“There are some truths of God that He has taught us to speak of. He has even guided us in our expressions of them. But when we have done so we do not really fully understand these things. All we can do is believe and admire. We profess, as we are taught that God is infinite, omnipotent, eternal; and we know the discussions about His omnipresence, immensity, infinity and eternity. We have, I say, words and notions about these things; but as to the things themselves, what do we really know? What do we comprehend of them? Can the mind of man do any more than be swallowed up in an infinite abyss and give itself up to what it cannot conceive or express? Is not our understanding ‘brutish’ in the contemplation of such things?
We are more perfect in our understanding when we realize that we cannot understand, and rest there. It is just the back parts of eternity and infinity that we see. What shall we say of the Trinity, or the existence of three Persons in the same individual essence? This is such a mystery that it is denied by many, because they cannot understand it. Is it not indeed a mystery whose every letter is mysterious? Who can declare the generation of the Son, the procession of the Spirit, or the difference of the one from the other? Thus, the infinite and inconceivable distance that is between Him and keeps us in the dark as to any sight of His face or clear apprehension of His perfections.
We know Him rather by what He does than by what He is. We understand His doing us good, but not truly His essential goodness. How little a portion of Him, as Job says, is discovered in this way!”
– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, p.94-95
“Bring your lust to the gospel. Not for relief, but for further conviction of your guilt. Look on Him whom you have pierced, and let it trouble you. Say to your soul, ‘What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this how I pay back the Father for His love? Is this how I thank the Son for His blood? Is this how I respond to the Holy Spirit for His grace? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, and the Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell in? How can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head with any boldness before Him? Do I count fellowship with Him of so little value that, for this vile lust’s sake, I have hard;y left Him any room in my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great a salvation?
‘What shall I say to the Lord? His love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation – I have despised all of them! I have considered them as nothing, that I might habour lust in my heart. Have I seen God as my Father, that I might provoke Him to His face? Was my soul washed that there might be room for new defilements? Shall I seek to disappoint the purpose of the death of Christ? Shall I grieve the Holy Spirit, Who has sealed me unto the day of redemption?’ Allow your conscience to consider these things every day. See if you conscience can resist the way in which these considerations aggravate guilt. If this does not cause your conscience to sink and melt, I fear that your case is very dangerous.”
– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, p.78-79
“That is, do not grieve the indwelling One from whom we have received so many and great blessings, especially the keeping of our souls till the day of redemption! He is grieved by our sin as a tender and loving friend is grieved by wounds from a close friend. The Holy Spirit has chosen our hearts for a dwelling place, and He is there to do for us all that our souls desire. He is therefore grieved by harboring His enemies, and that which He is seeking to destroy in our hearts.
‘He does not afflict willingly or grieve the children of men’ (Lam. 3:33). Shall we then daily grieve Him? If there is any gracious character in our soul, if it is not entirely hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, then not grieving the Spirit is surely a great motive for purity. Consider who you are, and who the Spirit is whom you are grieving. Consider what He has done for you already and be ashamed! Among those who walk with God, there is no greater motive or incentive to universal holiness, and the preserving of our hearts and spirits in all purity and cleanness, that is, that we keep our hearts undefiled for the blessed Spirit Who dwells in us as the temple of God, and keeps us for the Lord. Zimri aggravated his sin when he displayed it in the sight of Mose and rest (Num. 25:6). Is it not also a serious aggravation of the guilt of our sin when it is (as it must be, if we are believers) performed under the eye of the Holy Spirit who desires His dwelling place to be pure and holy?
– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, p.73-74
“Examine yourself also by this: When you are tempted, and must decide whether you will serve sin and rush into folly, like a horse into battle, or fight against it and suppress it, what do you say to your soul? ‘Hell will be the end of this course; vengeance will meet with me and find me out!’ It is time for you to look about you; evil lies at the door. Paul’s main argument that sin should not have dominion over believers is that they are ‘not under law, but under grace’ (Romans 6:14). If your battle against sin is only legal principles and motives, what assurance do you have that this sin will not have dominion over you, leading to your ruin?
“Also, this defense will not last long. If your lust has driven you away from stronger gospel considerations, then considerations of law and penalty will speedily fail you also. These will not restrain you when you have voluntarily given up to your enemy a means of preservation a thousand times stronger. Be sure of this, that unless you recover yourself rapidly from this condition, the thing you fear will come upon you. What gospel principles have not done, legal motives cannot do!”
– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, p.60-61 (italics in original)
“We must hate all sin, as sin, and not just that which troubles us. Love for Christ, because He went to the cross, and hate the sin that sent Him there, is the solid foundation of true spiritual mortification. To seek mortification only because a sin troubles us proceeds from self-love. Why do you with all diligence and earnestness seek to mortify this sin? Because it troubles you and takes away your peace, and fills your heart with sorrow, trouble, and fear, and because you do not have rest through it? Yes, but, friend, you have neglected prayer and reading! You have been vain and loose in your conversation with other things. These are just as sinful as the one that troubles you. Jesus Christ bled for them also. Why do you not set yourself against them? If you hate sin as sin, and every evil way, you would be watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God.”
– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, p.50-51
“An unregenerate man may do something like mortification, but the real work itself, so that it may be acceptable with God, he can never perform. Some of the Philosophers declare how they have conquered the world and self, and are able to regulate their passions and affections! The lives however of most of them reveal their boasts differ from true mortification just as the sun which is painted on a fence differs from the sun itself; it has neither light nor heat. There is no death of sin without the death of Christ. You realize how the Papists, in their vows and penances seek mortification according to the principles of their church, yet they are like Israel who, seeking for their own righteousness, have not attained it! Why? Because they seek it by works of the law and not by faith (Romans 9:31-32).
– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, p.41
“The first thing in mortification is the weakening of the habit of sin or lust, so that it shall not, with that violence, earnestness and frequency, rise up and conceive, provoke, entice, and disquiet as it naturally has a tendency to do (James 1:14-15). This is called ‘crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Galatians 5:24). We seek to take away that about it which gives it strength and power. We aim at the killing of the body of death ‘day by day’ (see 2 Corinthians 4:16).
When a man is nailed to a cross, he at first struggles, strives, and cries out with great strength and might; but as his blood and spirits waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries hoarse, and scarce to be heard. So when a man first determines to conquer a lust or sin, and to deal with it in earnest, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved. By mortification, the blood and spirits of it are let out, it moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly, and is scarce heard in the heart; it may sometimes have a dying pang that makes an appearance of great vigor and strength, but it is quickly over, especially if it kept from considerable success.
– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, p.34-35