The Works of

JOHN OWEN

GRACE AND DUTY OF BEING SPIRITUALLY MINDED

CHAPTER 21

[Spiritual mindedness life and peace.’]

HAVING declared wherein this duty of being "spiritually minded" doth consist, that which remains, in compliance with the text from whence the whole is educed, is to manifest how it is "life and peace," which is affirmed by the apostle. This shall be done with all brevity, as having passed through that which was principally designed.

And two things are we to inquire into: —

I. What is meant by "life and peace."

II. In what sense to be "spiritually minded" is both of them.

I. 1. That spiritual life whereof we are made partakers in this world is threefold, or there are three gospel privileges or graces so expressed: —

(1.) There is the life of justification. Therein the just by faith do live, as freed from the condemnatory sentence of the law. So "the righteousness of one cometh" on all that believe "unto justification of life," Romans 5:18. It gives unto believers a right and title to life; for "they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Christ Jesus," verse 17. This is not the life here intended, for this life depends solely on the sovereign grace of God by Jesus Christ, and the imputation of his righteousness unto us, unto pardon, the right to life and salvation.

(2.) There is a life of sanctification. As life in the foregoing sense is opposed unto death spiritual as unto the guilt of it and the condemnatory sentence of death wherewith it was accompanied, so in this it is opposed unto it as unto its internal power on and efficacy in the soul, to keep it under an impotency unto all acts of spiritual life, yea, an enmity against them. This is that life wherewith we are "quickened" with Christ Jesus, when before we were "dead in trespasses and sins," Ephesians 2:1-5. Of this life the apostle treats directly in this place [Romans 8]; for having in the first four verses of the chapter declared the life of justification in the nature and causes of it, in the following he treats of death spiritual in sin, with the life of sanctification, whereby we are freed from it.

And to be spiritually minded is this life in a double sense: —

[1.] In that it is the principal effect and fruit of that life. The life itself consists in the infusion and communication of a principle of life, — that is, of faith and obedience, — into all the faculties and powers of our soul, enabling us to live unto God. To be spiritually minded, which is a grace whereunto many duties do concur, and that not only as to the actings of all grace in them, but as unto the degree of their exercise, cannot be this life formally; but it is that wherein the power of this principle of life doth in the first and chiefest place put forth itself. All actings of grace, all duties of obedience, internal and external, do proceed from this spring and fountain. Nothing of that kind is acceptable unto God but what is influenced by it and is an effect of it. But it principally puts forth its virtue and efficacy in rendering our minds spiritual; which if it effect not, it works not at all, — that is, we are utterly destitute of it. The next and immediate work of the principle of life in our sanctification is to renew the mind, to make it spiritual, and thereon gradually to carry it on unto that degree which is here called being spiritually minded.

[2.] It is the proper adjunct and evidence of it. Would any one know whether he be spiritually alive unto God with the life of sanctification and holiness? The communication of it unto him being by an almighty act of creating power, Ephesians 2:10, it is not easily discernible, so as to help us to make a right judgment of it from its essence or form; but where things are themselves indiscernible, we may know them from their proper and inseparable adjuncts, which are therefore called by the names of the essence or the form itself. Such is this being spiritually minded with respect unto the life of sanctification; it is an inseparable property and adjunct of it, whereby it infallibly evidenceth itself unto them in whom it is, In these two respects it is the life of sanctification.

(3.) "Life" is taken for the comforts and refreshments of life. So speaks the apostle, 1 Thessalonians 3:8, "Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord;" — " Now our life will do us good; we have the comforts, the refreshments, and the joys of it." "Non est vivere, sed valere vita." The comforts and satisfactions of life are more life than life itself. It is "life;" that is, that which makes life to be so, bringing in that satisfaction, those refreshments unto it, which make it pleasant and desirable. And I do suppose this is that which is principally intended in the words of the apostle. It is "life," a cheerful joyous life, a life worth the living. In explication and confirmation whereof it is added that it is "peace" also.

2. "Peace" is twofold: —

(1.) General and absolute; that is, peace with God through Jesus Christ, which is celebrated in the Scripture, and which is the only original spring and fountain of all consolation unto believers, — that which virtually contains in it every thing that is good, useful, or desirable unto them. But it is not here precisely intended. It is not so as to the immediate ground and cause of it, which is our justification, not our sanctification: Romans 5:1, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God." So Christ alone is "our peace," as he who hath "made peace through the blood of his cross," Ephesians 2:14,15, Colossians 1:20. Hereof our being spiritually minded is no way the cause or reason; only it is an evidence and pledge of it, as we shall see. [Nor is it so] as unto the formal nature of it. Peace with God through the blood of Christ is one thing, and peace in our minds through a holy frame in them is another. The former is communicated unto us by an immediate act of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, Romans 5:5; the latter is an effect on our minds, begun and gradually carried on by the duties we have before at large declared. The immediate actings of the Holy Spirit, in sealing us, witnessing unto our adoption, and being an earnest of glory, are required unto the former; our own sedulity and diligence in duties, and in the exercise of all grace, are required unto the latter.

(2.) "Peace" is taken for a peculiar fruit of the Spirit, consisting in a gracious quietness and composure of mind in the midst of difficulties, temptations, troubles, and such other things as are apt to fill us with fears, despondencies, and disquietments. This is that which keeps the soul in its own power, free from transports by fears or passions, on all the abiding grounds of gospel consolation; for although this be a peculiar especial grace, yet it is that which is influenced and kept alive by the consideration of all the love of God in Christ, and all the fruits of it.

And whereas "peace" includes, in the first notion of it, an inward freedom from oppositions and troubles, which those in whom it is are outwardly exposed unto, there are two things from which we are secured by this peace, which is an effect of being spiritually minded: —

[1.] The first is offenses. There is nothing of whose danger we are more warned in the gospel than of offenses. "Woe to the world," saith the Savior, "because of offenses!" All ages, all times and seasons, are filled with them, and they prove pernicious and destructive to the souls of many. Such are the scandalous divisions that are among Christians. The endless differences of opinions and diversity of practices in religion and the worship of God; the falls and sins of professors, the fearful end of some of them; the reproaches that are cast on all that engage into any peculiar way of holiness and strictness of life; with other things of the like nature, — whereby the souls of innumerable persons are disquieted, subverted, or infected, — are to be reckoned unto this head. Against any hurtful or noxious influence on our minds from these things, against disquietments, dejections of spirit, and disconsolations, are we secured by this peace. So the psalmist assures us: Psalm 119:165,

"Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them."

The law, or the word of God, is the only way of the revelation of God and his will unto us, and the only outward way and rule of our converse and communion with him. Wherefore, to love the law is the principal part of our being heavenly minded, yea, virtually that which comprehends the whole. To such as do so, nothing, none of those things before mentioned, nor any other of the like nature, shall be an offense, a stumbling-block, or cause of falling into sin. And the reason is, because they have such an experience in themselves of the truth, power, efficacy, and holiness, of the gospel, as that the miscarriages of men under a profession of it shall never be unto them an occasion of falling, or being offended at Christ. And I look upon it as a sign of a very evil frame of heart, when men are concerned in the miscarriages of some that have made profession, whereby they are, it may be, damaged in their outward concerns, so as that they are surprised into reflections on that religion which they profess, professing the same themselves.

[2.] The second is afflictions, persecutions, and sufferings of all sorts. It is known by all (it were well if it were not so well known) what disquietments, dejections, and disconsolations, these things are apt to fill the minds of men withal; what fears, troubles, sorrows, they reflect upon them. Against all these effects of them, this peace intended gives us security. It makes us to preserve a peaceable, yea, a joyous life in our conflict with them. See John 16:33.

Both these, as here joined together, "life and peace," do comprise a holy frame of heart and mind, wherein the souls of believers do find rest, quietness, refreshment, and satisfaction in God, in the midst of temptations, afflictions, offenses, and sufferings. It is the soul’s composure of itself in God, in his love in Christ Jesus, so as not greatly to be put out of order, or to be cast down with any thing that may befall it, but affords men cheerfulness and satisfaction in themselves, though they walk sometimes in the valley of the shadow of death. Such persons have that in them, abiding with them, which will give them life and peace under all occurrences.

