Excerpted from The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (1681), chapter XI. William H. Goold, the nineteenth-century editor of Owen’s Works, wrote concerning this treatise: ‘There is scarcely one of the more important works of Owen, but some authority might be quoted as signifying a preference for it as the best of his productions; this treatise, however, would perhaps command the greatest number of suffrages in its favor.‘
Spiritual affections, whereby the soul adheres unto spiritual things, taking in such a savor and relish of them as wherein it finds rest and satisfaction, is the peculiar spring and substance of our being spiritually minded. This is that which I shall now farther explain and confirm.
The great contest of heaven and earth is about the affections of the poor worm which we call man. That the world should contend for them is no wonder; it is the best that it can pretend unto. All things here below are capable of no higher ambition than to be possessed of the affections of men; and, as they lie under the curse, it can do us no greater mischief than by prevailing in this design. But that the holy God should as it were engage in the contest and strive for the affections of man, is an effect of infinite condescension and grace. This he doth expressly: ‘My son,’ saith he, ‘give me thine heart,’ Prov. 23:26. It is our affections he asketh for, and comparatively nothing else. To be sure, he will accept of nothing from us without them; the most fat and costly sacrifice will not be accepted if it be without a heart. All the ways and methods of the dispensation of his will by his word, all the designs of his effectual grace, are suited unto and prepared for this end, — namely, to recover the affections of man unto himself. So he expresseth himself concerning his word: Deut. 10:12, ‘And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul?’ And as unto the word of his grace, he declares it unto the same purpose: 30:6, ‘And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.’
And, on the other side, all the artifices of the world, all the paint it puts on its face, all the great promises it makes, all the false appearances and attires it clothes itself withal by the help of Satan, have no other end but to draw and keep the affections of men unto itself. And if the world be preferred before God in this address which is made unto us for our affections, we shall justly perish with the world unto eternity, and be rejected by him whom we have rejected, Prov. 1:24-31.
Our affections are upon the matter our all. They are all we have to give or bestow; the only power of our souls whereby we may give away ourselves from ourselves and become another’s. Other faculties of our souls, even the most noble of them, are suited to receive in unto our own advantage; by our affections we can give away what we are and have. Hereby we give our hearts unto God, as he requireth. Wherefore, unto him we give our affections unto whom we give our all, — ourselves and all that we have; and to whom we give them not, whatever we give, upon the matter we give nothing at all.
In what we do unto and for others, whatsoever is good, valuable, or praiseworthy in it, proceeds from the affection wherewith we do it. To do anything for others without an animating affection, is but a contempt of them; for we judge them really unworthy that we should do anything for them. To give to the poor upon their importunity without pity or compassion, to supply the wants of the saints without love or kindness, with other actings and duties of the like nature, are things of no value, things that recommend us neither unto God nor men. It is so in general with God and the world. Whatsoever we do in the service of God, whatever duty we perform on his command, whatever we undergo or suffer for his name’s sake, if it proceed not from the cleaving of our souls unto him by our affections, it is despised by him; he owns us not. As ‘if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned,’ Cant. 8:7, — it is not to be bought or purchased with riches; so if a man would give to God all the substance of his house without love, it would in like manner be despised. And however, on the other hand, we may be diligent, industrious, and sedulous, in and about the things of this world, yet if it have not our affections, we are not of the world, we belong not unto it. They are the seat of all sincerity, which is the jewel of divine and human conversation, the life and soul of everything that is good and praiseworthy. Whatever men pretend, as their affections are, so are they. Hypocrisy is a deceitful interposition of the mind, on various reasons and pretenses, between men’s affections and their profession, whereby a man appears to be what he is not. Sincerity is the open avowment of the reality of men’s affections; which renders them good and useful.
Affections are in the soul as the helm in the ship; if it be laid hold on by a skillful hand, he turneth the whole vessel which way he pleaseth. If God hath the powerful hand of his grace upon our affections, he turns our souls unto a compliance with his institutions, instructions, in mercy, afflictions, trials, all sorts of providences, and holds them firm against all winds and storms of temptation, that they shall not hurry them on pernicious dangers. Such a soul alone is tractable and pliable unto all intimations of God’s will.
All others are stubborn and obstinate, stout-hearted and far from righteousness. And when the world hath the hand on our affections, it turns the mind, with the whole industry of the soul, unto its interest and concerns. And it is in vain to contend with anything that hath the power of our affections in its disposal; it will prevail at last.
On all these considerations it is of the highest importance to consider aright how things are stated in our affections, and what is the prevailing bent of them. ‘Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend,’ saith the wise man, Prov. 27:17. Every man hath his edge, which may be sharpened by outward helps and advantages. The predominant inclination of a man’s affections is his edge. According as that is set, so he cutteth and works; that way he is sharp and keen, but blunt unto all other things.
Now, because it must be that our affections are either spiritual or earthly in a prevailing degree, that either God hath our hearts or the world, that our edge is towards heaven or towards things here below, before I come to give an account of the nature and operations of spiritual affections, I shall consider and propose some of those arguments and motives which God is pleased to make use of to call off our affections from the desirable things of this world; for as they are weighty and cogent, such as cannot be neglected without the greatest contempt of divine wisdom and goodness, so they serve to press and enforce those arguments and motives that are proposed unto us to set our affections on things that are above, which is to be spiritually minded.
First, He hath, in all manner of instances, poured contempt on the things of this world, in comparison of things spiritual and heavenly. All things here below were at first made beautiful and in order, and were declared by God himself to be exceeding good, and that not only in their being and nature, but in the use whereunto they were designed. They were then desirable unto men, and the enjoyment of them would have been a blessing, without danger or temptation; for they were the ordinance of God to lead us unto the knowledge of him and love unto him. But since the entrance of sin, whereby the world fell under the curse and into the power of Satan, the things of it, in his management, are become effectual means to draw off the heart and affections from God; for it is the world and the things of it, as summed up by the apostle, I John 2:15-16, that strive alone for our affections, to be the objects of them. Sin and Satan do but woo for the world, to take them off from God. By them doth the god of this world blind the eyes of them that believe not; and the principal way whereby he worketh in them is by promises of satisfaction unto all the lusts of the minds of men, with a proposal of whatever is dreadful and terrible in the want of them. Being now in this state and condition, and used unto this end, through the craft of Satan and the folly of the minds of men, God hath showed, by various instances, that they are all vain, empty, unsatisfactory, and every way to be despised in comparison of things eternal: —
1. He did it most eminently and signally in the life, death, and cross of Christ. What can be seen or found in this world, after the Son of God hath spent his life in it, not having where to lay his head, and after he went out of it on the cross? Had there been ought of real worth in things here below, certainly he had enjoyed it; if not crowns and empires, which were all in his power, yet such goods and possessions as men of sober reasonings and moderate affections do esteem a competency. But things were quite otherwise disposed, to manifest that there is nothing of value or use in these things, but only to support nature unto the performance of service unto God; wherein they are serviceable unto eternity. He never attained, he never enjoyed, more than daily supplies of bread out of the stores of providence; and which alone he hath instructed us to pray for, Matt. 6:11. In his cross the world proclaimed all its good qualities and all its powers, and hath given unto them that believe its naked face to view and contemplate; nor is it now one jot more comely than it was when it had gotten Christ on the cross. Hence is that inference and conclusion of the apostle: Gal. 6:14, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world’; — ‘Since I have believed, since I have had a sense of the power and virtue of the cross of Christ, I have done with all things in this world; it is a dead thing unto me, nor have I any affection for it.’ This is that which made the difference between the promises of the old covenant and the new: for they were many of them about temporal things, the good things of this world and this life; those of the new are mostly of things spiritual and eternal. God would not call off the church wholly from a regard unto these things, until he had given a sufficient demonstration of their emptiness, vanity, and insufficiency, in the cross of Christ, II Cor. 4:16-18.
Whither so fast, my friend? What meaneth this rising so early and going to bed late, eating the bread of carefulness? Why this diligence, why these contrivances, why these savings and hoardings of riches and wealth? To what end is all this care and counsel? ‘Alas!’ saith one, ‘it is to get that which is enough in and of this world for me and my children, to prefer them, to raise an estate for them, which, if not so great as others, may yet be a competency; to give them some satisfaction in their lives and some reputation in the world.’ Fair pretenses, neither shall I ever discourage any from the exercise of industry in their lawful callings; but yet I know that with many this is but a pretense and covering for a shameful engagement of their affections unto the world. Wherefore, in all these things, be persuaded sometimes to have an eye to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Behold how he is set before us in the gospel, poor, despised, reproached, persecuted, nailed to the cross, and all by this world. Whatever be your designs and aims, let his cross continually interpose between your affections and this world. If you are believers, your hopes are within a few days to be with him forevermore. Unto him you must give an account of yourselves, and what you have done in this world. Will it be acceptable with him to declare what you have saved of this world, what you have gained, what you have preserved and embraced yourselves in, and what you have left behind you? Was this any part of his employment and business in this world? hath he left us an example for any such course? Wherefore, no man can set his affections on things here below who hath any regard unto the pattern of Christ, or is in any measure influenced with the power and efficacy of his cross. ‘My love is crucified,’ said a holy martyr of old: he whom his soul loved was so, and in him his love unto all things here below. Do you, therefore, find your affections ready to be engaged unto, or too much entangled with, the things of this world? are your desires of increasing them, your hopes of keeping them, your fears of losing them, your love unto them and delight in them, operative in your minds, possessing your thoughts and influencing your conversations? — turn aside a little, and by faith contemplate the life and death of the Son of God; a blessed glass will it be, where you may see what contemptible things they are which you perplex yourselves about. Oh, that any of us should love or esteem the things of this world, the power, riches, goods, or reputation of it, who have had a spiritual view of them in the cross of Christ!
It may be it will be said that the circumstances mentioned were necessary unto the Lord Christ, with respect unto the especial work he had to do as the Savior and Redeemer of the church; and therefore it doth not hence follow that we ought to be poor and want all things, as he did. I confess it doth not, and therefore do all along make an allowance for honest industry in our callings. But this follows unavoidably hereon, that what he did forego and trample on for our sake, that ought not to be the object of our affections; nor can such affections prevail in us if he dwell in our hearts by faith.