No Retreat

I’m attempting to tackle John Owen’s masterpiece of writing on sanctification, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. This volume is not light reading. It’s a chore. It’s one of those elephants you have to eat one little bite at a time. As I chew on Owen’s words, part of my aid to digestion will entail jotting down a summary of his words in my own, as I consider the Scriptures he expounds and the instruction he gives. In chapter two, Owen transitions from a point teaching how “Indwelling sin always abides whilst we are in this world,” to his next point which adds the further truth that “Sin doth not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh.”

In this passage, Owen writes, “Now, it being our duty to mortify, to be killing of sin whilst it is in us, we must be at work. He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, doth but half his work. These are words that “struck” me.

Galatians. 6:9 “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . . “

2 Corinthians 7:1 “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

This text from 2 Corinthians is especially helpful when considered in its context. Paul here encourages the Corinthians to purify themselves and perfect holiness out of reverence for God. But what indicatives form the basis for these imperatives? To what gospel promises does Paul appeal in order to motivate such a response? At the end of chapter six, Paul stated several of God’s promises from the Old Testament which speak of his gospel intention to enjoy the company of his Redeemed.”What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ (cf. Leviticus 26:11-12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27). Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you” (Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 20:34, 41).

What are God’s gospel intentions which call us to remain separate from, leave untouched, and, indeed, kill, sin? By the gracious redemption purchased by Christ in his victorious life of active obedience to God and utter defeat of sin in his death and resurrection for sinners, God’s intention is to “make (his) dwelling with them.” Think about that: if you are redeemed, it is because God is pleased to live with you! “. . . And walk among them . . . ” As the company of the redeemed, we ought not gather to have a good time with each other, or to impress each other with our outward displays of godliness, but we are called to gather and walk together because God is pleased to walk among the company of those redeemed by Christ from their bondage to sin! How easily we forget this as we walk ever so thoughtlessly in our sinful, defiling lusts. “I will be their God.” Our God? He redeemed us, so he could be our God? Who are we that he is mindful of us? We are nobodies in and of ourselves! But God was graciously pleased to place sinners such as us into his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased (Matthew 17:5). ” . . . ‘And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (v. 18).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, with Grandma and the Indians . . .

Owen continues:
“2. Sin doth not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.” This resembles those scenes in the old war movies where the general is unnerved by the enemy’s silence: “It’s quiet–too quiet!” Believers must remain on guard even when they aren’t conscious of temptation–your inner enemy, sin, is merely reloading and plotting your downfall.

Here are some of the Scriptures Owen cites in support of the above statements:

Sin doth not only abide in us, but “the law of the members is still rebelling against the law of the mind,” (Romans 7:23);

and “the spirit that dwells in us lusteth to envy” (James 4:5)

It is always in continual work; “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17)

Lust is still tempting and conceiving sin (James 1:14)

The Holy Spirit who indwells the believer has desires for his behavior which contradict the desires that his indwelling sin nature has for him. The flesh (sinful desire) seeks on an ongoing basis to entice the believer to sin and the Holy Spirit is calling him to rely on him out of love for the Son of God to do what he desires him to do. Believer, hear the Spirit’s call and heed it, while, like Russel Crowe’s character in the movie, A Beautiful Mind, resisting, ignoring, neglecting and marginalizing the flesh’s regular attempts to lure you into sin.

