The Works of

JOHN OWEN

GRACE AND DUTY OF BEING SPIRITUALLY MINDED

CHAPTER 14.

The second difference between affections spiritually renewed and those which have been only changed by light and conviction — Grounds and reasons of men’s delight in duties of divine worship, and of their diligence in their performance, whose minds are not spiritually renewed.

THE second difference lieth herein, that there may be a change in the affections, wherein men may have delight in the duties of religious worship and diligence in their observance; but it is the spiritual renovation of the affections that gives delight in God through Christ, in any duty of religious worship whatever.

Where the truth of the gospel is known and publicly professed, there is great variety in the minds, ways, and practices, of men about the duties of religious worship. Many are profane in their minds and lives, who, practically at least, despise or wholly neglect the observance of them. These are stout-hearted and far from righteousness, Titus 1:16. Some attend unto them formally and cursorily, from the principles of their education, and, it may be, out of some convictions they have of their necessity. But many there are who, in the way they choose and are pleased withal, are diligent in their observance, and that with great delight, who yet give no evidence of the spiritual renovation of their minds; yea, the way whereby some express their devotion in them, being superstitious and idolatrous, is inconsistent with that or any other saving grace. This, therefore, we must diligently inquire into, or search into the grounds and reasons of men’s delight in divine worship, according unto their convictions of the way of it, [while they] yet continue in their minds altogether unrenewed. And, —

1. Men may be greatly affected with the outward part of divine worship, and the manner of the performance thereof, who have no delight in what is internal, real, and spiritual therein: John 5:35,

"He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light."

So, many were delighted in the. preaching of Ezekiel, because of his eloquence and the elegancy of his parables, chapter 33:31,32. This gave them both delight and diligence in hearing, whereon they called themselves the people of God, though they continued to live in sin; their hearts went after covetousness. The same may befall many at present with reference unto the spiritual gifts of those by whom the word of God is dispensed. I deny not but that men may be more delighted, more satisfied, with the gifts, the preaching, of one than another, and yet be sincere in their delight in the dispensation of the word; for they may find more spiritual advantage thereby than in the gifts of others, and things so prepared as to be more suited unto their edification than elsewhere: but that which at present we insist on hath respect only unto some outward circumstances, pleasing the minds of men, 2 Timothy 3:5.

This was principally evident under the old testament, whilst they had carnal ordinances and a worldly sanctuary. Ofttimes under that dispensation the people were given up unto all sorts of idolatry and superstition; and when they were not so, yet were the body of them carnal and unholy, as is evident from the whole tract of God’s dealing with them, by his prophets and in his providences: yet had they great delight in the outward solemnities of their worship, placing all their trust of acceptance with God therein. They who did really and truly believe looked through them all unto Christ, whom they did foresignify, without which the things were a yoke unto them and a burden almost insupportable, Acts 15:10; but those who were carnal delighted in the things themselves, and for their sakes rejected Him who was the life and substance of them all. And this proved the great means of the apostasy of the Christian church also: for, to maintain some appearance of spiritual affections, men introduced carnal incitations of them into evangelical worship, such as singing, with music and pompous ceremonies; for they find such things needful to reconcile the worship of God unto their minds and affections, and through them they appear to have great delight therein. Could some men but in their thoughts separate divine service from that outward order, those methods of variety, show, and melody, wherewith they are affected, they would have no delight in it, but look upon it as a thing that must be endured. How can it be otherwise conceived of among the Papists? They will with much earnestness, many evidences of devotion, sometimes with difficulty and danger, repair unto their solemn worship, and when they are present understand not one word whereby their minds might be excited unto the real actings of faith, love, and delight in God! Only order, ceremony, music, and other incentives of carnal affections, make great impression on them. Affections spiritually renewed are not concerned in these things; yea, if those in whom they are should be engaged in the use of them, they would find them means of diverting their minds from the proper work of divine worship, rather than an advantage therein. It will also appear so unto themselves, unless they are content to lose their spiritual affections, acting themselves in faith and love, embracing in their stead a carnal, imaginary devotion. Hence, two persons may at the same time attend unto the same ordinances of divine worship, with equal delight, on very distinct principles: as if two men should come into the same garden, planted and adorned with a variety of herbs and flowers, one ignorant of the nature of them, the other a skillful herbalist; both may be equally delighted, the one with the colors and smell of the flowers, the other with the consideration of their various natures, their uses in physical remedies, or the like. So may it be in the hearing of the word. For instance, one may be delighted with the outward administration, another with its spiritual efficacy, at the same time. Hence Austin tells us that singing in the church was laid aside by Athanasius at Alexandria; not the people’s singing of psalms, but a kind of singing in the reading of the Scripture and some offices of worship, which began then to be introduced in the church. And the reason he gave why he did it was, that the modulation of the voice and musical tune might not divert the minds of men from that spiritual affection which is required of them in sacred duties. What there is of real order in the worship of God, was there is that order which is an effect of divine wisdom, — it is suited and useful unto spiritual affections, because proceeding from the same Spirit whereby they are internally renewed: "Beholding your order," Colossians 2:5. Every thing of God’s appointment is both helpful and delightful unto them. None can say with higher raptures of admiration, "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!" Psalm 84:1,2, than they whose affections are renewed; yet is not their delight terminated on them, as we shall see immediately.

