(Owen. The Glory of Christ, Part 2. File 5)

(... continued from File 4)

    (2.) Let them take heed that they attempt not these things in 
their own strength. When men have strong convictions that such and 
such things are their own duty, they are apt to act as if they were 
to be done in their own strength. They must do them, they will do 
them, - that is, as unto the outward work, - and, therefore, they 
think they can do them; that is, in a due manner. The Holy Ghost has 
for ever rejected this confidence, - none shall prosper in it, 2 
Cor. 3: 5; 9: 8. But hereby many deceive themselves, labouring in 
the fire, while all they do does immediately perish; they have been 
negligent and careless, whereby things are come to an ill posture 
with them, and that peace which they had is impaired; but now they 
will pray, and read, and fast, and be liberal to the poor, and now 
strive after an abstinence from sin. All these things they suppose 
they can do of themselves, because they can and ought to perform the 
outward works, wherein the duties intended do consist. Hereby Christ 
is left out of the whole design, who, when all is done, is the Lord 
that health us, Exod. 15: 26. And there is another evil herein; for 
whatever men do in their own natural abilities, there is a secret 
reserve of some kind of merit in it. Those who plead for these 
things, do aver there can be no merit in any thing but what proceeds 
from our own free-will; and what is so done has some kind of merit 
inseparably accompanying of it; and this is enough to render all 
endeavours of this kind not only useless and fruitless, but utterly 
rejected. Faith must engage the assistance of Christ and his grace 
in and unto these duties; or, however they may be multiplied, they 
will not be effectual unto our healing and recovery. These things 
are to be used, according as we receive supplies of grace from 
above, in subordination unto that work of faith that shall be 
declared. Wherefore, - 
    3. The work of recovering backsliders or believers from under 
their spiritual decays is an act of sovereign grace, wrought in us 
by virtue of divine promises. Out of this eater comes meat. Because 
believers are liable to such declensions, backsliding, and decays, 
God has provided and given unto us great and precious promises of a 
recovery, if we duly apply ourselves unto the means of it. One of 
the places only wherein they are recorded I shall here call over and 
explain, Hos. 14: 1-8, "O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for 
thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn 
unto the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us 
graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips," &c. "I will 
heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is 
turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall 
grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches 
shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his 
smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; 
they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent 
thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim shall say, What 
have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed 
him. I am like a green fir-tree: from me is thy fruit found." 
    The whole matter treated of in general, both as unto the 
disease and remedy, is fully stated in this passage of Scripture; 
and that in the experience of the church, and God's dealing with 
them; we may therefore receive many plain directions from it, and a 
safe guidance in our progress; which we shall endeavour to take in 
the ensuing observations: - 
    (1.) This application of God unto Israel, "O Israel, return," 
was made when the generality of the people were wicked, and devoted 
unto utter destruction. So it is declared in the last words of the 
foregoing chapter; and their desolation fell out not long after 
accordingly. Wherefore no season nor circumstances of things shall 
obstruct sovereign grace when God will exercise it towards his 
church: it shall work in the midst of desolating judgements. 
    (2.) In such a time the true Israel of God, the elect 
themselves, are apt to be overtaken with the sins of the whole, and 
so to backslide from God, and so to fall into spiritual decays. So 
Israel had now done, though she had not absolutely broken covenant 
with God. He was yet unto her "The LORD thy God;" yet she had fallen 
by her iniquity. Times of public apostasy are often accompanied with 
partial defects in the best: "Because iniquity aboundeth, the love 
of many shall wax cold," Matt. 24: 12. 
    (3.) When God designs to heal the backsliding of his people by 
sovereign grace, he gives them effectual calls unto repentance, and 
the use of means for their healing: so he does here by his prophet, 
"O Israel, return; take with you words." And if I could see that God 
did stir up his faithful ministers to apply themselves in a peculiar 
manner unto this work of pressing vehemently all their congregations 
with their duty herein, and let them know that there is no other way 
to prevent their ruin but by returning unto the Lord, according to 
the ways of it here prescribed, I should not doubt but that the time 
of healing were at hand. 
    4. The means prescribed unto this end, that our backsliding may 
be healed in a way suited unto the glory of God, is renewed 
repentance: and this acts itself, - 
    (1.) In fervent prayer. "Take with you words, and say." 
