John Owen on indwelling sin

John Owen writes:

“2. As it is unsearchable, so it is deceitful, as in the place above mentioned: “It is deceitful above all things,” — incomparably so. There is great deceit in the dealings of men in the world; great deceit in their counsels and contrivances in reference to their affairs, private and public; great deceit in their words and actings: the world is full of deceit and fraud. But all this is nothing to the deceit that is in man’s heart towards himself; for that is the meaning of the expression in this place, and not towards others. Now, incomparable deceitfulness, added to unsearchableness, gives a great addition and increase of strength to the law of sin, upon the account of its seat and subject. I speak not yet of the deceitfulness of sin itself, but the deceitfulness of the heart where it is seated. Proverbs 26:25, “There are seven abominations in the heart;” that is, not only many, but an absolute complete number, as seven denotes. And they are such abominations as consist in deceitfulness; so the caution foregoing insinuates, “Trust him not:” for it is only deceit that should make us not to trust in that degree and measure which the object is capable of” (John Owen, Indwelling sin in believers, VI. pp. 172-173).

This view of Owen — and multitudes of other professing Reformed, or Calvinistic folk — is self-refuting. For how does Owen know that his deceitful and desperately wicked heart, is not deceiving him into thinking that the hearts of true believers are deceitful and desperately wicked? The irony, of course, is that Owen’s deceitful and desperately wicked heart has indeed deceived him. Here Owen speaks of the indwelling sin of believers as being enmity against God:

“And this also lies in it as it is enmity, that every part and parcel of it, if we may so speak, the least degree of it that can possibly remain in any one, whilst and where there is any thing of its nature, is enmity still. It may not be so effectual and powerful in operation as where it hath more life and vigor, but it is enmity still As every drop of poison is poison, and will infect, and every spark of fire is fire, and will burn; so is every thing of the law of sin, the last, the least of it, — it is enmity, it will poison, it will burn. That which is any thing in the abstract is still so whilst it hath any being at all. Our apostle, who may well be supposed to have made as great a progress in the subduing of it as any one on the earth, yet after all cries out for deliverance, as from an irreconcilable enemy, Romans 7:24. The meanest acting, the meanest and most imperceptible working of it, is the acting and working of enmity. Mortification abates of its force, but doth not change its nature. Grace changeth the nature of man, but nothing can change the nature of sin. Whatever effect be wrought upon it, there is no effect wrought in it, but that it is enmity still, sin still. This then, by it, is our state and condition: — “God is love,” 1 John 4:8. He is so in himself, eternally excellent, and desirable above all. He is so to us, he is so in the blood of his Son and in all the inexpressible fruits of it, by which we are what we are, and wherein all our future hopes and expectations are wrapped up. Against this God we carry about us an enmity all our days; an enmity that hath this from its nature, that it is incapable of cure or reconciliation. Destroyed it may be, it shall be, but cured it cannot be” (John Owen, Indwelling sin, VI. p. 177).

This sentence by Owen says a lot:

“Mortification abates of its force, but doth not change its nature.”

For Owen, mortification involves the supposed unregenerate part of a believer warring against the regenerate part. It seems, in Owen’s view, that the true believer and the unbeliever BOTH have minds of the flesh that are enmity against God, only that the supposed believer has “less enmity” than the unbeliever. Romans 8:5-9 refutes Owen’s damnable heresy:

“For the ones that are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh. And the ones according to Spirit mind the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; because the mind of the flesh is enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for neither can it be. And those being in the flesh are not able to please God. But you are not in flesh, but in Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone has not the Spirit of Christ, this one is not His” (Romans 8:5-9).

According to Owen, indwelling sin is the “unregenerate part” in a believer. Evidently, for Owen, the regenerate part will win out over against the unregenerate part, despite having a “deceitful and desperately wicked” enemy to contend with. Also, Owen’s view denies the work of Jesus Christ in destroying the work of the devil (among other things), as well as denies the transforming work of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 John 3:8-9; Ezekiel 36:26).

When believers sin (cf. Romans 7), they do NOT sin from a deceitful and desperately wicked heart that hates, and is at enmity with God. When unbelievers sin, they (out of the mind of flesh) DO sin out of a hatred, and enmity against God. For further reading on this subject, see the following article: