Owen states his treatise describing the killing of sin in Christian believers as covering:
- Why it is necessary
- Of what it consists
- How it happens.
- Some cases.
He is speaking of how to subdue the power of internal corruption that is in all of us. He speaks as a keen student of both fallen human nature and the word of God. “The reader is made to feel, above all things, that the only cross on which he can nail his every lust to its utter destruction, is, not the devices of a self-inflicted maceration, but the tree on which Christ hung, made a curse for us.”
Having finished Owen’s “Communion with God” I propose to read and summarize his treatise on the Mortification of Sin based on Romans 8:13. It can be read in full here:
The gospels are the main source of references to people being possessed by devils. The effect on those possessed varied: dumbness (Luke 11:14), epilepsy (Mark 9:17), running around naked, living in tombs and self harming (Luke 8:27), telling the future (Acts 19:13). It was a phenomenon especially associated with the earthly ministry of Christ just as miracles were more or less confined to the Exodus, prophets Elijah and Elisha, and Christ and the apostles. The victory Jesus won over Satan and the demons was shared with his disciples when he told them to carry on a ministry of exorcism (Luke 9:1, 10:17). Even those outside Christ’s immediate circle practiced this (Matt.9:38). Are people possessed today? The occult is very strong in some countries and some of the rituals of voodoo and shamanism are frightening and would appear demonic but I reserve judgment.
Mostly taken from The New Bible Dictionary IVP 1962.
Part 3 of Owen’s treatise
The Holy Spirit is the agent in mortification (Rom.8:13): He it is who takes away of the stony heart, Ezek. 11:19, 36:26, “I will give my Spirit, and take away the stony heart;” “Without Christ we can do nothing,” John 15:5. All actings of any grace whatever, from him, are by the Spirit, by whom he alone works in and upon believers. As per Acts 5:31 he grants repentance of which mortification is no small portion. Having “received the promise of the Holy Ghost,” he sends him abroad for that end, Acts 2:33.
All self-denying religious acts, like many indulged in by Romanists, Hindu monks and fanatical Muslims are useless and impotent in mortification because NOT in the Bible.
Notes from John Owen’s treatise.
Based on Romans 8:13, “ For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”
Indwelling sin, which battles against us spiritually all our lives, has to be killed daily. It wants to overcome us.
“Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could;” “Now nothing can prevent this but mortification; that withers the root and strikes at the head of sin every hour..” We are given the Spirit to fight. “Where sin, through the neglect of mortification, gets a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul, Ps. 31:10, 51: 8, and makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die, Ps. 38:3-5, so that he cannot look up, Ps. 40:12;” Thus although in principle sin is dethroned by our death with Christ on the cross, nevertheless it is our duty to put sin to death daily.
Sermon on mortification (HC LD 33)
The New Testament Warfare
Sung Psalm 144:1-8
Read II Cor. 10:1-10
In Isaiah 11:10-15 we read that God’s and Israel’s O.T. enemies will serve Christ. God uses O.T. imagery and names in a prophetic way which has a N.T. fulfilment. This is likewise true in Amos 9:11-12 where it reads that David’s kingdom will include Edom and all the heathen nations but again we know that this is a prophecy fulfilled in the N.T. age when the elect among all nations come into the church (Acts 15:16-17).
Whereas in the O.T. the enemies were heathen nations and the goal was territory through offensive war either to possess the land (Joshua), or extend the empire (David), although there were also defensive wars, when we get to N.T. times there is no actual land to possess (heaven is assured) but rather the extension of the kingdom of God to the ends of the earth through missions is the goal. In order, the great cities central to this purpose were Jerusalem, Antioch and then Rome.
The king of God’s N.T. army sits enthroned in heaven. He too undoubtedly has fought and does fight (Isaiah 59:17). His captains were initially apostles, prophets and evangelists but now ministers, elders and deacons. The foot-soldiers are all believers. The armour and weapon are outlined in Eph.6:10-16 and Heb.4:12. For defence, the helmet, the assurance of salvation; the breastplate of (Christ’s) imputed righteousness; the belt of truth (Christ and his word); the sandals of the gospel of peace with God and a readiness to share it; the shield of faith; the sword of the Spirit. From the Corinthians epistle which in context refers to self-control and church discipline we see that winning arguments is not enough, the battle is in the mind. To win over an enemy God must regenerate them. In the battle faith is vital as is discipline, effort and patience (I Tim.6:12, II Tim.2:3-6) and we must not be distracted and be over-occupied with civilian (worldly) pursuits.
Sung Psalm 68:17-21
Christ’s last week begins with his “triumphal entry” to Jerusalem (Zech.9:9 quoted in Matt.21:5-9) where it is clear the populace had a wrong view of his kingship. He came as a lowly king (Matt.22:15-22) who submitted to the Romans and told his disciples to pay their taxes and clearly taught that rebellion was forbidden. In Matt.24 he predicts the national destruction of Jewry as a picture of the end of time tribulation under antichrist just before his return in glory. In Matt.26:51 Peter’s foolish violent act showed he misunderstood the nature of Christ’s kingdom and the nature of his disciples’ warfare. What Christ said to Pilate underlined this (John 18:36).
