The Things of This World

by John Owen

This is an excerpt from Owen's The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (1681), chapter 11. Archibald Alexander, believing it one of Owen's best works, declared that one should read this work once a year.

Spiritual affections, whereby the soul adheres unto spiritual things, taking in such a savor and relish of them as wherein it finds rest and satisfaction, is the peculiar spring and substance of our being spiritually minded. This is that which I shall now farther explain and confirm.

The great contest of heaven and earth is about the affections of the poor worm which we call man. That the world should contend for them is no wonder; it is the best that it can pretend unto. All things here below are capable of no higher ambition than to be possessed of the affections of men; and, as they lie under the curse, it can do us no greater mischief than by prevailing in this design. But that the holy God should as it were engage in the contest and strive for the affections of man, is an effect of infinite condescension and grace. This he doth expressly: "My son," saith he, "give me thine heart," Prov. 23:26. It is our affections he asketh for, and comparatively nothing else. To be sure, he will accept of nothing from us without them; the most fat and costly sacrifice will not be accepted if it be without a heart. All the ways and methods of the dispensation of his will by his word, all the designs of his effectual grace, are suited unto and prepared for this end, -- namely, to recover the affections of man unto himself. So he expresseth himself concerning his word: Deut. 10:12, "And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul?" And as unto the word of his grace, he declares it unto the same purpose: 30:6, "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul."

And, on the other side, all the artifices of the world, all the paint it puts on its face, all the great promises it makes, all the false appearances and attires it clothes itself withal by the help of Satan, have no other end but to draw and keep the affections of men unto itself. And if the world be preferred before God in this address which is made unto us for our affections, we shall justly perish with the world unto eternity, and be rejected by him whom we have rejected, Prov. 1:24-31.

Our affections are upon the matter our all. They are all we have to give or bestow; the only power of our souls whereby we may give away ourselves from ourselves and become another's. Other faculties of our souls, even the most noble of them, are suited to receive in unto our own advantage; by our affections we can give away what we are and have. Hereby we give our hearts unto God, as he requireth. Wherefore, unto him we give our affections unto whom we give our all, -- ourselves and all that we have; and to whom we give them not, whatever we give, upon the matter we give nothing at all.

In what we do unto and for others, whatsoever is good, valuable, or praiseworthy in it, proceeds from the affection wherewith we do it. To do anything for others without an animating affection, is but a contempt of them; for we judge them really unworthy that we should do anything for them. To give to the poor upon their importunity without pity or compassion, to supply the wants of the saints without love or kindness, with other actings and duties of the like nature, are things of no value, things that recommend us neither unto God nor men. It is so in general with God and the world. Whatsoever we do in the service of God, whatever duty we perform on his command, whatever we undergo or suffer for his name's sake, if it proceed not from the cleaving of our souls unto him by our affections, it is despised by him; he owns us not. As "if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned," Cant. 8:7, -- it is not to be bought or purchased with riches; so if a man would give to God all the substance of his house without love, it would in like manner be despised. And however, on the other hand, we may be diligent, industrious, and sedulous, in and about the things of this world, yet if it have not our affections, we are not of the world, we belong not unto it. They are the seat of all sincerity, which is the jewel of divine and human conversation, the life and soul of everything that is good and praiseworthy. Whatever men pretend, as their affections are, so are they. Hypocrisy is a deceitful interposition of the mind, on various reasons and pretenses, between men's affections and their profession, whereby a man appears to be what he is not. Sincerity is the open avowment of the reality of men's affections; which renders them good and useful.

Affections are in the soul as the helm in the ship; if it be laid hold on by a skillful hand, he turneth the whole vessel which way he pleaseth. If God hath the powerful hand of his grace upon our affections, he turns our souls unto a compliance with his institutions, instructions, in mercy, afflictions, trials, all sorts of providences, and holds them firm against all winds and storms of temptation, that they shall not hurry them on pernicious dangers. Such a soul alone is tractable and pliable unto all intimations of God's will.

All others are stubborn and obstinate, stout-hearted and far from righteousness. And when the world hath the hand on our affections, it turns the mind, with the whole industry of the soul, unto its interest and concerns. And it is in vain to contend with anything that hath the power of our affections in its disposal; it will prevail at last.

On all these considerations it is of the highest importance to consider aright how things are stated in our affections, and what is the prevailing bent of them. "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend," saith the wise man, Prov. 27:17. Every man hath his edge, which may be sharpened by outward helps and advantages. The predominant inclination of a man's affections is his edge. According as that is set, so he cutteth and works; that way he is sharp and keen, but blunt unto all other things.

Now, because it must be that our affections are either spiritual or earthly in a prevailing degree, that either God hath our hearts or the world, that our edge is towards heaven or towards things here below, before I come to give an account of the nature and operations of spiritual affections, I shall consider and propose some of those arguments and motives which God is pleased to make use of to call off our affections from the desirable things of this world; for as they are weighty and cogent, such as cannot be neglected without the greatest contempt of divine wisdom and goodness, so they serve to press and enforce those arguments and motives that are proposed unto us to set our affections on things that are above, which is to be spiritually minded.

First, He hath, in all manner of instances, poured contempt on the things of this world, in comparison of things spiritual and heavenly. All things here below were at first made beautiful and in order, and were declared by God himself to be exceeding good, and that not only in their being and nature, but in the use whereunto they were designed. They were then desirable unto men, and the enjoyment of them would have been a blessing, without danger or temptation; for they were the ordinance of God to lead us unto the knowledge of him and love unto him. But since the entrance of sin, whereby the world fell under the curse and into the power of Satan, the things of it, in his management, are become effectual means to draw off the heart and affections from God; for it is the world and the things of it, as summed up by the apostle, I John 2:15-16, that strive alone for our affections, to be the objects of them. Sin and Satan do but woo for the world, to take them off from God. By them doth the god of this world blind the eyes of them that believe not; and the principal way whereby he worketh in them is by promises of satisfaction unto all the lusts of the minds of men, with a proposal of whatever is dreadful and terrible in the want of them. Being now in this state and condition, and used unto this end, through the craft of Satan and the folly of the minds of men, God hath showed, by various instances, that they are all vain, empty, unsatisfactory, and every way to be despised in comparison of things eternal: --

1. He did it most eminently and signally in the life, death, and cross of Christ. What can be seen or found in this world, after the Son of God hath spent his life in it, not having where to lay his head, and after he went out of it on the cross? Had there been ought of real worth in things here below, certainly he had enjoyed it; if not crowns and empires, which were all in his power, yet such goods and possessions as men of sober reasonings and moderate affections do esteem a competency. But things were quite otherwise disposed, to manifest that there is nothing of value or use in these things, but only to support nature unto the performance of service unto God; wherein they are serviceable unto eternity. He never attained, he never enjoyed, more than daily supplies of bread out of the stores of providence; and which alone he hath instructed us to pray for, Matt. 6:11. In his cross the world proclaimed all its good qualities and all its powers, and hath given unto them that believe its naked face to view and contemplate; nor is it now one jot more comely than it was when it had gotten Christ on the cross. Hence is that inference and conclusion of the apostle: Gal. 6:14, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world"; -- "Since I have believed, since I have had a sense of the power and virtue of the cross of Christ, I have done with all things in this world; it is a dead thing unto me, nor have I any affection for it." This is that which made the difference between the promises of the old covenant and the new: for they were many of them about temporal things, the good things of this world and this life; those of the new are mostly of things spiritual and eternal. God would not call off the church wholly from a regard unto these things, until he had given a sufficient demonstration of their emptiness, vanity, and insufficiency, in the cross of Christ, II Cor. 4:16-18.

Whither so fast, my friend? What meaneth this rising so early and going to bed late, eating the bread of carefulness? Why this diligence, why these contrivances, why these savings and hoardings of riches and wealth? To what end is all this care and counsel? "Alas!" saith one, "it is to get that which is enough in and of this world for me and my children, to prefer them, to raise an estate for them, which, if not so great as others, may yet be a competency; to give them some satisfaction in their lives and some reputation in the world." Fair pretenses, neither shall I ever discourage any from the exercise of industry in their lawful callings; but yet I know that with many this is but a pretense and covering for a shameful engagement of their affections unto the world. Wherefore, in all these things, be persuaded sometimes to have an eye to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Behold how he is set before us in the gospel, poor, despised, reproached, persecuted, nailed to the cross, and all by this world. Whatever be your designs and aims, let his cross continually interpose between your affections and this world. If you are believers, your hopes are within a few days to be with him forevermore. Unto him you must give an account of yourselves, and what you have done in this world. Will it be acceptable with him to declare what you have saved of this world, what you have gained, what you have preserved and embraced yourselves in, and what you have left behind you? Was this any part of his employment and business in this world? hath he left us an example for any such course? Wherefore, no man can set his affections on things here below who hath any regard unto the pattern of Christ, or is in any measure influenced with the power and efficacy of his cross. "My love is crucified," said a holy martyr of old: he whom his soul loved was so, and in him his love unto all things here below. Do you, therefore, find your affections ready to be engaged unto, or too much entangled with, the things of this world? are your desires of increasing them, your hopes of keeping them, your fears of losing them, your love unto them and delight in them, operative in your minds, possessing your thoughts and influencing your conversations? -- turn aside a little, and by faith contemplate the life and death of the Son of God; a blessed glass will it be, where you may see what contemptible things they are which you perplex yourselves about. Oh, that any of us should love or esteem the things of this world, the power, riches, goods, or reputation of it, who have had a spiritual view of them in the cross of Christ!

It may be it will be said that the circumstances mentioned were necessary unto the Lord Christ, with respect unto the especial work he had to do as the Savior and Redeemer of the church; and therefore it doth not hence follow that we ought to be poor and want all things, as he did. I confess it doth not, and therefore do all along make an allowance for honest industry in our callings. But this follows unavoidably hereon, that what he did forego and trample on for our sake, that ought not to be the object of our affections; nor can such affections prevail in us if he dwell in our hearts by faith.

2. He hath done the same in his dealings with the apostles, and generally with all that have been most dear unto him and instrumental unto the interest of his glory in the world, especially since life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel. He had great work to do by the apostles, and that of the greatest use unto his interest and kingdom. The laying of the foundations of the glorious kingdom of Christ in the world was committed unto them. Who would not think that he should provide for them, if not principalities or popedoms, yet at least archbishoprics and bishoprics, with other good ecclesiastical dignities and preferments? Hereby might they have been made meet to converse with princes, and been freed from the contempt of the vulgar. But Infinite Wisdom did otherwise dispose of them and their concerns in this world; for as God was pleased to exercise them with the common afflictions and calamities of this life, which he makes use of to take off the sweetness of present enjoyments, so they lived and died in a condition of poverty, distress, persecution, and reproach. God set them forth as examples unto other ends, -- namely, of light, grace, zeal, and holiness in their lives, -- so as to manifest of how little concernment unto our own blessedness or an interest in his love is the abundance of all things here below, as also that the want of them all may consist with the highest participation of his love and favor: I Cor. 4:9, 11-13, "I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." And if the consideration hereof be not of weight with others, undoubtedly it ought to be so with them who are called to preach the gospel, and are the successors to the apostles. There can be nothing more uncouth, absurd, and shameful, nothing more opposite unto the intimation of the wisdom and will of God in his dealings with those first and most honorable dispensers of it, than for such persons to seek and follow greedily after secular advantages, in worldly power, riches, wealth, and honor. Hence there hath been in former ages an endeavor to separate such persons as were by any means dedicated unto the ministry of the gospel from all secular dignities and revenues; yea, some maintained that they were to enjoy nothing of their own, but were to live on alms or the free contributions of the people. But this was quickly condemned as heresy in Wycliffe and others. Yet another sort set up that would pretend thereunto as unto themselves, though they would not oblige all others unto the same rule. This produced some swarms of begging friars, whom they of the church, who were in possession of wealth and power, thought meet to laugh at and let alone. Of late years this contest is at an end. The clergy have happily gotten the victory, and esteem all due unto them that they can by any ways obtain; nor is there any greater crime than for a man to be otherwise minded. But these things are not our present concernment. From the beginning it was not so; and it is well if, in such a way, men are able to maintain the frame of mind inquired after, which is life and peace.

3. God continues to cast contempt on these things, by giving always incomparably the greatest portion of them unto the vilest men and his own avowed enemies. This was a temptation under the old covenant, but is highly instructive under the new. None will judge those things to be of real value which a wise man casts out daily unto swine, making little or no use of them in his family. Those monsters of men, Nero and Heliogabalus, had more interest in, and more power over, the things of this world than ever had the best of men; -- such villains in nature, so pernicious unto human society, that their not-being was the interest of mankind; but yet more of the world poured on them than they knew either how to enjoy, possess, use, or abuse. Look on all the principal treasures and powers of this world as in the hand of one of these monsters, and there disposed of by divine providence, and you may see at what rate God values them.

At this day, the greatest, most noble, wealthy, and fruitful parts of the earth are given unto the great Turk, with some other eastern potentates, either Mohammedans or Pagans, who are prepared for eternal destruction. And if we look nearer home, we may see in whose hands is the power of the chiefest nations of Europe, and unto what end it is used. The utmost of what some Christian professors among ourselves are intent and designing upon, as that which would render them wondrous happy, in their own apprehensions, put hundreds of them together, and it would not answer the waste made by the forementioned beasts every day.

Doth not God proclaim herein that the things of this world are not to be valued or esteemed? If they were so, and had a real worth in themselves, would the holy and righteous God make such a distribution of them? The most of those whom he loves, who enjoy his favor, and not only have comparatively the meanest share of them, but are exercised with all the evils that the destitution and want of them can be accompanied withal. His open and avowed enemies, in the meantime, have more than they know what to do withal. Who would set his heart and affections on those things which God poureth into the bosoms of the vilest men, to be a snare unto them here and an aggravation of their condemnation forever? It seems you may go and take the world, and take the curse, death and hell, along with it, but "what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" What can any man do on the consideration hereof, who will not forgo all his hopes and expectations from God, but retreat unto the faith of things spiritual and eternal, as containing an excellency in them incomparably above all that he enjoyed here below?

4. He doth continue to give perpetual instances of their uncertainty and unsatisfactoriness, in the utter disappointment of men that have had expectations from them. The ways hereof are so various, and the instances so multiplied, as that most men in the world, -- unless they are like the fool in the Gospel, who bade his soul take its ease for many years, because his barns were full, -- live in perpetual fears and apprehensions that they shall speedily lose whatever they enjoy, or are under the power of stupid security. But as unto this consideration of them, there is such an account given by the wise man as unto which nothing can be added, or which no reason or experience is able to contradict, Eccl. 2. By these and the like ways doth God cast contempt on all things here below, discovering the folly and falseness of the promises which the world makes use of to allure our affections unto itself. This, therefore, is to be laid as the foundation in all our considerations unto what or whom we shall cleave by our affections, that God hath not only declared the insufficiency of these things to give us that rest and happiness which we seek after, but also poured contempt upon them, in his holy, wise disposal of them in the world.

Secondly, God hath added unto their vanity by shortening the lives of men, reducing their continuance in this world unto so short and uncertain a season as it is impossible they should take any solid satisfaction in what they enjoy here below. So it is expressed by the psalmist, "Behold, thou hast made my days as an hand-breadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee." Hence he draws two conclusions: -- 1. That "every man at his best is altogether vanity." 2. That "every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them," Ps. 39:5-6. The uncertainty and shortness of the lives of men render all their endeavors and contrivances about earthly things both vain and foolish. When men lived eight or nine hundred years, they had opportunity to suck out all the sweetness that was in creature-comforts, to make large provisions of them, and to have long projections about them; but when they had so, they all issued in that violence, oppression, and wickedness, which brought the flood on the world of ungodly men. And it still so abides. The more of and the longer men enjoy these things, the more, without the sovereign preservative of grace, will they abound in sin and provocation of God. But God hath reduced the life of man unto the small pittance of seventy years, casting what may fall out of a longer continuance into travail and sorrow. Besides, that space is shortened with the most, by various and innumerable incidences and occasions. Wherefore, in these seventy years, consider how long it is before men begin to have a taste or gust of the things of this life; how many things fall in cross, to make us weary of them before the end of our days; how few among us (not one of a thousand) attain that age; what is the uncertainty of all men living as to the continuance of their lives unto the next day; and we shall see that the holy, wise God hath left no such season for their enjoyment as might put a value upon them. And when, on the other hand, it is remembered that this man, who is of such short continuance in this world, is yet made for eternity, eternal blessedness or misery, which state depends wholly on his interest on things above, and setting his affections on them, they must forfeit all their reason, as well as bid defiance unto the grace of God, who give them up unto things below.

Thirdly, God hath openly and fully declared the danger that is in these things, as unto their enjoyment and use. And what multitudes of souls miscarry by an inordinate adherence unto them! for they are the matter of those temptations whereby the souls of men are ruined forever; the fuel that supplies the fire of their lusts, until they are consumed by it.

Men under the power of spiritual convictions fall not into sin, fail not eternally, but by the means of temptation; that is the mire wherein this rush doth grow. As for others, who live and die in the madness and wildness of nature, without any restraint in their minds from the power of convictions, they need no external temptations, but only opportunities to exert their lusts. But as for those who, by any means, are convinced of sin, righteousness, and judgment, so as to design the ordering of their lives with respect unto the sense they have of them, they fall not into actual sin by upon temptations. That, whatever it be, which causeth, occasioneth, and prevaileth on, a convinced person unto sin, that is temptation. Wherefore, this is the great means of the ruin of the souls of men.

Now, though there are many principles of temptation, many causes that actually concur unto its efficacy, as sin, Satan, and other men, yet the matter of almost all ruinous temptations is taken out of this world and the things of it. Thence doth Satan take all his darts; thence do evil men derive all the ways and means whereby they corrupt others; and from thence is all the fuel of sin and lust taken. And, which adds unto this evil, all that is in the world contributes its utmost thereunto. "All that is in the world" is "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," I John 2:16. It is not a direct, formal annumeration of the things that are in the world, nor a distribution of them under several heads, but it is so of the principal lusts of the minds of men, whereunto all things in the world are subservient. Wherefore, not only the matter of all temptations is taken out of the world, but everything that is in the world is apt and fit to be abused unto that end; for it were easy to show that there is nothing desirable or valuable in this whole world, but it is reducible unto a subserviency unto one or other of these lusts, and is applicable unto the interest and service of temptations and sin.

When men hear of these things, they are apt to say, "Let the dream be unto them that are openly wicked, and the interpretation of it unto them that are profligate in sin." Unto unclean persons, drunkards, oppressors, proud, ambitious persons, it may be it is so; but as unto them, they use the things of this world with a due moderation, so as they are no snare unto them! But to own they are used unto what end soever, if the affections of men are set upon them, one way or other, there is nothing in the world but is thus a snare and temptation. However, we should be very careful how we adhere unto or undervalue that which is the cause and means of the ruin of multitudes of souls. By the warnings given us hereof doth God design, as unto the use of means, to teach us the vanity and danger of fixing our affections on things below.

