Mortification and Vivification

by A. W. Pink

Sanctification…begins with and continues as a consequent of regeneration. Viewed from the experimental and practical side, sanctification is not a divine act, but a work of God’s grace, wherein He sustains and develops, continues and perfects, that which He imparted at the new birth. Thus considered, sanctification is a growth under the supporting and fructifying influences of the indwelling Holy Spirit: a growth from spiritual infancy to childhood, from childhood to youth, from youth to spiritual maturity. This growth follows a twofold process: the mortification of the old nature and the vivification of the new nature.

Throughout that twofold process there is a concurrence between the Spirit and the believer, and this [is] because holiness is both a privilege and a duty, a divine gift and a human attainment…From one viewpoint, sanctification is indeed the work of God; but from another, it is the work of man, assisted by supernatural grace. As a privilege, sanctification is the subject of promise and prayer (Eze 36:25-27; Joh 17:17; 1Th 5:23). But as a duty, sanctification is the subject of exhortation (Eze 18:31, 2Co 7:1, 1Pe 1:15)…

Sanctification is our work—not as though we could change our own hearts from the love of sin to the love of God, nor even when they are changed to carry forward that change to perfection or completion. No, it is only as we are enabled from on High, for of ourselves we can do nothing (Joh 15:5). It is our work as we diligently use the appointed means and trust God to make them effectual. It is God’s work as the Spirit employs powerful motives to influence us to action. For instance, He impresses us with the fact that God’s eye is ever upon us, and this causes us to walk softly before Him. Or He applies to our hearts the solemn warnings of Scripture, so that we are afraid to sport with sin or give heed to Satan’s allurements. Or again, He fills the heart with a sense of Christ’s dying love for us, so that the springs of gratitude are set in motion, and we endeavor to please and glorify Him. By various considerations, the Holy Spirit stirs up the believer to resist sin and cultivate holiness.

The process of our sanctification, then, is both a divine and a human one…This process is a [lengthy] one, so that the believer gradually becomes more and more out of love with sin and in love with holiness. Now, as we have said above, this spiritual growth follows the twofold process of mortification and vivification. Yet those two actings are not so distinct that the one can go on independently or at a distinct time from the other, for the one necessarily accompanies the other. Nevertheless, in explaining that process of experimental and practical sanctification, they need to be separately expounded. A little reflection will show the order in which they need to be contemplated—we have to die to sin before we can live to God.

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection…” (Col 3:5). This means put to death those fleshly lusts that are set upon earthly objects and thus prevent their evil fruits of “fornication,” etc. With this expression, “Your members which are upon the earth,” compare “the body of sin” (Rom 6:6), which does not mean our physical body, though sin acts through it. The term mortify is not used in Scripture absolutely to kill and destroy, so as that which is mortified no longer has any being, but rather that it should be rendered impotent and useless, un-able to produce its wicked works…

The subjugation of indwelling sin so that it may not have power to bring forth the works of the flesh is the constant duty of the believer. The health and comfort of his spiritual life depend thereon: he must be daily killing sin, or it will kill him. “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” (Rom 8:13). “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1Co 9:27). The solemn alternatives presented in these passages are too plain to be misunderstood…These passages are to be taken at their face value, for there is no conflict between them and any others: believers are preserved in the paths of righteousness, and God has nowhere promised to secure any soul that sports with sin.

This work of mortification is a very difficult one, especially considering the prevalence of corruption and the multitude of temptations we are exposed to; the subtlety and watchfulness of Satan, who goeth about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour…the instability of our resolutions and the fickleness of our affections; the ceaseless efforts made by our corruptions to gain the advantage over us…Now it is this that renders it so essential that we make a right use of those methods that God has prescribed for the mortification of sin, the chief of which is the denying of self and the taking up of our cross. And that is to be done daily (Luk 9:23)…It is because of the extreme difficulty of the work of mortification that Christ bids those contemplating discipleship to “sit down first and count the cost” (Luk 14:28). Nevertheless, we must settle it in our minds that either we must fight sin or be eternally lost…

The influence of the blessed Spirit upon the principle of grace in the believer is absolutely necessary unto the mortification of sin. The flesh needs no external influence to excite it to action: it is at all times capable of exerting itself without assistance from without. But not so with indwelling grace: it is entirely dependent on God to strengthen and move it: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” (2Co 3:5). The Spirit maintains in the believer a realization of the sinfulness of sin, without which we would never be in earnest in opposing it. The Spirit suggests to the mind considerations and motives unto watchfulness against Satan’s encroachments and rouses us to endeavors against our evil lusts. He it is Who makes us sensible of temptations, warns us against them, and often grants strength to resist them. He causes us to meditate upon the sufferings of Christ for our sins and stirs us up to strive against them…This brings us to speak more definitely on the means and methods of mortification.

If indwelling sin is to be subdued by the Christian, if temptations are to be successfully resisted, then, first, he must make a real effort daily to maintain in his mind a constant sense of the heinousness[30] of sin, as being that abominable thing which God hates. The believer will never put forth his utmost endeavors against it while he regards sin lightly. Second, he must strive to keep his conscience under the awe of God, for this is the great preventative against sin. Without [this] all other external rules and helps signify nothing, for “by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil” (Pro 16:6). Third, there must be a diligent watching against the occasions of sin, against those things that excite our corruptions and tempt us to wrongdoing. Let those who are really concerned turn up and ponder the following passages: Job 31:1; Psalm 18:23; Proverbs 4:14-15 and 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:22; Jude 23. Our disobedience to these precepts accounts for much of our failure. Fourth, see to it that you do not give sin an advantage by making provision for its lusts. How diligent we are in this respect over the body: if there be any constitutional weakness, how carefully we guard against it—shame on us that we are less diligent about our souls. Fifth, form the habit of nipping sin in the bud, resisting its first risings. That is more than half the battle—to heed promptly the convictions from the Spirit. Sixth, train the mind to dwell upon the enormity of sin. The fearfulness of its guilt, the horribleness of its defilement—think of what it cost Christ to make atonement for it. Seventh, let there be frequent self-examination as to our motives and ends, and to discover what most absorbs our hearts. Eighth, deep humility for past sins begets hatred of sin and caution against it (2Co 7:11). Ninth, spare no pains to nourish and develop those graces that are the opposites of your besetting sins. Pride is weakened by cultivating humility, uncleanness by purity of mind and conscience, love of the world by heavenly mindedness. Tenth, make yourself willing to be reproved for your faults (Psa 141:5). Eleventh, meditate often upon the vanity of the creature and the transitoriness of all earthly pleasures. The sweetest enjoyments this world has to offer are but fading flowers and withering grass. Twelfth, cry mightily unto God for restraining grace (Psa 19:13). Appropriate such promises as Micah 7:19 and Romans 6:14; plead the blood of Christ for victory. Thirteenth, seek to get chastisements and afflictions sanctified unto your souls (Isa 27:9; Heb 12:11). Finally, beg the Spirit to teach you to “Put on the whole armour of God” (Eph 6:10-18). We have covered much ground in these fourteen points, and they need to be carefully pondered if they are to be made real helps in this work…

It has already been pointed out that the two different actings of the Christian in mortification and vivification…need to be separately expounded. The order in which we should consider them is obvious: we must die to sin (relatively speaking) before we can live (in any measure) to God…Disease must be subdued before health can be enjoyed; the lamp must be cleansed before its light can shine forth clearly; rags must be discarded before new apparel is put on. This order is uniformly insisted on throughout the Scriptures:

“Cease to do evil” comes before “learn to do well” (Isa 1:16-17). “Hate the evil, and love the good” (Amo 5:15): the latter is impossible without the former. Self must be denied before Christ can be followed (Mat 16:24). “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God” (Rom 6:13). “He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them” (2Co 5:15): we have to cease living unto self ere we can live unto Christ; yea, we must be “crucified with Christ” before we can live by faith (Gal 2:20). The putting off the old man precedes the putting on the new (Eph 4:22-24). We have to be made conformable to Christ’s death ere we can attain unto spiritual resurrection (Phi 3:10-11). Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts comes before living soberly and righteously (Ti 2:12). Weights must be laid aside before we can run the race set before us (Heb 12:1).

As the term is used theologically, vivification means a living unto God. It is not enough that the believer should die unto sin: he must also walk in newness of life. Recess from the world is worthless unless it issues in access to God. Practical holiness consists not so much in a mere abstinence from a sensual life, but principally in living unto God—delighting in Him, desires after Him, carefulness to please Him, loathness to offend Him. God has imparted grace to the regenerate not simply that they may have it, but that they use the same to His glory: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). The grace God has given His people is to be exercised by them in a course of hearty obedience to Him, according to the directions that He has given in His Word.

