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John Owen: A Voice For Today

Category Articles
Date September 5, 2018

This is a reprint of an article that was first published in the Banner of Truth magazine, July – August 1968. His words remain valuable today.

* * *

The Value of the Gospel

No men in the world want help like them that want the Gospel. A man may want liberty, and yet be happy, as Joseph was; a man may want peace, and yet be happy, as David was; a man may want children, and yet be blessed, as Job was; a man may want plenty, and yet be full of comfort, as Micaiah was; but he that wants the Gospel, wants every thing that should do him good. A throne without the Gospel is but the devil’s dungeon. Wealth without the Gospel is fuel for hell. Advancement without the Gospel is but a going high to have the greater fall.

Austin refused to delight in Cicero’s ‘Hortensius,’ because there was not in it the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is all, and in all; and where he is wanting there can be no good. Hunger cannot truly be satisfied without manna, the bread of life, which is Jesus Christ; and what shall a hungry man do that hath no bread? Thirst cannot be quenched without that water or living spring, which is Jesus Christ; and what shall a thirsty soul do without water? A captive, as we are all, cannot be delivered without redemption, which is Jesus Christ; and what shall the prisoner do without his ransom? Fools, as we are all, cannot be instructed without wisdom, which is Jesus Christ; without him we perish in our folly. All building without him is on the sand, which will surely fall. All working without him is in the fire, where it will be consumed. All riches without him have wings, and will away. ‘Mallem ruere cum Christo, quam regnare cum Caesare,’ said Luther. A dungeon with Christ, is a throne; and a throne without Christ, a hell. Nothing so ill, but Christ will compensate. The greatest evil in the world is sin, and the greatest sin was the first; and yet Gregory feared not to cry, ‘O felix culpa, quae talem meruit redemptorem!’ ‘O happy fault, which found such a Redeemer!’ All mercies without Christ are bitter; and every cup is sweet that is seasoned with a drop of his blood; he truly is ‘amor et deliciae humani generis,’ – the love and delight of the sons of men, without whom they must perish eternally; for there is no other name given unto them, whereby they may be saved [Acts 4.12]. He is the way; men without him are Cains, wanderers, vagabonds. He is the truth; men without him are liars, like the devil, who was so of old. He is the life; without him men are dead, dead in trespasses and sins. He is the light; without him men are in darkness, and go they know not whither. He is the vine; those that are not grafted in him are withered branches, prepared for the fire. He is the rock; men not built on him are carried away with a flood. He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the author and the ender, the founder and the finisher of our salvation. He that hath not him, hath neither beginning of good, nor shall have end of misery. O blessed Jesus! how much better were it not to be, than to be without thee! – never to be born, than not to die in thee! A thousand hells come short of this, eternally to want Jesus Christ, as men do that want the Gospel.

From ‘A Vision of Unchangeable, Free Mercy’, preached before the House of Commons, 1646.

Decayed Churches and the Responsibility of the Ministry

Let us not pretend that the repentance and reformation called for respect the public enormous sins of the nation, in atheism, profaneness, sensuality, luxury, pride, oppression, hatred of the truth, contempt of the ministry of the Gospel, and the like. They do so, indeed, but not only; they respect also the decays in faith, love, zeal, with love of the world, conformity unto it, lukewarmness, that are found amongst the most eminent professors of religion. This is our present wound; here lies our weakness, namely, in the want of a quick, active, zealous ministry, to call and stir up magistrates and people to effectual repentance, and turning to God. Unless this be given unto us, I fear we cannot be saved. If it be otherwise, if we have a ministry that really do attend unto their duty in this matter, I beg their pardon for other apprehensions: but then I shall think it the most pregnant sign of approaching destruction; seeing it is apparent unto all that their endeavours have neither fruit nor success . . .

