Our Frame of Mind in the Pursuit of Holiness

Written by John Owen. 1616 -1683. A pre-eminent English Puritan theologian, pastor, and independent.
Edited for thought and sense.

admin-ajaxLet us consider what should be the frame of mind in the pursuit of holiness…

…namely, what regard we ought to have unto the command on the one hand, and to the promise on the other,—to our own duty, and to the grace of God. Some would separate these things, as inconsistent.

They argue that a command, as they suppose, leaves no room for a promise, at least not such a promise as wherein God should take on himself to work in us what the command requires of us; and, they think, that a promise takes off all the influencing authority of the command. “If holiness be our duty, there is no room for grace in this matter; and if it be an effect of grace, there is no place for duty.” But all these arguings are a fruit of the wisdom of the flesh before mentioned, and we have before disproved them.

The “wisdom that is from above” teacheth us other things.

1.  With Regard to the Command

It is true, our works and grace are opposed in the matter of justification; if it be of works it is not of grace, and if it be of grace it is not of works, as our apostle argues, Rom. 11:6. But our duty and God’s grace are nowhere opposed in the matter of sanctification, yea, the one doth absolutely suppose the other. Neither can we perform our duty herein without the grace of God; nor doth God give us this grace unto any other end but that we may rightly perform our duty. He that shall deny either that God commands us to be holy in a way of duty, or promises to work holiness in us in a way of grace, may with as much modesty reject the whole Bible. In both of these, therefore, we are to have a due regard if we intend to be holy.

Our regard unto the command consists in three things:

  1.  That we get our consciences always affected with the authority of it, as it is the command of God. This must afterward be enlarged on. Where this is not, there is no holiness. Our holiness is our obedience; and the formal nature of obedience arises from its respect unto the authority of the command.
  2. That we see and understand the reasonableness, the equity, the advantage of the command. Our service is a reasonable service; the ways of God are equal, and in the keeping of his commands there is great reward. If we judge not thus, if we rest not herein, and are thence filled with indignation against every thing within us or without us that opposes it or rises up against it, whatever we do in compliance with it in a way of duty, we are not holy.
  3. That hereon we love and delight in it, because it is holy, just, and good; because the things it requires are upright, equal, easy, and pleasant to the new nature, without any regard to the false ends before discovered.

2.  With Regard to the Promise

We have regard unto the promise to the same end:

  1. When we walk in a constant sense of our own inability to comply with the command in any one instance from any power in ourselves; for we have no sufficiency of ourselves, our sufficiency is of God. As for him who is otherwise minded, his heart is lifted up.
  2. When we adore that grace which hath provided help and relief for us. Seeing without the grace promised we could never have attained unto the least part or degree of holiness, and seeing we could never deserve the least dram of that grace, how ought we to adore and continually praise that infinite bounty which hath freely provided us of this supply!
  3. When we act faith in prayer and expectation on the promise for supplies of grace enabling us unto holy obedience.
  4. When we have special regard with respect unto especial temptations and particular duties. When on all such occasions we satisfy not ourselves with a respect unto the promise in general, but exercise faith in particular on it for aid and assistance, then do we regard it in a due manner.

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Owen (1616 – 24 August 1683) was an English Nonconformist church leader, theologian, and academic administrator at the University of Oxford.  He was briefly a member of parliament for the University, sitting in the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 to 1655.

During his eight years of official Oxford life Owen showed himself a firm disciplinarian, thorough in his methods, though, as John Locke testifies, the Aristotelian traditions in education underwent no change. With Philip Nye he unmasked the popular astrologer, William Lilly, and in spite of his share in condemning two Quakeresses to be whipped for disturbing the peace, his rule was not intolerant. Anglican services were conducted here and there, and at Christ Church itself the Anglican chaplain remained in the college. While little encouragement was given to a spirit of free inquiry, Puritanism at Oxford was not simply an attempt to force education and culture into “the leaden moulds of Calvinistic theology.” Owen, unlike many of his contemporaries, was more interested in the New Testament than in the Old. During his Oxford years he wrote Justitia Divina (1653), an exposition of the dogma that God cannot forgive sin without an atonement; Communion with God (1657), Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance (1654), his final attack on Arminianism; Vindiciae Evangelicae, a treatise written by order of the Council of State against Socinianism as expounded by John Biddle; On the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656), an introspective and analytic work; Schism (1657), one of the most readable of all his writings; Of Temptation (1658), an attempt to recall Puritanism to its cardinal spiritual attitude from the jarring anarchy of sectarianism and the pharisaism which had followed on popularity and threatened to destroy the early simplicity.

In October 1653 he was one of several ministers whom Cromwell summoned to a consultation as to church union. In December, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by Oxford University. In the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 he sat, for a short time, as the sole member of parliament for Oxford University, and, with Baxter, was placed on the committee for settling the “fundamentals” necessary for the toleration promised in the Instrument of Government. In the same year he was chairman of a committee on Scottish Church affairs. He was, too, one of the Triers, and appears to have behaved with kindness and moderation in that capacity. As vice-chancellor he acted with readiness and spirit when a Royalist rising in Wiltshire broke out in 1655; his adherence to Cromwell, however, was by no means slavish, for he drew up, at the request of Desborough and Pride, a petition against his receiving the kingship. Thus, when Richard Cromwell succeeded his father as chancellor, Owen lost his vice-chancellorship. In 1658 he took a leading part in the conference of Independents which drew up the Savoy Declaration (the doctrinal standard of Congregationalism which was based upon the Westminster Confession of Faith).