The Works of

JOHN OWEN

GRACE AND DUTY OF BEING SPIRITUALLY MINDED

CHAPTER 20.

[The application of the soul unto spiritual objects.]

III. HAVING considered the nature of spiritual affections as renewed by grace, and those notions of their objects under which they cleave unto them, it remains only that we inquire into the way of the soul’s application of itself unto those objects by its affections, which belongs also unto our being spiritually minded; and I shall give an account hereof in some few particulars, with brief observations on them: —

1. It is required that our adherence unto all spiritual things with love and delight be firm and stable. The affections are the powers and instruments of the soul, whereby it makes application unto any thing without itself, and cleaves unto it. This is their nature and use with reference unto things spiritual. Transient thoughts of spiritual things, with vanishing desires, may rise out of present convictions, as they did with them who cried out unto our Savior, "Lord, evermore give us this bread," and immediately left him. Such occasional thoughts and desires axe common unto all sorts of men, yea, the worst of them: "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!" Fading satisfaction, with joy and delight, do often befall men in their attendance on the word, who yet never come to have it rooted in their hearts.

There are sundry things wanting unto the sincerity of these affections: —

(1.) Those in whom they are never had a clear spiritual view of the things themselves in their own nature which they pretend to be affected withal.

(2.) They have not a sincere love unto them and delight in them for their own sakes, but are only affected with some outward circumstances and concernments of them.

(3.) They find not a suitableness in them unto the ruling principles of their minds. They do not practically, they cannot truly say, "The yoke of Christ is easy, and his burden is light; his commandments are not grievous;" or, with the psalmist, "O how love I thy law!"

(4.) Their affections are transient, unstable, vanishing, as unto their exercise and operations. They are on and off; now pleased and anon displeased; earnest for a little while, and then cold and indifferent. Hence the things which they seem to affect have no transforming efficacy upon their souls; they dwell not in them in their power.

But where our affections unto spiritual things are sincere, where they are the true, genuine application of the soul and adherence unto them, they are firm and stable; love and delight are kept up unto such a constant exercise as renders them immovable. This is that which we are exhorted unto, 1 Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." Transient affections, with their occasional operations, deceive multitudes; ofttimes they are as pregnant in their actions as those that are most sincere; and many effects, in joys, in mournings, in complaints, they will produce, especially when excited by any outward affliction, sickness, and the like; — but their goodness is like the early cloud or morning dew. Let none, therefore, please themselves with the operations of transient affections with respect unto spiritual things, be they never so urgent, or so pleasant, or so frequent in their returns; those that are sincere are at all times firm and stable.

2. That the soul do find a spiritual relish and savor in the things which it so adheres unto. The affections are the palate of the soul, whereby it tastes of all things which it receiveth or refuseth, and it will not long cleave unto any thing which they find not a savor and relish in. Something was spoken before of that sweetness which is in spiritual things, and the taste of them consists in a gracious sense of their suitableness unto the affections, inclinations, and dispositions of the mind. Hence they have no relish unto men of carnal minds. Whoever, therefore, would know whether his affections do sincerely adhere unto spiritual things, let him examine what relish, what sweetness, what savor he findeth in them. When he is pleased with them, as the palate with suitable and proper food, when he finds that he receives nourishment by them in the inward man, then doth he adhere unto them in a due manner.

This spiritual taste is the ground of all experience. It is not what we have heard or understood only, but what we have tried and tasted, whereof we have experience. This makes us long for what we have formerly enjoyed, and strengthens faith as unto what we pray for and expect

In every darkness, in every damp of spirit, under every apprehension of deadness, or the withdrawing of the sense of divine love, the soul knoweth what it wants and what it doth desire. "Oh!" saith such an one, "that it were now with me as in former days. I know he who then gave me such refreshing tastes of his own goodness, who made every thing of himself sweet and pleasant unto me, can renew this work of his grace towards me; he can give me a new spiritual appetite and relish, he can make all spiritual things savory unto me again."

