What would you do if someone told you to starve your fatness of soil?
Corpulence. Obesity. Plumpness. The best or richest part of something.
Chew the fat. Fat pork. Fat year. Fat log of wood. Fat land.
Get this into your fat head.
George Orwell said, “There never was, I suppose, in the history of the world a time when the sheer vulgar fatness of wealth, without any kind of aristocratic elegance to redeem it, was so obtrusive as in those years before 1914.”
“Sheer vulgar fatness.” I get that. And think it is cute.
So what does John Owen mean when he says “fatness of soil” in his Mortification of Sin in Believers? Let’s take a look at the context first:
This gives check unto the natural root of the distemper, and withers it by taking away its fatness of soil.
Forgive me, but I absolutely love the phrase “fatness of soil.”
In fact, it was only mentioned once in Mortification, but it was the single most important thing I wanted to find out (sort of–6 reasons why you should read Mortification).
It was like a puncture wound you wake up with in your side after a rough night. A spot of blood in the snow. Or a bullet hole you discover on the side of your house. And you need to find out where it came from.
Fatness and Soil Deconstructed
To be honest, I did not know what to do with “fatness of soil.” Even my over-active imagination was stumped. And search as you may, you will not find anything online about the term.
This was alien territory.
My next step was to look it up at Dictionary.com, and it all started to come together: “fatness of soil” simply meant the rich, fertile part of the soil.
Uh, okay. But what is the “soil”? This is a metaphor, so we have to tease out the meaning.
Your mind should immediately go to Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed. That means the soil is the what? The soul. The heart. The seat of emotions and the spirit.
Jesus explains you have four soil conditions: hard, rocky, weedy and fertile.
It is only proper to think that Owen is talking to someone with fertile soil. The soul that is in the fourth condition. But it is a soul under assault by sin.
But does that make much sense? Is Owen suggesting that one method to proper mortification is starving the soul of what makes it ripe?
Fatness and Fasting
If you step back from Owen’s sentence and study the context you’ll see that Owen is talking about Paul’s statement “I keep under my body, and bring it under subjection.”
He’s talking about fasting.
And if he’s talking about fasting, then he must be talking about something other than fertility.
Maybe he’s actually talking about obesity. More precisely, the means and methods that lead to obesity: an out-of-control appetite.
It would be a mistake to think that Owen is picking on gluttony, though. He doesn’t have one sin in mind. He has a whole host of sins in mind. He has Paul in mind: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).
Behold: they are fat on sin. And encouraged to fast.
This is a diet to rob indwelling sin of its strength in our bodies and soul.
It’s the one circumstance in which fasting is a beneficial means to an end. It is not the end itself. Nor, Owen declares, does it have the power to mortify sin alone.
You need the Holy Spirit.
What Should I Fast?
Great question. I’m thinking anything that is a crutch to you. That controls you. That dominates your time and energy. That exists as something you “can NOT live without.”
This includes pro football.
Take me, for example. I LOVE pro football. But I love God more (or at least try to), and when football is hogging my affections for God, I need to cut it out. Besides, I feel much better when I spend my Sundays talking and playing with family and friends than if I sat and watched nine hours of football.
Beer is another example. I love beer. The taste of it. Dark. Bitter. Sour. The better. But a 12 ounce bottle is way too big. That alone can bring me to a point of drunkenness that I do not enjoy. Or honors God for that matter.
Besides, I can hardly read (or retain what I read) when I’m tipsy.
Speaking of reading, books can become an idol, too. I’m talking particularly about non-Christian books. Mainstream books. The point is anything can steal our affections from God.
This is not to condemn you. This is to exhort you. You have to explore your own heart and figure out what it is God wants you to fast in order to starve your fatness of soil.
That at least seems to be the angle Owen is taking. What do you think? Am I off my rocker? Share your thoughts. Brutal and all.
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