This treatise, entitled Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God’s Elect,’ was given to the world in 1695. The remainder of the title is scarcely applicable as a correct designation of the leading divisions of the work. and may, perhaps, have been added by those who had the charge of publishing it. In the preface by Isaac Chauncey, the reader is assured that the treatise is the production of Dr Owen. It bears internal evidence of the fact, and that he wrote it, with a view to publication. When he waives the formal discussion of some topics connected with his subject, on the ground that he had attempted the discussion of them ‘in other writings,’ it seems a just inference that it had been his intention to publish the treatise, though no explanation has transpired why it was withheld from the press for a period of twelve years after his death. The circumstance is of some moment, as showing that the work, though posthumous, may be held to contain the deliberate and matured judgement of the author on the question of which it treats.
His object is not to illustrate the common evidences of genuine religion, or the grounds on which we may conclude a man to be sincere in his religious profession. It is an inquiry rather into the evidences on which the elect of God, in any process of self-scrutiny, may ascertain the reality of their own faith. Ascribing to faith all the importance which is due to it as the instrumental cause of justification, the author suspends the entire question of the genuineness of conversion upon the existence of a fourfold development or operation of that gracious principle in the hearts of all who may be anxious to discover whether they have been really quickened and born of God.
After stating the nature of saving faith, and after a brief exhibition of the gospel as the divine method for the salvation of sinners through the merits of Christ, he proceeds to ‘the trial of faith,’ as the main object of the treatise. In the first place, he shows that faith, if genuine, includes or denotes implicit approbation of ‘God’s way of saving sinners,’ in opposition to all schemes of merely human invention for our spiritual deliverance. This approbation of the divine plan for our redemption, in which he holds that the very essence and life of faith consist, is founded on the conviction; first, That the salvation revealed in the gospel is in harmony with the perfections and majesty of the divine character; secondly, That it is suited to tho views, desires, and aspirations of a soul enlightened by grace; and, thirdly, That it as effectually honours the moral law as if it had been completely fulfilled in the personal obedience of the saints.
Secondly, Faith is shown to imply an approbation of the will of God in requiring of us holiness and obedience, to the full measure of the perfection and spirituality demanded of us in the moral law. He appeals, in illustration of the obedience required, to the light of nature, and to the knowledge of good and evil which men enjoy through the law; but proves that without the light of saving faith there can be no adequate conception of the holiness required by the divine will, urging an acute distinction, which might rank as a separate contribution to the doctrine of conscience, and according to which its authority in determining the moral character of an action by no means implies the love of what is good, and the hatred of what is evil. The function of conscience he views is exclusively judicial, and shows that the motive which prompts to action must spring from other considerations. Two grounds are assigned on which faith approves of the holiness required of us:–the consistency of such a demand with the perfection of the divine nature; and its fitness, when full compliance is yielded with it, to advance us to the utmost perfection of which our own nature is capable.
Thirdly, Evidence of genuine faith is also afforded when the mind endeavours to keep itself in the due exercise of the grace of faith, inn the public and private ordinances of divine worship. If faith is not cultivated in the worship of God, all devotion is corrupted into the empty forms of superstition, as in the ritual of Popery; or becomes the mere wildfire of fanaticism, or degenerates into the rationalism which ignores all worship instituted by the authority of revelation. Judicious directions follow as to the best method of preserving faith in vivid exercise while we are engaged in the various acts of devotion.
Fourthly, The last evidence specified of true faith is the evangelical repentance which it produces. Weanedness from the world, the lively remembrance of sin, a becoming intensity of godly sorrow on account of it, nd other spiritual duties, are described as essential elements in the penitential feelings and exercises of those who really believe unto salvation.
The treatise indicates an acquaintance with the true philosophy of human nature, thorough knowledge of the world, and of man individually, as he takes the hue of his character from surrounding objects and social influences, and that depth of Christian experience in which our author has perhaps been rarely excelled. He shines in the anatomy of human motives; and while he goes deeply into the subjective workings of faith, he is always keenly alive to the objective realities of evangelical truth. The Christian reader will find this treatise an admirable manual for self-examination.–Ed.
To the Reader
As faith is the first vital act that every true Christian puts Forth, and the life which he lives is by the faith of the Son of God, so it is his next and great concern to know that he does believe, and that believing he has eternal life; that his faith is the faith of God’s elect, and of the operation of God: without some distinct believing knowledge of which he cannot so comfortably assure his heart before God concerning his calling and election, so far as to carry him forth in all the ways of holiness, in doing and suffering the will of God with necessary resolution and cheerfulness; the doing of which in a right manner, according to the tenor of the gospel, is no small part of spiritual skill; whereunto two things are highly requisite: first, That he be well acquainted with the doctrine of Christ, and know how to distinguish the gospel from the law; and, secondly, That he be very conversant with his own heart,that so by comparing his faith, and the fruits thereof, with the said doctrine of Christ, he may come to see that, as he has receivcd Christ, so he walks in him: all his reasonings concerning himself being taken up from the word of God, so that what judgment he passes upon himself may be a judgment of faith, and answer of a good conscience towards God; for all the trials of faith must at last be resolved into a judgment of faith, before which is made, the soul still labours under staggerings and uncertainties.
The design of this ensuing treatise is to resolve this great question, whether the faith we profess unto be true or no?–The resolution of which, upon an impartial inquiry, must needs be very grateful and advantageous to every one that has but tasted that the Lord is gracious. That the late reverend, learned, and pious Dr Owen was the author there needs be no doubt; not only because good assurance is given by such as were intrusted with his writings, but also in that the style and spirit running through the other of his practical writings is here very manifest; and, accordingly, with them is recommended to the serious perusal of every diligent inquirer into the truth of his spiritual estate and condition.