Saturday, March 13, 2010

Are You Mortified?

"So what is the answer? How can you stand your ground when you are weak and sensitive to pain, when people you love are still alive, when you are unprepared?

"What do you need to make you stronger than the interrogator and the whole trap?

"From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you. At the very threshold, you must say to yourself: 'My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there's nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die--now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me those I love have died, and for them I have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me.'

"Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogation will tremble.

"Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory."

- Aleksander I. Solzhenitzyn, The Gulag Archipelago*

Part 14: Preparations for Sufferings

Chances are you've never heard a sermon quite this severe. Be challenged to read this through and examine your heart honestly. The main point is this: We can't possibly be ready to "die for Christ" should persecution arise until we've first "died to self." It is known as "mortification." John Flavel,** in his classic work "Preparation for Sufferings"[1] introduces the concept quite bluntly:

The next thing wherein your actual readiness for bonds, or death consisteth, is in the mortification of your affections to all earthly interest and enjoyments; even the best and sweetest of them.

What does it mean to mortify our affections? Strong's Concordance renders it:

1. to put to death
a) to make to die i.e. destroy, render extinct
b) by death to be liberated from the bond of anything, literally to be made dead in relation to (something)

Two key verses from Scripture describe this condition:

  • 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."
  • 1 Peter 3:18: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit."

A similar verse is found in Colossians 3:5, where the word translated "mortify" is from the Greek nekroo, meaning to "put to death"[3]: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry."

By our modern sense of justice and propriety, Flavel takes an extreme view of this "necessity of an heart mortified to all earthly and temporal enjoyments, in order to the right managing of a suffering condition...." It isn't just generic sin in the heart that must be mortified (i.e., put to death), but "earthly enjoyments," those things that we feel are the entitlements and privileges of life. Certainly here in modern 21st century comfortable America we feel like we are entitled to certain enjoyments and privileges in life. Furthermore, we look down upon those who are weaker, more feeble, poorer, less fortunate, handicapped by various conditions, and less glamorous. But the Bible talks about death to self, an unappealing idea to our natural egotism. Flavel expounds on five reasons why he considers mortification of the self to be absolutely necessary to prepare one for actual sufferings:

  1. "Unless the heart be mortified to all earthly enjoyments, they will appear great and glorious things in your eye and estimation." He says that "it is corruption within" our hearts that "puts the lustre and glory upon things without," citing the familiar verse from 1 John 2:16: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." Flavel notes that it will be difficult to deny these things unless we have stopped esteeming them, and count them but "dung and dross," Phil 3:8.[4] In our modern consumer-driven, marketing mania world, how much more difficult is it for us to mortify these things? We turn on the TV and see advertisements that provoke us to covet. We watch shows that convey a worldly sense of normalcy that is both provocative and alluring, lulling us to sleep with banality and carnality.
  2. "Sin is to the soul, what a disease is to the body; and mortification is to sin, what physic is to a disease." Here is another one of those beautiful archaic words, physic, which means "a medicine that purges; cathartic; laxative."[5] In other words, mortification - dying to self - is a medicine, curing us of carnality and immaturity, 1 Cor. 3:2-3.[6]
  3. "Your corruptions must be mortified, else they will raging and violent in the time of temptation, and, like a torrent, sweep away all your convictions and resolutions. It is sin unmortified within that makes the heart like gun-powder; so that when the sparks of temptation fly about it, (and they fall thick in a suffering hour) they do but touch and [ignite]." Here Flavel quotes 2 Peter 1:4, noting that the "corruptions of the world are said to be through lust."[7] He claims that our lusts betray us as "the traitors that deliver up our souls." It is even more sobering to realize that our carnal corruptions and lusts could lead us to compromise, lie or betray a a fellow believer or family member in Christ during an hour of persecution.
  4. Flavel worries that unless these corruptions are reigned in, and our "pride, passion and revenge be not first subdued," that we will inevitably "disgrace religion" and the cause of Christ. "If you be envious, fretful, discontented, and revengeful, under your sufferings, what honour will this bring to Christ? Is not this altogether unlike the example of your Lord? Isaiah 53:7[8] and the behaviour of suffering saints?" He cites I Corinthians 4:13: "Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." How shall we endure when we are treated as "filth" and "offscouring," especially by those who call themselves brothers and sisters in the Lord? Shall we seek revenge, try to orchestrate circumstances, make political maneuvers, counter-attack, bite and devour? Or will we permit ourselves to be mortified, humbled, defamed, ridiculed, mocked, scorned, or worse?
  5. Flavel also worries that "longings and hankerings after earthly enjoyments and comforts" will "prove a snare to you" in the end. Hear his words which exhort so eloquently and passionately:
[W]hat is sin but the corrupt and vitiated appetite of the creature, to things that are earthly and sensual, relishing more sweetness and light in them, than in the blessed God? And what is sanctification, but the rectifying of these inordinate affections, and placing them on their proper object? A regenerate and mortified Christian tastes not half that sweetness in forbidden fruits that another doth: set but money before Judas, and see how eagerly he catches at it--"What will ye give me, and I will betray him".... Oh those unmortified lusts! how do they make men hanker, long, and their lips water... after these things?

