Wednesday, November 04, 2009

...John Owen

by Justin Taylor

Is Owen hard to read?
Packer describes Owen’s style and why it can be hard to read:

There is no denying that Owen is heavy and hard to read. This is not so much due to obscure arrangement as to two other factors. The first is his lumbering literary gait. ‘Owen travels through it [his subject] with the elephant’s grace and solid step, if sometimes also with his ungainly motion,’ says Thomson. That puts it kindly. Much of Owen’s prose reads like a roughly-dashed-off translation of a piece of thinking done in Ciceronian Latin. It has, no doubt, a certain clumsy dignity; so has Stonehenge; but it is trying to the reader to have to go over sentences two or three times to see their meaning, and this necessity makes it much harder to follow an argument. The present writer, however, has found that the hard places in Owen usually come out as soon as one reads them aloud. The second obscuring factor is Owen’s austerity as an expositor. He has a lordly disdain for broad introductions which ease the mind gently into a subject, and for comprehensive summaries which gather up scattered points into a small space. He obviously carries the whole of his design in his head, and expects his readers to do the same. Nor are his chapter divisions reliable pointers to the discourse, for though a change of subject is usually marked by a chapter division, Owen often starts a new chapter where there is no break in the thought at all. Nor is he concerned about literary proportions; the space given to a topic is determined by its intrinsic complexity rather than its relative importance, and the reader is left to work out what is basic and what is secondary by noting how things link together…. (Packer, Quest for Godliness, 147)

Spurgeon argued that “condensed” is the appropriate adjective to describe Owen’s writings. “His style is condensed because he gives notes of what he might have said, and passes on without fully developing the great thoughts of his capacious mind.” (Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries, 103)

Then why read him?
Spurgeon addressed this question once: “I did not say that it was easy to read them!—that would not be true; yet I do venture to say that the labour involved in plodding through these ill-arranged and tediously-written treatises will find them abundantly worthwhile." (Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries, 84)

Why should I read Owen on sanctification in particular?
Here are some testimonies from those who have been profoundly changed by Owen’s writings on sin:

“John Owen’s treatises on Indwelling Sin in Believers and The Mortification of Sin are, in my opinion, the most helpful writings on personal holiness ever written.” —Jerry Bridges

“I owe more to John Owen than to any other theologian, ancient or modern, and I owe more to this little book [The Mortification of Sin] than to anything else he wrote.” —J.I. Packer

“I assert unhesitatingly that the man who wants to study experimental theology will find no books equal to those of Owen for complete scriptural and exhaustive treatment of the subjects they handle. If you wish to study thoroughly the doctrine of sanctification I make no apology for strongly recommending Owen on the Holy Spirit.” —J. C. Ryle

Do you have any advice on reading Owen?
We’ll let J. I. Packer answer this question, too:

Owen’s style is often stigmatized as cumbersome and tortuous. Actually it is Latinised spoken style, fluent but stately and expansive, in the elaborate Ciceronian style. When Owen’s prose is read aloud, as didactic rhetoric (which is, after all, what it is), the verbal inversions, displacements, archaisms and new coinages that bother modern readers cease to obscure and offend. Those who think as they read find Owen’s expansiveness suggestive and his fulsomeness fertilising. (Packer, Quest for Godliness, 194)

For whom, then, did Owen write?
His studied unconcern about style in presenting his views, a conscientious protest against the self-conscious literary posturing of the age, conceals their uncommon clarity and straightforwardness from superficial readers; but then, Owen did not write for superficial readers. He wrote, rather, for those who, once they take up a subject, cannot rest till they see to the bottom of it, and who find exhaustiveness not exhausting, but satisfying and refreshing. (Packer, Quest for Godliness, 193)

How was Owen’s character and appearance described?
John Asty passes along this description:

As to his person his stature was tall, his visage grave and majestic and withal comely: he had the aspect and deportment of a gentleman, suitable to his birth. He had a very large capacity of mind, a ready invention, a good judgement, a great natural wit which being improved by education, rendered him a person of incomparable abilities. As to his temper he was very affable and courteous, familiar and sociable; the meanest persons found an easy access to his converse and friendship. He was facetious and pleasant in his common discourse, jesting with his acquaintance but with sobriety and measure; a great master of his passions especially that of anger; he was of a serene and even temper, neither elated with honour, credit, friends, or estate, nor depressed with troubles and difficulties. (Cited in Toon, God’s Statesmen, 176)

Who were the Puritans?
Puritanism was at heart a spiritual movement, passionately concerned with God and godliness. It began in England with William Tyndale the Bible translator, Luther’s contemporary, a generation before the word “Puritan” was coined, and it continued till the latter years of the seventeenth century, some decades after “Puritan” had fallen out of use. . . . Puritanism was essentially a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal and evangelism, and spiritual revival. . . . The Puritan goal was to complete what England’s Reformation began: to finish reshaping Anglican worship, to introduce effective church discipline into Anglican parishes, to establish righteousness in the political, domestic, and socio-economic fields, and to convert all Englishmen to a vigorous evangelical faith. (A Quest for Godliness, p. 28)

Which authors most influenced Owen?
According to Sebastian Rehnman: Owen’s writings refer to numerous Reformed thinkers, and his library contained hundreds of volumes of Reformed works. Some criteria are necessary in evaluating what authors had most influence on him, and if we take at least five affirmative references to or quotations from actual works as criterium [sic], which would seem to be a low and reasonable place to start, the list becomes surprisingly short: William Ames (1576-1633), Theodore Beza (1519-1605), John Calvin (1509-1564), Franciscus Junius (1545-1602), Johannes Piscator (1546-1626), Gisbert Voetius (1589-1676), and Hieronymus Zanchius (1516-1590). . . . Judging from Owen’s own remarks, he regarded Martin Bucer (1491-1551), John Calvin, Peter Martyr Vermigli (1500-1562), and Theodore Beza, as the “principle” authors [Owen, Works IV.229] (Rehnman, Divine Discourse, 21, 22)

Was there a "center" to Owen’s theology?
Richard Daniels, who wrote in his dissertation on The Christology of John Owen: …there is one motif so important to John Owen, so often and so broadly cited by him, that the writer would go so far as to call it the focal point of Owen’s theology…. namely, the doctrine that in the gospel we behold, by the Christ-given Holy Spirit, the glory of God "in the face of Christ" and are thereby changed into his image…. (92) …the knowledge of Christ was the all-surpassing object of Owen’s desires, the center of his doctrinal system, and the end, means, and indispensable prerequisite for Christian theology. (516)

What was the driving factor in Owen’s ministry?
Steve Griffiths, in Redeem the Time, writes:

To date, no one has yet managed to reveal Owen the man. In an attempt to meet this challenge, new questions have had to be asked of Owen and a new premise has had to be sought in approaching his writings, namely: what was of fundamental importance to Owen and what was his primary motivation in ministry? The answer is blindingly simple. Owen was a pastor. Of fundamental importance to him was the spiritual growth of those amongst whom he ministered. His primary motivation was the growth in holiness of his flock. Everything else stems from that truth. He was not primarily concerned with unswerving faithfulness, or otherwise, to Calvin, Aristotle or Augustine. He was not fundamentally concerned with loyalty to any one theological position. Owen’s first loyalty was to no man. God was his judge and he was acutely aware that he would be judged on his performance as a minister of the gospel. (13)

Sinclair Ferguson, in John Owen on the Christian Life, echoes a similiar sentiment: “My own reading of Owen has convinced me that everything he wrote for his contemporaries had a practical and pastoral aim in view—the promotion of true Christian living” (xi). As David Clarkson said in his funeral sermon for Owen, "I need not tell you of this who knew him, that it was his great Design to promote Holiness in the Life and Exercise of it among you."

What were Owen’s final days like?
On August 22, 1683, at his home in Ealing, Owen dictated his last surviving letter to his long-time friend, Charles Fleetwood:

I am going to him whom my soul hath loved, or rather hath love me with an everlasting love; which is the whole ground of all my consolation. The passage is very irksome and wearisome through strong pain of various sorts which are all issued in an intermitting fever. All things were provided to carry me to London today attending to the advice of my physician, but we were all disappointed by my utter disability to understand the journey. I am leaving the ship of the church in a storm, but while the great Pilot is in it the loss of a poore under-rower will be inconsiderable. Live and pray and hope and waite patiently and doe not despair; the promise stands invincible that he will never leave thee nor forsake thee. (Toon, The Correspondence of John Owen, 174)

Two days later Owen’s friend William Payne, who was overseeing the printing of The Glory of Christ, paid him a visit, assuring him that all was going well with the publication. Owen responded:

I am glad to hear it; but O brother Payne! The long wished-for day is come at last, in which I shall see the glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing in the world.

These were Owen’s last recorded words. He died on August 24, 1683—St. Bartholomew’s Day—exactly twenty years after the Great Ejection of the Puritans. On September 4, Owen was buried in Bunhill Fields.

Where is Owen’s grave?
Owen was buried in Bunhill Fields, in London. To see pictures of his grave, click here and here. You can view also view a map of Bunhill Fields to see where Owen is buried in relation to Bunyan, Cromwell, and others.

What is the translation of the Latin epigraph on Owen’s grave?
Found in Works I.cxiii f. this is, in Packer’s terms, "not a translation in the ordinary present-tense sense, but a loose explanatory amplification":

John Owen, born in Oxfordshire, son of a distinguished theologian, was himself a more distinguished one, who must be counted among the most distinguished of this age. Furnished with the recognised resources of humane learning in uncommon measure, he put them all, as a well-ordered array of handmaids, at the service of theology, which he served himself. His theology was polemical, practical, and what is called casuistical, and it cannot be said that any one of these was peculiarly his rather than another.

In polemical theology, with more than herculean strength, he strangled three poisonous serpents, the Arminian, the Socinian, and the Roman.

In practical theology, he laid out before others the whole of the activity of the Holy Spirit, which he had first experienced in his own heart, according to the rule of the Word. And, leaving other things aside, he cultivated, and realised in practice, the blissful communion with God of which he wrote; a traveller on earth who grasped God like one in heaven.

In casuistry, he was valued as an oracle to be consulted on every complex matter.

A scribe instructed in every way for the kingdom of God, this pure lamp of gospel truth shone forth on many in private, on more from the pulpit, and on all in his printed works, pointing everyone to the same goal. And in this shining forth he gradually, as he and others recognized, squandered his strength till it was gone. His holy soul, longing to enjoy God more, left the shattered ruins of his once-handsome body, full of permanent weaknesses, attacked by frequent diseases, worn out most of all by hard work, and no longer a fit instrument for serving God, on a day rendered dreadful for many by earthly powers but now made happy for him through the power of God, August 25, 1683. He was 67.

Owen is called a "Nonconformist." What does that mean?
According to Robert Oliver’s essay, "John Owen–His Life and Times":

Before 1660 the term ‘Nonconformist described an Anglican clergy-man who ignored some of the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, thereby avoiding what he considered to be the remnants of ‘popish superstition’. Requirements particularly obnoxious to the Puritans were the compulsory wearing of the surplice and making the sign of the cross in baptism. In the 1630s Archbishop Laud made further demands which included the railing in of the communion table at the east end of the church and bowing at the name of Jesus. Immediately after the Reformation the communion table had often been moved into the body of the church for the administration of the Lord’s Supper. Laud’s changes began to give the east end of the churches a more Romish apperance. (pp. 12-13)


Juice said...

Can I recommend Kris Lundgaard's book "The enemy within" as a good introduction to Owen's thoughts on sactification? He does a great job of boiling down Owen's thought and generates a desire to read Owen's own work soon after.

Terry Rayburn said...

Much as I have loved and profited from the Puritans in their pressing for a close communion with God, I have concluded that the average Christian will be more harmed than helped by reading them.

Fortunately, they are so tedious in their writings that most Christians in our fast-paced age will not bother with them.

The problem is that the Puritans in general were so influenced by creedal Law-based tradition, that they couldn’t see the forest of Grace-After-Salvation for the trees of Covenantal Legalism.

The result is that the Puritans were strong and accurate on INITIAL salvation by grace, but weak and inaccurate on our death to the Law, and grace AFTER salvation.

To be brief, I’ll just quote a couple of passages from Owen’s Mortification.

In Chapter 11, he writes:

“Load thy conscience with the guilt of it [one’s sin]….Charge thy conscience with the guilt which appears in it from the rectitude and holiness of the law. Bring the holy law of God into thy conscience, lay thy corruption to it, pray that thou mayst be affected with it. Consider the holiness, spirituality, fiery severity, inwardness, absoluteness of the law, and see how thou canst stand before it. Be much, I say, in affecting thy conscience with the terror of the Lord in the law, and how righteous it is that every one of thy transgressions should receive a recompense of reward.” And…

“Tell thy conscience that it cannot manage any evidence to the purpose that thou art free from the condemning power of sin, whilst thy unmortified lust lies in thy heart…”

Romans 6:14 says, “Sin shall no longer be master over you, for you are no longer under Law but under Grace.” Like other Puritans, Owen allowed Romans 6:14 to go over his head, without the slightest understanding of the Cross as regards our death to the Law, in Christ. Not just CHRIST died, but WE died WITH Him. We died to sin (Rom. 6:11), and we died to the Law (Rom. 7:6; Gal. 2:19).
That’s why there is longer any condemnation to the one in Christ (Rom. 8:1), contrary to Owen’s “condemning power of sin”.

To quote Owen in Chapter 12 of Mortification:

“Use and exercise thyself to such meditations as may serve to fill thee at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of thine own vileness.”

This is in direct contradiction to other scriptures which Owen’s Legalistic Tradition blinded him to.

Colossians 2:18 says, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement…”
Colossians 2:23 says, “These are matters which, to be sure, have the appearance of wisdom in…self-abasement…but are of no value in fleshly indulgence.”

The Puritans rightly delighted in Christ Himself and what He did FOR us on the Cross as it related to our justification. But they missed the delight of what Christ did TO us, in giving us a new spirit, making us a new creation, old things having passed away, all things having become new!

Sin is still IN us, that is, in our “members”, but sin is not US (that is, a part of our new nature), Paul said (Rom. 7:17, 20).

Bottom line: the Puritans will tend to bring condemnation, self-abasement, lack of joy and peace, and MORE sin to all but the most discerning Christian reader.

P.S. I’m well aware that this is a radical view, but only because most readers of the Puritans are blinded by their own creedal Law-based tradition.

Carpe Gratiam,

Breuss Wane said...

I, for one, don't find Owen's understanding of mortification and self-abasement to be in conflict with Romans 6 or a product of his covenantalism.

That we have died to the law and are no longer a slave to it does not in any way change the fact that I am no better than the chiefest of sinners who, in the struggle against sin, has "not resisted to the point of shedding blood."

pilgrim said...

Maybe he's not easy to read--but he is worth reading...

2Tal said...

It could be Owen and the Puritans give a much more accurate portrait "the few" (the real elect) on the "narrow", "difficult" path that leads to life than many of the self-elected sullied leaders in the church today. I tend to agree with MacArthur when he said most churches today are too attractive to the non-elect. Puritanism seemed to keep the sin out of the camp.

Bhedr said...

Thanks, this was educational. I read some quotes of Owen while reading an excellent book "Changed Into His Image" by Dr Berg from Bob Jones University Press. It did seem like he had deep insight into sin, salvation and sanctification in just what little I read there. I highly recommend the book by Dr Berg as well.

Thanks again for this post. I have benefited greatly from this blog as well. It does hurt to have the dross burned away but the wounds heal and the heart becomes stronger toward God through all of it and a life of continued repentance is learned as I discovered both Oswald Chambers as well as Tertuillian believed they were the bedrock of our faith. In the last few weeks I have been put through a crucible because of making light of repentance and mortification. I hear what Terry is saying and see his point. Unfortunately in the past I took this point to far as I underscored the negative/positve aspects of mortification; as well as repentance in coming to Christ in delivering the Gospel Message. You know as I think more about this... I think I'm going to read Dr Berg's book "Changed Into His Image" again as well as look up some of Owen's books. Is there one above others that you recommend?

CrossCross said...

I'd recommend Sinclair Ferguson's book "John Owen the Man and His Theology". Also "Glory of Christ" is a great work of Owen's. At the end of his long life serving our Lord and seeing much tragedy he could only meditate and write on the glory of Christ! That is why I believe his works on mortification,holiness,etc are more than worthy of our study today. Also, John Piper has an incredible lecture on the life of Owen if you can find it on his website.

Terry Rayburn said...

The reason Owen closed his life with "he could only meditate and write on the glory of Christ" as crosscross pointed out, is that his habit was to walk in close communion with Jesus.

This was the habit of many Puritans. My passion is to walk in this same close communion with Him, and to help others to do the same.

The problem is that this walk is hindered by the incessant introspection of Legalism, as opposed to having Christ live His life through us.

The Catch-22 is that when we are continually looking to ourselves and grading our own performance, we are looking away from Him Who transforms us as we look at Him (2 Cor. 3:18).

I love Owen, and may very well have fared worse in my walk than he, given the Covenantal Legalistic environment of the time. But I also have no doubt that he was hindered by that introspective legalism in a way that we don't have to duplicate.

We are not greater nor lesser men than Owen. We have the same access to the throne of grace. We, too, can have close communion with Jesus. We, too, can walk by the Spirit, and be filled with the Spirit. And we don't need to force a misery upon ourselves to do so.

We can look to Jesus, and walk in gratitude that He has made us new;

that He has given us a new spirit which loves Jesus and hates sin;

that there is now no condemnation;

that all our sins have been forgiven, past, present and future;

that we are dead to sin and alive to God, whether is sometimes looks like it or not;

that we don't have to live in that awful Performanced-Based Christianity that causes us to be prideful when we think we're doing O.K., and despairing when we think we're not doing O.K.;

that we can live in that splendid Relationship-Based Christianity that says, "Draw near to Me and I will draw near to You."

Owen got much of that right. But then he said:

"To keep our souls in a constant state of mourning and self-abasement is the most necessary part of our wisdom..." (Works, VII, p. 532)

Question: is that a BIBLICAL way to live under the glorious New Covenant?

If you say, "Yes", you are in an unnecessary bondage.

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." (Gal. 5:1)

Bhedr said...

You know that I have wrestled with this Terry; but even yesterday something happened to me. I am going to post something soon explaining my own journey that I just shockingly discovered was written by John Bunyan years ago. Such peace feels my soul now as I praise God for it. I was selling short mortification and repentance and unless we cut the hand off and pluck the eye out then the cross will be marred from our vision and a differant road and cross will emerge. Jesus had to rebuke Peter when he was tempted not to go to Jerusalem. Peter would soon learn that he would have to go there too someday....and so do we.

Even the apostle Paul said he buffeted his body. As I understand that greek word means to beat oneself black and blue. But it is not that effort that gains Christ it is the oil that burns continualy and the fire within the work of Christ that actually mortifies the flesh so the catch is that one must be doing this if his obedience is to be such that would mirror Christ himself. Eternal life is to know God and the saint would gladly suffer himself through the most dry deserts to drink from his Oasis. Not that he can earn his salvation but that he cannot experience the pleasures of Christ within the Sphere of feasting and wanton pursuits of the flesh; but that he must lose himself in seeking life eternal, working out what has been worked in not wanting to go anywhere near those detours anymore that took him so far from his true pleasure...God Himself.

I was myself Peter as well and I had to be rebuked so that I would not believe in an easy road. Please note that I do not accuse anyone, I am simply speaking from my own experience and chastening.

Terry Rayburn said...


I believe you're boxing with ghosts and shadows. I'm sure not advocating "feasting and wanton pursuits of the flesh."

And I'm certainly not opposed to mortification or repentance. But the mortification of the deeds of the body is "by the Spirit", which comes as we draw near to Jesus, are filled with the Spirit and the Word, and walk by the Spirit.

It's not by some New Year's resolution to beat myself black and blue (I hope you don't really think that's what Paul was talking about).

And I believe repentance should be quick, and done in FAITH. When I repent and confess my sins, I should do so with the faith and gratitude that such sins are forgiven.

There is no biblical warrant for groveling or keeping "our souls in a constant state of mourning and self-abasement..." as Owens says.

This is a hold-over from Romanism, and akin to climbing stone stairs on bloody knees. Your conceding that such penance doesn't "save" or "gain Christ" is a cop-out. What DOES it gain? Freedom from sin? Of course not.

"These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of NO value in fleshly indulgence." (Col. 2:23)

It is Jesus Christ who is to be the object of our lives, and hearts, and faith, and seeking, and knowing. It is this wonderful Lord whom we gaze upon, think upon, learn of, fellowship with. It is Christ who is our life. We have been crucified with Him and it is no longer we who live, but Christ lives through us.

We are now to consider ourselves dead to sin, and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Why? Because we ARE. We are Saints, now, in our very nature, not Sinners. When we sin, it is a violation of our nature, coming when we are deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil.

But sin is no longer our master, and for this reason: because we are no longer under Law, but under Grace (Rom. 6:14).

If we don't magnify that glorious Grace of God that we are now under, we WILL be deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil. We will "fall from grace" like the Galatians, and get onto the ground of Law. This inflames sin, quenches the Holy Spirit, and dishonors God.

And no matter how much peace now fills your soul, Brian, believe me it will dissipate in a flash when the sandy foundation of Performance-based "mourning" and self-abasement washes away.


Jim Crigler said...

Given that reading Owen is acknowledged to be difficult, I don't feel so bad about not making it through The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. But I've gotta try again one day ...

Bhedr said...

>I believe you're boxing with ghosts and shadows.<

oddly I would have to agree with you there. But isn't that just the whole of it. Bunyan said that the Law is like a broom sweeping up dirt and dust in the house; but that you could not clean it with a broom but with water. Indeed you cannot wash your face with the mirror but only the living water.

Having said that this boxing with ghosts and shadows is what Charles Dickens showed us in the Christmas Carol. Marley used these ghost to grind the fool and break even the slightest pestle that would rise up and justify itself against the living God.

Herein sleeps what I was trying to bypass and was in danger of causing others to bypass when I witnessed to them. The Law must totaly reveal the man so that he can be broken unto true repentance and faith.

I am learning now that in our Neo-Evangelistic culture I too have been guilty of selling the sweetness before I take the man and try to drown him in bitterness to the point where he see's death and gasping for air calls out for the sweet life. I believe I have done this in my own life as well, allways knowing the doctrinal truths as well as understanding the principles in grace; but myslef never owning my own burden or debt against God.

Scrooge had to box with those ghosts and was brought to the point of fear so much so that he fell to his knees hoping there was still yet time. Repentance was then real in his life as he had no desire to return to his old self but fearfully and joyfully moved forward in hope of Christmas future.