Fourthly, Things are so ordered in the holy, wise dispensation of God's providence, that it requires much spiritual wisdom to distinguish between the use and the abuse of these things, between a lawful care about them and an inordinate cleaving unto them. Few distinguish aright here, and therefore in these things will many find their great mistake at the last day. For the disappointments that they will fall under, as to what concerns their earthly enjoyments, and the use of them wherewith they were entrusted, see Matt. 25:34, to the end of the chapter.

It is granted that there is a lawful use of these things, a lawful care and industry about them; so it is also acknowledged, it cannot be denied, that there is an abuse of them, springing from an inordinate love and cleaving unto them. But here men deceive themselves, taking their measures by the most crooked, uncertain rules. Some make their own inclinations the rule and measure of what is lawful and allowable; some, the example of others; some, the course of the world; some, their own real or pretended necessities. They confess that there is an inordinate love of those things, and an abuse of them, in excesses of various sorts, which the Scripture plainly affirms, and which experience gives open testimony unto; but as unto their state and circumstances, their care, love, and industry are all allowable. That which influenceth all these persons is self-love, which inveterate, corrupt affections and false reasonings do make an application of unto these occasions.

Hence we have men approving of themselves as just stewards of their enjoyments, whilst others judge them hard, covetous, earthly-minded, no way laying out what they are entrusted withal unto the glory of God in any due proportion. Others also think not amiss of themselves in this kind, who live in palpable excesses, either of pride of life, or sensual pleasures, vain apparel, or the like. So, in particular, most men in their feastings and entertainments walk in direct contempt of the rule which our Savior gives in that case, Luke 14:12-14, and yet approve themselves therein.

But what if any of us should be mistaken in our rule and the application of it unto our conditions? Men at sea may have a fair gale of wind, wherewith they may sail freely and smoothly for a season, and yet, instead of being brought into a port, be cast by it at last on destructive shelves or rocks.

And what if that which we esteem allowable love, care, and industry, should prove to be the fruit of earthly affections, inordinate and predominant in us? What if we miss in our measures, and that which we approve of in ourselves should be disapproved of God? We are cast forever; we belong unto the world; and with the world we shall perish.

It may be said, that "if it be so difficult to distinguish between these things, -- namely, the lawful use of things here below and their abuse, the allowable industry about them and the inordinate love of them, -- on the knowledge whereof our eternal condition depends, it is impossible but men must spend their time in solicitous anxiety of mind, as not knowing when they have aright discharged their duty."

Answer 1. I press these things at present no farther but only to show how dangerous a thing it is for any to incline in his affections unto the things of this world, wherein an excess is ruinous and hardly discoverable. Surely no wise man will venture freely and frequently unto the edge of such a precipice. He will be jealous of his measures, lest they will not hold by the rule of the word. And a due sense hereof is the best preservative of the soul from cleaving inordinately unto things below. And when God in any instance, by afflictions or otherwise, shows unto believers their transgression herein, and how they have exceeded, Job 36:8-9, it makes them careful for the future. They will now or never be diligent that they fall not under that peremptory rule, I John 2:15.

2. When the soul is upright and sincere, there is no need in this case of any more solicitousness or anxiety of mind than there is unto or about other duties; but when it is biased and acted by self-love, and its more strong inclinations unto things present, it is impossible men should enjoy solid peace, or be free from severe reflections on them by their own consciences, in such seasons wherein they are awakened unto their duty and the consideration of their state, nor have I anything to tender for their relief. With others it is not so, and therefore I shall so far digress in this place as to give some directions unto those who, in sincerity, would be satisfied in this lawful use and enjoyment of earthly things, so as not to adhere unto them with inordinate affection: --

1. Remember always that you are not proprietors or absolute possessors of those things, but only stewards of them. With respect unto men, you are or may be just proprietors of what you enjoy; but with respect unto Him who is the great possessor of heaven and earth, you are but stewards. This stewardship we are to give an account of, as we are taught in the parable, Luke 16:1-2. This rule always attended unto will be a blessed guide in all instances and occasions of duty.

