The Works of

JOHN OWEN

GRACE AND DUTY OF BEING SPIRITUALLY MINDED

CHAPTER 19.

[The true notion and consideration of spiritual and heavenly things.]

II. THE second thing required that we may be spiritually minded, as unto the interest of our affections therein, is, the object of them about which they are conversant and whereunto they do adhere. What this is materially, or what are the spiritual things which our affections are to be set upon, hath been declared already, under the consideration of the objects of our thoughts and meditations, for they are the same; yea, as hath been intimated, the fixing of our affections upon them is the spring and cause of our thoughts about them. But that which we shall now inquire into is, the true notion and consideration of spiritual and heavenly things, that which renders them the formal, proper object of spiritual affections, and is the reason of their adherence unto them; for, as was intimated before, men may have false notions of spiritual things, under which they may like them and embrace them with unrenewed affections. Wherefore we shall inquire into some of those considerations of heavenly things under which affections spiritually renewed do satisfactorily cleave unto them with delight and complacency.

1. And the first is, that as they comprehend God in Christ, and all other things as deriving from him and tending unto him, they have an infinite beauty, goodness, and amiableness in them, which are powerfully attractive of spiritual affections, and which alone are able to fill them, to satisfy them, to give them rest and acquiescency. Love is the most ruling and prevalent affection in the whole soul; but it cannot be fixed on any object without an apprehension, true or false, of an amiableness and desirableness in it, from a goodness suitable unto all its desires.

And our fear, so far as it is spiritual, hath divine goodness for its object, Hosea 3:5. Unless this be that which draws our hearts unto God and the things of God, in all pretense of love unto him, men do but frame idols to themselves "according to their own understanding," as the prophet speaks, Hosea 13:2. Wherefore, that our affections may cleave unto spiritual things in a due manner, three things are required: —

(1.) That we apprehend and do find a goodness, a beauty, and thence an amiableness and desirableness, in them, Zechariah 9:17. Many pretend to love God and spiritual things, but they know not why. Why they love other things they know well enough, but why they love God they cannot tell. Many are afraid of him, and suppose they ought to love him, and therefore pretend so to do, though indeed they know they do not; they do but flatter him with their lips, when their hearts are far from him. Some are much affected with the benefits and mercies they receive from him, and suppose that they love him on that account; but this love is no other but what the devil falsely charged Job withal, chapter 1:8-11. Some have delight in the outward modes and rites of divine worship, wherewith they satisfy themselves that they love God and spiritual things, when they only please their own imaginations and carnal minds Many have a traditional apprehension that they ought to love God, they know no reason why they should not, they know it will be ill for them if they do not; and these take it for granted that they do. How few are there who have that spiritual discerning and apprehension of the divine excellencies, that view of the excellency of the goodness and love of God in Christ, as thereby alone to be drawn after him, and to delight in him! yet is this the ground of all sincere, real love unto God. Two things are required that we may apprehend an amiable goodness in any thing, and cleave unto it with sincere affection: —

[1.] A real worth or excellency in itself;

[2.] A suitableness therein unto our condition, state, and desires after rest and blessedness.

The first of these is in God, from what he is in himself; the latter is from what he is unto us in Christ; — from both he is the only suitable object unto our affections. Under this apprehension do we love God for himself, or for his own sake, but not exclusively unto our own advantage therein; for a desire of union and enjoyment, which is our only advantage, is inseparable from this love.

It may be, some cannot say that a distinct apprehension of these things was the first foundation and cause of their love to God; yet are they satisfied that they do love him in sincerity, with all their souls. And I say it may be so. God sometimes casts the skirt of his own love over the heart of a poor sinner, and efficaciously draws it unto himself, without a distinct apprehension of these things, by a mere sense of the love it hath received. So Elijah passed by Elisha, and cast his mantle upon him, as a transient act; but there was such a communication of virtue thereby that he ran after him, and would not be deferred, though Elijah said, "Go back again; for what have I done to thee?" 1 Kings 19:19,20. When God hath so cast his love on any soul, it follows after him with all its affections. And whereas God may seem at some times to say, "Go back again; for what have I done unto thee?" its answer is, "Lord, whither shall I got I cannot leave thee; my heart is given up unto thee, and shall never be taken from thee."

