In the classic work by John Owen, The Mortification of Sin we learn the importance of a believer killing sin as they walk in the grace and faith of Jesus Christ. Richard Rushing abridged and edited the puritan’s classic work (the men are reading this particular edition during our fellowship time on the first Thursday each month). In chapter 4, Owen argues that one of the reasons why we ought to zealously concern our souls with the business of killing sin is because sin when left alone to grow in our lives will “darken the soul, and deprive it of its comfort and peace.” Owen goes on to illustrate this using the picture of a garden. The way he puts this truth was so impactful, I thought it would be beneficial to simply read what he has written.
“Mortification [killing sin] prunes all the graces of God, and makes room for them in our hearts to grow. The life and vigour of our spiritual life consists in the vigour and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts. Now, as you may see in a garden, let there be a precious herb planted, and let the ground be untilled, and weeds grow about it, perhaps it will live still, but it will be a poor, withering and unuseful thing. You must look and search for it, and sometimes can scarce find it; and when you do, you can scarce know it, whether it is the plant you look for or not; and suppose it is, you can make no use of it all. But let another of the same kind be sent in the ground, naturally as barren and bad as the other, but let it be well weeded, and every thing that is noxious and hurtful removed from it, it flourishes and thrives; you may see it at first glance into the garden, and have it for your use when you please.
So it is with the graces of the Spirit that are planted in our hearts. If they abide in a heart where there is some neglect of mortification, and they are about to die, they are withering and decaying. He heart is like the sluggard’s field, so overgrown with weeds that you can scarce see the good corn. Such a man may search for faith, love, and zeal, and scarce be able to find any. If he does discover that these graces are there and alive, yet they are so weak and so clogged with lusts, they are of very little use; they remain, indeed, but are ready to die.
But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, and the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), there will be room for grace to thrive and flourish, the graces that God gives will act their part, and be ready for every use and purpose!” (Owen, 24-25).
This illustration resonates with me as one who has been trying to grow a garden for the past several years. Probably the most difficult part of vegetable gardening to me is controlling the weeds. I have tried to cut the weeds down, spray them with weed killer and till them under with machines. But I know that the only way to truly get rid of the weeds in my garden and thus enabling the vegetables to flourish is by painstakingly one by one pulling the weeds up from their roots. Sometimes a large weed looks dauntingly at me, but I find a very small root and a sense of satisfaction comes over me as it appears I am making great progress. Other times, the tiniest of weeds is pulled and the roots seem to go forever and I am discouraged as it comes up in quarter inch segments. In my garden, I have little weeds that wind their tendrils around the bean and tomato plants. Pulling them is a careful job as I might pull up the healthy plants. But I understand, that I cannot just plant the vegetables in the soil and through no effort, sweat and even blood expect to enjoy the fruit of the garden while the weeds remain.
Brothers and sisters, why do we think that will enjoy the graces of God’s bountiful spiritual life, while we neglect the daily task of killing sin and the temptations that surround us? Killing sin is not the end goal of sanctification, but it is an essential element to availing ourselves of God’s good growth in grace.
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