This post originally appeared on The Resurgence website and is an excerpt from the book 300 Quotations for Preachers. The book is part of a five volume series called 1,500 Quotations for Preachers, compiled by Elliot Ritzema.
The Puritans on Putting Sin to Death
Mortification. It isn’t a word you hear much these days. But mortification of sin was what Paul was talking about when he said to the Colossians, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Col. 3:5). He urged the Romans to do the same: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).
Putting sin to death is an essential part of the Christian life. But how do we do it? One group we can turn to for guidance is the Puritans. Puritanism was a 16th- and 17th-century movement that sought to purify worship and practice in the Church of England. As part of their emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about lives of holiness, they wrote a lot about mortification; John Owen even wrote an entire book called On the Mortification of Sin. They offer sound advice for us today.
1. SEE SIN FOR WHAT IT IS
“If the thoughts of death, and the grave, and rottenness, are not pleasant to you, do not let the thoughts of sin be pleasant. Listen to every temptation to sin as you would listen to a temptation to self-murder, and as you would do if the devil brought you a knife and tempted you to cut your throat with it; so do when he offers you the bait of sin.”
2. DON’T WAIT FOR SINFUL DESIRES TO CHANGE ON THEIR OWN
“We must not indulge our inclinations, as we do little children, till they grow weary of the thing they are unwilling to let go. We must not continue our sinful practices in hopes that the divine grace will one day overpower our spirits, and make us hate them for their own deformity.”
3. EXAMINE YOURSELF REGULARLY
“The longer you delay, the more your sin gets strength and rooting. If you cannot bend a twig, how will you be able to bend it when it is a tree? If you cannot pluck up a tender plant, are you likely to pluck up a sturdy oak?”
4. DON’T TRY TO DO IT WITHOUT THE SPIRIT
“It is the Spirit alone that can mortify sin; he is promised to do it, and all other means without him are empty and vain. How shall he, then, mortify sin that has not the Spirit? A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.”
5. DON’T TRY TO DO IT WITHOUT OTHER PEOPLE
“Woe to him that is alone! David was alone when Satan drew him to defile his neighbor’s wife. While the sheep flock together they are safe, as being under the shepherd’s eye. But if one straggle from the rest, it is quickly a prey to the ravenous wolf. It is no hard matter to rob that house that stands far from neighbors. The cruel pirate Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy.”
6. EXPECT TO FIGHT SIN YOUR WHOLE LIFE
“Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes. He who has once smitten a serpent, if he does not follow on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so will he who undertakes to deal with sin and pursues it not constantly to death. Sin will after a while revive, and the man must die. It is a great and fatal mistake if we suppose this work will admit of any remissness or intermission.”
By Elliot Ritzema