As a man under a languishing sickness, or when he is chastened with strong pain, so as that his soul abhorreth bread and his daily meat, can remember what appetite he had, with what gust and relish he was wont to take in his food in the days of his health, which makes him to know that there is such a condition, and to desire a return unto it; so is it with a sin-sick soul. It can find no relish, no gust, no sweetness, in spiritual things; he finds no savor in the bread of the word, nor any refreshment in the ordinances of the gospel, which yet in themselves are daily meat, "a feast of fat things, and of wine well refined:" yet doth it remember former days, when all these things were sweet unto him; and if he have any spark of spiritual life yet remaining, it will stir him up to seek with all diligence after a recovery. How is it with you who are now under spiritual decays, who find no taste or relish in spiritual things, unto whom the word is not savory, nor other ordinances powerful? Call to mind how it hath been with you in former days, and what ye found in these things: "If so be," saith the apostle, "that ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." If you have not, it is to be feared that you have never yet had the least sincere love unto spiritual things; for where that is, it will give a spiritual relish of them. If you have, how is it you can give yourselves rest one moment without an endeavor after the healing of your blacksliding?

3. It is required that our affections be so set on spiritual things as to be a continual spring of spiritual thoughts and meditations. No man can be so forsaken of reason as to suppose that he hath any sincere affection for what he thinks little on or not at all, or that he can have a true affection for any thing which will not stir up and ingenerate in him continual thoughts about it. Let men try themselves as unto their relations, or their enjoyments, or the objects of their predominant lusts, and they will find how things are stated in their own minds. And, therefore, whereas all men pretend to love God, and Christ, and the ways of God, and yet know in their own hearts that they little think of them or meditate upon them, both their pretense and religion is vain. Where our affections are duly placed on heavenly things, so as that we are indeed spiritually minded, they will be a constant spring of spiritual thoughts and meditations. But this also hath been before spoken unto.

4. When our affections are thus applied unto spiritual things, they will be prevalent and victorious against solicitations unto the contrary, or allurements to draw them off unto any other objects. The work of all our spiritual adversaries is to solicit and tempt our affections, to divert them from their proper object. There are some temptations of Satan that make an immediate impression on the mind and conscience. Such are his injection of diabolical, blasphemous thoughts concerning God, his being, nature, and will; and the distresses which he reduceth men unto in their consciences through darkness and misrepresentations of God and his goodness. But the high road and constant practice of all our spiritual adversaries, is by the solicitation of our affections unto objects that are in themselves, or in the degree of our affection towards them, evil and sinful. Of the first are all sensual pleasures of the flesh, as drunkenness, uncleanness, gluttony, chambering and wantonness, with all sorts of sensual pleasures. Of the latter is all our inordinate love unto self, our families, and the whole world, or the things of it. Unto this end every thing in the whole world that may make provision for lust is made use of. Herein consists the nature and efficacy of most of those temptations which we have to conflict withal. Solicitations they are of our affections, to draw them off from things spiritual and heavenly and to divert them unto other things. Hereby do our enemies endeavor to beguile us, as the serpent beguiled Eve, with fair and false representations of other beloveds, that our hearts be not preserved as a chaste virgin in all their affections for Christ.

And it is almost incredible how apt we are to be beguiled by the specious pretenses wherewith we are solicited.

That our affections, in the degree treated about, — suppose of love unto the world and the things of it, — are lawful and allowable, is one of the sophisms and artifices wherewith many are deluded. Hereon, provided they run not out into scandalous excesses, they approve of themselves in such a worldly frame of mind, and acting according unto it, as renders them fruitless, useless, senseless, and is inconsistent with that prevailing adherence of affections unto spiritual things that ought to be in us. Others are deluded by a pretense that it is in one instance only they would be spared; it is but this or that object they would give out the embraces of the affections unto, in all other things they will be entire for God: the vanity of which pretense we have spoken unto before. Others are ruined by giving place unto their solicitations with respect unto any one affection whatever; as suppose it be that of fear. In times of danger for profession, multitudes have lost all their affection unto spiritual things through a fear of losing that which is temporal, as their lives, their liberties, their goods, and the like. When once Satan and the world have gotten, as it were, the mastery of this affection, or a prevalent interest in it, they will not fail to draw all others into a defection from Christ and the gospel. "He that loveth his life shall lose it."