2. Men may be delighted in the performance of outward duties of divine worship, because in them they comply with and give some kind of satisfaction unto their convictions. When conscience is awakened unto a sense of the necessity of such duties, — namely, of those wherein divine worship doth consist, — it will give the mind no rest or peace in the neglect of them. Let them be attended unto in the seasons which light, conviction, and custom call for, it will be so far satisfied as that the mind shall find present ease and refreshment in it. And when the soul is wonted unto this relief, it will not only be diligent in the performance of such duties, it will not only not omit them, but it will delight in them as those which bring it in great advantage. Hence many will not omit the duty of prayer every morning, who upon the matter are resolved to live in sin all the day long. And there are but few who sedulously endeavor to live and walk in the frame of their hearts and ways answerable unto their own prayers; yet all that is in our prayers beyond our endeavors to answer it in a conformity of heart and life, is but the exercise of gifts in answer to convictions Others find an allay of troubles in them, like that which sick persons may find by drinking cold water in a fever, whose flames are assuaged for a season by it. They make them as an antidote against the poison and sting of sin, which allayeth its rage but cannot expel its venom.

Or these duties are unto them like the sacrifices for sin under the law. They gave a guilty person present ease: but, as the apostle speaks, they made not men perfect; they took not away utterly a conscience condemning for sin. Presently, on the first omission of duty, a sense of sin again returned on them, and that not only as the fact, but as the person himself, was condemned by the law. Then were the sacrifices to be repeated, for a renewed propitiation. This gave that carnal people such delight and satisfaction in those sacrifices that they trusted unto them for righteousness, life, and salvation. So it is with persons who are constant in spiritual duties merely from conviction. The performance of those duties gives them a present relief and ease; though it heals not their wound, it assuageth their pain and dispelleth their present fears. Hence are they frequent in them, and that ofttimes not without delight, because they find ease thereby. And their condition is somewhat dangerous who, upon the sense of the guilt of any sin, do betake themselves for relief unto their prayers, which having discharged, they are much at ease in their minds and consciences, although they have obtained no real sense of the pardon of sin nor any strength against it.

It will be said, "Do not all men, the best of men, perform all spiritual duties out of a conviction of their necessity? do not they know it would be their sin to omit them, and so find satisfaction in their minds upon their performance?" I say, They do: but it is one thing to perform a duty out of conviction of a necessity as it is God’s ordinance, which conviction respects only the duty itself; another thing to perform it to give satisfaction unto convictions of other sins, or to quiet conscience under its trouble about them; which latter we speak unto. This begins and ends in self; self-satisfaction is the sole design of it. By it men aim at some rest and quietness in their own minds, which otherwise they cannot attain. But in the performance of duties in faith, from a conviction of their necessity as God’s ordinance, and their use in the way of his grace, the soul begins and ends in God. It seeks no satisfaction in them, nor finds it from them, but in and from God alone by them.

3. The principal reason why men whose affections are only changed, not spiritually renewed, do delight in holy duties of divine worship, is, because they place their righteousness before God in them, whereon they hope to be accepted with him. They know not, they seek not after, any other righteousness but what is of their own working out. Whatever notions they may have of the righteousness of faith, of the righteousness of Christ, that which they practically trust unto is their own: and it discovers itself so to be in their own consciences on every trial that befalls them; yea, when they cry unto the Lord, and pretend unto faith in Christ, they quickly make it evident that their principal trust is resolved into themselves. Now, in all that they can plead in a way of duties or obedience, nothing carrieth a fairer pretense unto a righteousness than what they do in the worship of God, and the exercise of the acts of religion towards him. This is that which he expects at their hands, what is due unto him in the light of their consciences, the best that they can do to please him; which therefore they must put their trust in, or nothing. They secretly suppose not only that there is a righteousness in these things which will answer for itself, but such also as will make compensation in some measure for their sins; and therefore, whereas they cannot but frequently fall into sin, they relieve themselves from the reflection of their consciences by a multiplication of duties, and renewed diligence in them.

It is inconceivable what delight and satisfaction men will take in any thing that seems to contribute so much unto a righteousness of their own; for it is suitable unto and pleaseth all the principles of nature as corrupt, after it is brought under the power of a conviction concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.