Consider the greatness and importance of the work before you, and 
weigh well what you do in your dealing with God. The matter of this 
prayer is twofold. [1.] The pardon of all iniquity; that is, the 
taking of it away; and no sin is omitted, all being now become 
equally burdensome: "Take away all iniquity." When the souls of 
sinners are in good earnest in their return unto God, they will 
leave out the consideration of no one sin whatever. Nor are we meet 
for healing, nor shall we apply ourselves unto it in a due manner, 
without some previous sense of the love of God in the pardon of our 
sin. [2.] Gracious acceptation: "Receive us graciously." The words 
in the original are only "wekach tov". And receive good;" but both 
the words being used variously, the sense eminently included in them 
is well expressed by - "Receive us graciously." After we have cast 
ourselves under tokens of thy displeasure, now let us know that we 
are freely accepted with thee. And this also lies in the desires of 
them who design to obtain a healing of their backsliding; for under 
them they are sensible that they are obnoxious unto God's 
    (2.) Affectionate confessions of the sin wherein their 
backsliding did consist, or which were the occasions of them. 
"Asshur shall not save us;" - "We will say no more to the work of 
our hands, Ye are our gods." Fleshly confidence and false worship 
were the two great sins that had now ruined the body of the people. 
These believers themselves had an accession unto them more or less, 
as now they have unto the prevailing sins of the days wherein we 
live, by conformity unto the world. Of these sins God expecteth a 
full and free confession, in order unto our healing. 
    (3.) A renewed covenant engagement to renounce all other hopes 
and expectation, and to retake themselves with their whole trust and 
confidence unto him; whereof they express, first, the cause, which 
was his mere grace and mercy, "For in thee the fatherless findeth 
mercy;" and, secondly, the effect of it, which is praise and 
thanksgiving, "So will we render the calves of our lips." And some 
things we may hence farther observe as unto the case under 
consideration. As, - 
    [1.] Although God will repair our spiritual decays and heal our 
backsliding freely, yet he will do it so, or in such a way, as 
wherein he may communicate grace unto us, to the praise of his own 
glory. Therefore are these duties prescribed unto us in order 
thereunto; for although they are not the procuring cause of the love 
and grace from whence alone we are healed, yet are they required, in 
the method of the dispensation of grace, to precede the effect of 
them. Nor have we anywhere a more illustrious instance and testimony 
of the consistency and harmony which is between sovereign grace and 
the diligent discharge of our duty than we have in this place; for 
as God promiseth that he would heal their backsliding out of his 
free love, verse 4, and would do it by the communication of 
effectual grace, verse 5, so he enjoins them all these duties in 
order thereunto. 
    [2.] That unless we find these things wrought in us in a way of 
preparation for the receiving of the mercy desired, we have no firm 
ground of expectation that we shall be made partakers of it; for 
this is the method of God's dealing with the church. Then, and then 
only, we may expect a gracious reviving from all our decays, when 
serious repentance, working in the ways declared, is found in us. 
This grace will not surprise us in our sloth, negligence, and 
security, but will make way for itself by stirring us up unto 
sincere endeavours after it in the perseverance of these duties. And 
until we see better evidences of this repentance among us than as 
yet appears, we can have but small hopes of a general recovery from 
our present decays. 
    5. The work itself is declared, - (1.) By its nature; (2.) In 
its causes; (3.) From its effects. 
    (1.) In the nature of it, it is the healing of backsliding: "I 
will heal their backsliding," the sin whereby they are fallen off 
from God, unto whom they are now exhorted to return. These bring the 
souls of men into a diseased state and danger of death: the cure 
hereof is the work of God alone. Hence he gives himself that title, 
"I am the LORD that health thee," Exod. 15: 26. And because of the 
poisonous nature of sin, and the danger it brings of eternal death 
unto the souls of men, the removal of it, or a recovery from it, is 
often called by the name of healing, Ps 6: 2; Isa. 57: 18, 19; Hos. 
6: 1. Here it includeth two things: first, the pardon of sin past; 
and then, a supply of grace to make us fruitful in obedience: "I 
will be as the dew to Israel;" as we shall see. This is God's 
healing of backslidings. 
    (2.) In the causes of it, which are, - 1. The principal moving 
cause; and that is, free, undeserved love: "I will love them 
freely." From hence alone is our recovery to be expected. 2. The 
efficient cause; which, as unto sins past, is pardoning mercy: "Mine 
anger is turned away from him;" - and as unto renewed obedience, in 
which too our recovery consists, it is in a plentiful supply of 
effectual grace: "I will be as the dew unto Israel." Fresh supplies 
of the Spirit of grace from above are so expressed; this is 
necessary unto our healing and recovery. 
    (3.) It is described by its effect, which is a much more 
abundant fruitfulness in holiness and obedience, in peace and love, 
than ever they had before attained. This the prophet sets out in 
multiplied similitudes and metaphors, to denote the greatness and 
efficacy of grace so communicated. 