II. Our next inquiry is, how this "spiritual mindedness" is "life and peace," or what it contributes unto them, how it produceth the frame of heart and mind so expressed. And this it doth several ways: —

1. It is the only means on our part of retaining a sense of divine love. The love of God, in a gracious sense of it, as shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, is the first and only foundation of all durable comforts, such as will support and refresh us under all oppositions and distresses, — that is, of life and peace in our souls, in any condition. This God communicates by an act of sovereign grace, for the most part without any preparation for it in ourselves: "He createth the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace." But although divine love be in itself unchangeable and always the same, yet this sense of it may be lost, as it was in David, when he prayed that God would "restore unto him the joy of his salvation," Psalm 51:12; and so many others have found it by woful experience. To insist upon all that is required on our part that we may retain a gracious, refreshing sense of divine love, after it is once granted unto us, belongs not unto my present purpose; but this I say, there is not any thing wherein we are more concerned to be careful and diligent in than as unto what belongs to that end. For men who, by a mere act of sovereign grace, have tasted herein of the goodness of God, who have had the consolation and joys of it, to be negligent in the keeping and preserving it in their souls, is a provocation that they will at one time or other be sensible of. There is nothing doth more grieve the Holy Spirit than to have his especial work, whereby he seals us unto the day of redemption, neglected or despised; and it argues a mighty prevalency of some corruption or temptation that shall cause men willingly and by their own sloth to forfeit so inestimable a grace, mercy, and privilege; and it is that which there are but few of us who have not reason to bewail our folly in. Every intimation of divine love is an inestimable jewel, which, if safely treasured up in our hearts, adds unto our spiritual riches; and being lost will at one time or another affect us with sorrow.

And I am afraid that many of us are very negligent herein, unto the great prejudice of our souls and spiritual state. Many of such intimations are given us by the Holy Ghost through the word, which we take little notice of. Either we know not the voice of Christ in them, or do not hearken unto him in a due manner, or refuse a compliance with him, when we cannot but know that he speaks unto us. See Song of Solomon 5:2,3. Or if we receive any impressions of a gracious sense of divine love in them, we quickly lose them, not knowing how much the life of our souls is concerned therein, and what use of them we may have in our following temptations, trials, and duties.

Now, the great means of retaining a sense of the love of God, which is the only spring of life and peace unto our souls, is this grace and duty of being spiritually minded. This is evident from the very nature of the duty; for, —

(1.) It is the soul’s preserving of itself in a frame meet to receive and retain this sense of God’s love. What other way can there be on our part, but that our minds, which are so to receive it and retain it, be spiritual and heavenly, always prepared for that holy converse and communion with himself which he is pleased to grant us through Jesus Christ. And, —

(2.) It will fix our thoughts and affections upon the grace and love of God, in communicating such an inestimable mercy unto us as is a sense of his love; which is the only means for the preservation of a relish of it in our hearts. He who is in this frame of mind will remember, call over, and ruminate upon, all such gracious pledges of divine favor, as David is often remembering and calling over what he received in such places as in the "land of the Hermonites and at the hill Mizar," Psalm 42. This is the great way whereby this treasure may be preserved.

(3.) A person so minded, and he alone, will have a due valuation of such intimations and pledges of divine love. Those who are full of other things, whose affections cleave unto them, do never esteem heavenly mercies and privileges as they ought. "The full soul loatheth an honey-comb." And God is well pleased when a high valuation is put upon his kindness, as he is greatly provoked by the contrary frame; which, indeed, nothing but infinite patience could bear withal. It is a high provocation of God, when men are regardless of and unthankful for outward, temporal mercies, — when they receive them and use them as if they were their own, that they were lords of them, at least that they are due unto them. Much more is he provoked with our regardlessness of the least of those mercies which are the peculiar purchase of the blood of his Son, and the effects of his eternal love and grace. He alone who is spiritually minded valueth, prizeth, and lays up these inestimable jewels in a due manner.

(4.) Such persons only know how to use and improve all communications of a sense of divine love. These things are not granted unto us to lie by us without any use of them. They are gracious provisions wherewith we are furnished to enable us unto all other duties, conflicts, and trials. On all occasions are they to be called over for our spiritual relief and encouragement. Hereby are they safely retained: for in the due improvement of them they grow more bright in our minds every day, and are ready for use; in which posture they are safely preserved. But these things will yet be farther manifest in the instances that ensue.

