and duties, to keep down sin, but, being strangers to the Spirit of God, all in vain i.e. they are not regenerated.

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Continuing John Owen’s treatise.

How does the Spirit mortify sin?

1. By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are
contrary to the flesh. Gal.5:22-23. “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”  “By living in the Spirit and walking after the Spirit;” He causes us to abound in those graces which are contrary, opposite, and destructive to all the fruits of the flesh.

2. By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin, for the weakening, destroying, and taking it away. Hence he is called a “Spirit of judgment and burning,” Is. 4:4, really consuming and destroying our lusts. He takes away the stony heart by an almighty efficiency; for as he begins the work as to its kind, so he carries it on as to its degrees. He is the fire which burns up the very root of lust.

3. He brings the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith, and gives us communion with Christ in his death, and fellowship in his sufferings.