The Mortified Christian: A Treatise on the Mortification of Sin
Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1998.
This is a Puritan book by Christopher Love (1618-1651) which was first published in 1654. The book contains ten sermons which comprised an exposition of Romans 8:13 (“For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”). The author is an interesting story in himself; he was beheaded at the age of 33, and his story is recounted in another recent book (A Spectacle Unto God, by Don Kistler, also published by Soli Deo Gloria). But in this book (or these sermons) Love gives a full and well-balanced exposition on what it means to put to death or mortify, the works of the flesh. It is marked by a realism that recognizes that while mortification is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit, the Believer does have responsibility to undertake his part in it. In fact he is clearly commanded in Scripture to do so. Thus it is not an optional undertaking for only spiritual elites. And yet he recognizes that in this world, mortification will never be complete; he does not err in the direction of perfectionism. So he speaks comfort to the faithful saint who desires mortification but sees himself falling short, while on the other hand he speaks warnings to the self-satisfied believer who feels that because he is not guilty of the more gross and obvious sins, that he has successfully mortified the flesh and has “arrived”. To the former he says, “So you are not to judge the mortification of your corruptions by some extraordinary stirrings of sin in your soul after some violent temptation, but the ordinary frame and temper of your heart” (page 49), and “the stirrings and workings of corruption in your heart do not always argue that your corruptions have more strength and life in them than before, but that you have more light to discover and discern them than formerly” (page 47). To the latter category of believer, he warns: “You have an unmortified heart if you oppose sin partially, resisting some sins but sparing others, your beloved lusts” (page 58). In fact, toward the mistake of those who think their corruptions are mortified when they are not, he gives eight ways in which a man could so delude himself as to the the state of his soul. After dealing with the mistakes men frequently make in regard to mortification, he proceeds to give eight particular means or helps to mortification. Then he again offers comfort to those who have been conscientious in opposing sin, but still find its presence in their lives. To those, he says: “Take this for your comfort: though you use the utmost endeavors to mortify sin, yet you cannot withstand the existence of sin in you, but only hinder its reigning in your heart” (page 85), and he adds four other reasons for consolation as well. So here we see the pastoral heart in full flower; he warns the self-satisfied and the hypocrites, but consoles the overly-conscientious who might otherwise despair. Throughout, he shows a wonderful balance. The eighth sermon is wholly devoted to the truth that mortification is wrought in us by the strength of Christ’s Spirit, not our own, and lists eight differences between “a corruption merely restrained by the power of nature and a lust truly mortified by the Spirit of God” (page 91). The last sermon gives “special helps for special corruptions” (pages 109-119). In all, this is a very helpful, thorough, and concise (119 pages) book on a very important subject, which is both very readable and edifying. Following the ten sermons on mortification, the editor bound with this book two additional sermons on “the right hearing of sermons,” which are also profitable reading.