    I have a little insisted on the opening of the context, for 
sundry reasons. 
    1. The case which I would consider is in all the parts of it 
stated distinctly, and represented clearly unto us. There is nothing 
remains, but only the especial way whereby, in the exercise of 
faith, this grace may be obtained; which is that which I shall speak 
unto in the last place, as that which is principally intended in 
this Discourse. 
    2. That I might show how great a thing it is to have our 
spiritual decays made up, our backsliding healed, and so to attain 
the vigorous acting of grace and spiritual life, with a flourishing 
profession and fruitful obedience, in old age. It is so set forth 
here by the Holy Ghost, as that every one must needs have a sense of 
the beauty and glory of the work: it is that which divine love, 
mercy, and grace, are eminently effectual in unto the glory of God, 
- that which so many duties are required to prepare us for. Let no 
man think that it is a light or common work; every thing in it is 
peculiar: it is, unto them who are made partakers of it, a life from 
the dead. 
    3. That none may utterly despond under their decays. When 
persons are awakened by new convictions, and begin to feel the 
weight of them, and how implicately they are entangled with them, 
they are ready to faint, and even to despair of deliverance. But we 
see that here is a promise of deliverance from them by pardoning 
mercy, and also of such fresh springs of grace as shall cause us to 
abound in holiness and fruitfulness. Who is it that is entangled 
with corruptions and temptations, that groans under a sense of a 
cold, lifeless, barren frame of heart? He may take in spiritual 
refreshment, if by faith he can make application of this promise 
unto himself. 
    4. That which remains, is to declare the particular way 
whereby, in the exercise of faith, we may obtain the fruit of this 
and all other promises of the like nature, unto the end so often 
proposed, - namely, of being flourishing and fruitful even in old 
age. Now, supposing a due attendance unto the duties mentioned, I 
shall give some directions with respect unto that which gives life, 
power, and efficacy unto them all, and which will infallibly bring 
us unto the full enjoyment of this signal mercy; and they are these 
that follow: - 
    1. All our supplies of grace are from Jesus Christ. Grace is 
declared in the promises of the Old Testament; but the way of its 
communication, and our receiving of it, is revealed unto us in the 
New. This belongs to the mystery of it, that all grace is from 
Christ, and shall be in vain expected any other way. He has assured 
us, that "without him we can do nothing;" we can no more bring forth 
fruit, than a branch can that is separated from the vine, John 15: 
3-5. He is our head, and all our spiritual influences - that is, 
divine communication of grace - are from him alone. He is our life 
efficiently, and liveth in us effectively, so as that our ability 
for vital acts is from him, Gal 2: 20; Col. 3:. 1-4. Are we, then, 
any of us under convictions of spiritual decays? or do we long for 
such renovations of spiritual strength as may make us flourish in 
faith, love, and holiness? We must know assuredly, that nothing of 
all this can be attained, but it must come from Jesus Christ alone. 
We see what promises are made, what duties are prescribed unto us; 
but however we should endeavour to apply ourselves unto the one or 
the other, they would yield us no relief, unless we know how to 
receive it from Christ himself. 
    2. The only way of receiving supplies of spiritual strength and 
grace from Jesus Christ, on our part, is by faith. Hereby we come 
unto him, are implanted in him, abide with him, so as to bring forth 
fruit. He dwells in our hearts by faith, and he acts in us by faith, 
and we live by faith in or on the Son of God. This, I suppose, will 
be granted, that if we receive any thing from Christ, it must be by 
faith, it must be in the exercise of it, or in a way of believing; 
nor is there any one word in the Scripture that gives the least 
encouragement to expect either grace or mercy from him in any other 
way, or by any other means. 
    3. This faith respects the person of Christ, his grace, his 
whole mediation, with all the effects of it, and his glory in them 
all. This is that which has been so much insisted on in the 
foregoing Discourses as that it ought not to be again insisted upon. 
This, therefore, is the issue of the whole: - a steady view of the 
glory of Christ, in his person, grace, and office, through faith, - 
or a constant, lively exercise of faith on him, according as he is 
revealed unto us in the Scripture, - is the only effectual way to 
obtain a revival from under our spiritual decays, and such supplies 
of grace as shall make us flourishing and fruitful even in old age. 
He that thus lives by faith in him shall, by his spiritual thriving 
and growth, "show that the Lord is upright, that he is our rock, and 
that there is no unrighteousness in him." 
    We may consider briefly, - first, how this is testified unto in 
the Scripture; and then, what are the ways whereby this grace or 
duty will produce this effect; and so put a close unto this part of 
the application of the sacred truth before declared. 