But if a man be left in trust with houses and large possessions, as a steward for the right lord, owner, and proprietor of them, if he fall into a pleasing dream that they are all his own, and use them accordingly, it will be a woful surprisal unto him when he shall be called to account for all that he hath received and laid out, whether he will or no, and when indeed he hath nothing to pay. It will scarce be otherwise with them at the great day who forget the trust which is committed to them, and suppose they may do what they will with what they call their own.

2. There is nothing, in the ways of getting, enjoying, or using of these things, but giveth its own evidence unto spiritual wisdom whether it be within the bounds of duty or no. Men are not lightly deceived herein, but when they are evidently under the power of corrupt affections, or will not at all attend unto themselves and the language of their own consciences. It is a man's own fault alone if he know not wherein he doth exceed.

A due examination of ourselves in the sight of God with respect unto these things, the frame and actings of our minds in them, will greatly give check unto our corrupt inclinations and discover the folly of those reasonings whereby we deceive ourselves into the love of earthly things, or justify ourselves therein, and bring to light the secret principle of self-love, which is the root of all this evil.

3. If you would be able to make a right judgment in this case, be sure that you have another object for your affections, which hath a predominant interest in your minds, and which will evidence itself so to have on all occasions. Let a man be never so observant of himself as unto all outward duties required of him with respect unto those earthly things; let him be liberal in the disposal of them on all occasions; let him be watchful against all intemperance and excesses in the use of them, -- yet if he hath not another object for his affections, which hath a prevailing influence upon them, if they are not set upon the things that are above, one way or other it is the world that hath the possession of his heart: for the affections of our minds will and must be placed in chief on things below or things above. There will be a predominant love in us; and therefore, although all our actions should testify another frame, yet if God and the things of God be not the principal object of our affections, by one way or other unto the world we do belong. This is that which is taught us so expressly by our Savior, Luke 16:9-13, "And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."

4. Labor continually for the mortification of your affections unto the things of this world. They are, in the state of corrupted nature, set and fixed on them, nor will any reasonings or considerations effectually divert them, or take them off in a due manner, unless they are mortified unto them by the cross of Christ. Whatever change be otherwise wrought in them, it will be of no advantage unto us. It is mortification alone that will take them off from earthly things unto the glory of God. Hence the apostle, having given us that charge, "Set your affection on things above, and not on things on the earth," Col. 3:2, adds this as the only way and means we may do so, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth," verse 5. Let no man think that his affections will fall off from earthly things of their own accord. The keenness and sharpness of them in many things may be abated by the decay of their natural powers in age and the like; they may be mated by frequent disappointments, by sicknesses, pains, and afflictions, as we shall see immediately; they may be willing unto a distribution of earthly enjoyments, to have the reputation of it, wherein they still cleave unto the world, but under another shape and appearance; or they may be startled by convictions, so as to do many things gladly that belong to another frame: but, on one pretense or other, under one appearance or other, they will forever adhere or cleave unto earthly things, unless they are mortified unto them through faith in the blood and cross of Christ, Gal. 6:14. Whatever thoughts you may have of yourselves in this matter, unless you have the experience of a work of mortification on your affections, you can have no refreshing ground of assurance that you are in anything spiritually minded.

