The Works of

JOHN OWEN

GRACE AND DUTY OF BEING SPIRITUALLY MINDED

PART 1.

CHAPTER 1.

THE WORDS OF THE TEXT EXPLAINED:

"To be spiritually minded is life and peace." Romans 8:6.

THE expression in our translation sounds differently from that in the original. "To be spiritually minded," say we. In the original it is, as that in the former part of the verse is , which we render "to be carnally minded." In the margin we read, "the minding of the flesh" and "the minding of the Spirit;" and there is great variety in the rendering of the words in all translations, both ancient and modern. "Prudentia, sapientia, intelligentia, mens, cogitatio, discretio, id quod Spiritus sapit," — "The wisdom, the understanding, the mind, the thought or contrivance, the discretion of the Spirit, that which the Spirit savoureth," are used to express it. All our English translations, from Tindal’s, the first of them, have constantly used, "To be spiritually minded;" neither do I know any words whereby the emphasis of the original, considering the design of the apostle in the place, can be better expressed. But the meaning of the Holy Ghost in them must be farther inquired into.

In the whole verse there are two entire propositions, containing a double antithesis, the one in their subjects, the other in their predicates; and this opposition is the highest and greatest that is beneath eternal blessedness and eternal ruin.

The opposite subjects are, the "minding of the flesh" and the "minding of the Spirit," or the being "carnally minded" and "spiritually minded." And these two do constitute two states of mankind, unto the one of which every individual person in the world doth belong; and it is of the highest concernment unto the souls of men to know whether of them they appertain unto. As unto the qualities expressed by "the flesh" and "the Spirit," there may be a mixture of them in the same persons at the same time, — there is so in all that are regenerate; for in them "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary," Galatians 5:17. Thus different, contrary actings in the same subject constitute not distinct states; but where either of them is predominant or hath a prevalent rule in the soul, there it makes a different state. This distinction of states the apostle expresseth, Romans 8:9, "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit." Some are "in the flesh, and cannot please God," verse 8; they are "after the flesh," verse 5; they "walk after the flesh," verse 1; they "live after the flesh," verse 13. This is one state. Others are "in the Spirit," verse 9; "after the Spirit," verse 5; "walk after the Spirit," verse 1. This is the other state. The first sort are "carnally minded," the other are "spiritually minded." Unto one of these doth every living man belong; he is under the ruling conduct of the flesh or of the Spirit; there is no middle state, though there are different degrees in each of these as to good and evil.

The difference between these two states is great, and the distance in a manner infinite, because an eternity in blessedness or misery doth depend upon it; and this at present is evidenced by the different fruits and effects of the principles and their operations which constitute these different states, which is expressed in the opposition that is between the predicates of the propositions: for the minding of the flesh is "death," but the minding of the Spirit is "life and peace."

"To be carnally minded is death." Death, as it is absolutely penal, is either spiritual or eternal. The first of these it is formally, the other meritoriously. It is formally death spiritual: for they that are carnally minded are "dead in trespasses and sins," Ephesians 2:1; for those who "fulfill the desires of the flesh and of the mind are by nature children of wrath," verse 3, — are penally under the power of spiritual death. They are "dead in sins and the uncircumcision of the flesh," Colossians 2:13. And it is death eternal meritoriously: "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die," Romans 8:13; as "the wages of sin is death," chapter 6:23.

The reason why the apostle denounces so woeful a doom, so dreadful a sentence, on the carnal mind, he declares in the two next verses: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." If it be thus with the carnal mind, it is no wonder that "to be carnally minded is death;" it is not meet it should be any thing else. That which is enmity against God is under the curse of God.

In opposition hereunto it is affirmed that "to be spiritually minded," or the minding of the Spirit, "is life and peace." And these are the things which we are particularly to inquire into, — namely, What is this "minding of the Spirit;" and then, How it is "life and peace."

1. The "‘ Spirit " in this context is evidently used in a double sense, as is usual where both the Holy Spirit himself and his work on the souls of men are related unto.