Brother I had always decieved myself into believing that I had reached that point; but I hadn't. I didn't know that I was still holding on to my burden. Why? Because I was not allowing the fullness of my burden to be exposed. Now it has been and I have left it at the cross of Christ; but this work of salvation He has done in me was wrought out before the foundation of the world. I just had to get in tune with what He was doing.

Thanks for your caution Terry, but this Joy is eternal now. I have no doubt that you are correct that depressing times will come; but I no longer rest a cent of trust on Psychological methods to relieve me of my burden. I am nearly convinced that todays psychology comes masked in seeming grace and that is what had me a little confused about things.

I tell you I have been reading Pilgrims Progress the last few days and the undeniable scriptural truths that Bunyan put in his story have unlocked years of misery and burden that I was holding on to while proclaiming a faith that had one foot in the Swamp of Despondance and another on the ground. My mind was full of biblical knowlege and sound fundamental truths yet in areas I was still holding on to psychology and self pity.

Shawn L said...


Thanks for your comments you have lots of comments that are very helpful to a Christian and to me.

But I think you have got a bit of this wrong.

Your statements We are Saints, now, in our very nature, not Sinners.

How is it that we are not to consider ourselves saints and sinners in the Christian life?

I have been at a christian church where we only considered ourselves saints and it didn't produce in any of us a passionate desire to come to Christ for life throughout the life of a Christian in their sin they only wanted to hear about Grace Gracy only tell me Grace. God is in the business of humbling his servants more and more so that they delight and glory in Christ alone for their hope.

I've been at a church now that continually lets us know we are sinners and saints in need of a Savior even in the Christian life.

It would be foolish to think otherwise and the reformed idea of the saint/sinner is totally biblical. To not acknowledge that we are sinners in the christian life leads too much prideful thinking in the Christian life and little interest in the greatness of God. I remember a work of repentence in a church happened greatly when a pastor continually spent alot of time on the believers in the congregation as being sinners in need of Grace and mercy and what pridefulness is. It was a great work of mercy and grace upon the congregation.

Having said this though there are congregations in america today that have no hope because the pastor only talks about fact that the people are sinners and don't delight and focus on the greatness of Christ to save sinners like us.

I think a right balance is well needed. God has many times used the puritans in my life to open my eyes to my wickedness and lead me to much a greater love and delight in Christ.

You have said "And I believe repentance should be quick, and done in FAITH."

Do you really think the life of a Christian is one of quick repentence. Sometimes it doesn't happen like that for all of us.

The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian many times convicts of sin. He convicts the Christians of this many times. The true work of repentence in a believers life though is the turn and follow thee.

You don't seem to acknowledge that much in your statements and is like the work of grace in the Christian is very much like when we were first converted, except that we continually have hope in Christ.

We know that we would be damned without Christ's Mercy and Grace.

We do feel sorrow for our sin and it leads to repentence to turning to Christ for our hope and continued mercy. We then recognize that if we don't come to Christ for our forgiveness we will have no hope. We then hunger
and thirst for God's mercy and grace and remember the justification we have received and approach the throne of Grace with Christ's righteousness alone.

Bhedr said...

I think you are right Shawn, balance is needed. For a battery to continuously charge both the negative and positive prongs must be well grounded.

I too have benefitted from Terry and he is a wonderful brother in Christ.

There does come times when we have to make our calling and election sure as well as examine ourselves. This I used to shy away from, but in order for us to grow, there must be those times of coming to grips with mortification and question whether the Spirit of God is at work or complacency is. There are endless passages in scripture that speak to continuance and if we are not abiding in the vine then we must examine what is hindering us from this and why it is that anything outside of continual communion with him attracts us.

JamesN said...

I am currently reading through the works of John Owen, I have read about four of his books, and find great joy in reading them. It doesn't bother me to look up words in the dictionary, and to muse of his sentence structure, because there is so much meat in his works. I can chew on his works for hours, days and months. He is my absolute favorite theologian.

Terry Rayburn said:

"This is in direct contradiction to other scriptures which Owen’s Legalistic Tradition blinded him to."

Now I must assure you of one thing Owen was not blinded, he was a man on a mission, a man after God's own heart. I read the mortification of sin, and he simply argued mortification from a biblical standpoint, nowhere did he throw in personal convictions. He only showed what scripture said, and ultimately like in all his books leads us to examine ourselves and fall on our knees to God.

He also wrote a book called "Of Indwelling Sin in Believers" If you read that book it is all about Christians and how they are imperfect, and how that only in Heaven will they reach perfect sanctification. If you read his book "The Glory of Christ" you will begin to see his intense love not a blindness to tradition.

What drove John Owen an intense and burning, God intransed veiw.

Terry Rayburn said...

What I find fascinating, and a little disappointing, is that I quoted several Scriptures which have not been dealt with at all by any comments made after mine.

Nor have any of you, I believe, even quoted one Scripture to support your ideas.

I trust Owen, Bunyan, and Dickens are not held in higher esteem than the Holy Spirit’s inspired writings.

Are there no comments on Rom. 6:14; Rom. 6:11; Rom. 7:6; Gal. 2:19; Rom. 8:1; Col. 2:18; Col. 2:23; Rom. 7:17,20; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:1; or the other verses I quoted without reference numbers? From any of you?

Are there no Scripture verses to support the case for the miserable, mourning, self-abasing Christian? [Hint: no].

Are there no Scripture verses to support some burdensome duty for the believer to earn God’s love and favor? [Hint: no].

Well if there are no such Scriptures (and you haven’t cited any), then why not fall on your knees to God, not in abject misery, but in tearful joy for what He has done? Then walk by His Spirit, since if we walk by the Spirit we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh (that’s a Scripture, by the way).