5. In all the instances of duty belonging unto your stewardship of earthly things, attend diligently unto the rule of the word. Without this the grace exhorted unto may be abused. So of old, under a pretense of a relinquishment of the things of this world, because of the danger in adhering unto them, their own superstition and the craft of other men prevailed with many to part with all they had unto the service of others, not better, it may be not so good as themselves. This evil wholly arose from want of attendance unto the rule of truth, which gives no such direction in ordinary cases. But there is not much seen in these days of an excess in this kind; but, on the other hand, in all instances of duties of this nature, most men's minds are habitually influenced with pretenses, reasonings, and considerations, that turn the scales as unto what they ought to do, in proportion in this duty, on the side of the world. If you would be safe, you must, in all instances of duty, -- as in works of charity, piety, and compassion, -- give authority in and over your souls unto the rule of the word. Let neither self, nor unbelief, nor the custom and example of others, be heard to speak; but let the rule alone be attended unto, and to what that speaks yield obedience.

Unless these things are found in us, none of us, no man living, if it be not so with him, can have any refreshing evidence or assurance that he is not under the power of an inordinate, yea, and predominant love unto this world.

And, indeed, to add a little farther on the occasion of this digression, it is a sad thing to have this exception made against the state of any man on just grounds, "Yea, but he loves the world." He is sober and industrious, he is constant in duties of religion; it may be, an earnest preacher of them; a man of sound principles, and blameless as unto the excesses of life; -- "but he loves the world!" The question is, How doth this appear? it may be, what you say is but one of those evil surmises which all things are filled withal. Wherefore, I speak it not at all to give countenance unto the rash judging of others, which none are more prone unto than those who, one way or other, are eminently guilty themselves; but I would have every man judge himself, that we be none of us condemned of the Lord. If, notwithstanding the things mentioned, any of us do center in self, which is supplied and filled with the world, -- if we prefer self above all other things, do aim at the satisfaction of self in what we do well or ill, are useless unto the only good and blessed end of these earthly things, in supplying the wants of others according unto the proportions wherewith we are entrusted, -- it is to be feared that the world and the things that are in it have the principal interest in our affections.

And the danger is yet greater with them who divert on the other extreme. Such are they who, in the pride of life, vanity in apparel, excess in drinking, pampering the flesh every day, tread close on the feels of the world, if they do not also fully keep company with it. Altogether in vain is it for such persons to countenance themselves with an appearance of other graces in them, or the sedulous performance of other duties. This one rule will eternally prevail against them: "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." And, by the way, let men take heed how they walk in any instance against the known judgment and practice of the wiser of more experienced sort of Christians, to their regret and sorrow, if not unto their offence and scandal, or in any way whereunto they win the consent of their own light and conscience by such reasonings and considerations as will not hold weight in the balance of the sanctuary. Yet thus and no otherwise is it with all them who, under a profession of religion, do indulge unto any excesses wherein they are conformed unto the world.

Fifthly, God makes a hedge against the excess of the affections of men rational and any way enlightened unto the things of this world, by suffering the generality of men to carry the use of them, and to be carried by the abuse of them, into actings so filthy, so abominable, so ridiculous, as reason itself cannot but abhor. Men by them transform themselves into beasts and monsters, as might be manifested by all sorts of instances. Hence the wise man prayed against riches, lest he should not be able to manage the temptations wherewith they are accompanied, Prov. 30:8-9.

Lastly, to close this matter, and to show us what we are to expect in case we set our affections on things here below, and they have thereby a predominant interest in our hearts, God hath positively determined and declared that if it be so, he will have nothing to do with us, nor will accept of those affections which we pretend we can and do spare for him and spiritual things. "If we abstain from open sins, if we abhor the lewdness and uncleanness of men in the world, if we are constant in religious duties, and give ourselves up to walk after the most strict sort in religion, like Paul in his Pharisaism, may we not," will some say or think, "find acceptance with God, though our hearts cleave inordinately unto the things of this world?" I say, God hath peremptorily determined the contrary; and if other arguments will not prevail with us, he leaves us at last unto this, "Go, love the world and the things of it; but know assuredly you do it unto the eternal loss of your souls," I John 2:15; James 4:4.


Excerpt from Owen's The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded

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