The delightful community at The Loft has posed a question: What would you tell your past self, and I’m sharing my musings here based on The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, a Puritan theologian who wrote this entire book based on one verse, Romans 8:13, and putting forth one huge directive: Be killing sin, or it will be killing you!
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Chapter Three of John Owen’s Mortification of Sin is rich with pithy quotes in which he disdains the efforts of all who would attempt to kill sin in their meager human strength:
In vain do men seek other remedies; they shall not be healed by them.
. . . prayer, fasting, watching, meditation, and the like. These have their use in the business in hand; but whereas they are all to be looked on as streams, they look on them as the fountain.
. . . they are always mortifying, but never come to any sound mortification.
They watch over themselves, and pray for a season, until this heat waxes cold, and the sense of sin is worn off: and so mortification goes also, and sin returns to its former dominion.
Our fallen and broken selves are most pitiful in our distractedness. By the time we have cobbled together a coherent thought about “putting to death the deeds of the body,” our post-Edenic hearts have moved on to some more entertaining or seemingly urgent pursuit. Owen’s thesis is this: the stony heart is removed only by the work of the Spirit, His fruit crowding out the fleshly variety that thrives like weeds in an untended tomato patch. Sadly, our tending is often without prayer and rooted in will-power (and pride).
She Who Struggles with a Sharp Tongue (and whose fingers are poised over the keyboard at this very moment) may go an entire day without an uncharitable outburst toward man or beast, but let her get over-tired or over-taxed, and the vitriol flows instead of the honey she intended. Indeed “always mortifying . . .”
But then — a plan. Yes, we will tape Bible verses to the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying.” Oh, and “from the same mouth come blessing and cursing. . . these things ought not to be so.” This will keep the sin-killing wrecking ball swinging for another day or two. Maybe. But like other “remedies, [she] shall not be healed by [it].
Finally, the “heat waxes cold, and the sense of sin [having] worn off,” she makes a virtue out of her unrighteous habit, extolling the benefits of “speaking one’s mind” at all times. “I’m blunt, that’s for sure. No one ever has to wonder where he stands with me.”
And so the dust rises.
Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin when they have only raised a dust that they see it not.
May God help us.