Tag Archives: John Owen

The Gap between Head and Heart


“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4

One of the well-known pitfalls of studying theology is the possibility of treating it as an end in itself, rather than as means to an end.  The goal of theology, the study of God, should be doxology, the worship of God.  When we treat theology as an end, simply the acquisition of doctrinal knowledge, theological pride becomes a very real danger.  Additionally, should theological pride be avoided (which is ever-present), another danger exists.  Doctrinal knowledge apart from Doxological practice is bound to deaden the heart’s affections toward God.

Because of the recent resurgence of interest in the Reformers, the doctrines of grace, etc., particularly among 20 and 30-somethings, the net for this trap has been cast far and wide.  While certainly any so-called denomination or group can easily fall prey to this, it seems most prevalent among those who hold claim to hold to reformed theology.  Once the Scriptures have been opened to illuminate the mind to the sovereignty of God over all things including, particularly or perhaps especially, the salvation of sinners, the flesh is easily tempted to revel in newfound knowledge that others have yet to learn.  Thus the trap for theological pride is set.

However, as we alluded to earlier, there is another trap, perhaps more deadly because it has less to do theological debates or waxing eloquently on this or that doctrine and everything to do with the affections of the heart towards God.

In his book, Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, John Owen comments specifically on this danger

“It is unimaginable how the subtile [sic] disquisitions and disputes of men about the nature, properties and counsels of God, have been corrupted, rendered sapless and useless, by vain curiosity, and striving for an artificial accuracy in the expression of men’s apprehensions.  When the wits and minds of men are engaged in such thoughts, ‘God is not in all their thoughts,’ even when all their thoughts are concerning him.  When once men are got into their metaphysical curiosities and logical niceties in their contemplations about God and his divine properties, they bid farewell, for the most part, unto all godly fear and reverence.”

When we divorce doxology from theology we engage in nothing more than an exercise of the flesh; it’s not only futile, but it’s sinful.  Studying theology is good, but it is good because it gives us a better understanding of the nature of God and His Son Jesus Christ, which ultimately leads us to worship of God.

Despite recent attempts to marginalize and discount their value, the Puritans were the quintessential pattern for how theology leads to doxology.  They were often described as fire and ice.  They had running through their veins the ice of doctrinal precision and steadfastness in the face of opposition along with the burning fire of affection for God that boiled in the bowels of their soul.

Below is further exhortation on the dangers particularly facing the young and reformed.  There, Paul Washer suggests a safeguard to avoiding them, namely the increase of prayer.


The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritual Minded


“I have set the Lord always before me”

In Psalm 16:8, we read of the Psalmist’s declaration that he has kept the Lord always before him.

Practically what would this look like in our day?

Setting the Lord before oneself is akin to meditating upon Him.  This oft-neglected practice involves literally setting the mind upon God, thinking of Him, His attributes and character, His commands and deeds, or how He has worked in our lives.

In his book, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, Puritan John Owen provides 3 objects of meditations upon God on which we may draw our minds.

The first is the being and existence of God.  Owen calls this the foundation of “all our relation and access unto him”, the “first object of faith” and the “first act of reason”.  Allowing our minds to be drawn upon the fact that God exists is the foundation of all our meditations.  Among other things, its chief concern is to combat atheism, whether doubts may be welling up in our minds or whether practically we live as though God does not exist.

The second is the omniscience and omnipresence of God. To this, Owen adds, “we cannot take one step in a walk before him unless we remember that always and in all places he is present with us.”  God’s omniscience means that He is all-knowing.  He not only knows our day to day happenings, but He knows our thoughts, our hearts, and our motivations.  His omnipresence refers to His existence in all places simultaneously.   Whether in our most joyous of days or our darkest of hours, we may take comfort in knowing that He is there.  Reflecting upon these attributes of God together provide a great hedge against temptation to sin.  Considering that He both knows our thoughts and is present with us during temptation, and even sin for that matter, is a great motivation to flee them.

The third is the omnipotency of God. On this final object of meditation, Owen writes, “It is utterly impossible we should walk before God, unto his glory, or with any real peace, comfort, or satisfaction in our own souls unless our minds are continually exercised with thoughts of his almighty power.”  God’s omnipotency means that He is all-powerful.  God is not, contrary to many modern beliefs, engaged in a battle with Satan, sin, or evil.  He has no equal and their is no opposition that is not already under the sovereignty of God, submissive to His power.  Consider this, even Satan, as in the case of Job and Peter (including the other disciples) must seek permission before afflicting God’s people.  This meditation is a great comfort, knowing that all things are in His powerful hands which serves to specifically combat fear and anxieties in the face of affliction.

