clarifying word of John Owen in Chapter 11 of the Mortification of Sin

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jonatan

Puritan Board Freshman
Im currently reading the mortification of sin of john Owen. Ive truly been blessed and edified by this lecture. Since its an old book its language and style takes a little of getting used too, but Ive managed by rereading a few times and I believe Ive been able to extract what this man of God was meaning.
Recently I read chapter 11 and I had a bit of difficulty understanding a section where he discusses a direction on mortyfing sin. I was wondering if someone in the board could help me out calryfing what he meant. Im reffering to chapter 11 of the mortification of sin, specifically the fifth direction. Heres a copy of the text:

The fifth direction is, —
Consider whether the distemper with which thou art perplexed be not rooted in thy nature, and cherished, fomented, and heightened from thy constitution. A proneness to some sins may doubtless lie in the natural temper and disposition of men. In this case consider, —
1. This is not in the least an extenuation of the guilt of thy sin. Some, with an open profaneness, will ascribe gross enormities to their temper and disposition; and whether others may not relieve themselves from the pressing guilt of their distempers by the same consideration, I know not. It is from the fall, from the original depravation of our natures, that the fomes and nourishment of any sin abides in our natural temper. David reckons his being shapen in iniquity and conception in sin1515 Ps. li. 5. as an aggravation of his following sin, not a lessening or extenuation of it. That thou art peculiarly inclined unto any sinful distemper is but a peculiar breaking out of original lust in thy nature, which should peculiarly abase and humble thee.
2. That thou hast to fix upon on this account, in reference to thy walking with God, is, that so great an advantage is given to sin, as also to Satan, by this thy temper and disposition, that without extraordinary watchfulness, care, and diligence, they will assuredly prevail against thy soul. Thousands have been on this account hurried headlong to hell, who otherwise, at least, might have gone at a more gentle, less provoking, less mischievous rate.
3. For the mortification of any distemper so rooted in the nature 61of a man, unto all other ways and means already named or farther to be insisted on, there is one expedient peculiarly suited; this is that of the apostle, 1 Cor. ix. 27, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” The bringing of the very body into subjection is an ordinance of God tending to the mortification of sin. This gives check unto the natural root of the distemper, and withers it by taking away its fatness of soil. Perhaps, because the Papists, men ignorant of the righteousness of Christ, the work of his Spirit, and whole business in hand, have laid the whole weight and stress of mortification in voluntary services and penances, leading to the subjection of the body, knowing indeed the true nature neither of sin nor mortification, it may, on the other side, be a temptation to some to neglect some means of humiliation which by God himself are owned and appointed. The bringing of the body into subjection in the case insisted on, by cutting short the natural appetite, by fasting, watching, and the like, is doubtless acceptable to God, so it be done with the ensuing limitations:—
(1.) That the outward weakening and impairing of the body be not looked upon as a thing good in itself, or that any mortification doth consist therein, — which were again to bring us under carnal ordinances; but only as a means for the end proposed, — the weakening of any distemper in its natural root and seat. A man may have leanness of body and soul together.
(2.) That the means whereby this is done, — namely, by fasting and watching, and the like, — be not looked on as things that in themselves, and by virtue of their own power, can produce true mortification of any sin; for if they would, sin might be mortified without any help of the Spirit in any unregenerate person in the world. They are to be looked on only as ways whereby the Spirit may, and sometimes doth, put forth strength for the accomplishing of his own work, especially in the case mentioned. Want of a right understanding and due improvement of these and the like considerations, hath raised a mortification among the Papists that may be better applied to horses and other beasts of the field than to believers.
This is the sum of what hath been spoken: When the distemper complained of seems to be rooted in the natural temper and constitution, in applying our souls to a participation of the blood and Spirit of Christ, an endeavour is to be used to give check in the way of God to the natural root of that distemper.

I believe he meant that some of us are "wired" with some inclinations to sin that are difficult to overcome, and so we must buffet our body and be vogurous against all rising sin in that particular area. I believe he also explains that we must not confuse this action of buffeting with physical restrainment of sin as much do, but a way of the spirit to overcome these sins.
Have I far fetched what he meant, or am I a bit close. I would like to hear your coments on the carification of the meaning and opinion on what he recommends as a direction to mortify sin.
Thanks.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
You've got the basic idea.

Basically, because of physical constitution, we may be more prone or inclined toward particular sins than others. You might have a greater propensity to anger, lust, gluttony, unbelief, etc., but your physical constitution is never an excuse for the sin. If anything, it aggravates it. It's just sin breaking out in one particular form. Because of this, we are not to be less watchful against the sin, but more watchful, and it goes in accordance with what Paul means when he says he fights to keep his body under check.
 

rbcbob

Puritan Board Graduate
Jonathan, you are not far from understanding Owen. He is dealing with the “particular sins” or “besetting sins” that we are most often and most intensely drawn to.
Knowing these to be our besetting sins we must take particular care to head them off before they have begun their familiar attack.

One man may be especially drawn to stealing. Before his conversion he may have routinely taken money from the cash register where he was a cashier in a grocery store. He may have been fired from several stores and the common shame had no effect upon his conscience; he remained a thief. He may have been arrested and spent time in jail, yet he remained a thief.
After his conversion to Christ he has a new heart and wants to obey his Savior in everything. He enjoys much success in doing this. However before long he discovers that he still has a strong attraction to helping himself to other persons’ money.

Owen is telling his readers that the Christian must make extraordinary effort against this extraordinary sin that besets him. Practically, on one level he must seek to avoid, as far as can be done, occasions and opportunities which bring him into this area of temptation. He, perhaps, should not take a job working a cash register. But primarily, on another level he must wage relentless warfare against this besetting sin. Fasting and prayer have been mentioned. Properly used these are powerful spiritual weapons. But Owen wisely cautions us to not allow the use of these biblical weapons to form in our mind that we have earned or merited victory because of that use.
The defeat of that besetting sin on that particular day is not owing to the used means of fasting and prayer, but rather the defeat of that sin is owing to our Lord who was pleased to answer that prayer.
 

moral necessity

Puritan Board Junior
And, in addition to what my brothers above mentioned, Mr. Owen is cautioning us to not think that this stifling of such tendencies is truly mortification. Mortification is a work of the Spirit upon us, and our stifling only serves to put us in a better position of being worked upon by God. Thinking that it effected our mortification, or was our mortification, would make it no different than how the Papists view it, and would make mortification similar to the task of training horses and animals, an external conformity w/o an internal change.

"(1.) That the outward weakening and impairing of the body be not looked upon as a thing good in itself, or that any mortification doth consist therein, — which were again to bring us under carnal ordinances; but only as a means for the end proposed, — the weakening of any distemper in its natural root and seat. A man may have leanness of body and soul together.
(2.) That the means whereby this is done, — namely, by fasting and watching, and the like, — be not looked on as things that in themselves, and by virtue of their own power, can produce true mortification of any sin; for if they would, sin might be mortified without any help of the Spirit in any unregenerate person in the world. They are to be looked on only as ways whereby the Spirit may, and sometimes doth, put forth strength for the accomplishing of his own work, especially in the case mentioned. Want of a right understanding and due improvement of these and the like considerations, hath raised a mortification among the Papists that may be better applied to horses and other beasts of the field than to believers." - quote of Owen from the OP above

Blessings!
 
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