But I say unto such, and to all others, that if we would have refreshing evidences of our love unto God that it is sincere, if we would have it thrive and flourish, be fervent and constant, we are to exercise ourselves unto the contemplation of the divine goodness, and the suitableness of it unto our souls, in and by Jesus Christ. Nor can we cleave unto any spiritual thing whatever with sincere affection but under these notions of it: — first, That it hath a real worth or excellency in itself; secondly, That it is suitable and desirable unto us. And it is to be bewailed to see how many walk at random in profession, that know neither what they do nor where they go.

(2.) As we must see a goodness and profitableness in spiritual things absolutely, so as that we may fix our affections on them in a due manner, so we must see it comparatively, with respect unto all other things, which gives them a preference in our affections before and above them all. The trial of love lies in the prevailing degree, — on more or less. If we love other things, father, mother, houses, lands, possessions, more than Christ, we do not love him at all. Nor is there any equality allowed in this matter, that we may equally love temporal and spiritual things. If we love not Christ more than all these things, we love him not at all. Wherefore, that our affections may cleave unto them in a due manner, we must see an excellency in things spiritual and heavenly, rendering them more desirable than all other things whatever.

With what loving countenances do men look upon their temporal enjoyments! with what tenacious embraces do they cleave unto them! They see that in them which is amiable, which is desirable and suitable unto their affections. Let them pretend what they please, if they see not a greater goodness, that which is more amiable, more desirable, in spiritual things, they love them not in a due manner; it is temporal things that have the rule of their affections. One psalmist prefers "Jerusalem before his chief joy," Psalm 137:6. Another affirms that "the law of God’s mouth was better unto him than thousands of gold and silver," Psalm 119:72.

"More to be desired are the statutes of the LORD than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honey-comb," Psalm 19:10.

"For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it," Proverbs 8:11.

This is the only stable foundation of all divine affections. A spiritual view and judgment of a goodness, an excellency in them, incomparably above whatever is in the most desirable things of this world, are required thereunto. And if the affections of many pretending highly to them should come to be weighed in this balance, I fear they would be found light and wanting. However, it is the duty of them who would not be deceived in this matter, — which is of eternal importance, — to examine what is that goodness and excellency which is in spiritual things, which they desire in them, upon the account whereof they do sincerely value and esteem them above all things in this world whatever. And let not any deceive themselves with vain words and pretences. Whilst their esteem and valuation of present enjoyments doth evidently engage all their affections, their care, their diligence, their industry, so as that a man of a discerning spirit may even feel them turned into self; whilst they are cold, formal, negligent about spiritual things, — we must say, "How dwelleth the love of God in them?" Much more when we see men not only giving up the whole of their time and strength, with the vigor of their spirits, but sacrificing their consciences also, unto the attaining of dignities, honors, preferments, wealth, and ease in the world, who know in their own hearts that they perform religious duties with respect unto temporal advantages, I cannot conceive how it is possible they should discern and approve of a goodness and excellency in spiritual things above all others.

(3.) A due consideration is required hereunto, that all spiritual things do proceed from and are resolved into an infinite Fountain of goodness, so as that our affections may absolutely come unto rest and complacency, and find full assured satisfaction in them. It is otherwise as unto all temporal things. Men would very fain have them to be such as might give absolute rest and satisfaction unto all their affections; but they are every one of them so far from it that all of them together cannot compose their minds in rest and peace for one hour. They give sometimes a transport of affections, and seem for a season to have filled the whole soul, so as it hath no leisure to consider their emptiness and vanity: but a little composure of men’s thoughts shows that they are but a diversion in a journey or labor; they are no rest. Hence are they called "broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Let a man prize them at the highest rate that it is possible for a rational creature to be seduced into the thoughts of, whereof there have been prodigious instances; let him possess them in abundance, beyond what ever any man enjoyed in this world or his own imagination could beforehand reach unto; let him be assured of the utmost peaceable continuance in the enjoyment of them that his and their natures are capable of, — yet would he not dare to pretend that all his affections were filled and satisfied with them, that they afforded him perfect rest and peace. Should he do so, the working of his mind every day would convince him of his falsehood and his folly.

