MORTIFICATION OF SIN IN BELIEVERS;
THE NECESSITY, NATURE, AND MEANS OF IT:
A RESOLUTION OF SUNDRY CASES OF CONSCIENCE THEREUNTO BELONGING.
BY JOHN OWEN, D.D.,
A SERVANT OF JESUS CHRIST IN THE WORK OF THE GOSPEL
IT sheds interesting light on the character and resources of Owen, if the circumstances in which the following treatise was composed are borne in mind. It was published in 1656, and its author was at the time Dean of Christ Church and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, restoring it. by a course of mingled kindliness and decision, from the ruinous condition into which it had lapsed during tile civil wars, and raising it to such prosperity as to extort the praises of Clarendon. tie was preaching, each alternate Sabbath, those sermons which lingered in the memory and strengthened the piety of Philip Henry. tie was frequently summoned to London on momentous consultations respecting public affairs, and to preach before the Parliament. As if this amount of toil were not sufficient to occupy him,--toil so great that, in his noble address on resigning the vice-chancellorship of the University, he describes himself as having been "saepius morti proximus"--the Council of State had imposed on him the task of replying to Biddle the Socinian; and he fulfilled it by the production of his elaborate and masterly work, "Vindiciae Evangelicae,"--a bulwark of the faith, so solid in its foundation, and so massy in its proportions, that the entire phalanx of Socinian authorship has shrunk from the attempt to assail it. In the next year, and but a few months after this great work had appeared, as if his secular labours in the management of the University, his own heavy share in the burden of public affairs, and the rough duties of controversy, could not arrest the progress of grace in his own soul, or deaden his zeal for the promotion of vital godliness around him, he gave to the world this treatise, "On the Mortification of Sin in Believers."
We learn from the preface, that it embodies what he had preached with such acceptance that" sundry persons, in whose hearts are the ways of God," pressed him to publish it. He had a desire also to correct certain "dangerous mistakes" into which some preachers or writers of that day had fallen, who recommended and enforced a process of mortifying sin which was not conducted on evangelical principles, and only tended to ensnare the conscience, and foster self-righteousness and superstition. The directions which our author gives in order to subdue the power of internal corruption are at the farthest remove from all the arts and practices of a hollow asceticism. There is no trace in this work of the morbid and dreamy tone of kindred treatises, which have emerged from a life of cloistered seclusion. Our author's knowledge of human nature, in its real elements, and as it appears in the wide arena of life, is only surpassed by his acquaintance with the truths of the Word, and their bearing on the experience and workings of every heart. The reader is made to feel, above all things, that the only cross on which he can nail his every lust to its utter destruction, is, not the devices of a self-inflicted maceration, but the tree on which Christ hung, made a curse for us.
After an analysis and explanation of the passage in Scripture (Rom. viii. 13) on which the treatise is based, some general principles are deduced and ex-pounded. What follows is designed--first, to show wherein the real mortification of sin consists; secondly, to assign general directions, without which no sin can be spiritually mortified; and, lastly, to unfold at length and in detail specific and particular directions for this important spiritual exercise.
The treatise has been so much a favourite, that it passed through several editions in the author's lifetime. It is given here as corrected and enlarged in the second edition (1658), though by some oversight modern reprints of it have been always taken from the first. The estimate of its value indicated by the number of the early editions, is confirmed by the circumstance, that it has since obtained the especial recommendation of Mr. Wilberforce. (See his "Practical View," etc. p. 392.) --ED.
I SHALL in a few words acquaint thee with the reasons that obtained my consent to the publishing of the ensuing discourse. The consideration of the present state and condition of the generality of professors, the visible evidences of the frame of their hearts and spirits, manifesting a great disability of dealing with the temptations wherewith, from the peace they have in the world and the divisions that they have among themselves, they are encompassed, holds the chief place amongst them. This I am assured is of so great importance, that if hereby I only occasion others to press more effectually on the consciences of men the work of considering their ways, and to give more clear direction for the compassing of the end proposed, I shall well esteem of my lot in this undertaking. This was seconded by an observation of some men's dangerous mistakes, who of late days have taken upon them to give directions for the mortification of sin, who, being unacquainted with the mystery of the gospel and the efficacy of the death of Christ, have anew imposed the yoke of a self-wrought-out mortification on the necks of their disciples, which neither they nor their forefathers were ever able to bear. A mortification they cry up and press, suitable to that of the gospel neither in respect of nature, subject, causes, means, nor effects; which constantly produces the deplorable issues of superstition, self-righteousness, and anxiety of conscience in them who take up the burden which is so bound for them.
What is here proposed in weakness, I humbly hope will answer the spirit and letter of the gospel, with the experiences of them who know what it is to walk with God, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace. So that if not this, yet certainly something of this kind, is very necessary at this season for the promotion and furtherance of this work of gospel mortification in the hearts of believers, and their direction in paths safe, and wherein they may find rest to their souls. Something I have to add as to what in particular relates unto myself. Having preached on this subject unto some comfortable success, through the grace of Him that administereth seed to the sower, I was pressed by sundry persons, in whose hearts are the ways of God, thus to publish what I had delivered, with such additions and alterations as I should judge necessary. Under the inducement of their desires, I called to remembrance the debt, wherein I have now for some years stood engaged unto sundry noble and worthy Christian friends, as to a treatise of Communion with God, some while since promised to them;1 and thereon apprehended, that if I could not hereby compound for the greater debt, yet I might possibly tender them this discourse of variance with themselves, as interest for their forbearance of that of peace and communion with God. Besides, I considered that I had been providentially engaged in the public debate of sundry controversies in religion, which might seem to claim something in another kind of more general
use, as a fruit of choice, not necessity. On these and the like accounts is this short discourse brought forth to public view, and now presented unto thee. I hope I may own in sincerity, that my heart's desire unto God, and the chief design of my life in the station wherein the good providence of God hath placed me, are, that mortification and universal holiness may be promoted in my own and in the hearts and ways of others, to the glory of God; that so the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things: for the compassing of which end, if this little discourse (of the publishing whereof this is the sum of the account I shall give) may in any thing be useful to the least of the saints, it will be looked on as a return of the weak prayers wherewith it is attended by its unworthy author,