on 27 March 2016
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Hebrews 4: 12-13)
I have been thanking God for the saints of the past whose works have been preserved and still made available to posterity. How much we would be impoverished without them! Sadly I suspect that not many will pick up their works and delve into them. This is a book that brings home the piercing power of the living, active word of God. It goes deep and personal, and therefore maybe uncomfortable. Yet the truth must be heard and we must be given the tools and instruments to look into our own hearts. The discourse is unlikely to be heard from the pulpit these days, nor in bible study group. Therefore we must spend time on our own to take the journey ourselves, during which we must not shy away from answering some tough questions about the state of our hearts.
What is faith if there is no turning away? I am concerned with the rise in churches that help people feel good without pointing them to the resurrection power of Christ and what it could do and has to do in our life. The mortification of sin lies in the heart of our Christian life but how many understand what it means, let alone take it seriously? Jesus tells us that He is the true vine and every branch that bears fruit His Father prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15: 2) The knife to prune is the word of God. Do we allow God's word to operate like that in our life?
This book offers spiritual insights, grounded in God's word, and focuses on an area that could arguably be the most painful in Christian life. It opens by defining the issue at hand, followed by various human reactions to it. He then introduces us to what mortification of sin is and then how it comes about. Among the many truths, two points in particular make me pause and ponder: our particular lust (and its occasional eruptions) is rooted in our negligence in not pressing universally to all perfection in obedience; and if what restrain us from sinning are shame, punishment, judgement and undesirable consequences, we have fallen far from grace and returned under the power of the law.
"Those who are Christ's, and are acted in their obedience upon gospel principles, have the death of Christ, the love of God, the detestable nature of sin, the preciousness of communion with God, a deep-grounded abhorrency of sin as sin, to oppose to any seduction of sin, to all the workings, strivings, fightings of lust in their hearts." (p.46)
The mortification of sin is the work of the Spirit. We can't do it ourselves. "All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.... 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." (p. 7)
I have come across many who try to do the right things, and keep themselves upright in life. None can escape being boastful and self-righteous. I have also seen Christian friends who struggle to contain specific sin with outward restraints and self-control without the spiritual mortification of sin as defined here in this book. It is very painful and relapse is almost certain. I concur with Owen - ultimately when we become Christians, our religious affections for everything that is Christ sweep across that we cannot bear to grieve the Holy Spirit and nail Christ afresh on the Cross with our sin. It is this universality of our obedience to Christ that engulfs any specific lust and peculiar disposition that plagues us. "If Christ be chosen for the foundation of our supply, he will not fail us." (p. 81)
Recently I had a discussion with a friend who was increasingly convinced that it was God's kindness and love that brought people to Him, rather than bashing people on their sin. I thought about it. But how does God show His love? "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4: 10) Ultimately God's greatest gift to us is to free us from the dominion of sin; this is His way to love us. And if we cannot grasp its meaning and how it is in practice, this book illuminates it for us. If we take heed, we are moving one step closer to standing in victory with Christ over sin.