But all spiritual things derive from and lead unto that which is infinite; which is therefore able to fill all our affections, and to give them full satisfaction with rest and peace. They all lead us to the Fountain of living waters, the eternal Spring of goodness and blessedness

I do not say that our affections do attain unto this full rest and satisfaction in this life; but what they come short of herein ariseth not from any defect in the things themselves to give this rest and satisfaction, as it is with the whole world, but from the weakness of our affections themselves, which are in part only renewed, and cannot take in the full measures of divine goodness, which in another world they will receive. But whilst we are here, the more we receive them in our minds and souls, the more firmly we adhere unto them, the nearer approaches we make unto our rest and center.

2. Spiritual things are to be considered as they are filled with divine wisdom. I speak not of God himself, whose essential wisdom is one of the most amiable excellencies of his holy nature, but of all the effects of his will and grace by Jesus Christ. All spiritual truths, all spiritual and heavenly things, whereby God reveals and communicates himself unto the souls of men, and all the ways and means of our approach unto him in faith and obedience through Christ Jesus, I now intend. All these are filled with divine wisdom. See 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:10, 1:8,9. Now, wisdom in itself and in all the effects of it is attractive of rational affections. Most men are brutish in them and their actings, for the most part pouring them out on things fleshly, sensual, and carnal; but where they are at all reduced under the conduct of reason, nothing is so attractive of them, so suited unto them, which they delight in, as that which hath at least an appearance of wisdom. A wise and good man doth command the affections of others; unless it be their interest to hate and oppose him, as commonly it is. And where there is true wisdom in the conduct of civil affairs, sober men cannot but approve of it, like it, delight in it; and men of understanding do bewail the loss of it, since craft, falsehood, treachery, and all sorts of villany, have driven it out of the world. So is divine wisdom attractive of divine, gracious affections. The psalmist declares his admiration of and delight in the works of God, because he hath "made them all in wisdom," Psalm 104:24. Those characters of divine wisdom which are upon them, which they are filled with, draw the souls of men into a delightful contemplation of them. But all the treasures, all the glory of this wisdom are laid up and laid forth in the great spiritual things of the gospel, in the mystery of God in Christ, and the dispensation of his grace and goodness unto us by him. The consideration hereof fills the souls of believers with holy admiration and delight, and thereon they cleave unto them with all their affections. When we see there is light in them, and all other things are in darkness, that wisdom is in them, in them alone, and all other things are filled with vanity and folly, then are our souls truly affected with them, and do rejoice in them with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Unto the most this wisdom of God is foolishness. It was so of old, as the apostle testifieth, 1 Corinthians 1:23,24; and so it continues yet to be. And therefore is the mystery of the gospel despised by them; they can see neither form nor comeliness in it for which it should be desired. Nor will ever any man have sincere spiritual affections unto spiritual things who hath not a spiritual view of the wisdom of God in them.

This is that which attracts our souls by holy admiration unto unspeakable delight. And the reason why men do so generally decline from any love unto the gospel, and lose all satisfaction in the mystery of it, is because they are not able to discern that infinite wisdom which is the spring, life, and soul of it. When our minds are raised unto the admiration of this wisdom in divine revelations, then will our affections cleave unto the things that are revealed.

3. The acting of our affections in their adherence unto spiritual things is perfective of our present state and condition. That which of all other things doth most debase the nature of man, wherein it makes the nearest approaches unto brutality, yea, whereby it becomes in some respects more vile than the nature of beasts, is the giving up of the affections unto things sensual, unclean, base, and unworthy of its more noble principles. Hence are men said to "debase themselves unto hell," Isaiah 57:9. And their affections do become vile, so as that their being under the power of them is an effect of revenging justice, punishing men for the worst of sins, Romans 1:26. There is nothing more vile, nothing more contemptible, nothing more like to beasts in baseness and to hell in punishment, than is the condition of them who have enslaved their nature unto brutish, sensual affections. I say, vile affections, fixed on and cleaving unto sensual objects, do debase the nature of man, and do both corrupt and enslave all the more noble faculties of it; the very consciences and minds of men are defiled by them. If you see a man whose affections are set inordinately on any thing here below, it is easy to discern how he goes off from his native worth, and debaseth himself therein.

