by John Owen
Formatted, corrected, annotated, and modernized by William H. Gross www.onthewing.org Sep 2020
To be spiritually minded is life and peace. — Romans 8:6
Set your affection on things above. — Colossians 3:2.
Owen’s wording here is more pastoral than theological. These are sermons written for the Church, not treatises for the Academy. As you’ll read in his preface, it was born of personal experience — notes he’d written to himself at the close of his life, as he worked through the reasons for his own spiritual frustrations. And so, I’ve tried to make it more personal, almost colloquial. This is a pastor speaking to his flock, comforting and encouraging them, even as he exhorts them to be spiritually minded at all times. I’ve tried to make it easier to read, but Owen is never easy.
Let me explain one unusual use of language: today we say that we “act in faith,” or we “act under grace,” and the Spirit imparts the grace that we act under. But Owen says that the Holy Spirit imparts a living principle to us, then “acts grace” in us, and we “act faith” (rather than “act out our faith”). Actings are repeated acts of this kind. The words actual and actually are the adjectival and adverbial forms of “act;” today we use them interchangeably with “real” or “really.”
There is much here that Owen had previously written in Mortification of Sin, in 1656. You’ll see many of the same principles and phrases. But this isn’t a rehash of that book. It’s much warmer, richer, and more application oriented — a deeper examination of what often gets in the way of our mortification. Owen speaks of events in his own day, of the social tumult, and of the indications of Christians’ distractedness, even worldliness “in their habits, attires, and vestments, in their usual converse and misspent time, in their overly-liberal entertainment of themselves and others, to the borders of excess.” That should sound familiar to Christians in the 21st century.
As with Mortification, it’s possible to read this book as a self-critique – to feel self-condemned that our walk with Christ is not as sincere, godly, or productive as it could be. That would be the wrong thing to take away from Owen’s exhortation. He warns us against such legalism. Every Christian knows that we can do the right thing for the wrong reasons – that our heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer 17.9). How, then, can we be assured that what we do will be pleasing to God, honoring to Christ, and a benefit to the Church? Owen says that to the extent our thoughts are filled with God, as He is in Himself, for who He is – our thoughts, motives, and actions will be sanctified, and made acceptable to Him. To the extent we can take our thoughts away from the world, and fill them with the Gospel, we will find life and peace. To the extent that we live for the world to come, as we serve Christ in this world, we can endure and prosper in all that we do and experience. It begins in the mind, in what we most think about. This is the measure of a changed and increasingly sanctified heart.
Owen was 65 years old when he wrote this. Imagine him looking back on his life, maybe wondering if he’d made a difference. The English Civil wars ended in 1660, but so did the Interregnum. Roman Catholics again had the upper hand in Church and State. In 1662, in The Great Ejection, two thousand Puritan preachers had been ousted from their pulpits. The Restoration of the monarchy had succeeded, and the Royalists held sway under Charles II. Hard-fought Puritan gains were undone by the Clarendon Code. Owen had experienced twenty years of civil unrest, spiritual disenchantment, moral decline, political corruption, and persecution of the Protestant Nonconformists. The king dissolved the Parliament in 1681, the year this book was written. The Glorious Revolution wouldn’t arrive till 1688; but Owen died in 1683. There was much going on in the world, to distract his mind from the things of God, even as he labored for Christ.
How then are Christians to live in such a world? How then is the Church to conduct itself when it is filled with so many who know only a form of godliness, but not its power? This treatise is Owen’s counsel to the true Church, to his fellow believers, in times such as these. Draw near to God; be spiritually minded; focus on the things of God — for these earthly things shall soon pass away.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Notes on Modernization
CHAPTER 1. THE WORDS OF THE TEXT EXPLAINED.
CHAPTER 2. THE NATURE OF THIS GRACE AND DUTY.
CHAPTER 3. HOW WE KNOW OUR THOUGHTS ARE SPIRITUAL.
CHAPTER 4. OTHER EVIDENCES OF SPIRITUAL THOUGHTS.
CHAPTER 5. THE OBJECTS OF SPIRITUAL THOUGHTS.
CHAPTER 6. EXERCISING OUR THOUGHTS ON THINGS ABOVE.
CHAPTER 7. SPIRITUAL THOUGHTS OF HEAVEN.
CHAPTER 8. SPIRITUAL THOUGHTS OF GOD.
CHAPTER 9. WHAT WE ARE TO THINK OF GOD.
CHAPTER 10. RULES CONCERNING SPIRITUAL MEDITATION.
CHAPTER 11. SPIRITUAL MINDEDNESS IN THE AFFECTIONS.
CHAPTER 12. WHAT IS REQUIRED TO MAKE OUR AFFECTIONS SPIRITUAL.
CHAPTER 13. HOW THE RENOVATION OF OUR AFFECTIONS IS EVIDENCED.
CHAPTER 14. SPIRITUAL RENEWAL OR MERE CONVICTION?
CHAPTER 15. REASONS TO DELIGHT IN DIVINE WORSHIP.
CHAPTER 16. ASSIMILATION OF SPIRITUAL THINGS BY FAITH.
CHAPTER 17. DECAYS IN SPIRITUAL AFFECTIONS.
CHAPTER 18. THE STATE OF SPIRITUAL AFFECTIONS.
CHAPTER 19. THE TRUE NOTION OF SPIRITUAL THINGS.
CHAPTER 20. APPLYING THE SOUL TO SPIRITUAL OBJECTS.
CHAPTER 21. HOW SPIRITUAL MINDEDNESS IS LIFE AND PEACE.