The Mortification of Sin

The Mortification of Sin, by John Owen, translated and adapted into Modern English by Aaron Renn ★★★★

Pastor Rayburn had recommended this book to the FPC in Tacoma, WA as an excellent treatise on dealing with sin. It has been a classic text regarding personally killing sin in one’s life, and quoted by JI Packer as an anecdote to the more casual or even “magical” ways in which sin is dealt with in one’s life. This book is now being reviewed in Sunday School at church, a chapter at a time. I opted for a modern rendition, very well done, by Aaron Renn. Owen could be a bit stodgy to read, partially because it is a language we don’t necessarily think with (King James English), and Owen’s academic accuracy sometimes clouds his ability to make clear what he is trying to say.

The book is 18 chapters long, Owen’s text being only 13 chapters long, but Renn turned one chapter into five, giving it a few more chapters. Owens makes very clear that Christians must always be engaged in a battle against sin, that there is no alternative for a Christian, and that the only victory against sin is accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. Again and again, Owen stresses the necessity of the Christian not being lax against sin, and always battling for victory over sin. Though Owen doesn’t stress it in this text, sin will remain an enemy for life; there is no moment of absolute surrender and total victory over sin, that is, until we die.

Martin Luther had a different approach to sin, in part owing to his struggle to differentiate law from grace. Luther’s quote “Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ”. Luther, like Owen, had a strong repulsion for sin in a person’s life, yet tends to approach sin by advocating the replacement of the sin act with an act of obedience. Both Luther and Owen need to be taken seriously in their appeal for a righteous life of a believer in Christ. They offer contrasting but complementary means of killing sin in our life.