This summer I read John Owen’s Mortification of Sin. I enjoyed the delve into older, denser English. There were several places where at first I was a little taken aback at his line of argument, but after continuing on and thinking about it, I realized it was more that he was not saying things the way that such things would now be said than that he was actually saying something I disagreed with. I experienced firsthand (again) C.S. Lewis’ opinion that
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. … Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
But that’s not the quote I was going to lead with this week.
The Mortification of Sin is a Daily Thing
John Owen’s famous and summary line from this book is
Be killing sin or it will be killing you.
A paragraph I copied out to my commonplace book in this vein was
Indwelling distemper grows restive and stubborn by continuance in ease and quiet. As it never dies of itself, so if it be not daily killed, it will always gather strength.
For myself, I know I am more likely to count as a success a day where I did not struggle with my temper, with my attitude (um, well, I’m not sure I have those days), or with my sloth. A good day is a day I don’t have to deal with impatience, irritability, laziness, and self-indulgence.
What Owen is telling us here is that those are not the good days. Those days of ease and quiet are days that indwelling sin gathers strength, silently and stealthily. The days that feel like a wreck and a failure, because we come to the end of our rope and have to admit our sinfulness, our need of a Savior, our weakness and inability – those are the days sin is being dealt with and mortified.
Let us be willing to daily kill our indwelling sin, even if it means having a preponderance of days that feel bad rather than days of ease and quiet. Sometimes it takes a fever and vomit to be cleansed of impurity. Thanks be to God: We have a Good Physician at hand.