2. This frame of mind casts out all principles and causes of trouble and disquietment, which are inconsistent with life and peace. There are in us by nature principles of contrariety and opposition unto spiritual life and peace, with sundry things whose abode and prevalency in us is inconsistent with them. I shall give only one or two instances hereof: —

(1.) It will cast out all "filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness" from our minds. Without this we can receive no benefit by the means of grace, nor perform any duty in a right manner, James 1:27. This is that which stands in direct, immediate opposition and contrariety unto our being spiritually minded, so as they can have no consistency in the same person; and they expel one another like heat and cold. And where there is this "filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness," there is neither life nor peace. Unclean lusts of the flesh or of the spirit, working, tumultuating, acting themselves in the minds of men, will not suffer either the life of holiness to flourish in them or any solid peace to abide with them. The soul is weakened by them as unto all spiritual actings, and made like "the troubled sea, that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt." Where they are absolutely predominant, there is a hell within of darkness, confusion, and enmity against God, preparing men for a hell of punishment without unto eternity. And according as they remain or have any prevalency in us, so are spiritual life and peace impaired and obstructed by them. Now, the very nature of this grace and its universal exercise is suited to the casting out of all the relics of this "filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness." It brings in a principle into the mind directly contrary unto that from whence they do proceed. All the actings of it which we have described lie in direct tendency unto the extirpation of these causes of filthiness which ruin life and peace; nor will they by any other way be cast out. If the mind be not spiritual, it will be carnal; if it mind not things above, it will fix itself inordinately on things below.

(2.) That disorder which is by nature in the affections and passions of the mind, which is directly opposite unto spiritual life and peace, is cast out or cured hereby. It is a blessed promise of the times of the new testament, of the kingdom and rule of Christ, that, through the efficacy of gospel grace,

"the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid," Isaiah 11:6.

Persons of the most intemperate and outrageous passions shall be made meek and lowly. Where this is not in some measure effected, according unto the degrees of the prevalency of such passions in us, we have not been made partakers of evangelical grace. It were an easy task to demonstrate how the disorder of our affections and passions is destructive of spiritual life and peace. The contrariety that is in them, and contradiction unto one another, their violence, impetuousness, and restlessness, their readiness to receive and take in provocations on all occasions, and frequently on none at all but what imagination presents unto them, are sufficient evidences hereof.

Can we think that life and peace do inhabit that soul wherein anger, wrath, envy, excess in love unto earthly things, do dwell, and on all occasions exert themselves? there where there is a continual tumult, fighting, and rebellion, as there is where the passions of the mind are not under the conduct of reason or of grace?

The nature and principal effect of this spiritual mindedness is, to bring all the affections and passions of our minds into that holy order wherein they were created. This was that uprightness wherein God made us, — namely, the whole blessed order of all the powers, faculties, and affections of our souls, in all their operations, in order unto our living unto God. And this is restored unto us by this grace, this duty of being spiritually minded. And wherein it falls short of that perfection which we had originally (for the remainders of that disorder which befell us by sin will still in part continue), it is recompensed by the actings of that new principle of gospel grace which is exercised in it; for every act of our affections towards God in the power of grace exceeds, and is of another nature, above that we could do or attain unto in the state of nature uncorrupted. Hereby are life and peace brought into our souls, and preserved in them.

3. It is that whereby our hearts and minds are taken off from the world, and all inordinate love thereunto. Where this is in a prevalent degree, there is neither life nor peace; and every excess in it both weakens spiritual life and disturbs, yea, destroys, all solid spiritual peace. I have occasionally spoken unto it before, as also of the way whereby our minding of the things that are above in a due manner doth deliver and preserve our souls from the snares of it. And if we diligently examine ourselves, we shall find that, in our inordinate affections and cleaving unto these things, the principal causes why we thrive no more in the power of spiritual life, and whence we meet with so many disquietments and dejections of spirit, unto the disturbance of our peace and rest in God, are from hence; for there is no grace which is not impaired by it in its nature, or not obstructed by it in its exercise. Wherefore, "to be spiritually minded is life and peace," because it subdues and expels that inordinate love unto present things which is destructive of them both and inconsistent with them.

4. It preserves the mind in a due and holy frame in the performance of all other duties. This also is indispensably required unto the preservation of life and peace, especially unto the improvement of them. They will not abide, much less thrive and flourish, in any persons who are negligent in holy duties, or do not perform them in a due manner. And there are four things which impede or hinder us from such an attendance unto holy duties as may be advantageous unto our souls, against all which we have relief by being spiritually minded: — Distractions; Despondencies; Weariness; Unreadiness of grace for exercise.

