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Study Guide, Chapter 11

The eleventh chapter of The Mortification of Sin can easily be misunderstood, and if not carefully digested may end up directing one to the “legal mortification” which Owen condemned earlier in the book:

The truth is, what between placing mortification in a rigid, stubborn frame of spirit, which is for the most part earthly, legal, censorious, partial, consistent with wrath, envy, malice, pride, on the one hand, and pretences of liberty, grace, and I know not what, on the other, true evangelical mortification is almost lost amongst us: of which afterward.[1]

Owen’s argument in this section of the book may be best understood when compared to a similar statement by Thomas Watson in The Body of Divinity:

What are the chief INDUCEMENTS to sanctification?

(1.) It is the will of God that we should be holy. “This is the will of God—your sanctification.” As God’s Word must be the rule, so his will must be the reason of our actions. This is the will of God—our sanctification. Perhaps it is not the will of God we should be rich—but it is his will that we should be holy. God’s will is our warrant.

One principle means of growing in godliness is seeing truly that God’s will, God’s rule; God’s law calls us to a holy life.

1. What is the third direction for mortification?  By “specifics”, Owen means particular sinful events.

2.  Owen writes that “your conscience will invent shifts and evasions”: what does that mean? How would that look in practice?

3.  On the top of page 104 (5th paragraph), Owen makes a very important qualification as to the purpose of law and conscience: It is a false security and assurance before God to seek to limit the reach of conscience (and the law) thereby to secretly countenance himself [yourself] to giving the least allowance unto any sin or lust. Explain that idea.

4.  Owen writes of the “proper work of the law”: what does that mean? Consider Romans 3:19-20 & 7:7-12. What is the purpose and effect of the law?

5.  What purpose could one have to “tie up your conscience to the law”?

6.  What does he mean by “bring it to the Gospel”? Consider carefully the questions Owen asks as an example of bringing one’s sin to the Gospel. What effect does that have on the sin?

7.  In the section on how one is to consider God with respect to one’s sin, it may help to see this point through Watson’s pen (again), “God is so great that the Christian is afraid of displeasing him and so good that he is afraid of losing him” (The Great Gain of Godliness, 13).

8. You may question Owen’s directions at this point, to seek to know guilt for one’s sin and to let the law draw up the full hideousness of sin may seem “unchristian” and “legalistic”.  But consider carefully: One reason we continue to return to sin is that at some level it must appeal to us: We only choose to do things which we want. Like the adulterous in Proverbs 5, sin will appear with lips which “drip honey” – yet, in the end “she is bitter as wormwood”. Solomon lays out plainly the deceit and danger of sin. Owen is merely saying that we must see sin for its true self and in full bitterness, or we will be willing to dally with it.

9.  The fourth general direction is, “get a constant longing, breathing after deliverance from the power of it.” The law comes to drive us to Christ and release from sin. We will not see Christ as beautiful and sin as vile unless we see as uncovered by the law and the Gospel.

10. Owen defines the content of the strong desire for deliverance by Luke 21:36. Read Luke 21:34-36 and compare it to the directions given by Owen.

11. Read Psalms 38 – 43. When reading the Psalms make it a point to thoroughly understand what is taught in each.  Then meditate upon the prayers of these Psalms in relation to your own sin. Finally, pray through these Psalms, applying the content of the Psalms to your own soul and sin. Note that the progression of the Psalms begins with “Lord rebuke me not in your anger” and ends with, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” This is a proper progression in repentance, from a sight of sin to hope in God.

12.  The fifth direction is to consider yourself carefully: For whatever reasons, we all tend towards particular sins. The fact that you tend toward a sin – even that you greatly desire a sin does not make the sin less wicked. Owen notes that spiritual disciplines such as fasting may be useful or necessary to wean us from the world and set us upon God, “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” (108). For further direction on spiritual disciplines, see Donald Whitney Spiritual Disciplines and the sermon series on practicing godly disciplines recorded during the summer of 2011, available on the CBC website.

[1] John Owen, vol. 6, The Works of John Owen., ed. William H. Goold (Edinburg: T&T Clark), 14.