The Mortification of Sin
By John Owen
Who was the greatest theological thinker and writer Britain ever produced? What was his most distinguished practical work?
The two questions seemed opposed to each other. The greatest Britain theologian and his best book for laymen? How can a thinker write for workers? It is possible and the answer is: John Owen and his book, The Mortification of Sin.
John Owen was a prolific Congregational Puritan theologian, whose 16 volume set of works are very popular among Pastors and scholars. But here is a book collected from some of his sermons designed for laypeople who are struggling with indwelling sin.
This is the classic work on this topic. Owen expounds his text, Romans 8:13, "...if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." In 14 chapters, he set out a guide for killing remaining sin in believers.
This is a pertinent book for our day. Owen says in his preface that too often believer are at peace with the world. Time has not changed that issue. We must fight within ourselves, for this is the other side of sanctification. What did Paul write, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Using the scalpel of truth, the Word of God, Owen holds open the cut, and shows the remedy for our remaining sin.
In the preface, Owen opens with the reasons he wrote the book. First, the difficulty and lethargy professing Christians have with mortifying their sin. The second reason is the "dangerous mistakes concerning mortification." He warns of attempting our mortification by ourselves, "through lack of acquaintance with the mystery of the gospel and the efficacy of the death of Christ." Owens continues why he is qualified to treat on this subject. He then continues with the introduction.
In the introduction, Owen briefly explains the text, in classic Puritan style, dividing the verse up in five parts: who is it directed to, the condition, the means of accomplishment, a duty, and a promise. He concisely expounds on each detail.
Owen's next chapter make clear why the flesh must be mortified. The chapter was enlightening to our state as humans and why we need the Spirit in our mortification, which Owen describes in chapter 3, entitled The Work of the Spirit in Mortification.
Chapter four points out how our spiritual strength, comfort, power, and peace, describing how evil sin really is. (For a more detailed exposure of sin, I encourage you to read The Sinfulness of Sin by Ralph Venning.)
Owen continues in the next two chapter to explain what Mortification is, and what it is not. These chapters were detailed, and very helpful.
In expounds what mortification is, Owen lays down two rules that are necessary for mortification. One, only believers can mortify sin. Two, we must be obedient to God in everything,
Then Owen describes nine directions to prepare for the work of mortification, each direction usually taking up one chapter. The principles are these:
1. Consider the dangerous symptoms of sin,
2. See sin for what it is,
3. Develop a tender conscience,
4. Constantly long for deliverance,
5. Relate our present trouble with our nature,
6. Watch carefully during those times that sin has taken advantage of in the past,
7. Rise up at the first sign of sin
8. Exercise humility and self-abasement
9. Wait until God declares peace in your heart
The last chapter briefly (too briefly in my view) the two directions for the work itself; the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit. This is the crux of the book, and I thought Owen disappointingly, hurried over these two points. However, there are other books on this topic which go in greater detail.
Before I end though I would mention two things. One, get the abridged edition. Owen is excessively wordy, even for a Puritan, and my edition is made easy to read by Banner of Truth. Two, the publisher suggests reading this in conjunction with Owen's two other books, Temptation and Indwelling Sin in Believers. I suggest it too.
Personally, I found the book simulating, eye-opening, well-written, and encouraging. Recommended for all believers who wish to grow in grace.
Soli Deo Gloria,
The Book Adventurer
But the Book on Amazon:
The Mortification of Sin (Puritan Paperbacks) by John Owen