Currently on my bedside table are the following: alarm clock, lamp, water glass, and two books. One book is Bridget Jones’s Diary and the other is John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin. I fully expect to wake up some morning to find that the two have spontaneously combusted in the night.
I started reading The Mortification of Sin well over a year ago, before it got shuffled around somehow and pushed to the bottom of a pile and sadly neglected. (Side note: I started reading it while sitting at an airport bar waiting for a flight. Picture me with a beer in one hand and a Puritan Paperback in the other. Classic experience.) I picked it up again recently and have been amazed and blessed by Owen’s strongly-worded caution to those who bear the name of Christ not to deal lightly with our besetting sins.
Chapters 10 (“Seeing Sin For What It Is”) and 11 (“A Tender Conscience and a Watchful Heart”) are particularly rich and full of godly counsel. Here, a segment from chapter 11 that merits being quoted at length:
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? […] Do I count fellowship with Him of so little value that, for this vile [sin’s] sake, I have hardly left him any room in my heart?’
As is typical with those dear old Puritans, the counsel Owen urges on his readers is emotionally stirring, grounded in the Gospel, and intensely practical. Incidentally, I find this to be a great weakness in a lot of modern devotional writing, which tends toward one or two of those three characteristics. Consider this snippet:
Do you find corruption beginning to entangle your thoughts? Rise up with all your strength against it, as if it had already started to overcome you! Consider what an unclean thought desires: it desires to have you immerse yourself in folly and filth! Ask envy what it aims at: murder and destruction are its natural conclusion! Set yourself against it as if it had already surrounded you in wickedness!
Or this remarkable reflection on the transcendence of God:
Labour to limit your pride with these considerations: What do you know about God? How little a portion of His majesty! How immense He is in His nature! Can you look without terror into the abyss of eternity? Can you bear the rays of His glorious Being? I consider these meditations of great value in our walking with God, so far as they are consistent with our filial boldness in seeking Him at the throne of grace through our Lord Jesus Christ. […] To Moses was revealed the most glorious attributes that He can reveal in the covenant of grace, but even these are but the ‘back parts’ of God!
It’s definitely kicking my butt. And I’m just now over halfway through. Eep!