Will not a due apprehension of this inconceivable greatness of God, and that infinte distance wherein we stand from Him, fill the soul with such a holy and awful fear of Him, so as to keep it in a frame unsuited to the thriving or flourishing of any lust whatever? Let the soul be continually wonted to reverential thoughts of God’s greatness and omnipresence, and it will be much upon its watch as to any undue deportments. Consider Him with whom you have to do, –even “our God is a consuming fire;” and in your greatest abashments at His presence and eye, know that your very nature is too narrow to bear apprehensions suitable to His essential glory.
from On The Mortification of Sin in Believers, page 70.
Ouch, John Owen. Ouch. Owen basically is saying what Piper says repeatedly: our sin is our result of our forgetting the Gospel. We must preach the Gospel to ourselves often. Maybe Psalm 103-style. I’m not sure if that’s ALWAYS the way to pray in such circumstances, but it seems a great place to start.
Owen likens self-help to the incidence on the mount where God revealed himself to Elijah, where great signs were displayed but the Lord was not to be found in them. Listen to this:
When men measure our peace to themselves upon the conclusions that their convictions and rational principles will care them out unto, this is a false peace and will not abide. I shall a little explain what I mean hereby. A man hath gotten a wound by sin; he hath a conviction of some sin upon his conscience; he hath not walked uprightly as becometh the gospel; all is not well and right between God and his soul. He considers now what is to be done. Light he hath, and knows what path he must take, and how his soul hath formerly been healed. Considering that the promises of God are the outward means of application for the healing of his sores and quieting of his heart, he goes to them, searches them out, finds out some one or more of them whose literal expressions are directly suited to his condition. Says he to himself, “God speaks in this promise; here I will take myself a plaster [bandage] as long and broad as my wound;” and so brings the word of the promise to his condition, and sets him down in peace. This is another appearance on the mount; the Lord is near but the Lord is not in it. It hath not been the work of the Spirit, who alone can “convince us of sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8), but the mere actings of the intelligent, rational soul.
from On the Mortification of Sin in Believers, page 73-74.
What Owen has described is exactly the practice of both the “Ten Steps to the Good Life” approach to preaching, as well as the “claiming God’s promises” mode of living the “Christian Life.” Treating the Bible as if it is the Divine Instruction Manual to fix one’s life does violence to the message of the Gospel and turns it into another American, pragmatic checklist which is used to avoid pain or to self-improve. Yes, God has made promises to His people and these must be understood by His children. However, laying hold of such promises apart from the peace of the Spirit in one’s own heart is to be close to God but missing Him completely.
So how does one know if one is plowing ahead apart from the Spirit? Owen indicates in later paragraphs that the hallmark of proceeding in peace as from the Holy Spirit includes waiting. If the recourse is swift, if the conscience is eased quickly, then the Spirit may be absent. Additionally, if the heart is not sweetened with rest and gracious contentment, then the Spirit may also be absent, since the Spirit allows our souls to return to their rest (Psalm 66:7). There is a lack of ammendation to the life of the person; it doesn’t heal the evil or cure the distemper. “When God speaks peace, it guides and keeps the soul that it ‘not turn again to folly'”(Psalm 85:8). When we speak [peace] to ourselves, the heart is not taken off the evil; nay, it is the readiest course in the world to bring a soul into a trade of backsliding.” If once you have bandaged yourself you find yourself back in the battle rather than utterly weaned from it, it is very likely that Christ hasn’t spoken peace to your soul; it’s been a work of your own doing.