Here are my concluding thoughts which were spurred by Owen’s words:

Since sin will dwell in the justified believer for his entire life, and is constantly engaged with him in a fight to the death, the justified believer must likewise engage in an offensive to the death against sin, relying not on his own moral strength, but on the power of the sanctifying Holy Spirit in the Word of God (the Law and the Gospel–1 Peter 1:25) as it is carefully heard, prudently applied and diligently obeyed (James 1:19-25). How a professing believer responds to the onslaughts of his own indwelling sin has eternal consequences (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

If the believer refuses up front, or surrenders to a life of unrepentant sin before his own death (Matthew 21:28-32), he stands liable to the judgment of God as a false believer who allowed sin to kill him, finding that he was never a justified believer to begin with (Matthew 7:23). But if the believer perseveres in the fight to the death with sin, then, when he dies, he will be found finally as a justified believer who has spent his life being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and now stands to be glorified (1 Corinthians 15:50-58) to live forever in his flesh, finally victorious over sin in Christ, who himself defeated sin for us (Matthew 4:1-11) in order to defeat sin in us as we gratefully return our love to him by our obedient resistance to temptation, and disciplined pursuit of godliness and righteousness (Matthew 5:6; 6:33).

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).

Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
going on before.

Christ, the royal Master,
leads against the foe;
Forward into battle
see His banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
going on before.

At the sign of triumph
Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers,
on to victory!

Hell’s foundations quiver
at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices,
loud your anthems raise.

Onward, Christian soldiers
marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus
going on before.

Like a mighty army
moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading
where the saints have trod.

We are not divided,
all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
one in charity.

Onward, Christian soldiers
marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus
going on before.

What the saints established
that I hold for true.
What the saints believèd,
that I believe too.

Long as earth endureth,
men the faith will hold,
Kingdoms, nations, empires,
in destruction rolled.

Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus
going on before.

Crowns and thrones may perish,
kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus
constant will remain.

Gates of hell can never
‘gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise,
and that cannot fail.

Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus
going on before.

Onward then, ye people,
join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices
in the triumph song.

Glory, laud and honor
unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages
men and angels sing.

Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus
going on before.

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10 responses

  1. Good luck reading Owen. It’s worth the mental work to get through it.

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  2. John

    thanks for this John Owens link!!

    I like this:::>

    Now, the connection and coherence of things being manifold, as of
    cause and effect, of way and means and the end, this between
    mortification and life is not of cause and effect properly and
    strictly, — for “eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus
    Christ,” Rom. vi. 23, — but of means and end. God hath appointed this
    means for the attaining that end, which he hath freely promised.
    Means, though necessary, have a fair subordination to an end of free
    promise.

  3. WOW WOW WOW JOHN!!!!

    OWNENS:::>

    3. The principal efficient cause of the performance of this duty is
    the Spirit: Ei de Pneumati, — ” If by the Spirit.” The Spirit here is
    the Spirit mentioned verse 11, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of
    God, that “dwells in us,” verse 9, that “quickens us,” verse 11; “the
    Holy Ghost,” verse 14; [2] the “Spirit of adoption,” verse 15; the
    Spirit “that maketh intercession for us,” verse 26. All other ways of
    mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done
    by the Spirit. Men, as the apostle intimates, Rom. ix. 30-32, may
    attempt this work on other principles, by means and advantages
    administered on other accounts, as they always have done, and do: but,
    saith he, “This is the work of the Spirit; by him alone is it to be
    wrought, and by no other power is it to be brought about.”
    Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of
    self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and
    substance of all false religion in the world. And this is a second
    principle of my ensuing discourse.

  4. John D. Chitty | Reply

    Get what you can out of this book. From what I’ve been reading about it, it’s a very significant volume for understanding the work of sanctification without falling back on the unnecessary moralism which characterizes so much of modern Christian teaching on sanctification.

  5. John, John is being taught by the Holy Ghost.

    There is no way he can know what he is teaching without revelation from the Holy Ghost.

    Just to underscore him here:::>

    :”Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of
    self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness,”:

    This is God’s understanding given here to John Owen! Just consider all the stuff your friend, Ed Young Jr. or TD Jakes puts on his “slaves” all the while not keeping any rules themselves all the while promising a God fortune, “if you will only…”!

    It’s sad, but I am glad that God has guys like you and Gage in the area to bring a word of reproof whenever possible.

    Venture out with the Holy Ghost like John Owen, you will not be disappointed and you will be “GOD BLESSED” by TRUTH!