(1.) The person of the Spirit of God himself, or the Holy Ghost, is intended by it: Romans 8:9, "If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you." And so also verse 11, "The Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead." He is spoken of as the principal efficient cause of all the spiritual mercies and benefits here and afterward insisted on.

(2.) It is used for the principle of spiritual life wrought in all that are regenerate by the Holy Ghost; for "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," John 3:6.

It is most probable that the name "Spirit" is here used in the latter sense, — not for the Spirit himself, but for "that which is born of the Spirit," the principle of spiritual life in them that are born of God; for it is, in its nature, actings, inclinations, and operations, opposed unto "the flesh," Romans 8:1, 4, 5. But "the flesh" here intended is that inherent corrupt principle of depraved nature whence ell evil actions do proceed, and wherewith the actions of all evil men are vitiated. The opposition between them is the same with that mentioned and declared by the apostle, Galatians 5:17, etc. Wherefore "the Spirit" in this place is the holy, vital principle of new obedience, wrought in the souls of believers by the Holy Ghost, enabling them to live unto God.

2. Unto this Spirit there is ascribed, which, as we have intimated, is translated with great variety. is the principal power and act of the mind. It is its light, wisdom, prudence, knowledge, understanding, and discretion. It is not so with respect unto speculation or ratiocination merely, which is but this is its power as it is practical, including the habitual frame and inclination of the affections also. It is its faculty to conceive of things with a delight in them and adherence unto them, from that suitableness which it finds in them unto all its affections. Hence we translate sometimes to "think," — that is, to conceive and judge, Romans 12:3; sometimes to "set the affection," Colossians 3:2, — to have such an apprehension of things as to cleave unto them with our affections; sometimes to "mind," to "mind earthly things," Philippians 3:19, which includeth that relish and savor which the mind finds in the things it is fixed on. Nowhere doth it design a notional conception of things only, but principally the engagement of the affections unto the things which the mind apprehends.

, the word here used, expresseth the actual exercise, , of the power of the mind before described. Wherefore, the "minding of the Spirit" is the actual exercise of the mind as renewed by the Holy Ghost, as furnished with a principle of spiritual life and light, in its conception of spiritual things and the setting of its affections on them, as finding that relish and savor in them wherewith it is pleased and satisfied.

And something we must yet farther observe, to give light unto this description of the "minding of the Spirit," as it is here spoken of: —

1. It is not spoken of absolutely as unto what it is in itself, but with respect unto its power and prevalency in us, significantly rendered, "To be spiritually minded;" that is, to have the mind changed and renewed by a principle of spiritual life and light, so as to be continually acted and influenced thereby unto thoughts and meditations of spiritual things, from the affections cleaving unto them with delight and satisfaction. So, on the contrary, it is when men "mind earthly things." From a principle of love unto them, arising from their suitableness unto their corrupt affections, their thoughts, meditations, and desires are continually engaged about them. Wherefore, —

2. Three things may be distinguished in the great duty of being spiritually minded, under which notion it is here recommended unto us: —

(1.) The actual exercise of the mind, in its thoughts, meditations, and desires, about things spiritual and heavenly. So is it expressed in the verse foregoing: "They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh," — they think on them, their contrivances are about them, and their desires after them; "but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." They mind them by fixing their thoughts and meditations upon them.

(2.) The inclination, disposition, and frame of the mind, in all its affections, whereby it adheres and cleaves unto spiritual things. This "minding of the Spirit" resides habitually in the affections. Wherefore, the of the Spirit, or the mind as renewed and acted by a spiritual principle of light and life, is the exercise of its thoughts, meditations, and desires, on spiritual things, proceeding from the love and delight of its affections in them and engagement unto them.

(3.) A complacency of mind, from that gust, relish, and savor, which it finds in spiritual things, from their suitableness unto its constitution, inclinations, and desires. There is a salt in spiritual things, whereby they are condited and made savory unto a renewed mind; though to others they are as the white of an egg, that hath no taste or savor in it. In this gust and relish lies the sweetness and satisfaction of spiritual life. Speculative notions about spiritual things, when they are alone, are dry, sapless, and barren. In this gust we taste by experience that God is gracious, and that the love of Christ is better than wine, or whatever else hath the most grateful relish unto a sensual appetite. This is the proper foundation of that "joy which is unspeakable and full of glory."

