The “world is at present in a mighty hurry”, wrote John Owen, reflecting on the bewildering pace of events and social change in the latter part of the seventeenth century. He might have been speaking of the twenty-first century with its constant change and revolutions in society and technology. A perpetual feed of news keeps us in a constant state of anticipation and disquiet, and could easily absorb our attention and thoughts.
Owen speaks very aptly of the “multiplicity, vehemency and urgency” of such things. The world can easily insinuate itself into our minds and affections, and once there it can just as easily fill them with itself. “Hence men walk and talk as if the world were all, when comparatively it is nothing.”
Why is there such an earthly, worldly frame of spirit prevailing amongst many who profess to be Christ’s? It can be witnessed in the way that we dress, how we spend our time, even in an obsession with what we eat and other ways in which temporal things are made a primary and inordinate concern.
If our hearts are under this influence, it is almost impossible to be truly exercised in any spiritual duty that we may endeavour. We must be watchful over our minds and seek to fill them with spiritual things if we would seek to profit and make progress spiritually. Why is there so little fruit and why do we seem to be withered and dry in spiritual things? Unless we are fostering spiritual mindedness through meditation, “no grace will thrive or flourish in us, no duty will be rightly performed by us”, nor will we be rightly prepared for heaven itself.
If we truly wish to heal our spiritual malaise and be delivered from lukewarmness, we must take seriously and address this duty of spiritual mindedness. John Owen wrote many extensive books but among the most significant is The Grace and Duty of Spiritual Mindedness. It is just the very book that we need to read, ponder and put into practice if we wish to make some progress in fostering spiritual mindedness.
Thomas Chalmers believed it was invaluable for those who wish to scrutinise their own heart and affections, as it discerns and opens up the elusive and secret operations of the human heart and mind. Owen was brought to consider the matter of spiritual mindedness during an illness that was so serious that he felt that his earthly labours might be at an end. It was not as he feared, however, but the meditations given to him during this time were the substance of some sermons preached after his recovery. Out of this series of sermons developed a book that is a precious help towards cultivating heavenly affections.
This is the first in a series of articles which will (DV) provide questions and answers based upon Owen’s book. These seek to summarise his teaching for those who may be daunted by his language or need some encouragement and direction in following his train of thought. It cannot, of course, provide an adequate substitute. The best way to profit from the summary would be to use it as an encouragement and help to read Owen’s book itself (which is contained in Volume 7 of Owen’s Works).
[Owen’s own Preface to his work can be found at this link.]
Matthew A Vogan