Mortification Chapter 13

Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen

Do Not Speak Peace to Yourself Before God Speaks It, But
Hearken to What God Says to Your Soul
Ninthly, in case God disquiet the heart about the guilt of its distempers, either
in respect of its root and indwelling, or in respect of any eruptions of it, take
heed you speak not peace to yourself before God speaks it; but hearken what
he says to your soul. This is our next direction, without the observation
whereof the heart will be exceedingly exposed to the deceitfulness of sin.
This is a business of great importance. It is a sad thing for a man to
deceive his own soul herein. All the warnings God gives us in tenderness to
our souls, to try and examine ourselves, do tend to the preventing of this great
evil of speaking peace groundlessly to ourselves; which is upon the issue to
bless ourselves in an opposition to God. It is not my business to insist upon
the danger of it, but to help believers to prevent it, and to let them know when
they do so. To manage this direction aright observe—
That as it is the great prerogative and sovereignty of God to give grace
to whom he pleases (“He has mercy on whom he will,” Rom. 9:18; and
among all the sons of men, he calls whom he will, and sanctifies whom he
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68 behaviors
69 embarrassment, lack of self-confidence
will), so among those so called and justified, and whom he will save, he yet
reserves this privilege to himself to speak peace to whom he pleases, and in
what degree he pleases, even among them on whom he has bestowed grace.
He is the “God of all consolation” [2 Cor. 1:3] in a special manner in his dealing
with believers; that is, of the good things that he keeps locked up in his
family, and gives out of it to all his children at his pleasure. This the Lord
insists on (Isa. 57:16-18). It is the case under consideration that is there
insisted on. When God says he will heal their breaches and disconsolations,
he assumes this privilege to himself in a special manner: “I create it” (v. 19)—
“Even in respect of these poor wounded creatures I create it, and according
to my sovereignty make it out as I please.”
Hence, as it is with the collation of grace in reference to them that are in
the state of nature—God does it in great curiosity, and his proceedings therein
in taking and leaving, as to outward appearances, quite besides and contrary
oftentimes to all probable expectations; so is it in his communications of
peace and joy in reference unto them that are in the state of grace—he gives
them out oftentimes quite besides our expectation, as to any appearing
grounds of his dispensations.
As God creates it for whom he pleases, so it is the prerogative of Christ
to speak it home to the conscience. Speaking to the church of Laodicea, who
had healed her wounds falsely and spoke peace to herself when she ought not,
he takes to himself that title, “I am the Amen, the faithful Witness” (Rev.
3:14). He bears testimony concerning our condition as it is indeed. We may
possibly mistake, and trouble ourselves in vain, or flatter ourselves upon false
grounds, but he is the “Amen, the faithful Witness,” and what he speaks of
our state and condition, that it is indeed. He is said not to “judge after the
sight of his eyes” (Isa. 11:3)—not according to any outward appearance, or
anything that may be subject to a mistake, as we are apt to do; but he shall
judge and determine every cause as it is indeed.
Take these two previous observations, and I shall give some rules
whereby men may know whether God speaks peace to them, or whether they
speak peace to themselves only.