God has predestinated His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: now Christ died unto sin (Rom 6:10)—so must we. Christ lives unto God—so must we. In mortification, there is a likeness unto Christ’s death; and in vivification (or living unto God), there is a likeness to His resurrection: the latter is the inseparable adjunct of the former. Christ cannot be divided: those who partake with Him in the one act partake with Him in the other. God will not leave His work in us half done: if He makes us to hate and forsake the evil, then He also causes us to love and seek after the good. In Psalm 1, the godly man is not only described as walking not in the counsel of the ungodly, standing not in the way of sinners, and sitting not in the seat of the scornful, but also as delighting in the Law of the Lord, meditating therein day and night, and then bringing forth his fruits in his season. God subdues sin in us to make way for a life of righteousness.

From the experimental side, sanctification is the acting out of that holy principle received at the new birth. At regeneration, a new nature is bestowed, which re-capacitates the soul Godwards, so that the heart is now inclined toward Him, delights in Him, pants after Him. But let us be more specific and describe something of this new disposition of mind.

First, there is now a holy reverence for God because of His Person, His perfections, His works. Of the unsanctified it is said, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18). But where a principle of grace and holiness has been infused, the fear of God quickly appears, for it is “the beginning of wisdom” (Pro 9:10). The regenerate man cannot now do the things that he did before and that others do: “But so did not I, because of the fear of God” (Neh 5:15). It is this heart-awe for God, this godly reverence, this filial fear, which is one of the roots from which springs spiritual obedience, for such reverence necessarily yields submission to the revealed will of God. When Israel avowed at Sinai “All that the Lord hath said, we will do,” He answered, “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deu 5:29). The fear of God, then, precedes the keeping of His commandments. It is this principle of godly reverence that the Lord is pledged to give unto His people according to the terms of the New Covenant: “I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever” (Jer 32:39). That “fear” is the same as the “new spirit” of Ezekiel 11:19, and as the writing of His Law on our hearts (Heb 8:10). This same spiritual grace is also called fearing “the LORD and [not His “judgments,” but] his goodness” (Hos 3:5).

Second, accompanying this filial awe is a sincere and holy love for God from which springs acceptable obedience to Him. That love consists in the heart’s being drawn out to God and delighting itself in Him. It is a disposition and inclination of soul unto communion with Him with complacency, so that its language now is “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee” (Psa 73:25). An unregenerate man cannot love God nor take any delight in His perfections, ways, or worship; for “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom 8:7). The unsanctified desire to depart from Him and dismiss Him from their thoughts. Job says of the hypocrite, “Will he delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God?” (27:10)—no, he will not. But in regeneration, the Lord circumcises the heart or renews and sanctifies it to love Him with all the soul, and that sincerely and cordially.

Third, vivification manifests itself in a complete submission to the will of God in all things—not only to His preceptive will, but to His disposing will also, even to the most adverse dispensations of providence. Instances of this may be seen in the cases of Aaron, Eli, David, and others, who rebelled not nor murmured, but were quiet and silent, resigned to the divine will under the most severe rebukes and the most painful trials (Lev 10:3; 1Sa 3:18; 2Sa 15:25-26). Much of sanctification lies in the conformity of our wills to the will of God. As the saintly Usher said, “Sanctification is nothing less than for a man to be brought to an entire resignation of his will to the will of God, and to live in the offering up of his soul continually in the flames of love as a whole burnt offering.”

Fourth, vivification is expressed by being spiritually minded. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom 8:6); that is, the bent and inclination of a renewed mind is unto spiritual things; for it is that whereby we live to God and enjoy peace with Him. By nature, we care only for the things of the flesh, minding earthly concerns (Phi 3:19)—our corrupt hearts are set upon them, disposed towards them, eager after whatever leads to the enjoyment of them. But the regenerate mind things above, and in vivification their affections are drawn out after and fixed upon them (Col 3:3)…None but God can satisfy the sanctified.

Fifth, vivification is seen in religious exercises or acts of devotion to God, particularly in the actings of grace in them. Here too there is a radical difference between the unregenerate and the regenerate: the former engages in religious exercises formally, as a matter of duty; but the latter (when in a healthy state) takes delight therein. The ministry of the Word is attended with affection, and prayer is engaged in with fervor; for prayer is the very breath of a sanctified soul toward God. It is not so much in the outward performance that the believer differs from the unbeliever, as in the holy actings of his heart, such as eager desires after communion with God therein. The sanctified soul cannot be satisfied with using the means of grace unless he meets with God in them. A sanctified soul seeks the glory of God in all that he does.

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