    1. This direction is given us, Ps. 34: 5, "They looked unto 
him, and were lightened; and their faces were not ashamed." That it 
is Christ, or the glory of God in him, that is thus looked unto, I 
need not prove, - it will not be denied. And it is their faith which 
is expressed by their looking unto him; which is nothing but that 
beholding of his glory which we have described: for it is an act of 
trust arising from an apprehension of who and what he is. The issue 
or effect hereof is, that they were lightened; that is, received 
fresh communication of spiritual, saving, refreshing light from him, 
and, consequently, of all other graces, whence their faces were not 
ashamed: nor shall we fail in our expectation of new spiritual 
communication in the exercise of the same faith. 
    This is that which we are called unto, Is 45: 22, "Look unto 
me, and be saved, all ye ends of the earth." On this look to Christ, 
on this view of his glory, depends our whole salvation; and 
therefore all things that are needful thereunto do so also: this is 
the way whereby we receive grace and glory. This is the direction 
given us by the Holy Ghost for the attaining of them. 
    So is the same duty described, Micah 7: 7, "Therefore I will 
look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God 
will hear me." The church knew not any other way of relief, whatever 
her distresses were. 
    A look unto Christ as crucified (and how glorious he was 
therein, has been declared) is made the cause and fountain of that 
godly sorrow which is a spring unto all other graces, especially in 
those who have fallen under decays, Zech. 12: 10; and it is so also 
of desiring strength from him, to enable us to endure all our 
trials, troubles, and afflictions, with patience unto the end, Heb. 
12: 2. 
    2. The only inquiry remaining, is, how a constant view of the 
glory of Christ will produce this blessed effect in us: and it will 
do so several ways. 
    1. It will be effected by that transforming power and efficacy 
which this exercise of faith is always accompanied withal. This is 
that which changeth us every day more and more into the likeness of 
Christ, as has been at large before declared. Herein all revivals 
and all flourishing are contained. To have a good measure of 
conformity unto Christ is all whereof in this life we are capable: 
the perfection of it is eternal blessedness. According as are our 
attainments therein, so is the thriving and flourishing of the life 
of grace in us; which is that which is aimed at. Other ways and 
means, it may be, have failed us, let us put this to the trial. Let 
us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and 
virtue will proceed from him to repair all our decays, to renew a 
right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of 
obedience. This way of producing these effects flesh and blood will 
not reveal, - it looks like washing in Jordan to cure a leprosy; but 
the life of faith is a mystery known only unto them in whom it is. 
    2. It will fix the soul unto that object which is suited to 
give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction. This in perfection 
is blessedness, for it is caused by the eternal vision of the glory 
of God in Christ; and the nearer approaches we make unto this state, 
the better, the more spiritual, the more heavenly, is the state of 
our souls. And this is to be obtained only by a constant 
contemplation of the glory of Christ, as has been declared. And it 
is several ways effectual unto the end now proposed. For, - 
    1. The most of our spiritual decays and barrenness arise from 
an inordinate admission of other things into our minds; for these 
are they that weaken grace in all its operations. But when the mind 
is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, when the soul 
thereon cleaves unto him with intense affections, they will cast 
out, or not give admittance unto, those causes of spiritual weakness 
and indisposition. See Col. 3: 1-5; Eph. 5: 8. 
    2. Where we are engaged in this duty, it will stir up every 
grace unto its due exercise; which is that wherein the spiritual 
revival inquired after does consist. This is all we desire, all we 
long for, this will make us fat and flourishing, - namely, that 
every grace of the Spirit have its due exercise in us. See Rom. 5: 
3-5; 2 Pet. 1: 5-8. Whereas, therefore, Christ himself is the first 
proper, adequate object of all grace, and all its exercise (for it 
first respects him, and then other things for him), when the mind is 
fixed on him and his glory, every grace will be in a readiness for 
its due exercise. And without this we shall never attain it by any 
resolutions or endeavours of our own, let us make the trial when we 
    3. This will assuredly put us on a vigilant watch and constant 
conflict against all the deceitful workings of sin, against all the 
entrances of temptation, against all the ways and means of 
surprisals into foolish frames, by vain imaginations which are the 
causes of our decays. Our recovery or revival will not be effected, 
nor a fresh spring of grace be obtained, in a careless, slothful 
course of profession. Constant watching, fighting, contending 
against sin, with our utmost endeavour for an absolute conquest over 
it, are required hereunto. And nothing will so much excite and 
encourage our souls hereunto as a constant view of Christ and his 
glory; every thing in him has a constraining power hereunto, as is 
known to all who have any acquaintance with these things. 

(... conclusion, Owen, The Glory of Christ, Part 2)

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: owgch2-5.txt