Wherefore, it is no ordinary nor easy thing to preserve our affections pure, entire, and steady, in their vigorous adherence unto spiritual things, against all these solicitations. Watchfulness, prayer, faith in exercise, and a daily examination of ourselves, are required hereunto. For want of a due attendance unto these things, and that with respect unto this end, — namely, the preservation of our spiritual affections in their integrity, — many, even before they are aware, die away as to all power and vigor of spiritual life.

5. Affections thus fixed upon things spiritual and heavenly will give great relief against the remainders of that vanity of mind which believers themselves are ofttimes perplexed withal; yea, I do not know any thing that is a greater burden unto them, nor which they more groan for deliverance from. The instability of the mind, its readiness to receive impressions from things vain and useless, the irregularity of their thoughts, are a continual burden unto many. Nothing can give the soul any relief herein, nothing can give bounds unto the endless variety of foolish imaginations, nothing can dry up the springs from whence they arise, or render the soil wherein they grow barren as unto their production and maintenance, but only the growth of spiritual affections, with their continual vigorous actings on heavenly things; for hereby the heart and mind will be so united unto them (that which the psalmist prays for, Psalm 86:11), as that they will not be ready to depart from them, and give entertainment unto vain, empty, foolish imaginations. Thoughts of other things, greater and better than what this world can contain, will be continually arising in the mind, not to be laid aside by any solicitations of vanity: for he that is wise cannot but know and consider that the spiritual things which it exerciseth its thoughts about have substance in them, are durable, profitable, always the same; that the advantage, peace, rest, riches, and reward of the soul, lieth in them; but other imaginations, which the foolish mind is apt to give entertainment unto, are vain, empty, fruitless, and such as end in shame and trouble.

Again; the vanity of the mind in an indulgence unto foolish imaginations ariseth from, or is animated and increased by, that gust and relish which it finds in earthly things and enjoyment of them, whether lawful or unlawful. Hence on all occasions, yea, in holy duties, it will be ready to turn aside and take a taste of them, and sometimes to take up with them: like a tippling traveler, who, though he be engaged in a journey on the most earnest occasion, yet he cannot but be bibbing here and there as he passes by, and it may be, at length, before he comes to his journey’s end, lodgeth himself in a nasty ale-house. When men are engaged in important duties, yet if they always carry about them a strong gust and relish of earthly things, they will ever and anon in their thoughts divert unto them, either as unto such real objects as they are accustomed unto, or as unto what present circumstances do administer unto corrupt affections, or as to what they fancy and create in their own minds; and sometimes, it may be, after they have made them a few short visits, they take up with them, and lose wholly the work they were engaged in. Nothing, as was said, will give relief herein but the vigorous and constant exercise of our affections on heavenly things; for this will insensibly take off that gust and relish which the mind hath found in things present, earthly, and sensual, and make them as a sapless thing unto the whole soul They will so place the cross of Christ, in particular, on the heart as that the world shall be crucified unto it, losing all that brightness, beauty, and savor, which it made use of to solicit our minds unto thoughts and desires about it.

Moreover, this frame of spirit alone will keep us on our watch against all those ways and means whereby the vanity of the mind is excited and maintained. Such are the wandering and roving of the outward senses. The senses, especially that of the eye, are ready to become purveyors to make provision for the vanity and lusts of the mind. Hence the psalmist prays, "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity." If the eyes rove after vain objects the mind will ruminate upon them. And another affirms that he had "made a covenant with his eyes," to preserve them from fixing on such objects as might solicit lust or corrupt affections. And it were a useful labor, would this place admit of it, to discover the ready serviceableness of the outward senses and members of the body unto sin and folly, if not watched against, Romans 6:13,19. Of the same nature is the incessant working of the fancy and imagination, which of itself is evil continually and all the day long. This is the food of a vain mind, and the vehicle or means of conveyance for all temptations from Satan and the world. Besides, sundry occasions of life and conversation are usually turned or abused unto the same end, exciting and exercising of the vanity of the mind. Wherever our affections are fixed on spiritual things, our mind will constantly be under a warning or charge to keep diligent watch against all those things whereby that vanity which it so abhorreth, which it is so burdened withal, is maintained and excited. Nor without this prevalency in the mind will ever a work of mortification be carried on in the soul, Colossians 3:2, 4, 5.

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