John Owen: A Proper Frame of Mind In the Pursuit of Holiness

23 Jun

1616 -1683. Preeminent English Puritan theologian, pastor, and independent.

And we may here divert a little, to consider what ought to be the frame of our minds in the pursuit of holiness with respect unto these things,—namely, what regard we ought to have unto the command on the one hand, and to the promise on the other,—to our own duty, and to the grace of God. Some would separate these things, as inconsistent. A command they suppose leaves no room for a promise, at least not such a promise as wherein God should take on himself to work in us what the command requires of us; and a promise they think takes off all the influencing authority of the command. “If holiness be our duty, there is no room for grace in this matter; and if it be an effect of grace, there is no place for duty.” But all these arguings are a fruit of the wisdom of the flesh before mentioned, and we have before disproved them. The “wisdom that is from above” teacheth us other things. It is true, our works and grace are opposed in the matter of justification, as utterly inconsistent; if it be of works it is not of grace, and if it be of grace it is not of works, as our apostle argues, Rom. 11:6. [But] our duty and God’s grace are nowhere opposed in the matter of sanctification, yea, the one doth absolutely suppose the other. Neither can we perform our duty herein without the grace of God; nor doth God give us this grace unto any other end but that we may rightly perform our duty. He that shall deny either that God commands us to be holy in a way of duty, or promiseth to work holiness in us in a way of grace, may with as much modesty reject the whole Bible. Both these, therefore, we are to have a due regard unto, if we intend to be holy. And, (1.) Our regard unto the command consisteth in three things,—[1.] That we get our consciences always affected with the authority of it, as it is the command of God. This must afterward be enlarged on. Where this is not, there is no holiness. Our holiness is our obedience; and the formal nature of obedience ariseth from its respect unto the authority of the command. [2.] That we see and understand the reasonableness, the equity, the advantage of the command. Our service is a reasonable service; the ways of God are equal, and in the keeping of his commands there is great reward. If we judge not thus, if we rest not herein, and are thence filled with indignation against every thing within us or without us that opposeth it or riseth up against it, whatever we do in compliance with it in a way of duty, we are not holy. [3.] That hereon we love and delight in it, because it is holy, just, and good; because the things it requires are upright, equal, easy, and pleasant to the new nature, without any regard to the false ends before discovered. And, (2.) We have a due regard unto the promise to the same end, [1.] When, we walk in a constant sense of our own inability to comply with the command in any one instance from any power in ourselves; for we have no sufficiency of ourselves, our sufficiency is of God. As for him who is otherwise minded, his heart is lifted up. [2.] When we adore that grace which hath provided help and relief for us. Seeing without the grace promised we could never have attained unto the least part or degree of holiness, and seeing we could never deserve the least dram of that grace, how ought we to adore and continually praise that infinite bounty which hath freely provided us of this supply! [3.] When we act faith in prayer and expectation on the promise for supplies of grace enabling us unto holy obedience. And, [4.] When we have especial regard thereunto with respect unto especial temptations and particular duties. When on all such occasions we satisfy not ourselves with a respect unto the promise in general, but exercise faith in particular on it for aid and assistance, then do we regard it in a due manner.

~John Owen~





The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 3: Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 384-385.

Books by John Owen

Kindle Books

The Works of John Owen on Logos Bible Software

Biography of John Owen

Other Owen Quotes

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