Ministers have the principal means of repentance and reformation committed to their management. From them is the beginning and carrying on of this work expected and required. Hereof, as unto their sincerity and diligence, they must give an account at the last day. And if this spring be stopped, whence should the refreshing waters of repentance and reformation arise? But yet herein the principal difficulty of the whole work doth consist. For,

  1. Some there are, pretending unto this office, in whom lies no small part of the evil that is to be reformed; persons who labour among the most forward to fill up the measure of the iniquities of this nation; such as whose ignorance, negligence, profaneness, and debauchery, are, in all their effects, transfused and communicated unto all that are about them. Shall we expect that such persons will be instrumental in the reforming of others, who hate to be reformed themselves? [Jer. 23.15]. It was so of old. But,
  2. There are very few of this sort of persons who will be at the charge of carrying on this work. They may quickly find what it will cost them; for unless they are exemplary in it themselves, it is vain once to attempt the pressing of it upon others. They cannot go about it without great retrenchings of that which they have esteemed their liberty in the course of their conversations. All compliance with unreformed persons, for secular ends; all conformity unto the course of the world, in jollities and pride of life; all ostentation of riches, wealth, and power; all self-seeking and self-pleasing; all lightness and carnal confidences, must utterly be cast away. And not only so, but unless, by incessant prayers and supplications, with earnestness and perseverance, they labour for fresh anointings with the Spirit of grace in their own souls, that faith, and love, and zeal for God, and compassion for the souls of men, and readiness for the cross, may revive and flourish in them, they will not be useful, nor instrumental in this work. And is it any wonder that the most of them think it better to suffer things to go on at the present rate, than to venture at that which will cost them so dear in its pursuit? The truth is, I know very few, if any, who are meet and fit to engage in this work in a visible eminent manner; those who have the best, almost the only, opportunities for it, seem to be asleep.
  3. Besides the charge they must be at themselves, they perceive the opposition they shall meet withal from others. They find that they shall not only disoblige and provoke all sorts of persons, and lose many of their useful friends, but also expose themselves unto obloquy, scorn, contempt, and reproach of all sorts. He is a lost man in this world, who, without respect of persons, will engage seriously in this work; every day he shall find one or other displeased, if not provoked. This neither they nor their families can well bear withal. Indeed, the hardest and most difficult service that ever God called any of his ministers unto, excepting only Jesus Christ and his apostles, hath been in the endeavouring the reformation of backsliding or spiritually-decayed churches. These are the two witnesses which, in all ages, have prophesied in sack-cloth. Such was the ministry of Elijah, which brought him unto that conclusion, and an earnest longing to be delivered by death from his work and ministry [1 Kings 19.4]. So was that of Jeremiah, in the like season, whereof he so complains [Chap.15.10]. John the Baptist, in the same work, lost first his liberty, then his life. And, in after ages, Chrysostom, for the same cause, was hated by the clergy, persecuted by the court, and at length driven into banishment, where he died. Most men care not how little a share they have in such a work as this, whose reward will reach them according to the proportion of their engagement in it. All churches, all persons almost, would willingly be let alone in the condition wherein they are; they that would press them unto due reformation, ever were, and ever will be, looked on as their troublers.

Hence, then, it is that our wound is incurable. Few of this sort are convinced of the present necessity of this duty; they hope things are indifferently well with them and their flocks, that they may endure their time well enough. Few are willing to undergo the charge and trouble of it, to put all their present circumstances into disorder. Few have received an anointing for the work; many are able to dispute against any attempts of it; and not a few have expectations of strange deliverances without it.

From ‘The Design Of Impendent Judgements’, 1681.

Faith in the Holy Spirit

Faith will also mind the soul that God hath yet the fullness and residue of the Spirit, and can pour it out when he pleases to recover us from this woeful state and condition, and to renew us to holy obedience unto himself. There are more promises of God’s giving supplies of his Spirit to deliver us from inward decays, than there are for putting forth the acts of his power to deliver us from our outward enemies. And God is as able to do the inward work, to revive and renew a spirit of faith, love, and holiness, of meekness, humility, self-denial, and readiness for the cross: he is able, with one word and act of his grace, to renew it; as he is able, by one act of his power, to destroy all his enemies, and make them the footstall of Christ, when he pleases. Live in the faith of this.

