Flashback Week – Send in the Sheep

[originally posted on July 24, 2008)

As I mentioned before, I’m currently reading John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin with my pastor. This week we read chapter 8, a very convicting chapter. While reading, the following scene crossed my mind.

There I was living on some remote island in the middle of the Pacific. Life was good. My wife and kiddos were great. The farm (?) vegetables were growing nicely and the animals (??) were behaving themselves. I got along great with my neighbors. I had a good job collecting shells along the beach. Life was great.

Oh, did I mention it was a volcanic island that I lived on? Well, inevitably, the volcano god got angry about something or other. Pretty soon, ash and soot started flying here and there and everything smelled like sulfur. Being good Islanders that we were, obviously we wanted to stop the volcano god from blowing us up. To appease the Vg, we pick out a nice fluffy sheep, cart him up to the volcano (it was pretty hot, too!), and toss him in. Not a happy ending for the sheep, to be sure, but we wanted to go back to our happy lives down in the village and figured this was the best way of going about it.

Okay, so what does all this Pacific islander stereotyping have to do with a Puritan writer, you may ask? Up to this point in the book, Owen has been discussing general principles of killing sin in the believer. In Ch. 8, he brings up the convicting point:

Hatred of sin as sin, not only as galling or disquieting, a sense of the love of Christ in the cross, lie at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification…Thou settest thyself with all diligence and earnestness to mortify such a lust or sin; what is the reason of it?(emphasis added) It disquiets thee, it hath taken away thy peace, it fills thy heart with sorrow, and trouble, and fear; thou hast no rest because of it… It is evident that though contendest against sin merely because of thy own trouble by it. Would thy conscience be quiet under it, thou wouldst let it alone. Did it not disquiet thee, it should not be disquieted by thee.”

In other words, if sin did not poke our conscience or stir things up in our life, would we even bother to “mortify” it? Why do I confess sin? Is it so that I can go back to my peaceful way of living or is it because I have a hatred of sin, recognizing “the filth and guilt of it” as Owen puts it. We throw a sheep into the volcano simply to appease God, when we are really simply trying to have our lives nice and peaceful once more. I know I’ve been guilty of this. It’s Saturday night (or Sunday morning!?), and I’ll be teaching Sunday School in a little while. Yet my conscience is bugging me over some sin. So I confess, not because I recognize the “filth and guilt of it” but because I want to appease my conscience so as to be able to teach. And in goes another sheep.

Owen’s point (one of them anyway) is that if we are to have victory over sin, we are to have a deep, abiding hatred of it, so much so that we want to see it deader than a volcano-roasted sheep. Sin is an affront to God and until we see it as such, all we’re doing is throwing in sheep, trying to get our peaceful lives back. “He, then, that would really, thoroughly, and acceptably, mortify any disquieting lust, let him take care to be equally diligent in all parts of obedience, and know that every lust, every omission of duty, is burdensome to God.”

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