On the Mortification of Sin–Chapter 11–Bring on the Guilt!

If we ever mean to overcome personal sin, Owen says next that we must load our consciences with the guilt of it.

We do this by looking at the holy law of God in comparison to our own inability to keep it.  And lest we protest that we are no longer under the law’s condemnation, Owen says:

“Tell your conscience that it cannot manage any evidence to the purpose that you are free from the condemning power of sin, while your unmortified lust lies in your heart; so that, perhaps, the law may make good its plea against you for a full dominion, and then you are a lost creature.  Wherefore it is best to ponder to the utmost what it has to say.” 

To plead that you are not under the law’s condemnation while secretly making allowance for continuing in your sin is poor evidence that you are secure on gospel grounds from condemnation.  ‘The law has found you out, and before God it will bring you.’  This, Owen says, is the job of the Law, “to discover sin in the guilt of it, to awake and humble the soul for it, to be a glass to represent sin in its colors; and if you deny to deal with it on this account, it is not through faith, but through the hardness of your heart and the deceitfulness of sin.”

The  path to apostasy is to turn a blind eye to the law instead of measuring one’s sin by it.  The law is meant to shut up our consciences to the reality of our guilt and thus bring us back to the Gospel.  But before we are ready for the relief of the Gospel, Owen says we must allow it to magnify our sense of conviction for our lusts.

Look at what your sin has done to Jesus. 

·         “Is this the return I made to the Father for his love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Ghost for his grace?” 

·         “Do I account communion with Him of so little value that for this vile lust’s sake I have scarce left him any room in my heart? 

·         “How shall I escape if I neglect so great salvation?”

·         “Was my soul washed, that room might be made for new defilements?”


Add to this these guilt inducing thoughts:

–God has been so patient toward you in sparing you His wrath, while you continue to sin.

–God has dealt so graciously with you in keeping you from being completely hardened by sin and in drawing you instead back to fellowship with Him.

Owen’s point in calling for the piling on of guilt is this:

“While the conscience has any means to alleviate the guilt of sin, the soul will never vigorously attempt its mortification”


The next directive is to ‘constantly long and breathe after deliverance from the power of sin’.  We are never to rest content with our present frame and condition.  Owen clarifies, thankfully, that this longing is a grace in itself, which I take to mean that it will be a God-given longing, not something we must stir up ourselves in a fleshly way.  Closely related is his admonition to keep a watchful heart against all the advantages the enemy might take of us.  This constant longing and watching will find expression in ‘praying always’, which puts faith and hope to work in a God-ward way.


[I must interject here that I find all this quite counter-indicative to the rest for our souls that is to be found in Jesus and His finished work on the Cross!–Mt.11:28-30; Heb.4]


Owen’s next point is an important one as it calls us to consider whether the sin we struggle with is in fact a product of our very sin nature and made worse by our ‘constitution’.  In other words are we particularly prone to it because of  a ‘bent’ in us.  He warns that this is no excuse, but should make us all the more humbled and broken by our sin’s guilt.  


I haven’t the time to go into the remaining points Owen makes in this chapter, including a discussion of Paul’s words:  “I discipline my body, and bring it into subjection” and the value of using physical means in addressing our sins.  This subject alone would require careful consideration in light of Col. 2:2 which warns that mere physical regulation and ‘severity to the body…are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.’  I refer you to Owen’s book: Overcoming Sin and Temptation,  for his take on this.  Or stop by Challies.com and read the Nov.13, 2014 post and “Comments”.

To be honest, I’ve had short patience with this chapter.  Perhaps I am more a product of my times than I would like to admit.  We rush to the ‘no condemnation’ clause before we have had a chance to fathom the true guilt of our sinfulness.  We emphasize God’s grace and avoid talking about a God of wrath.  We tend to separate ‘the God of the Old Testament’ from the loving and doting God we imagine in the New.
Guilt and shame have become bad words, things we coach people out of taking seriously.  We talk instead of false guilt and unfounded shame.  (There is little shame in our culture consequently, and what there is has become something to glory in! Phil. 3:19)    
But my take away from this chapter is this:
I am helpless to ‘load myself with guilt’ apart from the gracious working of the Spirit of God.  Anything I can do toward this end will be but a fleshly kicking of myself that will have no spiritual fruit.  I can ‘feel bad’ on my own but this is not the kind of godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  For this I must wait on the goodness of God at work in me by His Spirit.   In my experience I find I can give mental assent to my sinfulness well enough,  based on God’s word and particularly His law,  and based on the necessity of Christ having had to die in my stead.  I have been familiar with the Gospel story all my life it seems.  But for this assent of my sinfulness to penetrate to my heart in a way that produces deep contrition and brokenness,  I am very much dependent on the Spirit.  He must illumine the ‘eyes of my heart’ to see sin as sin (and to hate it!) and to see myself as helplessly damnable apart from Jesus. 
I suppose this is what Owen is intending in this chapter, but it comes across to me as so much striving of the flesh trying to beat truth into my heart,  trying to feel bad over things I cannot see….  Can the sinner repent unless the goodness of God draw him?  Can the believer who sins be ever contrite of heart for his sins unless the Spirit of God be at work in his heart? 
My prayer this week has been from the message to the Laodicean church:  Lord, anoint my eyes with salve so that I may see my true condition.  And by faith I walk, confessing the sin I am made aware of ,  staying in the Word so I can see rightly, and looking to God to shine His light on the areas in me that don’t yet reflect His glorious design as laid out in His Law.  He has begun a good work.  He will see to its completion.  This is my hope in Christ!

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
–Rev 3:16-19 ESV

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