There are myriad benefits to reading The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, but chief among them (for me) has been that, as I dive into chapter four, it is affecting the content of my daily ponderings. My consistent practice has always been to attack a challenging book blitzkrieg style, check it off my bucket list, and then move on to the next one. By contrast, a chapter a week seems to be a much more profitable approach, giving the words time to leak into the cracks between my brain cells.
Just yesterday, rattling the canning jars around in soapy water, the theme song of chapter four was singing itself over the sounds of my busy background: “The life, vigor and comfort of our spiritual life depends on our mortification of sin.”
Standing in that spot, when’s the last time I had a thought that was deeper than my dish water?
I pondered, “Just how is this true and visible in my life? Have I recently experienced the Spirit’s enabling to ride the bucking bronco of temptation to its mastery? Or is my ‘mortification of sin’ more like the spin cycle of transgression and repentance made famous in the book of Judges?
“Furthermore, if I am not experiencing this, am I living a sham Christianity?
“Does my life, vigor and comfort depend mostly on healthy check book balances, good behavior among the offspring, and a happy number on the bathroom scales?”
Fortunately, Owen makes it clear that the path toward mortification of sin does not lie in the dredging up of my dirty dishwater. Life and vigor and comfort are not to be found in a morbid rehearsal of my sinful deeds like the knee-climbing monks on 14th century stone steps. Instead, he encourages me to look for “plants of grace” in my life. Are they flourishing and vigorous? Only if they are exposed to the life-giving light of God’s grace.
This, John Owen contrasts with the weakening and darkening diminishment of sin which “unframes the heart.” Merriam-Webster and the dictionary on my Kindle shrugged their shoulders over “unframes,” and Google offered me prints and chalkboards, but not hearts. Frames enclose and provide boundaries. Eugene Peterson speaks of something like a frame in Reversed Thunder: a circumference. “When there is no center, there is no circumference.” He speaks in regard to worship, and there I find the key to this “life, vigor and comfort.” When the worship, the glorification of God is my center, He will give me the circumference, the frame, for my wandering heart.
As the jars went into the drainer, sparkling and waiting for tomorrow’s apple butter, and the soap suds swirled down the drain, I knew this: viewing righteousness, and the Christian life from a position of vigor and comfort doesn’t change only the way I think about sin. This could change everything.