12/6/16

Is It Well with Your Soul?

© krsmanovic | stockfresh.com

© krsmanovic | stockfresh.com

Sometimes Puritan authors seem to put an entire introduction into their book titles. John Owen’s work, Indwelling Sin in Believers, is a good example of this tendency. It’s original title was: “The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers; Together with the Way of Its Working and Means of Prevention, Opened, Evinced, and Applied: With a Resolution of Sundry Casts of Conscience Thereunto Appertaining.” In chapter two Owen discusses why and how indwelling sin is a law—“an inward effective principle.”

In chapter one, Owen argued why he sees Paul contemplating the existence of indwelling sin after his conversion in Romans 7. “Your enemy is not only upon you, as on Samson of old, but is in you also.” In chapter two Owen described why indwelling sin is properly understood in general to be a law, and then elaborated what is “peculiar and proper” in such a law.

The first thing that underlies any law is dominion. Owen pointed to Romans 7:1, where Paul said the law was binding (has dominion) over an individual. He suggested there are two aspects to this dominion. There is a moral authoritative dominion, and there is a real effective dominion. The first is an affection of the law of God; the second is an affection of the law of sin. Although the law of sin does not have any rightful moral dominion or authority over any person, “it hath that which is equivalent unto it.”  Owen sees indwelling sin as a usurper to the throne of grace that God intended for humanity when He made us in His image.

Because of the work of Christ, indwelling sin has lost its complete dominion over believers. Nevertheless, it still is a law in them. “But even in them it is a law still; though not a law unto them, yet, as was said, it is a law in them.” It does not have complete dominion, yet it will act with power and bind us with regard to some things. “Though it be weakened, yet its nature is not changed.”

Laws also have the ability to goad those who oppose it to obey what it requires through reward and punishment. All laws influence our minds through the rewards and punishments that accompany them. “The pleasures of sin are the rewards of sin;” ones that many people lose their souls to obtain. Owen sees the discussion of Moses in Hebrews 11 as an example of the contest in the minds of believers between the law of sin and the law of grace. Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, rejecting the pleasures that went along with it. “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26).

The motive on the part of the law of sin, wherewith it sought to draw him over, and wherewith it prevails on the most, was the reward that it proposed unto him,—namely, that he should have the present enjoyment of the pleasures of sin. By this it contended against the reward annexed unto the law of grace, called “the recompense of reward.”

The law of sin also has punishment for those who would oppose it, or who attempt to “cast off its yoke.” Whatever the evil, trouble, or danger that exists in the world when someone attempts to obey the gospel—whatever the hardships someone seeking to mortify their flesh faces—“sin makes use of.” Owen thought it was difficult to discern which approach was more effective, the pretended rewards or the pretended punishments of indwelling sin. But one thing was certain, whether it was by the promises of pleasures or the threats of temporal evils or the loss of pleasure, it has a great effect on the minds of believers and unbelievers alike.

Owen then turned to consider what was “peculiar and proper” in the law of sin.  He again asserted it is not an outward, written law. Such a law cannot compete with “an inbred, working, impelling urging” one. An inbred law is necessarily effectual. To illustrate his point, he pointed to how the law of God was at first naturally inbred to humanity. It had power to enable obedience, even to make this obedience easy and pleasant. Although this law (with regard to its rule and dominion) has been cast out of the soul, there are yet sparks that remain which are very powerful and effectual (Romans 2:14-15).

God renewed this law, writing it on tablets of stone. He knew as an outward, written law it could not enable us to perform the things it required. It would have to again become internal. It would have to turn from an outward moral rule into a real, inward principle. So God made His law internal again, implanting it in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-33). The written law, He knew, would not do it. “Mercies and deliverances from distress will not effect it; trials and afflictions will not accomplish it.” Therefore He turned the written law into “an internal living principle.”

The same applies to sin. “It is now an indwelling law.” It is in us. The flesh is its seat and throne. From this, we can see that it has some advantages for increasing its strength and furthering its power. It always abides in the soul. It is never absent. It is always ready to apply itself to every end and purpose that it serves. Because it is an indwelling law, it can easily apply itself with great ease.

It needs no doors to be opened unto it; it needs no engines to work by. . . . Hence it is easy for it to insinuate itself into all that we do, and to hinder all that is good, and to further all sin and wickedness. It hath an intimacy, an inwardness with the soul; and therefore, in all that we do, doth easily beset us. It possesseth those very faculties of the soul whereby we must do what we do, whatever it be, good or evil. Now, all these advantages it hath as it is a law, as an indwelling law, which manifests its power and efficacy. It is always resident in the soul, it puts itself upon all its actings, and that with easiness and facility.

This is the law Paul said he found within him. This is what he said remains even in believers. Owen said that from what he has described, if such a law is in believers, it is their duty to discover it. Upon this one hinge, finding and experiencing the law of sin, turns the whole course of our lives. Ignorance of it breeds “senselessness, carelessness, sloth, security, and pride.” All of this the Lord abhors. The eruptions of great, open scandalous sins are the result of a failure to consider this law. “Inquire, then, how it is with your souls.”

