The Works of

JOHN OWEN

GRACE AND DUTY OF BEING SPIRITUALLY MINDED

CHAPTER 18.

[The state of spiritual affections.]

IT remains only, as unto this head now spoken unto, that we briefly consider what is the state of spiritual affections thus daily exercised and improved. And this we shall do by showing, — first, What is their pattern; secondly, What is their rule; thirdly, What is their measure, or whereunto they may attain: —

FIRST, The pattern which we ought continually to bear in our eyes, whereunto our affections ought to be conformed, is Jesus Christ and the affections of his holy soul. The mind is the seat of all our affections; and this is that we ought continually to design and endeavor, namely, that the "same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus," Philippians 2:5. To have our minds so affected with spiritual things as was the mind of Christ is the principal part of our duty and grace; nor do I think that any man can attain any considerable degree in spiritual mindedness who is not much in the contemplation of the same mind in Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:18. To this purpose ought we to furnish our minds with instances of the holy affections that were in Christ, and their blessed exercise on all occasions. The Scripture makes a full representation of them unto us, and we ought to be conversant in our meditations on them. What glorious things are spoken of his love to God and his delight in him, whence also he "delighted to do his will, and his law was in the midst of his bowels," Psalm 40:8, — seated in the throne of his affections! What pity and compassion had he for the souls of men, yea, for the whole human kind, in all their sufferings, pains, and distresses! How were all his affections always in perfection of order, under the conduct of the spirit of his mind! Hence was his self-denial, his contempt of the world, his readiness for the cross, to do or suffer according to the will of God. If this pattern be continually before us, it will put forth a transforming efficacy to change us into the same image. When we find our minds liable unto any disorders, cleaving inordinately unto the things of this world, moved with intemperate passions, vain and frothy in conversation, darkened or disturbed by the fumes of distempered lusts, let us call things to an account, and ask of ourselves whether this be the frame of mind that was in Christ Jesus. This, therefore, is an evidence that our affections are spiritually renewed, and that they have received some progress in an assimilation unto heavenly things, — namely, when the soul is delighted in making Christ their pattern in all things.

Secondly, The rule of our affections in their utmost spiritual improvement is the Scripture. And two things are respected in them: — their internal actings; their exercise in outward ways and means, whereby they are expressed. Of them both the Scripture is the entire rule: —

1. And with respect unto the former, it gives us one general law or rule, that is comprehensive of all others, — namely, "That we love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength." The acting of all our affections towards God in the utmost degree of perfection is required of us; that in all instances we prefer and value him above all things; that we inseparably cleave unto him, and do nothing whatever at any time that is not influenced and directed by the love of God. This perfection, as we shall see immediately, is not attainable absolutely in this life; but it is proposed unto us as that which the excellency of God’s nature requires, and which the faculties and powers of our nature were created for, and which we ought in all things to design and aim at. But the indispensable obligation of this rule is, that we should always be in a sincere endeavor to cleave unto God continually in all things, to prefer him above all, and delight in him as our chiefest good. When this frame and disposition is habitually fixed in our minds, it will declare and act itself in all instances of duties, on all occasions of trial, when other things put in for a predominant interest in our affections, as they do every day; and if it be not so with us, we shall be at a continual loss in all our ways. This is that which makes us lifeless and heartless in duties, careless in temptations or occasions of them, forgetful of God, when it is impossible we should be preserved from sin without a due remembrance of his holiness. In brief, the want of a predominant love unto God, kept in continual exercise, is the spring of all that unprofitable profession of religion that the world is filled withal.

2. There are outward ways and duties whereby our spiritual affections are expressed. The rule of them also is the Scripture. The way marked out therein is the only channel wherein the stream of spiritual affections doth take its course unto God. The graces required therein are to act themselves by [them]; the duties it prescribes are those which they stir up and enliven; the religious worship it appoints is that wherein they have their exercise. Where this rule hath been neglected, men’s religious affections have grown irregular, yea, wild and ungovernable. All the superstitions that the world is filled withal owe their original principally unto men’s affections set at loose from the rule of the word. There is nothing so fond, absurd, and foolish, but they have imbondaged the souls of men unto, nothing so horrid and difficult but they have engaged them in. And having once taken unto themselves this liberty, the corrupt minds of men are a thousand times more satisfied than in the regular exercise of them according to the word of God. Hence they will rejoice in such penances as are not without their austerities; in such outward duties of devotion as are troublesome and chargeable; in every thing that hath a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglect of the body. Hence will all their affections be more sensibly moved by images and pictures, and a melting devotion be more stirred up in them, than by all the motives and incentives which God proposeth unto them to draw their affections unto himself. Nothing is more extravagant than the affections of men, tinctured with some devotion, if they forsake the rule of the Scripture.

Thirdly, There is considerable concerning them the measure of their attainments, or what, through due exercise and holy diligence, they may be raised unto. Now, this is not absolute perfection: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after," as the apostle speaks, Philippians 3:12. But there is that attainable which those who pretnd highly unto perfection seem to be strangers unto. And the state of our affections under a due exercise on heavenly things, and in their assimilation unto them, may be fixed on these three things: —

1. An habitual suitableness unto spiritual things upon the proposal of them. The ways whereby spiritual things are proposed unto our minds are various. They are so directly in all ordinances of divine worship; — they are so indirectly and in just consequence by all the especial providences wherein we are concerned, by our own thoughts and stated meditations; — they are so by the motions of the Holy Spirit, when he causeth us to "hear a word behind us saying, This is the way, walk ye in it;" by holy converse with others; by all sorts of occurrences. And as the ways of their proposal are various, so the times and seasons wherein a representation of them is made unto us are comprehensive of all, at least are not exclusive of any, times and seasons of our lives. Be the way of their proposal what it will, and whenever be the season of it, if our affections are duly improved by spiritual exercises, they are suited unto them and will be ready to give them entertainment. Hence, or for want hereof, on the other hand, are tergiversations and shiftings in duties, proneness to comply with diversions, all to keep off the mind from closing with and receiving of those spiritual things which it is not suited unto. Wherefore, as unto the solemn way of proposing spiritual things unto our minds which is in and by the ordinances of divine worship, when men have a prevalent loathness to engage in them, or when they are satisfied with an outward attendance on them, but not enabled unto a vigorous stirring up of the inward man unto a holy, affectionate converse with spiritual and heavenly things, it is because they are carnal. When men can receive the fiery darts of Satan in his temptations into their bosoms, and suffer them to abide there, yea, foster and cherish them in thoughts of the lusts that they kindle, but quickly quench the motions of the Spirit stirring them up unto the embracing of heavenly things, they are carnal, and carnally minded. When providences of concernment, in afflictions, trials, deliverances, do not engage the mind unto thoughts of spiritual things, and excite the affections unto the entertainment of them, men are carnal and earthly. When every lust, corruption, or passion, as anger, envy, displeasure, at this or that person or thing, can divert the mind from compliance with the proposal of spiritual things that is made unto it, we are carnal.

It is otherwise when our affections are conformed unto things spiritual and heavenly. Upon every proposal of these, the mind finds a suitableness unto itself, like that which a well-disposed appetite finds unto savory meat. As "the full soul loatheth an honey-comb," so a mind under the power of carnal affections hath an aversion unto all spiritual sweetness. But spiritualized affections desire them, have an appetite unto them, readily receive them on all occasions, as those which are natural unto them, as milk is unto new-born babes.

2. Affections so disposed constantly find a gust, a pleasant taste, a relish, in spiritual things. They do in them "taste that the Lord is gracious," 1 Peter 2:3. To taste of God’s goodness, is to have an experience of a savory relish and sweetness in converse and communion with him. And persons whose affections are thus renewed and thus improved do taste a sweet savor in all spiritual things. Some of them, as a sense of the love of Christ, are sometimes as it were too hard for them, and overpower them, until they are "sick of love," and do "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." Neither is there any of them, however condited with afflictions or mortifications, but is sweet unto them, Proverbs 27:7. Every thing that is wholesome food, that is good nourishment, though it be but bitter herbs, is sweet to him that is hungry. And when by our affections we have raised up in us a spiritual appetite unto heavenly things, however any of them in their own nature or in their dispensation may be bitter to flesh and blood, — as are all the doctrines of the cross, — they are all sweet unto us, and we can taste how gracious the Lord is in them. When the soul is filled with earthly things, the love of this world, or when the appetite is lost by spiritual sickness, or vitiated and corrupted by any prevalent sin, heavenly things are unsavory and sapless, or, as Job speaks, "like the white of an egg, wherein there is no taste." There may be in the dispensation of the word a taste or pleasing relish given unto the fancy, there may be so unto the notional understanding, when the affections find no complacency in the things themselves; but unto them who are spiritually minded unto the degree intended, they are all sweet, savory, pleasant, — the affections taste them immediately, as the palate doth meat.

3. They are a just repository of all graces, and therein the treasury of the soul. There are graces of the Spirit whose formal direct residence is in the understanding and the will, as faith itself, and therein are all other graces radically comprised; they grow from that root. Howbeit, the most of them have their principal residence in the affections. In them are they preserved secure and ready for exercise on all occasions. And when they are duly spiritual, there is nothing that tends to their growth or improvement, to their cherishing or quickening, which they stand in need of continually, and which God hath made provision for in his word, but they readily receive it, lay it up, keep and preserve it. Hereby they come to be filled with grace, with all graces, — for there is room in them for all the graces of the Spirit to inhabit, — and do readily comply with the light and direction of faith unto their exercise. When faith discerns and determines that there is any thing to be done or suffered in a way of duty unto the glory of God, the affections thus disposed do not shut up or stifle the graces that are in them, but carefully offer them unto their proper exercise.

These are some of those things which our affections, conformed unto heavenly things, will attain unto. And thus it is with affections spiritually renewed: by being fixed on things spiritual and heavenly, they are more and more conformed unto them, made like them, and become more spiritual and heavenly themselves.