This made the Jews of old so pertinaciously adhere unto the ceremonies and sacrifices of the law, and to prefer them above the gospel "the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof," Romans 10:3. They looked and sought for righteousness by them. Those who for many generations were kept up with great difficulty unto any tolerable observance of them, when they had learned to place all their hopes of a righteousness in them, would and did adhere unto them unto their temporal and eternal ruin, Romans 9:31-33. And when men were persuaded that righteousness was to be attained by works of munificence and supposed charity, in the dedication of their substance unto the use of the church, they who otherwise were covetous, and greedy and oppressing, would lavish gold out of the bag, and give up their whole patrimony, with all their ill-gotten goods, to attain it; so powerful an influence hath the desire of self-righteousness upon the minds of men. It is the best fortification of the soul against Christ and the gospel, — the last reserve whereby it maintains the interest of self against the grace of God.

Hence, I say, those that place their righteousness, or that which is the principal part of it, in the duties of religious worship, will not only be diligent in them, but ofttimes abound in a multiplication of them. Especially will they do so if they may be performed in such a way and manner as pleaseth their affections with a show of humility and devotion, requiring nothing of the exercise of faith or sincere divine love therein. So is it with many in all kinds of religion, whether the way of their worship be true or false, whether it be appointed of God or rejected by him. And the declaration hereof is the subject of the discourse of the prophet, Isaiah 1:11-17; also, Micah 6:6-8.

4. The reputation of devotion in religious duties may insensibly affect the unrenewed minds of men with great diligence and delight in their performance. However men are divided in their apprehension and practice about religion, however different from and contrary unto each other their ways of divine worship are; yet it is amongst all sorts of men, yea, in the secret thoughts of them who outwardly contemn these things, a matter of reputation to be devout, to be diligent, to be strict, in and about those duties of religion which, according to their own light and persuasion, they judge incumbent on them. This greatly affects the minds of men whilst pride is secretly predominant in them, and they love the praise of men more than the praise of God.

Especially will this consideration prevail on them when they suppose that the credit and honor of the way which they profess, in competition with others, depend much on their reputation as to their strictness in duties of devotion; for then will they not only be diligent in themselves, but zealous in drawing others unto the same observances. These two principles, their own reputation and that of their sect, constituted the life and soul of Pharisaism of old. According as the minds of men are influenced with these apprehensions, so will a love unto and a delight in those duties whereby their reputation is attained thrive and grow in them.

I am far from apprehending that any men are (at least, I speak not of them who are) such vile hypocrites as to do all that they do in religion to be seen and praised of men, being influenced in all public duties thereby; which some among the Pharisees were given up unto. But I speak of them who, being under the convictions and motives before mentioned, do also yet give admittance unto this corrupt end of desire of reputation or the praise of men; for every such end, being admitted and prevalent in the mind, will universally influence the affections unto a delight in those duties whereby that end may be attained, until the person with whom it is so be habituated unto them with great satisfaction.

5. I should, in the last place, insist on superstition. As this is an undue fear of the divine nature, will, and operations, built on false notions and apprehensions of them, it may befall the minds of men in all religions, true and false. It is an internal vice of the mind. As it respects the outward way and means of religious service, and consists in the devout performance of such duties as God indeed accepts not, but forbids, so it belongs only to religion as it is false and corrupt. How in both respects it will engage the minds of men into the performance of religious duties, and for the most part with the most scrupulous diligence, and sometimes with prodigious attempts to exceed the measures of human nature in what they do design, is too long a work here to be declared. It may suffice to have mentioned it among the causes and reasons why men whose affections are not spiritually renewed may yet greatly delight in the diligent performance of the outward duties of religion. Our design in these things is, the discovery of the true nature of this grace and duty of being spiritually minded. Hereunto we have declared that it is necessary that our affections be spiritually and supernaturally renewed; and because there may be a great change wrought on the affections of men with respect unto spiritual things where there is nothing of this supernatural renovation, our present inquiry is, What are the differences that are between the actings of the affections of the one sort and of the other, whether spiritually renewed or occasionally changed? And whereas the great exercise of them consists in the duties of religious worship, I have declared what are the grounds and reasons whence men of unrenewed minds do delight ofttimes in the duties of divine worship and are diligent in the performance of them.

From these and the like considerations, it may be made manifest that the greatest part of the devotion that is in the world doth not spring from the spiritual renovation of the minds of men; without which it is not accepted with God. That which remains to give in instance, farther evidence unto the discovery we are in the pursuit of, is, what are the grounds and reasons whereon those whose minds and affections are spiritually renewed do delight in the institutions of divine worship, and attend unto their observance with great heed and diligence. And because this is an inquiry of great importance, and is of great use to be stated in other cases as well as that before us, I shall treat of it by itself in the ensuing chapter, that the reader may the more distinctly comprehend it, both in the nature of the doctrine concerning it and in the place it holds in our present discourse.

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