What are these enjoyments/corruptions that so beset us? Flavel names and defines them as:
  • Estate - love of the things of this world
  • Name - ambition, reputation
  • Liberty - inordinate affection of freedom and pleasure
  • Life - excessive love of life

Mortify Estate: This means our position in the world; be willing to die to its hold on you. Flavel remarks that "it grieves my heart to see how many [believers] are carried captive at the chariot-wheels of a bewitching world." He urges believers to consider their espousal to Christ, reminding us of spiritual adultery, that "an unchaste glance upon the world wounds Him." He warns us to stay away from those who are "enemies of the cross," "whose God is their belly." (Phil. 3:18-19).[9] Flavel also reminds us that this is what true spiritual warfare is all about:

by your love and delight in worldly things, you furnish the devil with the chiefest bait he hath to catch and destroy your souls. Alas! were your hearts but dead to these things, he would [need a] handle to catch hold on. What hath he more to offer you, and tempt you off from Christ with but a little money, or some such poor temporal rewards?

Mortify Name: Here is where death to self, especially under peer pressure, becomes critical. Can you bear having your reputation besmirched? Can you bear scoffing? Reproaches? People telling or publishing lies about you? Flavel writes, "Mortify your ambition and vain affectation of the repute and credit of the world... let not scoffs and reproaches be such terrible things to you. It is without a doubt, a great trial; else the Holy Ghost had not added a peculiar epithet to it, which is not given to any other of the sufferings of the saints: not cruel tortures, nor cruel stonings, burnings, slaying with the sword; but cruel mockings, Heb. 11:36.[10] Yet learn to be dead to, and unaffected with these things.... Despise the shame, as... Christ did, Heb. 12:2."[11] 1 Peter 4:14: "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified."[12] The apostles counted the reproaches of Christ to be "their honours," Acts 5:41.[13] In a sobering conclusion, Flavel reminds us that

Should scoffs and reproaches scare you from Christ and duty; then, though you should escape the reproaches of men, yet shall you fall under the everlasting contempt of God, angels, and good men. Therefore, "Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings. For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but My righteousness shall be for ever, and My salvation from generation to generation." (Isaiah 51:7a,8)

Mortify Liberty: This is hard for an American to conceptualize, despite the fact that people are rapidly relinquishing our country's hard-won liberties every day. But discover what they are relinquishing their liberties for, and it is the same thing that drives people to sin! It is "inordinate affections of liberty, pleasure, and delicate living" that Flavel is referring to here. Dr. Francis Schaeffer used the phrase "personal peace and affluence" to describe this phenomenon. Once again Flavel is blunt: "O let not a prison seem so formidable to you." He is referring to our loss of liberty should we be imprisoned for the cause of Christ. It is not the worst thing in the world, he says, reminding us of these things:

  • "No [jail] keeper can keep the Comforter from you, if you be the Lord's prisoners, Acts 16.... You are the Lord's freemen, whilst men's prisoners: All the world cannot divest you of the state of liberty Christ hath purchased for you, John 8:36": "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
  • "Though a prison looks sad and dismal, yet it is not hell: Oh bless God for that, that is a sad prison indeed!"
  • "How obdurate and cruel soever men are to you, yet the Lord Jesus is kind and tender-hearted to His prisoners.... Psalm 102:20, the Lord hears "the groaning of the prisoner."
  • "A prison hath been handselled and perfumed by the best and holiest of men in all ages." "Handsell" means a "first installment" or a "foretaste."[14] Flavel cites the following men in Scripture who have gone on before, enduring prison ahead of us, serving as examples to us: Micaiah (1 Kings 22:27), Jeremiah (Jer. 32:2), John the Baptist (Matt. 4:12), Peter and others (Acts 5:18), and Paul (Acts 26:10).
  • "Should you, to avoid a prison, commit a sin, instead of being man's prisoner, you shall be clapt[15] [i.e. "put in place quickly or forcefully"] by God, for He hath a prison for your souls even in this world, Psalm 142:7.[16] And this is ten thousand times more dreadful than any dungeon in the world... nothing to let in the least beam of God's countenance upon your poor souls!"
  • Flavel considers Rev. 2:10 to be a "comfort" -- "to obviate the fears and terrors" of being in prison, and informing us that "God hath limited Satan and his instruments" -- "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." Furthermore, he avers that prison may be a mercy to us, "a time of retirement from the world, and the clamours and distractions" of it.

Mortify Life: Flavel frankly reminds us that "Die you must: and if by shrinking from Christ you should protract a miserable life for a few days longer, in the meantime losing that which is better than life, Psalm 63:3, Matthew 10:39[17]; Oh! when you lie upon your deathbed, you will wish that you have obeyed God's call, and so have departed in peace." He reminds us of Romans 14:7, "For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself" and asks, "Why should you decline even a violent death for Christ," citing Romans 8:38-39, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." He concludes by exhorting us with this verse: "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us."

The Truth:

"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:10)

1. Works of John Flavel (6 vol set), Banner of Truth Trust (1820, 1968), ISBN 0-85151-060-4. Flavel's dissertation titled "Preparations for Suffering, or The Best Work in the Worst Times" appears in Volume 6, pages 3-83.
2. See lexicon at this webpage for definitions and verses:
3. See lexicon at this webpage for definitions and verses:
4. Philippians 3:8 is Paul's magnificently bold statement while in prison:
"Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."
5. See definition of physic here:
6. I Corinthians 2:2-3a makes the connection between immaturity and carnality:
"I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal:...."
7. 2 Peter 1: 4 states:
"Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."
8. Isaiah 53:7 states:
"He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth."
9. Philippians 3:18-19 states:
"(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)"
10. Hebrews 11:36 includes this in the list of sufferings by those of faith who went on before us:
"And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:"
11. Hebrews 12:2 includes this phrase, which is important to recall when under the persecution of
"cruel mockings": "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
12. 1 Peter 4:16 reiterates this:
"Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf."
13. Acts 5:41 states:
"And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." 14. "Handselled" is defined here:
15. "Clapt" is an older form of the verb "clapped," which means in this instance: "to put or place quickly or forcefully: to clap a lid on a jar;
She clapped her hand over his mouth. They clapped him in jail." See:
16. Psalm 142:7 is a Psalm of David when he was in the cave (not unlike a prison!), where he concludes by praying:
"Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me."
17. Psalm 63:3 reminds us that "Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee." Matthew 10:39 states the fact that "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it."

Aleksander I. Solzhenitzyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Vol. 1-2, Part 1: The Prison Industry, Chapter 3: The Interrogation (Harper & Row, 1973), p. 130.

**ED. NOTE: Italics in original, bold added. We have taken minor liberties to reformat some of the published text by altering some of the punctuation, Roman numerals, and other obsolete forms.