By setting the Lord always before us it serves as a spiritual exercise that strengthens our faith, restrains against sin and temptation, and comforts us in our times of distress.

But, setting the Lord before us takes effort, you simply cannot in any fashion perform this duty while coasting or vegging out.  There are no off days or vacation days in Christianity.  It is an active duty, nevertheless the product of grace working in the heart.

Let us desire and then delight to have the Lord set ever before us.  And may our meditations be done unto the glory of God for the good of our souls.

We conclude with a final word from Owen

“Men may be in the performance of outward duties; they may escape the pollutions that are in the world through lust, and not run out into the same compass of excess and riot with other men: yet may they be strangers unto inward thoughts of God with delight and complacency.  I cannot understand how it can be otherwise with them whose minds are over and over filled with earthly things, however they may satisfy themselves with pretences of their callings and lawful enjoyments, or that they are not any way inordinately set on the pleasures or profits of the world.

To ‘walk with God,’ to ‘live with him,’ is not merely to be found in an abstinence from outward sins, and in the performance of outward duties, though with diligence in the multiplication of them. All this may be done upon such principles, for such ends, with such a frame of heart, as to find no acceptance with God.  It is our hearts that he requireth, and we can no way give them unto him but by our affections and holy thoughts of him with delight.  This it is to be spiritually minded, this it is to walk with God.  Let no man deceive himself; unless he thus abound in holy thoughts of God, unless our meditation of him be sweet unto us, all that we else pretend unto will fail us in the day of our trial.” Vol. 7 pg. 378-379


Preparing for Affliction


In his treatise exhorting believers to the duty of meditation, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, Puritan John Owen (1616-1683) sets forth the following proposition on the benefit of meditating on eternity,

“There is nothing more necessary unto believers at this season than to have their minds furnished with provision of such things as may prepare them for the cross and sufferings.  Various intimations of the mind of God, circumstances of providence, the present state of things in the world, with the instant peril of the latter days, do all call them hereunto.  If it be otherwise with them, they will at one time or another be woefully surprised, and think strange of their trials, as if some strange thing did befall them.  Nothing is more useful unto this end than constant thoughts and contemplations of eternal things and future glory.”

What he is saying here, in a way that only Owen does, is that for believers, key to preparing for the coming sufferings, afflictions, and trials of this world is continual meditations on eternity.

Similarly, note the words of God through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Here we see the relationship between affliction and eternity, namely that the former is preparatory for the latter.  How so?

  1. Affliction is preparatory because, as we have seen with Job, it is a refining, purifying act of God to further cleanse the believer of defilement, strengthen faith, and develop perseverance (see Romans 5:1-5).
  2. Affliction is preparatory because due to its temporary nature, we anticipate its conclusion, knowing that it will not last forever.  Therefore by their very nature afflictions cause us to look forward to a day when they will end and eternity will begin.  This is sometimes called having an eternal perspective.

Similarly, in this passage we see that our focus should not be on the temporary, earthly, and visible things of this world, instead our focus should be on the eternal, heavenly, and invisible (at present) things of the world to come.  Having this focus constantly and consistently, as Owen states, prepares us for the arrival of affliction. It therefore does not take us by surprise, nor does it sink us into depths of despair, though we certainly may have “fear of and aversation* from great, distressing sufferings, that are above the power of nature to bear.” Nevertheless we persevere knowing that the suffering and sorrow is only temporary.

Finally, moving from a general statement on the positive benefits of meditating on eternity to a more specific look at what exactly that entails, we may note at least three objects upon which to set our minds

  1. The Restoration of All Things
  2. The Renewal of our Earthly Bodies
  3. The Christ of Eternity

For our first point we note that we must allow our minds to fix upon the restoration of all things, namely that this world, which is fading away, will one day be restored such that it will no longer be subject to the fall.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:21-22 

Second, we must allow our minds to fix upon the renewal of our earthly bodies.  “50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”” 1 Cor. 15:50-55

Finally, and most importantly, we must allow our minds to fix upon the Christ of eternity, for we shall finally see Him as He is.  “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

Our best preparation for affliction is to meditate on our eternal state in glory, as such it is also the best object of our meditations during affliction. Turning to Owen for the final word, we read,

“Eternal glory is set before us also; it is the design of God’s wisdom and grace that by the contemplation of it we should relieve ourselves in all our sufferings, yea, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”


*turning away in dislike

For additional study and meditation, read Revelation 21.