John Owen was an English pastor and brilliant Puritan theologian who lived during the 1600s. He was a contemporary of John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, and labored to have Bunyan released from his imprisonment for preaching without a license. I’ve quoted Owen in Steerage, Perspicuity and in Songs, because I find his words profoundly moving. The passage below is one that is frequently quoted by those who love Owen. These words follows a section in which he has been urging the study of the Bible as preparation for contending for the Gospel; he now describes the necessity of having God’s truth abiding in our hearts:
“That direction, in this kind, which with me is instar omnium1 is for a diligent endeavor to have the power of truths professed and contended for abiding upon our hearts, that we may not contend for notions, but what we have a practical acquaintance with in our souls. When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth; when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us; when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but a sense of the things abides in our hearts; when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for; —then shall we be garrisoned, by the grace of God against all the assaults of men. And without this all our contending is, as to ourselves, of no value.”
“What am I the better if I can dispute that Christ is God, but have no sense or sweetness in my heart from hence that he is a God in covenant with my soul? What will it avail me to evince, by testimonies and arguments, that he hath made satisfaction for sin, if, through my unbelief, the wrath of God abideth on me, and I have no experience of my own being made the righteousness of God in him, if I find not, in my standing before God, the excellency of having my sins imputed to him and his righteousness imputed to me? Will it be any advantage to me, in the issue, to profess and dispute that God works the conversion of a sinner by the irresistible grace of his Spirit, if I was never acquainted experimentally with the deadness and utter impotency to good, that opposition to the law of God, which is in my own soul by nature, with the efficacy of the exceeding greatness of the power of God in quickening, enlightening, and bringing forth the fruits of obedience in me? It is the power of truth in the heart alone that will make us cleave unto it indeed in an hour of temptation.
“Let us, then, not think that we are any thing the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we contend with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in our own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him.”2
1instar omnium: worth all of them. Eugene Ehrlich, ed.,The Harper Dictionary of Foreign Terms,
3rd edition, Harper & Row, 1987, p. 164.
Charles H. Spurgeon, A Treasury of David, Psalm 33, v. 20, in the “Explanatory Notes and Quaint
Sayings”, quoting John Spencer about the Lord Jesus, “He is instar omnium (all in all), and who
is like unto him in all the world?”
In some old notes, I had written down that instar omnium, literally means, “among all the stars”,
but I neglected to list a reference, and I am unable to locate it.
2John Owen, Complete Works, The Mystery of the Gospel Vindicated and Socianism Examined,
Preface to the Reader, XII:52 . I have added paragraph breaks for easier reading.
1 Timothy 1:5: Paul’s sentence construction indicates the goal is not three things, but one thing—love—love from (1) a pure heart, (2) a good conscience and (3) a sincere faith. See: R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, p. 30; George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 77.
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