All these things do concur in the minding of the Spirit, or to constitute any person spiritually minded. And although the foundation of the whole duty included in it lies in the affections, and their immediate adherence unto spiritual things, whence the thoughts and meditations of the mind about them do proceed, yet I shall treat of the distinct parts of this duty in the order laid down, beginning with the exercise of our thoughts and meditations about them; for they being the first genuine actings of the mind, according unto the prevalency of affections in it, they will make the best and most evident discovery of what nature the spring is from whence they do arise. And I shall not need to speak distinctly unto what is mentioned in the third place, concerning the complacency of the mind in what its affections are fixed on, for it will fall in with sundry other things that are to be spoken unto.

But before we do proceed, it is not amiss, as I suppose, to put a remark upon those important truths which are directly contained in the words proposed as the foundation of the present discourse; as, —

1. To be spiritually minded is the great distinguishing character of true believers from all unregenerate persons. As such is it here asserted by the apostle. All those who are "carnally minded," who are "in the flesh," they are unregenerate, they are not born of God, they please him not, nor can do so, but must perish forever. But those who are "spiritually minded" are born of God, do live unto him, and shall come to the enjoyment of him. Hereon depend the trial and determination of what state we do belong unto.

2. Where any are spiritually minded, there, and there alone, is life and peace. What these are, wherein they do consist, what is their excellency and pre-eminence above all things in this world, how they are the effects and consequents of our being spiritually minded, shall be afterwards declared.

There is neither of these considerations but is sufficient to demonstrate of how great concernment unto us it is to be spiritually minded, and diligently to inquire whether we are so or no.

It will therefore be no small advantage unto us to have our souls and consciences always affected with and in due subjection unto the power of this truth, — namely, that "to be spiritually minded is life and peace;" whence it will follow, that whatever we may think otherwise, if we are not so, we have neither of them, neither life nor peace. It will, I say, be of use unto us if we are affected with the power of it; for many greatly deceive themselves in hearing the word. They admit of sacred truths in their understanding, and assent unto them, but take not in the power of them on their consciences, nor strictly judge of their state and condition by them, which proves their ruin; for hereby they seem to themselves to believe that whereof in truth they believe not one syllable as they ought. They hear it, they understand it in the notion of it, they assent unto it, at least they do not contradict it, yea, they commend it oftentimes and approve of it, but yet they believe it not; for if they did, they would judge themselves by it, and reckon on it that it will be with them at the last day according as things are determined therein.

Or such persons are, as the apostle James declares, "like a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was," chapter 1:23,24. There is a representation made of them, their state and condition, unto them in the word; they behold it, and conclude that it is even so with them as the word doth declare; but immediately their minds are filled with other thoughts, acted by other affections, taken up with other occasions, and they forget in a moment the representation made of themselves and their condition. Wherefore all that I have to offer on this subject will be utterly lost, unless a firm persuasion hereof be fixed on our minds, unless we are under the power of it, that "to be spiritually minded is life and peace;" so that whatever our light and profession be, our knowledge or our duty, without this we have indeed no real interest in life and peace.

These things being premised, I shall more practically open the nature of this duty, and what is required unto this frame of spirit. To be "spiritually minded" may be considered either as unto the nature and essence of it, or as unto its degrees; for one may be so more than another, or the same person may be more so at one time than another. In the first way it is opposed unto being "carnally minded;" in the other unto being "earthly minded."

"To be carnally minded is," as the apostle speaks, "death;" it is so every way; and they who are so are dead in trespasses and sins. This is opposed unto being "spiritually minded," as unto its nature or essence. When a man, as unto the substance and being of the grace and duty intended, is not spiritually minded, he is carnally minded, — that is, under the power of death spiritual, and obnoxious unto death eternal. This is the principal foundation we proceed upon, whence we demonstrate the indispensable necessity of the frame of mind inquired after.