It is not thus with them whose affections have only an occasional change wrought upon them by the means before described, but are not spiritually renewed; yea, on the contrary, such persons do design to debase spiritual things, to bring down heavenly things into a conformity with their affections, which, however changed, are not spiritual, but carnal. To evince this we may observe, —

1. Their affections are under the light and conduct of such notions in the mind and understanding as do not give a clear, distinct representation of them in their own nature unto them: for where they are not themselves spiritually renewed, there the mind itself is carnal and unrenewed; and such a mind "perceiveth not the things of God, neither can do so, because they are spiritually discerned." They cannot be discerned aright in their own beauty and glory, but in and by a spiritual, saving light, which the mind is devoid of. And where they are not thus represented, the affections cannot receive or cleave unto them as they ought, nor will ever be conformed unto them.

2. Those notions in such persons are ofttimes variously influenced and corrupted by fancy and imagination. They are merely "puffed up by their fleshly minds;" that is, they are filled with vain, foolish, proud imaginations about spiritual things, as the apostle declares, Colossians 2:18,19. And the work of fancy, in a fleshly mind, is to raise up such images of spiritual things as may render them suitable unto natural, unrenewed affections.

3. This, in the progress of it, produceth superstition, false worship, and idolatry; for they are all of them an attempt to represent spiritual things in a way suited unto carnal, unrenewed affections. Hence men suppose themselves to be excited by them unto love, joy, fear, delight in the things themselves, when they all respect that false representation of them whereby they are suited unto them as carnal. These have been the spring of all false worship and idolatry in the Christian world.

1. The mind and affections have been changed and tinctured with devotion by some of the means we have before insisted on. Herein they will, one way or other, be exercised about spiritual things, and are ready to receive impressions from any thing that superstition can impose upon them.

2. They are, by error and false information, set at liberty from the only rule of their actings and exercise; that is, the word of God. Men satisfied themselves, that so their affections were engaged about things spiritual and heavenly, it was no matter at all whether the way of their exercise was directed by the Scripture or no. Having thus lost their guide and their way, every "ignis fatuus," every wandering meteor, allures them to follow its conduct into foolish superstitions. Nothing almost is so ridiculous, nothing so horrid and difficult, that they will not embrace under the notion of things spiritual and heavenly.

3. The carnal minds of men, having no proper, distinct apprehensions and notions of spiritual things in their own nature, do endeavor to represent them under such notions and images as may suit them unto their carnal, unrenewed affections; for it is implanted almost indelibly upon them, that the end of all knowledge of spiritual things is to propose them unto the embraces of the affections.

It were easy to manifest that from these three corrupt springs arose that flood of idolatry and false worship which spread itself over the church of Rome, and with whose machinations the minds of men are yet too much replenished.

4. Where it is not thus, yet carnal affections do variously debase spiritual things, to bring them into a conformity with themselves; and this may proceed so far, until men think wickedly that God is altogether like unto themselves. But I shall not insist on these things any farther.

Lastly, Where affections are spiritually renewed, the person of Christ is the center of them; but where they are changed only, they tend unto an end in self. Where the "new man" is put on, "Christ is all, and in all," Colossians 3:10,11. He is the spring, by his Spirit, that gives them life, light, and being; and he is the ocean that receives all their streams. God, even the Father, presents not himself in his beauty and amiableness as the object of our affections, but as he is in Christ, acting his love in him, 1 John 4:8,9. And as unto all other spiritual things, renewed affections cleave unto them according as they derive from Christ and lead unto him; for he is unto them "all, and in all." It is he whom the souls of his saints do love for himself, for his own sake, and all other things of religion in and for him. The air is pleasant and useful, that without which we cannot live or breathe; but if the sun did not enlighten it and warm it with its beams, if it were always one perpetual night and cold, what refreshment could be received by it? Christ is the "Sun of Righteousness," and if his beams do not quicken, animate, and enlighten, the best, the most necessary duties of religion, nothing desirable would remain in them. This is the most certain character of affections spiritually renewed: They can rest in nothing but in Christ; they fix on nothing but what is amiable by a participation of his beauty; and in whatever he is, therein do they find complacency. It is otherwise with them whose affections may be changed but are not renewed. The truth is, — and it may be made good by all sorts of instances, — that Christ, in the mystery of his person and in the glory of his mediation, is the only thing that they dislike in religion. False representations of him by images and pictures they may embrace and delight in; false notions of his present glory, greatness, and power may affect them; a worship of their own devising they may give unto him, and please themselves in it; corrupt opinions concerning his office and grace may possess their minds, and they may contend for them: but those who are not spiritually renewed cannot love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, yea, they have an inward, secret aversation from the mystery of his person and his grace. It is self which all their affections center in, the ways whereof are too long here to be declared.

This is the first thing that is required to render our affections in such a state and condition as that from and by them we may be spiritually minded, — namely, that they themselves are spiritually and savingly renewed.

The things that remain will admit of a speedy despatch, as I suppose.

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