If the above Scriptures have no impact on you, maybe I should quote a deceased songwriter. Maybe him you will respect:

“My son, my son, why are you striving?
You can’t add one thing to what I’ve done for you.
I did it all while I was dying.
Rest in your faith, my peace will come to you.” (Keith Green)

[Sidebar to Shawn: Of course we are sinners in the English-language sense of the word, since we sin. My point is that our nature is no longer that of Sinner, but of Saint. We are new creations, and sin is a foreign entity which is still in our members, but not a part of our “new man”. We no longer have a sin nature, despite how the NIV incorrectly translates “flesh”—Gk. Sarx, as “sinful nature”. That’s why Paul, in Rom. 7 says, “I find it’s no longer I that do it, but sin which is in me.” This is not to be taken lightly, because if we think we have a sin nature, then we will tend to think it’s natural for us to sin, when the truth is we have died to sin, and are dead to sin.]

I leave you all with two questions:

1. Probably the highest revelation given us by God is the book of Ephesians. Can you actually read the first three chapters of this glorious epistle, and still favor Owen’s mournful, miserable, self-abasing, [unbiblical] view --- rather than Paul’s joyful doxology in Eph. 3:14-21?

2. Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3)

Sola Scriptura, Baby,

Shawn L said...


Let me tell you this discussion is very profitable for me to consider errors in my thinking and I'll be going indepthly through the verses you have posed and considering others I am thinking of now. Just so you know do you want to continue this discussion, it might be a day or more because of the Christmas time with friends, but I want so much to continue discussing.

Thank you, sometimes my writing style on the internet is more off the top of my head of scriptures rather than fully systematic on a topic. In other words I need to learn alot more. I wonder if this has to do with not being a man who meditates on the scripture and memorizes enough. May God teach me to be a humble servant who loves his Word.

All praise and Glory to God.

Back to the Bible for consideration and talking to you further,
Shawn Lynes

SJ Camp said...

Thank you all for these wonderful comments and thoughts here.

Per Terry's admonition, let us consider the following truths:

Romans 6:12-14, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace."

Here is divine sovereignty and personal responsibility in in action. We have been brought from death to life... that is God's work of grace alone in salvation. BUT, the fruit of obedience flows from that reality; sanctification and regeneration are two different things, but inseparable. We don't participate in our salvation; but we do under God's grace in our sanctification. We are no longer under the law (Paul speaking here of it's judgment, penalty and curse); but this doesn't remove our responsibility to "mortify the flesh" under grace. We DO participate in that--and it is all of grace: grace enables us; grace equips us; grace engages us to live now according to the new life we have in Christ. But that doesn't remove the standard of the law in our daily lives; it embraces its standard and by grace we present our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 21:1-2); and renew our minds as well.

One more set of verses. Colossians 3:1-11, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all."

here we see once again divine sovereignty and responsibility. Only God can raise us with Christ and seat us in the heavenlies with Him. BUT, under grace, we are to set our minds on heavenly things; put death our flesh daily; put on the new man--put off the old man; etc. These are all commands in the Greek and this is where the balance comes.

Owen had a lofty view of saving grace and the duty thereunder, to sanctifying grace. What does is mean to mortify the flesh? Put it to death. That requires daily surrender, repentance, introspection, obedience, and humility.

Getting the kids off to school, must run for now. I appreciate you all.

Merry Incarnation Day to you!!!

Terry Rayburn said...


The theology of "Sovereignty and Responsibility" is a biblical one which you have stated above with excellence.

What is often missing in typical theology books and teaching is what I'll call the "Theology of Ability". It is assumed that a believer has the ability to obey any command of Scripture at any given time. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The key verse on this subject (there are many) is:

Phil. 2:12b-13, " out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."

Man has the calling to be filled with the Spirit, and to walk by the Spirit. This requires that close fellowship and communion with Jesus that draws on His Life.

So man must "work out" his salvation with fear and trembling because he instinctively knows that it's not merely a matter of deciding to do right. What he wants to do, he doesn't, sometimes --- and what he doesn't want to do, he does, sometimes (Rom. 7).

As you rightfully said, Steve, this requires "surrender, repentance and humility".

Then, and only then, can we mortify the deeds of the body, but "by the Spirit" (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5.)

What fuels that surrender, repentance, and humility? The Law?

No, on the contrary, Law is the very strength of sin (1 Cor. 15:56). Law inflames sin. It challenges sin to rise up.

Yes, Law is a standard, but the Law is put in our minds and written on our hearts (Heb. 8:10), and that Law is far, far higher than the written rules, as Jesus alluded to in the Sermon on the Mount. So high, that we "miss the mark" and sin on a daily basis.

That "standard" never could bring life, and it still can't, as glorious and wonderful as that standard is (Rom. 7:22, "I delight in the law of God...).

No, it's Grace that fuels surrender, repentance, and humility. As we look on the face of our Shepherd, and meditate on His work for us and in us, we are transformed, unavoidably (2 Cor. 3:18).

The bottom line: Who is dominating our thoughts?

Are we SELF-centered, as we obsessively gauge our performance like a weatherman --- "today is cloudy, tomorrow we hope for clear skies"..."oops, more rain today...hope the weekend is better"?

Or are we CHRIST-centered, looking with joy and gratitude to Him, abiding in Him, communing with Him, as He transforms us and "works in us to will and to do His good pleasure"?

And so, we are "...ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Cor. 3:6)


Bhedr said...


Thank you for those verses and that reminder of Scripture alone.

Terry, I was a Pharisee of the talest order and I did not realize until most recently that I thought repentance did not apply to me.

Yes, there were horrible abominations in earlier in my life; but I lived in denial of it while masking myself behind my illusions of what the grace of God was. As I heard Pastor Dan Davey once say, "Pharisee's are the toughest nut to crack!"

