Owen, John. Searching our Hearts in Difficult Times. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2020.
Banner of Truth reformatted several treatises from volume nine of John Owen’s works. The material was compiled posthumously. Notwithstanding, the first half appears to be a long Q&A session from a conventicle meeting. This would have taken place at the end of Owen’s life and after the Great Ejection. That’s important for a criticism I will make later. The second half are several jeremiads bemoaning the rise of Roman Catholicism in England.
The first half offers a number of litmus tests to see if you have grace in your heart and whether that grace is strong enough to enable you to persevere in times of trouble. He begins on a strong note: “Put your faith to work in viewing him as he is represented in the gospel” (Owen 17). He warns of the danger of mere head knowledge (20), but intellectualism isn’t much of a problem for today’s church.
He fields a question on praying to Christ and whether it is lawful. He notes that “all our prayers to him as God and man in one person” (22). When Christ is considered “absolutely, in his own person…he is the immediate and ultimate object of faith and worship.” In such cases, as with Stephen, we may pray to him.
Concerning his mediatorial office, though, “he is not the ultimate object of our faith and invocation. Rather, we call upon God, the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ” (25). Failure to note his mediatorship results in a contradiction: our faith would be on Christ and also on his mediation. In conclusion, Owen notes “The Father is placed before us as the ultimate object of access in our worship; the Spirit is the effecting cause, enabling us this worship; the Son is the means by which we approach to God” (25).
Owen gives us a good guideline on rooting out habitual sin. Simply because we have a particular sin or lust does not mean we have a habitual sin. A particular sin becomes a habitual sin when we give it a particular advantage (36). If your soul is “grieved by it more than it is defiled by it,” then it probably isn’t a habitual sin (39). To the degree we consent, to that degree we are defiled.
If you find arguments against a sin losing force, it is probably a habitual sin (40). In other words, you are rationalizing.
Most of the book is quite excellent. I don’t disagree with anything that is said. I find it strange, however, that when he is speaking of renewing the grace and promises to us, he doesn’t mention the Lord’s Supper at all. To be fair, at this point in England finding reliable ministers might have made this impossible, and if so, then I don’t have any criticism of Owen. He does tell us to “labour to have the experience of the power of every truth in our hearts” (89). Formally, I have no problem. The problem is “what do you mean by ‘experience’”? We are starting to sound a lot like Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Of course, we aren’t suggesting that Owen is presenting that. This is where a robust view of the Supper fits perfectly.
Aside from those quibbles, this is quite a good read.