(1.) Distraction of mind and thoughts hath this evil effect, which many complain of, but few take the right way of deliverance from; for this evil will not be cured by attendance unto any particular directions, without a change of the whole frame of our minds. Nothing can give us relief herein but a prevalent delight in being exercised about things spiritual and heavenly. For hence arise all our distractions; the want of fixing our minds on spiritual things with delight makes them obnoxious to be diverted from them on all occasions, yea, to seek occasions for such diversions, It is this frame alone, — namely, of spiritual mindedness, — that will give us this delight; for hereby the soul is transformed into the likeness of spiritual thing, so as that they are suited unto it and pleasant unto our affections. The mind and the things themselves are thereby so fitted unto each other that on every occasion they are ready for mutual embraces, and not easily drawn off by any cause or means of the distractions so complained of; yea, they will all be prevented hereby.

(2.) Despondencies in duties arise from the frequent incursions of the guilt of sin. The remembrance hereof frequently solicits the minds of persons in their first entrances into duty, unless they are under especial actings of grace, stirring them up unto earnestness and fervency in what they undertake. At other seasons it renders men lifeless and heartless, so as that they know not whether they had best pray or no, when duty and opportunity call them thereunto. To be spiritually minded, we have manifested in many instances, is the great preservative against these disheartening incursions of sin. It is the soul’s watch and guard against them, whencesoever they arise or proceed. No lust or corruption can be prevalent in a spiritual mind; and this is the principal cause of such incursions of sin as affect the soul with a disheartening sense of guilt. No affections can abide in any sinful disorder where the mind is so affected; this also gives sin an entrance unto a distracting sense of guilt. But the sole cure hereof lies in this grace and duty. The like may be said of all other ways, means, and occasions of such incursions of sin.

(3.) Weariness in, and of, spiritual duties abates their tendency unto the improvement of life and peace in us. This evil ariseth from the same cause with that of distraction before mentioned; and it is ofttimes increased by the weakness and indispositions of the flesh, or of the outward man. Sometimes the spirit is willing, but through the weakness of the flesh it is disappointed. The principal cure hereof lies in that delight which spiritual mindedness gives unto the soul in spiritual things; for where there is a constant delight in any thing, there will be no weariness, at least not such as shall hinder any one from cleaving firmly unto the things wherein he doth delight. Whilst, therefore, we are exercised in a delight in spiritual things, weariness cannot prevalently assault the mind. And it is the only relief against that weariness which proceeds from the indispositions of the outward man; for as it will preserve the mind from attending too much unto their solicitations, crying, "Spare thyself," by filling and possessing the thoughts with other things, so it will offer a holy violence unto the complaints of the flesh, silencing them with a sense of and delight in holy duties.

(4.) The unreadiness of grace for its due and proper exercise is another thing which defeats us of the benefit of holy duties. The seasons of them are come, sense of duty carries men unto an attendance unto them and the performance of them; but when they should enter upon them, those graces of faith, love, fear, and delight, wherein the soul and being of them do consist, are out of the way, unready for a due exercise, so as that men take up and satisfy themselves with the mere outward performance of them. The heart and mind have been taken up with other things; due preparation hath been wanting; men come unto them with reeking thoughts of earthly occasions; and it is no easy matter in, or immediately out of, such a frame, to stir up grace unto a due exercise. But herein lieth the very life of being spiritually minded: The nature of it consists in the keeping and preserving all grace in a readiness for its exercise as our occasions require. And this is an effectual way whereby this grace comes to be "life and peace;" for they cannot be attained, they cannot be preserved, without such a constancy and spirituality in all holy duties as we shall never arrive at unless we are spiritually minded.

Lastly, This frame of mind brings the soul unto and keeps it at its nearest approaches unto heaven and blessedness, wherein lie the eternal springs of life and peace. According unto the degrees of this grace in us, such are those of our approaches unto God. Nearness unto him gives us our initial conformity unto him, by the renovation of his image in us, as our presence with him will give us perfection therein; for when we see him, we shall be like unto him. He therefore alone, as he is in Christ, being the fountain of life and peace, by our drawing nigh unto him and by our likeness of him will they thrive and flourish in our souls.

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