Owen continues (again, I paraphrase):
Consider which dangerous symptoms accompany your lust. If it has any deadly mark on it, then extra-ordinary measures will need to be used to mortify it properly. You will say, “What are these dangerous marks and symptoms?” Here’s a brief list.
Is the lust entrenched? If you have allowed the lust to corrupt your heart, gaining power and prevalency without vigorously attempting to kill it, it is indeed dangerous. Have you permitted worldliness, ambition, or greediness of study to hold the position of prominence that only your relationship with God should occupy? Have you enabled uncleanness to defile your heart with vain, foolish and wicked imaginations for many days? Then your lust is most certainly dangerous. David testifies, “My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:5). Whenever a lust lays long in a heart, corrupting, festering and cankering, it brings the soul to a deplorable condition. This condition means that a usual course of humiliation will not accomplish mortification. The lust will instead be found to permeate all the faculties of the soul. It grows familiar to the mind and conscience; it does not throw up red flags but instead is perceived by the soul as something which is actually wanted. Take Joseph as an example: his swearing by the life of Pharaoh did not cause any check to arise in his spirit whatsoever. Unless drastic measures be taken against such a lust, one does not have any reason to expect that their final end would be peace.
How will such a person be able to distinguish between the long-standing presence of an unmortified lust and the outright dominion of sin, which cannot happen to a believer? How can the believer promise himself that his lust will ever cease seducing him when he sees it as a fixed and abiding part of his life and has done so for many days and in a variety of circumstances and events? The lust may have survived mercies and afflictions, it may have weathered many a storm, it may have endured the preaching of the Word for a long season. Will such an entrenched lust be quick to be dislodged? Certainly not: old, neglected wounds are often mortal and are always dangerous. Indwelling distempers grow rusty and stubborn in ease and quiet; when they are not dislodged and when they are not made uncomfortable, they move in and don’t want to move out. Lusts such as this never die of their own accord, so if they are not killed on a daily basis, they will gather strength.
Secret pleas of the heart for the approval of self and keeping peace, notwithstanding the abiding of a lust, without a vigorous attempt for its mortification is another dangerous symptom of a deadly disease in the heart. Instead of applying yourself to the destruction of sinful thoughts, do you engage in them to find a good condition within yourself, ignoring the presence of sin? Make no mistake: if the purpose of recollecting one’s experiences of God is to consider and try them against Scripture, then this is admirable and should be practiced. But if the goal is to bring up fond memories so as to satisfy your conscience, then it is merely a desperate device of a heart in love with sin. When a man’s conscience shall deal with him, when God shall rebuke him for the sinful disease of his heart: if he, instead of applying himself to get that sin pardoned in the blood of Christ and morified by His Spirit, instead tries to relieve himself by fond memories of Christian experiences, disentangling himself from the yoke which Christ himself is putting on his neck, his condition is very dangerous. The Jews made a similar mistake when they identified themselves as children of Abraham, thus acceptable to God and sealed their ruin by making themselves secure in their wickedness.
This deceit is perpetuated by applying grace and mercy to an unmortified sin, or by a failure to sincerely desire that lust’s mortification. This is a sign of a heart greatly entangled with the love of sin. In 2 Kings 5:18, we read Naaman’s misguided request to God: “In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” This condition is sad. It would seem that such a request would be inconsistent with the sincerity befitting a Christian and indeed the badge of a hypocrite; it is the perversion of God’s grace into sensuality (Jude 4). I do not doubt that through the deceptiveness of Satan and their own remaining unbelief that there are children of God who are sometimes ensnared in such thinking; otherwise, Paul would have no reason to caution against such sinning (see Romans 6:1-2). To apply mercy to a sin not vigorously mortified is to fulfill the end of the flesh upon the gospel.
When a man is in this sort of condition with his sin, there is a secret liking of the sin which prevails in his heart. Though his will is not set wholly upon it, he still has a low degree of desire toward it and relieves himself of this lust in ways other than its complete mortification and pardon in Christ’s blood. Such a man’s wounds stink and fester and he will, without speedy deliverance, be at the door of death.
Frequency of success in sin’s seduction is another dangerous symptom. When this sin gets the consent of the will with some delight, it has won, even if it was not outwardly expressed. Although people do not usually choose to be outright unresolved and negligent, they have done just so if they choose things which will set them up for those results.
…to be continued….