We arrive at last to the final chapter of Owen’s treatise on mortifying sin. Here Owen explains that while the previous nine directions have largely focused upon preparing ourselves to mortify sin, he now speaks to “the work itself” (145). In our present edition of study, only one direction is distinguished here; Richard Rushing in his modernization of the book for Puritan Paperback series marks off Owens finally comments on the work of the Holy Spirit as a second direction. I agree with Rushing that it is essentially a second direction, so that is how I will treat it here.
The 1st Direction, upon which most of the chapter is centered, is “set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror” (145). Could there be any other closing counsel against sin? Some who look for particular steps and rituals to follow may certainly be disappointed. But should we not ultimately trust in Him who defeated sin itself to also rescue us from particular sins here and now?
Owen drives his discussion through several questions. The first is simply “how shall faith act itself upon Christ for this end and purpose” (145)? He first answers that we must consider the mighty ability of Christ to save us.
Ponder on this, that though thou art no way able, in or by thyself, to get the conquest over thy distemper; though thou art even weary of contending, and art utterly ready to faint (Luke 18:1,7); yet that there is enough in Jesus Christ to yield thee relief (Phil. 4:13).146
Even as we see clearly our own inability to conquer our sin, we must remind ourselves that our hope of conquest is not in our own strength but in the strength of our Lord. He helpfully points out to that even when we do not see a full conquest over our sin, Christ will still keep us from flying out of the chariot in the middle of the battle. He will sustain us through the fight.
Second, we should look to Christ by faith with “an expectation of relief” (148). Of course, we never know when the Lord will choose to give us relief, yet as we wait, we can trust that He will deliver us in “the best season” (148).
Spinning out of this point, Owen adds, “but thou wilt say: What ground have I to build such an expectation upon, so that I may expect not to be deceived” (148)? He first answers the question by reminding us that we can only go to Christ for such deliverance. “Let this then be fixed upon thy heart, that if thou hast not relief from him, thou shalt never have any; all ways, endeavours, contendings that are not animated by this expectation of relief from Christ and him only are to no purpose, will do thee no good” (149).
With that consideration in mind, Owen then answers the question with two answers. First, we should meditate on Christ as our great and merciful high priest. Drawing from Hebrews 2:17-18 and 4:15-16, he emphasizes the beauty of Christ’s interceding ministry toward us after suffering and being tempted as we are, only having overcome sin at every moment. Second, we should meditate upon God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promises. “He hath promised to relieve in such cases, and he will fulfill his Word to the utmost” (151).
Owen then notes that “there are two eminent advantages which always attend this expectation of succour from Jesus Christ” (151). The first advantage is that it brings Christ to our aid. “If Christ be chosen for the foundation of our supply, he will not fail us” (152). Second, such an expectation of deliverance “sets the heart to work” (152). He gives the comparison of a beggar who expects alms and, therefore, begs at the spot where he will be most likely to receive. Owen notes that this is where what we would call spiritual disciplines come into play. They are springs whereby we find the water of Christ. But to think that they have efficacy in and of themselves is folly.
Next, Owen pulls back to the direction as a whole and makes two final points. First, he calls us to set our faith “peculiarly upon the death, blood and cross of Christ: that is, on Christ as crucified and slain” (153). Our ransom from sin, after all, was Christ’s very reason for choosing to die upon the cross, and we can trust that what He shed His blood to accomplish will not fail. He further notes that we should look particularly to our baptism in this.
We have in baptism an evidence of our implantation into Christ; we are baptised into him; but into what of him are we baptised in order to an interest therein? His death, saith he: if indeed, and beyond outward profession, we are baptised into Christ, we are baptised into his death.154
Owen concludes with a final direction for us to remember and rely upon the Spirit’s work in mortifying our sin. Indeed, “this whole work which I have described as our duty, is affected, carried on and accomplished by the power of the Spirit, in all parts and degrees of it” (155-156). He then closes by giving us six brief reminders of the Spirit’s work. First, the Spirit alone convicts us of sin so as to bring us to true repentance. Since we must first see our sin as the horror that is, if this conviction is not given “all that follows is vain” (156). Second, the Spirit shows us the fullness of Christ, which causes us to long for Him rather than our sin. Third, the Spirit gives us that expectation of relief in Christ that we have just discussed. Fourth, “the Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts, with its sin-killing power” (157). Fifth, He is the one who accomplishes and completes our sanctification. Sixth, He brings and strengthens our appeals to the Father.
The book then ends rather abruptly with Owen noting that the Spirit’s role in aiding our prayers is not his “present intention to demonstrate” (157). Although Owen’s writing may at times be difficult, I pray that you have seen the value of his thorough, analytical, yet pastoral mind. May the words of this book strengthen your spirit, by the Spirit, to kill your sin before it kills you.
Note: page numbers are for this edition of the book.