There are two ways wherein men are earthly minded. The one is absolute, when the love of earthly things is wholly predominant in the mind. This is not formally and properly to be carnally minded, which is of a larger extent. The one denomination is from the root and principle, namely, the flesh; the other from the object, or the things of the earth. The latter is a branch from the former, as its root. To be earthly minded is an operation and effect of the carnal mind in one especial way and instance; and it is as exclusive of life and salvation as the carnal mind itself, Philippians 3:19; 1 John 2:15,16. This, therefore, is opposed unto the being of spiritual mindedness no less than to be carnally minded is. When there is in any a love of earthly things that is predominant, whence a person may be rightly denominated to be earthly minded, he is not, nor can be, spiritually minded at all; he hath no interest in the frame of heart and spirit intended thereby. And thus it is evidently with the greatest part of them who are called Christians in the world, let them pretend what they will to the contrary.

Again; there is a being earthly minded which consists in an inordinate affection unto the things of this world. It is that which is sinful, which ought to be mortified; yet it is not absolutely inconsistent with the substance and being of the grace inquired after. Some who are really and truly spiritually minded, yet may, for a time at least, be under such an inordinate affection unto and care about earthly things, that if not absolutely, yet comparatively, as unto what they ought to be and might be, they may be justly said to be earthly minded. They are so in respect of those degrees in being spiritually minded which they ought to aim at and may attain unto. And where it is thus, this grace can never thrive or flourish, it can never advance unto any eminent degree.

This is the Zoar of many professors, — that "little one" wherein they would be spared. Such an earthly mindedness as is wholly inconsistent with being spiritually minded, as unto the state and condition which depends thereon, they would avoid; for this they know would be absolutely exclusive of life and peace. They cannot but know that such a frame is as inconsistent with salvation as living in the vilest sin that any man can contract the guilt of. There are more ways of spiritual and eternal death than one, as well as of natural. All that die have not the plague, and all that perish eternally are not guilty of the same profligate sins. The covetous are excluded from the kingdom of God no less severely than fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, and thieves, 1 Corinthians 6:9,10. But there is a degree in being earthly minded which they suppose their interest, advantages, relations, and occasions of life do call for, which they would be a little indulged in; they may abide in such a frame without a disparagement of their profession. And the truth is, they have too many companions to fear an especial reflection on themselves. The multitude of the guilty take away the sense and shame of the guilt. But, besides, they hope well that it is not inconsistent absolutely with being spiritually minded; only they cannot well deny but that it is contrary unto such degrees in that grace, such thriving in that duty, as is recommended unto them. They think well of others who are spiritually minded in an eminent degree, at least they do so as unto the thing itself in general; for when they come unto particular instances of this or that man, for the most part they esteem what is beyond their own measure to be little better than pretense. But, in general, to be spiritually minded in an eminent degree, they cannot but esteem it a thing excellent and desirable; — but it is for them who are more at leisure than they are; their circumstances and occasions require them to satisfy themselves with an inferior measure.

To obviate such pretenses, I shall insist on nothing, in the declaration of this duty and the necessity of it, but what is incumbent on all that believe, and without which they have no grounds to assure their conscience before God. And at present in general I shall say, Whoever he be who doth not sincerely aim at the highest degree of being spiritually minded which the means he enjoyeth would lead him unto, and which the light he hath received doth call for, — whoever judgeth it necessary unto his present advantages, occasions, and circumstances, to rest in such measures or degrees of it as he cannot but know come short of what he ought to aim at, and so doth not endeavor after completeness in the will of God herein, — can have no satisfaction in his own mind, hath no unfailing grounds whereon to believe that he hath any thing at all of the reality of this grace in him. Such a person possibly may have life, which accompanies the essence of this grace, but he cannot have peace, which follows on its degree in a due improvement. And it is to be feared that far the greatest number of them who satisfy themselves in this apprehension, willingly neglecting an endeavor after the farther degrees of this grace and growth in this duty, which their light or convictions, and the means they enjoy, do suggest unto them, are indeed carnally minded and every way obnoxious unto death.

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