Last time I posted some reflections on John Owen’s advice on preaching the gospel to your lust. His remedy is so bizarre and out of place in our self-help, “you can do it” time. Rather than excusing our sinful desires away or advocating some blame game, Owen urges us to interrogate our soul with the gospel, not for relief, but for further conviction of guilt. By doing this we will know our sin for what it really is, and by God’s grace, be sickened by its bitterness. If we are to preach the gospel to our souls, then we must look into the eyes of the One we have pierced. This is the call, or conviciton, of the gospel.
But what do we then preach to our soul that is now distraught by its sin, weighed down its guilt, ashamed of its mockery of God’s grace and love? Owen’s strategy is constant–bring your drooping heart…to the gospel! His remedy is singular and steadfast–“set faith at work on Christ for the killing of [our] sin.” He doesn’t buy into a 50/50 gospel. No! Owen realizes that although we must fight against sin and for joy, we can only do so because of the superior promises of God that are ours because of Jesus and through the Spirit. As we set our faith on the promises of God instead of the promises of our lust, we will see that “His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conqueror; yea, and you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet” (p. 132). This is the comfort of the gospel. Owen reminds us that the gospel exposes our sin is the same gospel that transforms the sinner, and it is this gospel that we must preach to our souls every day.
“Let, then, your soul by faith be exercised with such thoughts and apprehensions as these: I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is become as parched ground, and a habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of naught. Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succor and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Christ, that has all fullness of grace in his heart [Matt. 28:18], he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror [Rom. 8:37].
“Why do you say, O my soul, My way is hid from the
Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?
Have you not known, have you not heart, that the ever-
lasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth,
faints not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his
understanding. He gives power to the Faint; and to them
that have no might he increases strength. Even the youths
shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run,
and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint”
He can make the “dry, parched ground of my soul to become a pool, and my thirsty, barren heart as springs of water”; yea, he can make this “habitation of dragons,” this heart, so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations, to be a place for “grass” and fruit to himself (Isa. 35:7).