    I come back to what God said to Abram at Genesis 15:1, three things, “don’t fear”, “I am now your shield” and “I am now your exceeding great reward”.

    Who would want the things of the world, the riches and pleasures when they can have the Lord Himself who owns all the wealth of the world already?

    It’s like the story told about the Dallas billionaire businessman, whose only son, who he and his mother loved more than any other human on earth, did, after the son died in the Vietnam war and then the wife died of a broken heart at the loss of her son and then he died too without an heir to leave his wealth too. This man was wealthy and his sole heir was the son. Now that the son was dead and gone and his wife too and being the owner of a lot of wealthy art and sculptures and jewelry, that was quite in demand on the world art and jewelry market, he instructed that when he passed his entire estate was to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

    It came time for the auction after his passing and people flew in from all over the world to bid on this man’s art and jewelry.

    Back while the son was in Vietnam, one of his best friends drew a picture of him the night before his death on the battle field.

    The son, knowing his father and mother loved him very much made his friend promise that if he died in the war he wanted him to bring this drawing of himself to them as a remembrance. The friend agreed, not knowing what was to happen the next day.

    Because this soldier artist was wounded that fateful next day in battle, he was sent to Hawaii for rehabilitation. His wounds would not allow him to return to Vietnam. Once he was released he came for a visit to this billionaire to give him the drawing he did of his son the night before his death as he promised.

    The father and mother were greatly empowered emotionally by this drawing of their now deceased son, framing the drawing and placing it in the front entry way of their mansion so that everyone who entered would see it. It was the most valuable item they had, this drawing of their beloved son!

    Well, the mother visited that drawing several times a day, but was so overwhelmed with her loss she died after of a broken heart.

    The father also came and looked at this drawing every day realizing this was the last thing he had of his beloved son before he died.

    So, now, the auction.

    The auction began and the auctioneer puts this drawing up first and asks who will bid on the drawing. It was silent. A few moments goes by and auctioneer asks again, WHO WILL GIVE ME TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS for this art piece?

    People started shouting and showing annoyance at this request, some calling out that they came for the real art work spending a lot of money to attend this auction.

    Again the auctioneer called out, who will give me a thousand dollars then?

    Even more shouting and carrying on among those gathered.

    Again the auctioneer shouts out, who will give 100 dollars then?

    More noise in the gathering.

    Then again, he asks for a bid of fifty dollars.

    All of a sudden in the very back the young soldier who drew the picture stood up and said:

    I DON’T HAVE BUT TEN DOLLARS, I WILL OFFER TEN!

    To which the auctioneer came back, ok, who will give me twenty?

    Silence fell over the crowd as he waited, waited, waited and then ask, ok, fifteen, who will offer fifteen dollars for this drawing?

    Still silence and then just as suddenly as the young soldier offering ten dollars, the auctioneer calls out, SOLD to the young soldier in the back.

    He then hushed the crowd and made this announcement:

    THIS AUCTION IS NOW OFFICIALLY OVER AS MY INSTRUCTIONS ARE THAT WHOEVER GET’S THE SON, GET’S IT ALL!

  6. I so enjoy Owens, John!

    Owens:

    (2.) The certainty of the coherence and connection that is between the
    things spoken of; as we say to a sick man, “If you will take such a
    potion, or use such a remedy, you will be well.” The thing we solely
    intend to express is the certainty of the connection that is between
    the potion or remedy and health. And this is the use of it here. The
    certain connection that is between the mortifying of the deeds of the
    body and living is intimated in this conditional particle.

    This is so profound!

    There is this doctrine, THE THEOLOGY OF GLORY.

