William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

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The Mortification of Sin


by Christopher Love


"But if ye through the Spirit do mortify the
deeds of the body, ye shall live."
Romans 8:13


The Necessity of Mortification

Mortifying the deeds of the body cannot be understood of the
religious deeds of the body, for they are to be cherished, nor of
the natural deeds of the body such as eating and drinking; but it
refers to the sinful actions that are done by the body arising from
the temptations and injections of Satan or the corrupt dictates of
our own sinful heart.

"But if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye
shall live," Ye- see here, beloved, that the Lord walks in ways
contrary to the judgments of flesh and blood. He bids us mourn and
sow in tears and then we shall reap in joy. He bids us die, and
tells us this is the way to live; and no way can be more contrary to
flesh and blood, and yet there is no other way to live but this. We
most first die to sin and the world before we can live . life of
grace; and we must die a natural death before we can come to live a
life of glory.

There are two observations that I shall draw from this latter part
of the text:

DOCTRINE 1. Mortification of corruption is a necessary qualification
-required in every person who shall obtain salvation.

If you mortify the deeds f the body, you shall live.
DOCTRINE 2. From the addition of this phrase, "through the Spirit,"
observe that, though a man can commit it by his own strength, he
cannot mortify but by the strength of the Spirit.

RULE 1. Count not the restraining of sin from coming into action to
be a real mortifying of sin. Restraining grace is not mortifying
grace. In Genesis 20:6 God said to Abimelech, "I withheld thee from
sinning against Me; therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.' He
had sin restrained, but not mortified.

A lion confined within the grates- is a lion still, though he cannot
go about to devour his prey; similarly, though men are restrained
from acting out those sins to which they are inclined, yet the
restraint of sin is not to be taken for the mortifying of sin. A man
may for a time lay a curb and restraint upon his lusts, so that they
do not come forth into action, even without the powers of mortifying
grace. A man may bridle a lust for many years, and yet the lust
remains unmortified. Therefore, I say, do not count the restraining
of a sin to be the mortifying of a sin.

RULE 2. A listlessness toward any kind of sin is no infallible
demonstration that such a sin is mortified. Count not a present
listlessness to some sins to be a saving mortification of them. This
is a great mistake that many men run into: because they have no
desire to commit some sins which their education makes them averse
to, therefore they think they have a work of mortification and
sanctification wrought in them; whereas there are divers external
causes that may make a man indisposed and averse to some sins such
as sickness, old age, better of conscience, education, or a man's
natural temper. These cases are expounded in answer to the following
question.

QUESTION. Why are men more disposed to some sins than others?

ANSWER 1. A man my have a listlessness and unwillingness toward some
sins arising from a fit of sickness, so that, though he has been a
drunkard or an adulterer in former times, yet because he has thereby
distempered himself and impaired his health he has no lost or desire
for those sins now. Or, if he has renewed desires after these sins,
yet it may be that he wants strength of body to act. Such
listlessness to sin, flowing from a sick bed, does not proceed from
mortifying grace.

ANSWER 2. This indisposition to sin may flow from old age, wherein a
man's strength is wasted and decayed, and so he is not able to
commit those sins of adultery and drunkenness which formerly he
committed and took pleasure in.

ANSWER 3. It may flow from a good education and principles of
morality in men which restrain them from any gross and scandalous
sins.

ANSWER 4. It may proceed likewise to.- better and terror of
conscience. When this seizes upon a man in whose face God casts the
flashes of hellfire, this may make him abstain from sin for a time
while the horror lies upon him. As a thundering storm sours the beer
in our cellars, so, when God thunders upon the conscience, it will
sour and embitter sin to a man so that he has no desires after it
for the present. Yet this is not mortifying grace upon the heart,
but the horror of conscience that gnaws and grips and terrifies the
man, and makes him listless after sin at such a time.

ANSWER 5. Another eternal cause of a man's listlessness to some sins
may be his natural temper. For, though every man has sin in him
seminally, yet there are some sins which by nature he is more
inclined to than others, according to his constitution. A man of a
choleric disposition is most inclined to anger; a man of a sanguine
disposition is most inclined to uncleanness. There are many sins
that, by a man's natural temper, he is most averse to. Luther
professed of himself that he was never in all his lifetime troubled
with covetousness. This did not proceed from mortifying grace, but
from the natural temper of his body. It was a gift of nature given
him by God, and of a gift of grace.

Give me leave to illustrate this to you by this familiar similitude.
Suppose you put a dog and a sheep together, and cast flesh before
the sheep and grass before the dog. Neither of them will eat
anything The sheep will net eat the flesh; neither will the dog eat
grass, which arises from the natural temper of the creatures. Why,
so it is here. Men's natural temper dispose them to some sin, and
not to others, which therefore is not to be imputed to the power of
mortifying grace.

Therefore, beloved, you are not to impute to mortifying grace what
is merely the result of a violent sickness, old age, education,
terror of conscience, or a man's natural temper and constitution.
RULE 3. Let mortification be attended to inward and secret sins as
well a, to outward and scandalous sins. Not only the lusts of the
flesh, but those of the mind are to be mortified; not only the deeds
of the body, but the thoughts of the heart and corruptions in the
inward man are to be subdued. You are to extend mortification to the
subduing of vicious affection, as well as base actions. Colossians
3:5 the Apostle says, "Mortify, therefore, your members which are
upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness," and so on. You think, it
may be, that these two are one. No, fornication is sin in action;
uncleanness is sinning in affections and thought. The Apostle bids
them mortify fornication, that is, uncleanness in action; but he
does not stop there. He tells them they must subdue their sinful
affections and inclinations to those sins. You must mortify the very
first motions and secret propensities to any sin in your hearts.
RULE 4. Let mortification be especially directed to strike at those
sins that act your master sins-that at, most prevalent and
predominant in your heart, that yet you have most prayed against and
are least able to resist, that strongly assault you and most easily
beset you and are masters over you. Thus David, in Psalm 18:23, sys,
"I have kept myself from mine iniquity," that is, from my special
sins, my constitutional sins, my bosom iniquities. I might give you
the same advice that the King of Syria gave his captains to 2
Chronicles 18:30: "Fight neither with small nor great, but only with
the King of Israel." So I say to you, fight not so much against any
sin as against your beloved, darling, constitutional sins that most
easily beset you and prevail over you.

RULE 5. Think net to compass this great ,work of mortification by a
general, superficial sight of sin, unless you come to a distinct and
particular apprehension of your sins. If you take your sins and
corruptions all together in a lump, you will never be able to break
and mortify them. When a bundle of gods is knit closely one to
another, the strongest man to the world is net able to break them;
yet, if they are taken asunder, any man may break them all one by
one with ease. So it is here: if you take sin apart and labor to
have a distinct view and sight of each one, this is the way to
overcome and mortify them.


 

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