What do you find of this law? What experience have you of its power and efficacy? Do you find it dwelling in you, always present with you, exciting itself, or putting forth its poison with facility and easiness at all times, in all your duties, “when you would do good?” What humiliation, what self-abasement, what intenseness in prayer, what diligence, what watchfulness, doth this call for at your hands! What spiritual wisdom do you stand in need of! What supplies of grace, what assistance of the Holy Ghost, will be hence also discovered! I fear we have few of us a diligence proportionable to our danger.

Simply put, is it well with your soul?

A digital copy of Owen’s work, Indwelling Sin in Believers, is available here.

07/24/15

Sincere Love to God

© elvinstar | stockfresh.com

© elvinstar | stockfresh.com

Sincere Love to God is a constant growing love, and an everlasting love, it holds out in all times and seasons, and variety of conditions, prosperity and adversity, praise and persecution, health and sickness, plenty and poverty, liberty and bonds, yea, in death it self, and after death through all eternity; death doth not terminate this grace, but perfect it. (Anonymous)

One of the graces that demonstrate the sure, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in us is Love. Where God dwells by his Spirit, there is sincere love to God and sincere love to others, for God’s sake.  As the apostle John said: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Because this love is a special work of the Holy Spirit, it works for good in all things—regardless of how bad these things may be in themselves. All things work together for good in those who love God (Romans 8:28). There is always a redemptive purpose to be found in what happens to God’s people.

The person who sincerely loves God has a sure argument that they are greatly loved by God: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). But someone might ask, isn’t that love in us a special work of the Spirit of God? Surely it is. “But sincere Love to God, strongly argues special Love in God towards him that hath it, therefore sincere Love to God must needs be a special work of the Spirit of God in whomsoever it is.” The following Scriptures clearly support the claim that sincere love for others, for God’s sake, is a real testimony of the person’s union with Christ.

And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:23-24)

Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)

If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)

Without sincere love, all profession of faith in religion is but a gilded hypocrisy. Where love is, God dwells. But where it is not, the devil dwells. More love means a greater likeness to God; less of it means a greater likeness to the devil. Experience shows that those individuals who have great gifts and responsibilities and little or no love, will show more of the devil’s nature than God’s—and will act more like the devil than god when they have power.

Love is the sweetest flower in all the garden of God, but it is a flower which the Devil cannot endure the smell of, because he is not capable of it, and knows that where Love dwells, he must vanish; and therefore it is his main design to destroy Love, if possible, in all sorts and sects, and to root it up and banish it from the hearts of all men; The Devil is well content, that men should pray, preach, read, hear Sermons, and make a faire shew outwardly, provided this spring not from Love, nor tendeth not to the increase of Love, to God nor man; but if he see Love be the root and fruit of mens services, then he goes cunningly, and Serpent-like to work, to make breaches in this wall, that he may get in and destroy this flower, he deviseth wayes to divide men’s judgments, to the end he may destroy this affection of Love out of their hearts; if he prevaile not this way then he will raise up jealousies to destroy Love and Charity, yea sometimes render the best of graces, the worst of vices; and as in tempting a Carnal man, he sometimes stiles lust, Love, so in tempting a spiritual man, he sometimes stiles sincere Love, lust; and by these wiles makes a breach on Charity, to the end he may get into the garden of God, and root up this sweet grace of Love.

Someone might ask how he or she can know, one way or the other, whether his or her love of God is sound and sincere.  The author said they must examine themselves to see if they find a true testimony of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in them. The properties of this sincere love to God are these:

Sincere love to God is seated in the heart. It carries the whole heart and soul to God—both the inner and the outer person. What God requires and commands is in His Word, namely that we should love God with our whole heart and soul. By the whole heart is meant every faculty of the soul; the whole inner person. So there cannot be a division between God and the world, between God and sin—as the hearts of all hypocrites are.

Sincere love is carried to God and fastened upon Him. There we cleave to Him in affection; more than anything else. From a due consideration of his perfection, we account Him to be our chief happiness. We rejoice in him above all things. We fear his displeasure more than all others. We depend upon him for all things, and aim for his glory in all things.

Sincere love to God is guided by faith, not by sight. As Peter said: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him” (1 Peter 1:8).  We also see this in Job, who continued to love God and obey him, as we see in Job 23:8-11. This plainly shows that his love was guided by faith and not by sight.

Sincere love to God is a strong love. It will compel a person to obey even to the death. It will constrain the person to do or suffer anything that God sees fit to impose upon them without replying “in tongue or in heart” against God. “It will make a man serve God with all his might.” It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Sincere love to God is an endearing affection. It endears Christ to the person above all things; so that they will part willingly with all others things rather than Christ, even to laying down their lives. This is illustrated for us in the parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:44-46) and in all the trials of the saints in Hebrews 11.

This is now the third reflection I’ve done on excerpts from Evidence for Heaven, written by an anonymous Puritan female author. Edmund Calamy was credited as the author, but he himself acknowledged it was actually written by a female member of his church. After writing the first two reflections (Evidence for Heaven and More Evidence for Heaven), I planned to stop. But then in another meditation from Day by Day with the English Puritans, I read the above quoted passage on Love as the sweetest flower in the Garden of God and again believed her thoughts needed to reach a wider audience.  I’m thinking there will be more reflections to come.