Tag Archives: John Owen

Week 7 of 8 in Bunyan: Fears Within and Without

This week’s assignment (paragraphs 254-299) in Grace Abounding affords many jumping off points, so much so that I will have to restrain myself considerably.

Having had the privilege of preaching on several occasions in the past, I was greatly encouraged by paragraph 277 because this is another instance where I thought I was the only one ever to have experienced anything like what Bunyan described (bold emphasis added):

277. Indeed I have been as one sent to them from the dead; I went myself in chains to preach to them in chains; and carried that fire in my own conscience that I persuaded them to beware of. I can truly say, and that without dissembling, that when I have been to preach, I have gone full of guilt and terror even to the pulpit door, and there it hath been taken off, and I have been at liberty in my mind until I have done my work, and then immediately, even before I could get down the pulpit stairs, I have been as bad as I was before; yet God carried me on, but surely with a strong hand, for neither guilt nor hell could take me off my work.

I can relate to this experience particularly when I was in seminary and asked to fill the pulpit one Sunday morning at our home church.  I went into the pulpit that day feeling not as prepared as I wanted to be.  My wife and I had to make a six hour drive into town the Friday before, and this also hindered preparation time which had to be squeezed in between part time work and a full time class load. I felt completely unworthy to address the congregation that day, as inexperienced as I was in addition to the transition the church was going through after the departure its minister.  And yet, there came such a freedom and unction to speak the word boldly and yet with love and compassion for the congregation, such that many shared with me afterwards how they were blessed. On the return trip home as I reflected on the whole experience, I marveled at how the Lord used such a broken, unworthy vessel.  Perhaps it sounds a little trite, but being used that way is a very humbling thing because it becomes very clear that it is the Lord at work, and He alone can draw straight lines with crooked sticks.

Another paragraph I found very encouraging was 296 (bold emphasis added):

296. I have also, while found in this blessed work of Christ, been often tempted to pride and liftings up of heart; and though I dare not say I have not been infected with this, yet truly the Lord, of His precious mercy, hath so carried it towards me, that, for the most part, I have had but small joy to give way to such a thing; for it hath been my every day’s portion to be let into the evil of my own heart, and still made to see such a multitude of corruptions and infirmities therein, that it hath caused hanging down of the head under all my gifts and attainments; I have felt this thorn in the flesh, the very mercy of God to me (II Cor. 12:7-9).

We talk about besetting sins, the ones to which we are so inclined that they trip us up so easily.  Before I came to the task of the mortification of that sin in my particular case, I used to think that once I had victory in that area, everything would be fine.  Besetting sins like that, however, are like big rocks under which all kinds of little creepy crawly things are hiding.  Once you get that big rock broken up so that you can see under and all around it, you realize that there are, as Bunyan puts it, a “multitude of corruptions and infirmities therein.”

Here I think is a great wonder and a bit of irony in the way the gospel works itself out in the life of the believer.  The closer you get to the light, the more you see your spots.  The closer a person draws near to the Holy One, the more he sees his sins. And wonder of wonder, Christ becomes dearer as a twofold discovery is made: 1) the believer finds himself to be far more sinful that he ever imagined; and 2) he discovers Christ to be far more gracious than he ever dared to dream.  Now please don’t misinterpret me to be saying that sanctification is merely getting used to one’s justification, and that the saint is to wallow in his sinfulness because it manifests the grace of God.  On the contrary, greater is he that dwells in the saint than he that is in the world.  Consequently, there will be victory over sin, and a trajectory of increasing obedience and holiness over the life of a believer.  But it is always a work in process, and it is a process in which the saint is able to step back and perceive the beauty and wonder of what God is up to in his life, and that of others.  In The Nature and Causes of Apostasy, John Owen identified causes and occasions of the decay of holiness in believers, one of which was being mistaken in this regard about the beauty and glory of Christian religion:

But about the true notion and apprehension of that glory and honour which is proper unto religion and suited unto its nature, men have fallen into many woful mistakes; for whereas it principally consists in the glorious internal operations of the Holy Spirit, renewing our nature, transforming us into the image and likeness of God, with the fruits of his grace in righteousness and, true holiness, in a meek, humble, gracious conversation, and the performance of all duties according to the rule, few are able to discern beauty or glory or honour in these things. But yet where there is not an eye to discern them, the gospel must of necessity be despised and abandoned, and somewhat else substituted in the room thereof. (available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/apostasy.i.xiv.html)

If we aren’t aware of the multitude of corruptions within, we are very likely to miss the “glorious internal operations of the Holy Spirit, renewing our nature”, making us more like Christ, and we will hinder his work, because we aren’t looking into the mirror of the word, beholding his face so to be changed thereby.  So I close again by saying: Take up and read!  Take up and read!

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Week 22 in Fisher: Communing With Your Own Heart

A few weeks ago I heard about a recent study which surprisingly concluded that men would prefer an electric shock to spending time alone with their thoughts (full article is available at: http://www.futurity.org/alone-thoughts-pain-729012/). I suspect that such aversions to introspection arise from the absence of a vital spiritual life, and yet, a majority of Christians will confess to having a prayer life that is lackluster, and less than they would like it to be. However, it is only a true knowledge of God that enables us to look within honestly, deeply, and relentlessly without despairing.

Two prerequisites to meaningful communion with God involve a knowledge of God, and a knowledge of ourselves. Calvin revised his Institutes several times, but one thing he never revised was the opening section wherein he identified the need for these two types of knowledge, thus demonstrating his ability to get to the kernel of true wisdom early on:

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility. For as there exists in man something like a world of misery, and ever since we were stript of the divine attire our naked shame discloses an immense series of disgraceful properties every man, being stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness, in this way necessarily obtains at least some knowledge of God. Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us, that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. (Institutes, 1.1, available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.ii.html)

At the end of end of the section dealing with the uses of the law in The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Edward Fisher exhorts his reader to commune with his own heart especially before receiving the Lord’s Supper for the following reason:

Because the more sinful you see yourself to be, the more need you will see yourself to have of Christ; and the more need you see yourself to have of Christ, the more will you prize him; and the more you prize Christ, the more you will desire him; and the more you do desire Christ, the more fit and worthy receiver you will be.”

Being honest with ourselves as we relate to God is at the heart of communion with him. I’m indebted to John Owen for depicting this honesty in what he described as the daily commutation that occurs between every believer and his Savior:

“They [believers] hearken to the voice of Christ calling them to him with their burden, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden;’ – ‘Come with your burdens; come, thou poor soul, with thy guilt of sin.’ Why? what to do? ‘Why, this is mine,’ saith Christ; ‘this agreement I made with my Father, that I should come, and take thy sins, and bear them away: they were my lot. Give me thy burden, give me all thy sins. Thou knowest not what to do with them; I know how to dispose of them well enough, so that God shall be glorified, and thy soul delivered.’ Hereupon, —

“They lay down their sins at the cross of Christ, upon his shoulders. This is faith’s great and bold venture upon the grace, faithfulness, and truth of God, to stand by the cross and say, ‘Ah! He is bruised for my sins, and wounded for my transgressions, and the chastisement of my peace is upon him. He is thus made sin for me. Here I give up my sins to him that is able to bear them, to undergo them. He requires it of my hands, that I should be content that he should undertake for them; and I heartily consent unto.’ This is every day’s work; I know not how any peace can be maintained with God without it.” (Volume 2 of The Works of John Owen, On Communion With God, Chapter 8, p. 194; bold emphases mine, available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/communion.i.vii.viii.html).

Yes, sadly, as long as we are in this body, this commutation is every day’s work. But, blessed be the Lord, he commands us to come to him as we are, with all our sins, asking him as our King to overcome all his and all our enemies. I prefer this communion with Him to an electric shock any day!

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