    Paul addressed it succinctly here:

    1Th 2:5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness.
    1Th 2:6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.
    1Th 2:7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.
    1Th 2:8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
    1Th 2:9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

    When at once it hits you between the eyes, THAT I NEED A SAVIOR!!! then these words of Owens makes perfect sense seeing the focus is now not on me and what “I NOW DO”, but on GOD and what He did, is doing and will do for me, for you, for all who call upon the Name of the Lord seeing as Owens points too in verse one, A WORD OF PROMISE:

    Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

    Theologians of GLORY or people who have to prove something about themselves to others and to God, will in the end tire! God will see to it!

    On the other hand, the Theologian of the Cross will continually die daily, being a partaker of daily bread and will experience that daily refreshing of the Lord as is pointed too in Acts:

    Act 3:17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.
    Act 3:18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.
    Act 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,
    Act 3:20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,
    Act 3:21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

    I, as I read Owens come quickly to understand what it is Jesus is saying and why He said it:

    Mat 11:25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;
    Mat 11:26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
    Mat 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
    Mat 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
    Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
    Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    Christ is my Savior. God has offered me too the GOOD NEWS of salvation for my soul.

    As one brother preached last Wednesday night at Capstone Church in Fort Worth, Texas, “the reason so many people are tired is because they have burdened themselves down with other yokes than that singular YOKE Jesus speaks about here”:

    “TAKE MY YOKE”, Jesus beckons believers.

    I believe God is faithful to His Promises and His Word that He puts in us!

    He cannot deny Himself, the Apostle wrote later in one of his epistles!

    Again, thanks John for pointing your bloggers to John Owens!

  7. Again, your title, NO RETREAT, is underscored by the words of Owens here::::>

    So the apostle, Col. iii. 5, “Mortify therefore your members which are
    upon the earth.” Whom speaks he to? Such as were “risen with Christ,”
    verse 1; such as were “dead” with him, verse 3; such as whose life
    Christ was, and who should “appear with him in glory,” verse 4. Do you
    mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you
    live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be
    killing you. Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being
    quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work. And our
    Saviour tells us how his Father deals with every branch in him that
    beareth fruit, every true and living branch. “He purgeth it, that it
    may bring forth more fruit,” John xv. 2. He prunes it, and that not
    for a day or two, but whilst it is a branch in this world. And the
    apostle tells you what was his practice, 1 Cor. ix. 27, “I keep under
    my body, and bring it into subjection.” “I do it,” saith he, “daily;
    it is the work of my life: I omit it not; this is my business.” And if
    this were the work and business of Paul, who was so incomparably
    exalted in grace, revelations, enjoyments, privileges, consolations,
    above the ordinary measure of believers, where may we possibly bottom
    an exemption from this work and duty whilst we are in this world?

    Answer the questions there??

    The only business I should be in is my own.

    Jesus, by the Grace of God has been appointed by Him to rule over my flesh:::>

    Joh 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,
    Joh 17:2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

    Here is where the boys are divided from the men you might say, here!

    Now Jesus literally becomes “my Savior” seeing I am in the same soup as he, Owens, and you, you, you, you!

    MY FLESH must be mortified. That is not in dispute.

    How it is to be mortified and when is.

    Remember this conversation then:

    Joh 21:19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
    Joh 21:20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”
    Joh 21:21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”
    Joh 21:22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

    Yes, you might charge me a BAPTIST seeing I am more inclined to be judging you than me or better yet, JESUS and what He does to mortify my FLESH, but Lord!!! I squeel, what about John there? Why does he get an easier ride than me?
    grrrrr.

    Oh shut up gentle Jesus might say to me then!

    You follow me!

  8. are you taking the month off Cap’n?

  9. I’m afraid so. Taking care of other matters for the time being. In some matters I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

    But I am checking your blog and others during my hiatus, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I will, however, resume posting Theological and Doxological Meditations and updating my Canons of Dort sidebar weekly when I get around to it. Thanks for your patience, and please be praying for God’s wisdom, grace and direction in some matters I’m currently dealing with.

  10. Call me or email me anytime Cap’n.

    Praying for you,

    Gage

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