Christ was a rejected king nevertheless there was no time when he was not ruling over all his enemies, exercising his sovereign kingship, bringing thick darkness signifying Satan’s work, but also opening graves and raising the bodies of believers and ultimately himself showing that his final earthly battle versus sin, Satan and the wicked world was won, all having been publicly judged as evil, wicked and murderous by their treatment of the Son of God. He won this spiritual battle single-handed just like David won his physical battle with Goliath (Isaiah 63:5-6). He now incarcerates Satan and the demons (Ps.68:18), destroys all Satan’s deathly power over the elect (Heb.2:14, Col.2:15, I Cor.15:57) and makes death serve his purposes (to free and glorify his people). The Psalm also shows the vital importance of praise (v25) and the power of grace to sustain us (v28).
So in tabular summary:
|Old Testament Holy War
||New Testament Holy War
|For a physical kingdom (land)
||For a heavenly kingdom
|By force of arms (physical weapons)
||By spiritual weapons (Eph.5) Word, prayer, praise, humility, suffering)
|Physical enemies-Canaanite, Philistines etc.
||Spiritual enemies-world, flesh, devil.
||Power of grace
|Various victorious kings of Israel/Judah
||Christ the victorious king
Sung Psalm 144:1-8
Read Judges 11:12-28
We reviewed Judges 9, the history of Gideon’s son Abimelech and his unholy war with Shechem in which according to the curse of Jotham, they destroyed each other (9:57).
Judges 10:6 details Israel’s wicked, many-faceted idolatry.
The next major Judge (given significant space in Bible) is Jephthah in chapter 11. Jephthah leads Israel against Ammon after the people beg him to do so. vv12-28 detail Jephthah’s argument in the land dispute in which he manifests his knowledge of Israel’s history in the Pentateuch. Ammon was claiming land that was not theirs (they also intruded into land west of the Jordan). The battle (vv32-33) was a holy war because:
- The Spirit of God came upon Jephthah (v29)
- God delivered them (v32)
- It was a just war (” Lord judge”), the land was theirs.
- Jephthah’s rash vow (v30). The aftermath of which we believe was Jephthah’s daughter’s perpetual virginity.
In chapter 12:1-6 we read of a civil war between Jephthah’s forces and the proud Ephraimites with massive loss of life (42,000 men). Jephthah is mentioned in Hebrews 11:32-24 in the context of acts of faith which included holy war (“subdued kingdoms”).
Just a reminder that this series of studies concerns the antithesis. The battle fought through the ages between the seed of the woman (Eve), the church, God’s people, and the seed of the serpent (the reprobate wicked), God’s enemies. In the Old Testament these wars were fought with physical (and spiritual) weapons whereas in the New Testament age, they are fought with spiritual weapons alone.
Sung Psalm 83:5-15
Read Judges 6:1-24
The enemies that this judge will confront are Midian, Amalek and the children of the east (likely nomads). Large numbers are involved─135,000 men and myriads of livestock which were devastating the countryside (6:5-6, 8:10). The enemies had been ravaging the land in fulfillment of God’s curse in Deut. 28 esp. v33.
Gideon was a humble, youngest son in an inauspicious tribe. His call is the longest of all the judges, he is tested as he is commanded to destroy his father’s idols, and he is given signs to encourage him notably a food offering consumed by fire, an angel ascending in the flame, fleeces dry or wet and a dream among the Midianites. He is also given promises (7:9,14).
His army is whittled down from 32,000 to 300 to show that God it is who fights for Israel.
The enemy kings are all beheaded. Gideon is among the heroes of faith in Hebrews (11:32).
Reading Judges 2:20-3:7
The cycle oft─repeated in Judges is the people are disobedient, God chastises them by oppressing enemies, they cry out to him, he raises up a Judge who delivers them, and then when the judge dies they revert to rebellion again.
God left pagan people in the land to test the resolve of his people (3:1-2, 4). Many became tributaries paying taxes or serving menial tasks. Methinks this is why we still have our old man or sinful flesh to fight against throughout our lives!
There followed seven years of war with Gilgal as the Israelite base in which they did not absolutely disable the Canaanites or take all their cities (Josh. 13:1, 13). Some of Judges 1 is recapitulation of Joshua 15:16-17 e.g., 1:8 and 12-13 and the rest describes the occupation of the land with individual tribes mostly fighting for their inheritance. Noteworthy that God directs proceedings in answer to prayer (1:2)–probably by High Priest’s Urim and Thummim.
Sadly the Israelites failed the test and intermarried with the pagans causing many to fall into idolatry (3:6)─this is almost inevitable if a believer marries an unbeliever (II Cor.6:14).