But the fixing of spiritual affections on spiritual objects is perfective of our present state and condition; not that we can attain perfection by it, but that therein our souls are in a progress towards perfection. This may be granted. Look, how much vile affections, fixed on and furiously pursuing things carnal and sensual, do debase our nature beneath its rational constitution, and make it degenerate into bestiality; so much spiritual affections, fixed on and cleaving unto things spiritual and heavenly, do exalt our nature above its mere natural capacity, making an approach unto the state of angels and of just men made perfect. And as brutish affections, when they have the reins, as they say, on their necks, and are pursued with delight and greediness, do darken the mind, and disturb all the rational powers of the soul (for "whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart," as the prophet speaks, and wickedness altereth the understanding): so holy affections fixed on spiritual things do elevate, raise, and enlighten the mind with true wisdom and understanding; for the "fear of the LORD, that is wisdom, and to depart from iniquity, that is understanding.’’ And again, as the power of vile affections fills the soul and conscience with tumult, disorder, fear, and shame, where men are not utterly profligate, so as that the minds, thoughts, and consciences of persons under their power is a very hell for confusion and troubles: so spiritual affections, duly exercised on their proper objects, do preserve all things in order in the whole soul; they are life and peace. All things are quiet and secure in the mind; there is order and peace in the whole soul, in all its faculties and all their operations, whilst the affections are in a due prevailing manner fixed upon the things that are above. Hence many persons, after great turmoilings in the world, after they have endeavored by all means to come to rest and satisfaction therein, have utterly renounced all concernment in earthly things, and betaken themselves unto the contemplation of things above, and that only. Many of them, I confess, were mistaken as to the practical part of their devotions, having various superstitions imposed on their minds by the craft of others; but they missed it not in the principle that tranquility of mind was attainable only in setting our affections on things above. James 4:1,

"From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?"

— "Whence are all the disorders in your minds, your vexations and dis-quietments, your passions, breaking forth sometimes into unseemly brawlings? are they not from hence," (the question is put unto yourselves and your own consciences,) "namely, from your lusts, — that is, the disorderly affections that tumultuate in you? Do but search yourselves, and you will quickly see whence all your troubles and disquietments do arise. Your lusts, or corrupt and inordinate affections, do war in you, continually inclining you to things earthly or sensual." Hence many are best and most at quiet when they are in the world, worst when at home in their families; but never are they in such confusion as when they are forced to retire into themselves.

The due exercise of our affections on heavenly things hath quite another tendency and effect. It so unites the mind unto them, it so bringeth them unto it, and gives them such a subsistence in it, as that all the powers and faculties of it are in a progress towards their perfection. See 2 Corinthians 7:1. True wisdom and understanding, with soundness of judgment in eternal things in the mind, holiness in the affections themselves, liberty in the will, power in the heart, and peace in the conscience, do in their measures all ensue hereon. Whatever tastes we may have of these things, whatever temporary experience we have of them, they will not flourish in us, they will not abide with us in any constancy, unless we are thus spiritually minded.

4. In the future enjoyment of the present objects of our spiritual affections doth our eternal blessedness consist. All men who are convinced of a future eternal condition do desire, when they depart hence, to enter into blessedness and glory. Howbeit, what that blessedness is, even as unto the general nature of it, they know nothing at all; and if they did, they would not know how to desire it: for heaven or blessedness is nothing but the full enjoyment of what we are here to love and delight in above all, of that which is the object of our affections as spiritually renewed Herein have they neither interest nor concern. But this is that which giveth life unto the affections of believers; they know that in the enjoyment of God in Christ their eternal blessedness doth consist. How this is their happiness and glory, how it will give them an everlasting, overflowing satisfaction and rest, they understand in the first-fruits of it which they here receive. And this is the ultimate object of their affections in this world, and they go forth unto all other spiritual things in order hereunto. The more, therefore, their affections are fixed on them, the more they are kept up unto that due exercise, the nearer approaches they make unto this blessed state. When their minds are possessed with this persuasion, when it is confirmed in them by daily experience of that sweetness, rest, and satisfaction, which they find in cleaving unto God with fervent love and delight, in vain shall any other objects rise up in competition to draw them off unto themselves. The more we love God, the more like we are unto him, and the more near the enjoyment of him.

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