The bad thing about it I was always angry at the Pharisee. Why? Because I was one and didn't want to admit that if I myself didn't repent and turn in truth to God then I couldn't continue to trust in false illusions like that found in Jeremiah 7:2-15. IOW, I was unwilling to look at the law and be broken totaly by it with a desire to forsake this horrible sin that put Christ on the Cross and fall on his cross instead of trying to stand under it and lift it. The biggest Pharisee that I was bitter with was myself as I felt I had special favor from God and did not need to repent.

I knew truth and I could even whip anyone I wanted to into submission of what I knew, but I hadn't yet taken hold of it and submitted to it. The only way I can express it is that of holding a mirror in front of a mirror. I could see and see and see and over and over struggle with placing my burden on Christ but I had never come to the actual mirror and own up to who was in the mirror instead of the myriads of mirrors it reflected. Now I have finally admitted to who is there and just as quickly as I did the burden rolled off and is now gone.

It is easier for one who has never learned the truth to come to immediate repentance, than for one like myself who kept ignoring his own conscience and making everyone else miserable around me deflecting it, so that I might feel better about my own sin.

It was not until I came to terms with true preaching on repentance as well as meditated much on the verse, "And you will seek me and find me when you search for me with all of your heart!" that I finally discovered this truth as well as He Himself.
I kept having to walk through an endless maze of mirrors until I finally got to the origional that had my face on it.

I fear that I must say that if one shys from mortification then he may indeed miss as I was missing. Jesus himself said to pluck out the eyes or cut off the hand and that the way to the cross was hard and narrow. Why would He say that?

Psychology teaches us to look away from ourselves and not be so hard on ourselves. It is true that we are to look to Christ alone. The whole travesty is that our flesh competes with that. And indeed this must be a daily thing understanding that our salvation is settled; but I see nowhere in scripture that Jesus wants us to be comfortable with salvation; but instead confident in it. Why then all the exhortations in John 15?

Terry, I understand why you are puzzled about me and I don't fault you for that. Clearly others have been puzzled and I blame that on my own doublemindedness, as well as my ascension to C.S Lewis like theology that placed me all over Europe, in the past that I could not admit to because I didn't like the teaching of repentence and mortification.

I will post a testimony soon on this and all will be clear soon. I am confident in my salvation now. Tremedously confident.

I also do not place Dickens theology on this but rather on the Law and accusations confronting the woman caught in adultery instead; and when once delivered from her accussers Jesus said, "Go! And sin no more."

I don't think she even had the slightest inkling of a desire to return to her former life after such ghosts haunted her. She was ready for living for Christ always. Not perfect but not willing to sin anymore. In Galations 5 as well as John 3 we learn that what is at the heart of this is the practice of sin. {GK.Prasso-habitually commit sin}

Aaron said...

Thanks for posting this, Steve. Very interesting and helpful.

Ed M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed M said...

Terry what makes this bondage:

"To keep our souls in a constant state of mourning and self-abasement is the most necessary part of our wisdom..." (Works, VII, p. 532)

Question: is that a BIBLICAL way to live under the glorious New Covenant?

If you say, "Yes", you are in an unnecessary bondage." --Terry R.

The bible says...
Eccl 7
3Choose sorrow over laughter
because a sad face
may hide a happy heart.
4A sensible person mourns,
but fools always laugh.

And I just want to put this following verse out there as it pertains to the law and New Testament believers. Something to think about.

James 1
22Obey God's message! Don't fool yourselves by just listening to it. 23If you hear the message and don't obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror 24and forget what they look like as soon as they leave. 25But you must never stop looking at the PERFECT LAW that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don't just hear and forget.

Terry Rayburn said...

Ed M,

You wrote, "What makes this bondage[?]:"

1. It's bondage because it denies the glory of the New Covenant in which all of our sins are forgiven; it denies the simple injunction to "Rejoice in the Lord always"; it denies the fruit of the Spirit which is Joy; and it denies the admonition I already quoted from Colossians:

“Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in SELF-ABASEMENT...These are matters which, to be sure, have the appearance of wisdom in...SELF-ABASEMENT...but are of no value in fleshly indulgence.”

2. For you to use some obscure passage from Ecclesiastes to guide us in New Covenant living is a mistake.

Ecclesiastes is geneerally the proverbial wisdom sayings of Solomon, coming from his life experiences.

Although it contains much practical wisdom, like Proverbs it deals mostly in general principles which must be understood in their life contexts (one example might be "There is nothing new under the sun" -- of course there are MANY new things under the sun in actuality, but the general idea is that history and human character tend to repeat themselves).

In any case, under the principle of Progressive Revelation, we have much more light shed on how to live the born-again Christian life from the New Testament epistles than would be evident from an Old Testament historical wisdom book.

3. Not sure what your point is from James. I'm sure in favor of being "a doer of the Word, not just a hearer".

But that's what flows out from us as we walk in the Spirit. It sure doesn't come in a spiritual way by being in "a constant state of mourning and self-abasement". In fact to do so would be disobedient to the Word, and fleshly.


JT said...


Would you please identify for your readers that this blog post was not written by you, but is rather copied verbatim (without permission or attribution) from something I wrote several years ago at


Justin Taylor

Ed M said...


(Sorry to all who read this, my writing skills are sub-par and I hope I conveyed my thoughts in a readable and understandable manner)

Lets first start with the Definition of Abase:
Via Webster's
To reduce or lower, as in rank, office, reputation, or estimation; humble; degrade.

Via Greek Lexicon - tapeinofrosuvnh
1. the having a humble opinion of one's self
2. a deep sense of one's (moral) littleness
3. modesty, humility, lowliness of mind

Next let's look at what Colossians 2:18 say about SELF-ABASEMENT, I'll quote from multiple versions: of the bible:

false humility
voluntary humility

The greek which I am no scholar in renders more closely to the wording in the KJV. But the idea or thought behind the text is more succinctly put as worded in the NIV/ESV wording. Paul here is talking about having a false humility one that has pride at the root of the purpose of the humility. Or to think that being humble makes you righteous.