The psalmist saith, in Psalm 147: 16, 17, ‘He scattereth the hoarfrost;’ and the issue is, the earth is frozen; he brings a death upon it. But saith he, in Psalm 104: 30, ‘Thou sendest forth thy Spirit; and thou renewest the face of the earth.’ In like manner there is deadness upon all churches and professors, in some measure, at this time; but God, who hath the fullness of the Spirit, can send him forth and renew the face of the soul, can give professors and profession another face; not to trim and trick, as now so often is done; not so high and haughty, not so earthly and worldly, as is now so much seen; but humble, meek, holy, broken-hearted, and self-denying. God can send forth his Spirit when he pleases, and give all our churches and professors a new face, in the verdure and flourishing of his grace in them. When God will do this I know not; but I believe God can do this; he is able to do it, able to renew all his churches, by sending out supplies of the Spirit, whose fullness is with him, to recover them in the due and appointed time. And more; I believe truly that when God hath accomplished some ends upon us, and hath stained the glory of all flesh, he will renew the power and glory of religion among us again, even in this nation.

This, then, is what we are called to, and is required of us, – namely, faith in the faithfulness of Christ, who hath built his church upon the rock, [so] that, be things never so bad, it shall not be prevailed against; faith in the fullness of the Spirit, and his promise to send him to renew the face of the church; faith in apprehending the truth of God, who hath foretold these things; and faith putting us upon those especial duties that God requires at our hands in such a season.

From ‘The Use Of Faith, If Popery Should Return Upon Us’, 1680.

Meditation upon Christ

Observe from the words, ‘I speak of the things which I have made touching the King’ [Ps. 45.1], that it is the duty of believers to be making things concerning Jesus Christ. Now, to be making things concerning Jesus Christ, is to meditate upon him – to have firm and fixed meditations upon Christ, and upon the glory of is excellencies: this is it that here is called, ‘The things I have made,’ composed, framed in my mind.’ He did not make pictures of Christ, or frame such and such images of him; but he meditated upon Christ. It is called, ‘Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord,’ in 2 Cor. 3.18. What is the glory of the Lord? Why, it is the glory of his person, the glory of his kingdom, the glory of his love. Where are these to be seen? They are all represented in the glass. What glass? The glass of the Gospel. The Gospel hath a reflection upon it of all these glories of Christ, and makes a representation of them unto us. What is our work and business? Why, it is to behold this glory; that is, to contemplate upon it by faith, to meditate upon it, which is here called making ‘things touching the King.’ This is also called ‘Christ’s dwelling in us,’ [Eph. 3.17] and, ‘The word of Christ dwelling richly in us,’ [Col. 3.16]; which is, when the soul abounds in thoughts of Christ. I have had more advantage by private thoughts of Christ than by any thing in this world; and I think when a soul hath satisfying and exalting thoughts of Christ himself, his person and glory, it is the way whereby Christ dwells in such a soul. If I have observed anything by experience, it is this: a man may take the measure of his growth and decay in grace according to his thoughts and meditations upon the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s kingdom, and of his love. A heart that is inclined to converse with Christ as he is represented in the Gospel, is a thriving heart; and if estranged from it and backward to it, it is under deadness and decays.

There is an unconquerable desire implanted in the heart of every believer in the world to be like unto Jesus Christ; because God hath, in the way of an ordinance, appointed him to be our pattern. And we are but trifling Christians, and a dishonour to our profession, if we make not this the design of our souls continually, that we may be in the world as Christ was, that the same mind may be in us that was in him [Phil. 2.5]; the same meekness, humility, self-denial, faith, love, patience, that was in him.

From ‘The Excellency of Christ’, 1674.

Gems from Owen


    Duties of Christian Fellowship

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    This is a reprint of an article that was first published in the Banner of Truth magazine, July – August 1968. His words remain valuable today. * * * The Value of the Gospel No men in the world want help like them that want the Gospel. A man may want liberty, and yet be […]

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    This is a reprint of an article that was first published in the Banner of Truth magazine, July – August 1968. His words remain valuable today. * * * The Value of the Gospel No men in the world want help like them that want the Gospel. A man may want liberty, and yet be […]

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