Friday, March 25, 2011

John Owen and Self-Examination

     In January I wrote a post about my goal to read one Puritan classic each month.  An older woman at church, a great reader, gave me What Every Christian Needs to Know which is a modern adaptation of John Owen's books Temptation and Putting Sin To Death.  I chose it as my third book and now that March is almost over I've finally begun.  I should have started sooner, I should have known it would be rich in wisdom.  I've yet to be disappointed by the Puritans, though I have sometimes been surprised by the seriousness with which they approach holiness in believers and the church. 
     I came to the section on communal temptation, temptation put before the church body, and I knew these words are applicable today.  I often fall into the trap of romanticizing the past, and believing man's sin has only intensified as the centuries progressed (maybe because our chronological study of history at the elementary level is carefully whitewashed).  I just finished reading another book, 1700: Scenes from London Life, (Owen's church was in London) that is so full of sin and vice I wouldn't let my children read those accounts of real life.  Owen knew sin, and sin in the church, and I think it's safe to say, he knew it just as well as any modern pastor.
      Matthew 24:12, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold,” etc. The abounding of iniquity in some will insensibly cast water on the zeal and love of others, that by little and little it shall wax cold. Some begin to grow negligent, careless, worldly, wanton. They break the ice towards the pleasing of the flesh. At first their love also waxes cold; and the brunt being over, they also conform to them, and are cast into the same mould with them. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Paul repeats this saying twice, 1 Cor. 5:6, and Gal. 5:9. He would have us take notice of it; and it is of the danger of the infection of the whole body, from the ill examples of some, whereof he speaks....If one little piece of leaven...may endanger the whole, how much more when...much leaven is scattered abroad!
     In two recent conversations, with two unrelated people, I have heard woeful stories of two separate churches.  Has the Church at large been so leavened by sin I no longer recognize the sin of my own heart?  Have my standards of holiness been affected more by people around me or the careful consideration of God's Word and my husband's opinion?  A godly example, whether at church, in a book or online is a gift, but only so long as she remains faithful to the Word of God.  As Owen said, "It is easy following a multitude to do evil."  On my own, though I may flatter myself otherwise, I have no strength or power to withstand and am wholly dependent on the power of God.  The more difficult path is one of watching and praying that I do not enter into temptation.  I don't want to be a careless believer, with my imagination fixed on temptations and my affections entangled in the world.  I need to pray, with greater earnestness, the line from the Lord's prayer, "and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil."  This is a request I ought to earnestly cast before the throne of Grace day after day, always needy for the power of God to work His will in me.

*Although the abridged version is helpful, I suspected it lacked something of the original.  I hunted up Owen's own words online.  The original requires slow and thoughtful reading, (I have quoted it above) but the text is rich in words and ideas.  This quote is from Chapter 3 of Owen's book Of Temptation.

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