And since Abasement means to be humble... Are we not to be humble? On the contrary we must be humble. But not because we think it credits us any righteousness. We must be humble because Christ humbled himself Philippians 2. And that's to your point of focusing on Christ. We want to be like Christ so we humble ourselves. And the power to humble ourselves only comes from Grace. But to say "by Grace" and "Be filled with the Spirit" Something is to be said about the practical side of that, because just to say "Be filled with the Spirit" or "Walk in the spirit". Doesn't answer the question of how.

I listen to a message today by John Piper concerning Grace and the power to stand bold. He was preaching out of 2 Tim.
For ref here's a link

I also heard a message actually in was a series awhile ago by John MacArthur on "be filled with the spirit"

And to summarize what I understood from the messages:

Piper: Grace to give you strength to do God's will comes from reading and DOING God's WORD.

MacArthur: Pointed out in the text when "BE" was used in the statement, its a command, God commands us to be filled with the spirit. He goes on to explain the only way we can be filled with the spirit is by God's WORD. Read it and Do it.

And to my point of James 1. It really seems you have a problem with the word "LAW". And in this text James tells us to focus on the perfect LAW. That's why I mention that verse

And too summarize my prior thoughts

We focus on the gospel and what Christ did for us. But that in turn compels us to be more like HIM and how do we be more like HIM. We read his word which is his LAW and we do it. That also compels us to compare ourselves to Christ. We ask ourselves," Are we growing to be more like our master?" There is nothing wrong with this(the bible commands us too). We feel guilty when we do something wrong but that's not a bad thing that just means our conscious is working. Guilt can be used as a spiritual nerve endings. When you burn yourself there is pain. If you had no nerves you wouldn't know pull your hand out of the fire. Guilt is the same way, it is not a bad thing. Which, correct me if I am wrong, it seems from when I read your post that you shouldn't focus on "LAW" because then you'd feel guilty. Focus on Jesus because there is no condemnation for those in Christ. And to that I just want to say feeling guilty does not equal condemnation. SJCamp defined condemnation in a earlier post.

Grace and Peace be with you,

P.S. Because I need to be working right now I'll quickly blurt out, what was explained to me about the eccl text. Its about being serious. And for me this Christian walk is a serious thing. ok done.

SJ Camp said...


My bad brother. I am a stickler on this kind of thing. I thought I had given you authorship but it looks like I failed to put it in the article. Corrected.

Please accept my sincere apology for this unintentional faux pas on my part.

Grace to you brother,

JT said...

Thanks, Steve. Please feel free to delete my comments requesting attribution.


Terry Rayburn said...

Ed M,

Thanks for the thoughtful interaction. I know you don't take these things lightly.

Although I agree with much of what you last wrote, we've gone too far off the original point.

The original point was the question whether the goal of our living under the New Covenant should be expressed by:

"To keep our souls in a constant state of mourning and self-abasement is the most necessary part of our wisdom..."-- Owen.

I said that is NOT biblical.

That doesn't mean I'm against humility, which you seem to imply.

I'm against the self-abasement which is too common in the Church, which says, "I'm nothing, I'm just a rotten ol' thing, no different from the lost guy, except I'm least I hope I'm could God love rotten ol' me?"

Which is then followed by Mr. Self-Abasement #2 who cries, "No I'M the chief of sinners! You think you're bad? I'm so unworthy and rotten, you don't know the half of it. I need more convicting sermons, more whippings, more mourning in my life. Beat me, Pastor! SDG!"

And on it goes, gag gag.

So three things:

1. Humility isn't "I'm nothing, I'm nothing."

Humility is understanding that although we are fearfully and wonderfully made, even born again with a new heart that loves Jesus and hates sin, we have nothing and are nothing except what we received from the Lord. And so we shouldn't "glory" in those good things as if we hadn't received them.

And we should give Him all the credit, honor and glory.

2. I'm 100% FOR biblical humility.

3. I'm 100% AGAINST keeping "our souls in a constant state of mourning".

That is antithetical to the New Covenant model of walking in the freedom of Grace, being filled with the Spirit, walking by the Spirit (and thereby not fulfilling the lust of the flesh), and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, *JOY*, peace, etc.

4. Should we experience guilt when we sin? Of course, until it's repented of, momentarily.

Any experience of guilt should result in quick repentance, immediate and total ACCEPTANCE of our already-accomplished forgiveness, and going on in our "walking by the Spirit" and Grace.

That's far different than (if I may paraphrase Owen) "keeping our soul in a constant state of guiltiness".

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." (Gal. 5:1)

5. As to your points about needing to be in the Word in order to be filled with the Spirit, I would agree that generally that is the case.


a. Many Christians are intense and knowledgeable students of the Word, but have very little fruit of the Spirit and very little understanding of how to walk by the Spirit.

This is almost always the result of viewing the Bible essentially as a Law Book, instead of Bread and Life from Him Who is the Bread of Life.

Their paradigm is something like, "The better I can obey the Law [whatever that is], the more God will like me. But I'm not very good at obeying it, so He must be very disappointed in me constantly."

Of course this attitude quenches the Holy Spirit, defeating the already doomed purpose the student set out for.

b. Many people are not very astute theologically, but in addition to what Word they do know, they spend time with Jesus, commune with Him, have an intimate relationship to Him, bask in His Grace and love, and indeed walk by the Spirit, and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.

And they REJOICE in the Lord. They don't "keep their soul in a constant state of mourning".

Thanks again, Ed. You may have the last word -- probably :)

stamps&cars said...

Steve.....could you e-mail me at acclack at msn dot com. I have a question for you. Thanks....