Men certainly speak peace to themselves when their so doing is not
attended with the greatest detestation imaginable of that sin in reference
whereunto they do speak peace to themselves, and abhorrency of themselves
for it. When men are wounded by sin, disquieted and perplexed, and knowing
that there is no remedy for them but only in the mercies of God, through
the blood of Christ, do therefore look to him, and to the promises of the
covenant in him, and thereupon quiet their hearts that it shall be well with
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them, and that God will be exalted, that he may be gracious to them, and yet
their souls are not wrought to the greatest detestation of the sin or sins upon
the account whereof they are disquieted—this is to heal themselves, and not
to be healed of God. This is but a great and strong wind, that the Lord is nigh
unto, but the Lord is not in the wind [1 Kings 19:11]. When men do truly
“look upon Christ whom they have pierced,” without which there is no healing
or peace, they will “mourn” (Zech. 12:10); they will mourn for him, even
upon this account, and detest the sin that pierced him. When we go to Christ
for healing, faith eyes him peculiarly as one pierced. Faith takes several views
of Christ, according to the occasions of address to him and communion with
him that it has. Sometimes it views his holiness, sometimes his power, sometimes
his love, [sometimes] his favor with his Father. And when it goes for
healing and peace, it looks especially on the blood of the covenant, on his sufferings;
for “with his stripes we are healed, and the chastisement of our peace
was upon him” (Isa. 53:5). When we look for healing, his stripes are to be
eyed—not in the outward story of them, which is the course of popish devotionists,
but in the love, kindness, mystery, and design of the cross; and when
we look for peace, his chastisements must be in our eye. Now this, I say, if it
be done according to the mind of God, and in the strength of that Spirit which
is poured out on believers, it will beget a detestation of that sin or sins for
which healing and peace is sought. So Ezekiel 16:60-61: “Nevertheless I will
remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish
unto you an everlasting covenant.” And what then? “Then you shall
remember your ways, and be ashamed.” When God comes home to speak
peace in a sure covenant of it, it fills the soul with shame for all the ways
whereby it has been alienated from him. And one of the things that the apostle
mentions as attending that godly sorrow which is accompanied with
repentance unto salvation, never to be repented of, is revenge: “Yea, what
revenge!” (2 Cor. 7:11). They reflected on their miscarriages with indignation
and revenge, for their folly in them. When Job comes up to a thorough healing,
he cries, “Now I abhor myself” (Job 42:6); and until he did so, he had
no abiding peace. He might perhaps have made up himself with that doctrine
of free grace which was so excellently preached by Elihu (Job 33:14-30); but
he had then but skinned his wounds: he must come to self-abhorrency if he
come to healing. So was it with those in Psalm 78:33-35, in their great trouble
and perplexity, for and upon the account of sin. I doubt not but upon the
address they made to God in Christ (for that so they did is evident from the
titles they gave him; they call him their Rock and their Redeemer, two words
everywhere pointing out the Lord Christ), they spoke peace to themselves; but
120 OF THE MORTIFICATION OF SIN IN BELIEVERS
was it sound and abiding? No; it passed away as the early dew. God speaks
not one word of peace to their souls. But why had they not peace? Why,
because in their address to God, they flattered him.
But how does that appear? “Their heart was not right with him, neither
were they steadfast” (Ps. 78:37); they had not a detestation nor relinquishment
of that sin in reference whereunto they spoke peace to themselves. Let
a man make what application he will for healing and peace, let him do it to
the true Physician, let him do it the right way, let him quiet his heart in the
promises of the covenant; yet, when peace is spoken, if it be not attended with
the detestation and abhorrency of that sin which was the wound and caused
the disquietment, this is no peace of God’s creating, but of our own purchasing.
It is but a skinning over the wound, while the core lies at the bottom,
which will putrefy, and corrupt, and corrode, until it break out again
with noisomeness, vexation, and danger. Let not poor souls that walk in such
a path as this, who are more sensible of the trouble of sin than of the pollution
of uncleanness that attends it; who address themselves for mercy, yea, to
the Lord in Christ they address themselves for mercy, but yet will keep the
sweet morsel of their sin under their tongue—let them, I say, never think to
have true and solid peace. For instance, you find your heart running out after
the world, and it disturbs you in your communion with God; the Spirit speaks
expressly to you—“He that loves the world, the love of the Father is not in
him” [1 John 2:15]. This puts you on dealing with God in Christ for the healing
of your soul, the quieting of your conscience; but yet, withal, a thorough
detestation of the evil itself abides not upon you; yea, perhaps that is liked
well enough, but only in respect of the consequences of it. Perhaps you may
be saved, yet as through fire, and God will have some work with you before
he has done; but you will have little peace in this life—you will be sick and
fainting all your days (Isa. 57:17). This is a deceit that lies at the root of the
peace of many professors and wastes it. They deal with all their strength
about mercy and pardon, and seem to have great communion with God in
their so doing; they lie before him, bewail their sins and follies, that anyone
would think, yea, they think themselves, that surely they and their sins are
now parted; and so receive in mercy that satisfies their hearts for a little season.
But when a thorough search comes to be made, there has been some
secret reserve for the folly or follies treated about—at least, there has not been
that thorough abhorrency of it which is necessary; and their whole peace is
quickly discovered to be weak and rotten, scarce abiding any longer than the
words of begging it are in their mouths.
When men measure out peace to themselves upon the conclusions that
THE NATURE OF MORTIFICATION 121
their convictions and rational principles will carry them out unto, this is a
false peace and will not abide. I shall a little explain what I mean hereby. A
man has got a wound by sin; he has a conviction of some sin upon his conscience;
he has not walked uprightly as becomes the gospel; all is not well and
right between God and his soul. He considers now what is to be done. Light
he has, and knows what path he must take, and how his soul has been formerly
healed. Considering that the promises of God are the outward means
of application for the healing of his sores and quieting of his heart, he goes
to them, searches them out, finds out some one or more of them whose literal
expressions are directly suited to his condition. Says he to himself, “God
speaks in this promise; here I will take myself a plaster70 as long and broad
as my wound,” and so brings the word of the promise to his condition, and
sets him down in peace. This is another appearance upon the mount; the Lord
is near, but the Lord is not in it. It has not been the work of the Spirit, who
alone can “convince us of sin, and righteousness, and judgment” [John 16:8],
but the mere actings of the intelligent, rational soul. As there are three sorts
of lives, we say—the vegetative, the sensitive, and the rational or intelligent71—
some things have only the vegetative; some the sensitive also, and that
includes the former; some have the rational, which takes in and supposes both
the other. Now, he that has the rational does not only act suitably to that principle,
but also to both the others—he grows and is sensible. It is so with men
in the things of God. Some are mere natural and rational men; some have a
superadded conviction with illumination; and some are truly regenerate.
Now, he that has the latter has also both [of] the former; and therefore he
acts sometimes upon the principles of the rational, sometimes upon the principles
of the enlightened man. His true spiritual life is not the principle of all
his motions; he acts not always in the strength thereof, neither are all his fruits
from that root. In this case that I speak of, he acts merely upon the principle
of conviction and illumination, whereby his first naturals72 are heightened;
but the Spirit breathes not at all upon all these waters. Take an instance:
Suppose the wound and disquiet of the soul to be upon the account of
relapses—which, whatever the evil or folly be, though for the matter of it
never so small, yet there are no wounds deeper than those that are given the
soul on that account, nor disquietments greater. In the perturbation73 of his
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70 medicated bandage
71 Aristotle differentiated three types of the soul, or three different types of living things in distinction from
inanimate things: vegetative (plants), sensitive (animals), and rational (human beings). See Aristotle,
Nichomachean Ethics, book 1.
72 i.e., natural faculties
73 disturbance, agitation
mind, he finds out that promise, “The LORD will have mercy, and our God
will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7)—he will multiply or add to pardon, he
will do it again and again; or that in, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love
them freely” (Hos. 14:4). This the man considers, and thereupon concludes
peace to himself; whether the Spirit of God make the application or no,
whether that gives life and power to the letter or no, that he regards not. He
does not hearken whether God the Lord speak peace. He does not wait upon
God, who perhaps yet hides his face, and sees the poor creature stealing peace
and running away with it, knowing that the time will come when he will deal
with him again, and call him to a new reckoning [Hos. 9:9]; when he shall
see that it is in vain to go one step where God does not take him by the hand.
Question
I see here, indeed, sundry other questions upon this arising and interposing
themselves. I cannot apply myself to them all: one I shall a little speak to. It
may be said, then, “Seeing that this seems to be the path that the Holy Spirit
leads us in for the healing of our wounds and quieting of our hearts, how shall
we know when we go alone ourselves, and when the Spirit also does accompany
us?”
Answer
If any of you are out of the way upon this account, God will speedily let you
know it; for besides that you have his promise, that the “meek he will guide
in judgment and teach them his way” (Ps. 25:9), he will not let you always
err. He will, I say, not suffer your nakedness to be covered with fig-leaves, but
take them away and all the peace you have in them, and will not suffer you
to settle on such lees.74 You shall quickly know your wound is not healed; that
is, you shall speedily know whether or not it be thus with you by the event.
The peace you thus get and obtain will not abide. While the mind is overpowered
by its own convictions, there is no hold for disquietments to fix
upon. Stay a little, and all these reasonings will grow cold and vanish before
the face of the first temptation that arises. But—
This course is commonly taken without waiting; which is the grace, and
that peculiar acting of faith which God calls for, to be exercised in such a condition.
I know God does sometimes come in upon the soul instantly, in a
moment, as it were, wounding and healing it—as I am persuaded it was in
THE NATURE OF MORTIFICATION 123
74 shelters, protections
the case of David, when he cut off the lap of Saul’s garment [1 Sam. 24:4];
but ordinarily, in such a case, God calls for waiting and laboring, attending
as the eye of a servant upon his master [Ps. 123:2; 130:6]. Says the prophet
Isaiah: “I will wait upon the LORD, who hides his face from the house of
Jacob” (Isa. 8:17). God will have his children lie a while at his door when
they have run from his house, and not instantly rush in upon him; unless he
take them by the hand and pluck them in, when they are so ashamed that they
dare not come to him. Now, self-healers, or men that speak peace to themselves,
do commonly make haste; they will not tarry; they do not hearken
what God speaks, but on they will go to be healed [Isa. 28:16].
Such a course, though it may quiet the conscience and the mind, the rational
concluding part of the soul, yet it does not sweeten the heart with rest and
gracious contentation.75 The answer it receives is much like that [which]
Elisha gave Naaman: “Go in peace” [2 Kings 5:19]; it quieted his mind, but
I much question whether it sweetened his heart, or gave him any joy in believing,
other than the natural joy that was then stirred in him upon his healing.
“Do not my words do good?” says the Lord (Mic. 2:7). When God speaks,
there is not only truth in his words, that may answer the conviction of our
understandings, but also they do good; they bring that which is sweet, and
good, and desirable to the will and affections; by them the “soul returns unto
its rest” (Ps. 116:7).
Which is worst of all, it amends not the life, it heals not the evil, it cures
not the distemper. When God speaks peace, it guides and keeps the soul that
it “turn not again to folly” [Ps. 85:8]. When we speak it ourselves, the heart
is not taken off the evil; nay, it is the readiest course in the world to bring a
soul into a trade of backsliding. If, upon your plastering yourself, you find
yourself rather animated to the battle again than utterly weaned from it, it is
too palpable that you have been at work with your own soul, but Jesus Christ
and his Spirit were not there. Yea, and oftentimes nature having done its
work, will, ere76 a few days are over, come for its reward; and, having been
active in the work of healing, will be ready to reason for a new wounding. In
God’s speaking peace there comes along so much sweetness, and such a discovery
of his love, as is a strong obligation on the soul no more to deal perversely
[Luke 22:32].
We speak peace to ourselves when we do it slightly. This the prophet
complains of in some teachers: “They have healed the hurt of the daughter
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75 satisfaction, reassurance
76 before
of my people slightly” (Jer. 6:14). And it is so with some persons: they make
the healing of their wounds a slight work; a look, a glance of faith to the
promises does it, and so the matter is ended. The apostle tells us that “the
word did not profit” some, because “it was not mixed with faith” (Heb.
4:2)—m· sugchecherasmenous, “it was not well tempered” and mingled with
faith. It is not a mere look to the word of mercy in the promise, but it must
be mingled with faith until it is incorporated into the very nature of it; and
then, indeed, it does good unto the soul. If you have had a wound upon your
conscience, which was attended with weakness and disquietness, which now
you are freed of, how came you so? “I looked to the promises of pardon and
healing, and so found peace.” Yea, but perhaps you have made too much
haste, you have done it overtly, you have not fed upon the promise so as to
mix it with faith, to have got all the virtue of it diffused into your soul; only
you have done it slightly. You will find your wound, ere it be long, breaking
out again; and you shall know that you are not cured.
Whoever speaks peace to himself upon any one account, and at the same
time has another evil of no less importance lying upon his spirit, about which
he has had no dealing with God, that man cries “Peace” when there is none
[Jer. 6:14; 8:11]. A little to explain my meaning: A man has neglected a duty
again and again, perhaps, when in all righteousness it was due from him; his
conscience is perplexed, his soul wounded, he has no quiet in his bones by
reason of his sin; he applies himself for healing, and finds peace. Yet, in the
meantime, perhaps, worldliness, or pride, or some other folly, wherewith the
Spirit of God is exceedingly grieved, may lie in the bosom of that man, and
they neither disturb him nor he them. Let not that man think that any of his
peace is from God. Then shall it be well with men, when they have an equal
respect to all God’s commandments. God will justify us from our sins, but he
will not justify the least sin in us: “He is a God of purer eyes than to behold
iniquity” [Hab. 1:13].
When men of themselves speak peace to their consciences, it is seldom
that God speaks humiliation to their souls. God’s peace is humbling peace,
melting peace, as it was in the case of David; never such deep humiliation as
when Nathan brought him the tidings of his pardon.
Question
But you will say, “When may we take the comfort of a promise as our own,
in relation to some peculiar wound, for the quieting the heart?”
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Answer
First, in general, when God speaks it, be it when it will, sooner or later. I told
you before, he may do it in the very instant of the sin itself, and that with such
irresistible power that the soul must needs receive his mind in it; sometimes
he will make us wait longer: but when he speaks, be it sooner or later, be it
when we are sinning or repenting, be the condition of our souls what they
please, if God speak, he must be received. There is not anything that, in our
communion with him, the Lord is more troubled with us for, if I may so say,
than our unbelieving fears, that keep us off from receiving that strong consolation
which he is so willing to give to us.
Question
But you will say, “We are where we were. When God speaks it, we must
receive it, that is true; but how shall we know when he speaks?”
Answer
I would [desire that] we could all practically come up to this, to receive peace
when we are convinced that God speaks it, and that it is our duty to receive
it. But—
There is, if I may so say, a secret instinct in faith, whereby it knows the
voice of Christ when he speaks indeed; as the babe leaped in the womb when
the blessed Virgin came to Elizabeth [Luke 1:44], faith leaps in the heart when
Christ indeed draws nigh to it. “My sheep,” says Christ, “know my voice”
(John 10:4)—“They know my voice; they are used to the sound of it,” and
they know when his lips are opened to them and are full of grace. The spouse
was in a sad condition (Song 5:2)—asleep in security; but yet as soon as Christ
speaks, she cries, “It is the voice of my beloved that speaks!”77 She knew his
voice, and was so acquainted with communion with him, that instantly she
discovers him; and so will you also. If you exercise yourselves to acquaintance
and communion with him, you will easily discern between his voice and the
voice of a stranger. And take this crit·rion with you: When he does speak, he
speaks as never man spoke; he speaks with power, and one way or other will
make your “hearts burn within you,” as he did to the disciples (Luke 24[:32]).
He does it by “putting in his hand at the hole of the door” (Song 5:4)—his
Spirit into your hearts to seize on you.
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77 Owen—along with most interpreters in the seventeenth century—interpreted the Song of Solomon (or
Canticles, as they referred to it) as a “description of the communion that is between the Lord Christ and
his saints” (Works, 2:46).
He that has his senses exercised to discern good or evil, being increased
in judgment and experience by a constant observation of the ways of Christ’s
intercourse, the manner of the operations of the Spirit, and the effects it usually
produces, is the best judge for himself in this case.
Secondly, if the word of the Lord does good to your souls, he speaks it;
if it humble, if it cleanse, and be useful to those ends for which promises are
given—namely, to endear, to cleanse, to melt and bind to obedience, to selfemptiness,
etc. But this is not my business; nor shall I further divert in the pursuit
of this direction. Without the observation of it, sin will have great
advantages toward the hardening of the heart.

 


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