For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
~ Romans 8:13
I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the LORD.
~ Jeremiah 31:18-20
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
~ Ecclesiastes 9:4
Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.
~ Hosea 14:2
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
~ Ezekiel 36:25-27
Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God.
~ Jeremiah 3:22
They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.
~ Isaiah 49:10
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
~ Psalm 51:12
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
~ Acts 2:39
Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, the Necessity, Nature, and Means of It: With a Resolution of Sundry Cases of Conscience Thereunto Belonging, by John Owen. The following words are from Chapter Thirteen of his work.
The ninth direction: When the heart is disquieted by sin, speak no peace to it until God speak it — Peace, without detestation of sin, unsound; so is peace measured out unto ourselves — How we may know when we measure our peace unto ourselves — Directions as to that inquiry — The vanity of speaking peace slightly; also of doing it on one singular account, not universally.
I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him.
~ Isaiah 57:18-19
Ninthly, In case God disquiet the heart about the guilt of its distempers, either in respect of its root and indwelling, or in respect of any eruptions of it, take heed you speak not peace to yourself before God speaks it; but hearken what he says to your soul. This is our next direction, without the observation whereof the heart will be exceedingly exposed to the deceitfullness of sin.
This is a business of great importance. It is a sad thing for a man to deceive his own soul herein. All the warnings God gives us, in tenderness to our souls, to try and examine ourselves, do tend to the preventing of this great evil of speaking peace groundlessly to ourselves; which is upon the issue to bless ourselves, in an opposition to God. It is not my business to insist upon the danger of it, but to help believers to prevent it, and to let them know when they do so.
To manage this direction aright observe, —
1. That as it is the great prerogative and sovereignty of God to give grace to whom he pleases (“He has mercy on whom he will,” Rom. ix. 18; and among all the sons of men, he calls whom he will, and sanctifies whom he will), so among those so called and justified, and whom he will save, he yet reserves this privilege to himself, to speak peace to whom he pleases, and in what degree he pleases, even amongst them on whom he has bestowed grace. He is the “God of all consolation,” in an especial manner in his dealing with believers; that is, of the good things that he keeps locked up in his family, and gives out of it to all his children at his pleasure. This the Lord insists on, Isa. lvii. 16-18. It is the case under consideration that is there insisted on.
When God says he will heal their breaches and disconsolations, he assumes this privilege to himself in an especial manner: “I create it,” verse 19; — “Even in respect of these poor wounded creatures I create it, and according to my sovereignty make it out as I please.” Hence, as it is with the collation of grace in reference to them that are in the state of nature, — God does it in great curiosity, and his proceedings therein in taking and leaving, as to outward appearances, quite besides and contrary oft-times to all probable expectations; so is it in his communications of peace and joy in reference unto them that are in the state of grace, — he gives them out oft-times quite besides our expectation, as to any appearing grounds of his dispensations.
2. As God creates it for whom he pleases, so it is the prerogative of Christ to speak it home to the conscience. Speaking to the church of Laodicea, who had healed her wounds falsely, and spoke peace to herself when she ought not, he takes to himself that title, “I am the Amen, the faithful Witness,” Rev. iii. 14. He bears testimony concerning our condition as it is indeed. We may possibly mistake, and trouble ourselves in vain, or flatter ourselves upon false grounds, but he is the “Amen, the faithful Witness;” and what he speaks of our state and condition, that it is indeed. Isa. xi. 3, He is said not to “judge after the sight of his eyes,” — not according to any outward appearance, or anything that may be subject to a mistake, as we are apt to do; but he shall judge and determine every cause as it is indeed.
Take these two previous observations, and I shall give some rules whereby men may know whether God speaks peace to them, or whether they speak peace to themselves only:–
1. Men certainly speak peace to themselves when their so doing is not attended with the greatest detestation imaginable of that sin in reference whereunto they do speak peace to themselves, and abhorrency of themselves for it. When men are wounded by sin, disquieted and perplexed, and knowing that there is no remedy for them but only in the mercies of God, through the blood of Christ, do therefore look to him, and to the promises of the covenant in him, and thereupon quiet their hearts that it shall be well with them, and that God will be exalted, that he may be gracious to them, and yet their souls are not wrought to the greatest detestation of the sin or sins upon the account whereof they are disquieted, — this is to heal themselves, and not to be healed of God. This is but a great and strong wind, that the Lord is nigh unto, but the Lord is not in the wind. When men do truly “look upon Christ whom they have pierced,” without which there is no healing or peace, they will “mourn,” Zech. xii. 10; they will mourn for him, even upon this account, and detest the sin that pierced him. When we go to Christ for healing, faith eyes him peculiarly as one pierced. Faith takes several views of Christ, according to the occasions of address to him and communion with him that it has. Sometimes it views his holiness, sometimes his power, sometimes his love, (sometimes) his favour with his Father. And when it goes for healing and peace, it looks especially on the blood of the covenant, on his sufferings; for “with his stripes we are healed, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him,” Isa. liii. 5. When we look for healing, his stripes are to be eyed, — not in the outward story of them, which is the course of popish devotionists, but in the love, kindness, mystery, and design of the cross; and when we look for peace, his chastisements must be in our eye. Now this, I say, if it be done according to the mind of God, and in the strength of that Spirit which is poured out on believers, it will beget a detestation of that sin or sins for which healing and peace is sought. So Ezek. xvi. 60, 61, “Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish unto you an everlasting covenant.” And what then? “Then you shalt remember your ways, and be ashamed.” When God comes home to speak peace in a sure covenant of it, it fills the soul with shame for all the ways whereby it has been alienated from him. And one of the things that the apostle mentions as attending that godly sorrow which is accompanied with repentance unto salvation, never to be repented of, is revenge: “Yea, what revenge!” 2 Cor. vii. 11. They reflected on their miscarriages with indignation and revenge, for their folly in them. When Job comes up to a thorough healing, he cries, “Now I abhor myself,” Job xlii. 6; and until he did so, he had no abiding peace. He might perhaps have made up himself with that doctrine of free grace which was so excellently preached by Elihu, chap. xxxiii. from verse 14 unto 30; but he had then but skinned his wounds: he must come to self-abhorrency if he come to healing. So was it with those in Ps. lxxviii. 33-35, in their great trouble and perplexity, for and upon the account of sin. I doubt not but upon the address they made to God in Christ (for that so they did is evident from the titles they gave him; they call him their Rock and their Redeemer, two words everywhere pointing out the Lord Christ), they spake peace to themselves; but was it sound and abiding? No; it passed away as the early dew. God speaks not one word of peace to their souls. But why had they not peace? Why, because in their address to God, they flattered him. But how does that appear? Verse 37: “Their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast;” they had not a detestation nor relinquishment of that sin in reference whereunto they spake peace to themselves. Let a man make what application he will for healing and peace, let him do it to the true Physician, let him do it the right way, let him quiet his heart in the promises of the covenant; yet, when peace is spoken, if it be not attended with the detestation and abhorrency of that sin which was the wound and caused the disquietment, this is no peace of God’s creating, but of our own purchasing. It is but a skinning over the wound, whilst the core lies at the bottom, which will putrefy, and corrupt, and corrode, until it break out again with noisomeness, vexation, and danger. Let not poor souls that walk in such a path as this, who are more sensible of the trouble of sin than of the pollution of uncleanness that attends it; who address themselves for mercy, yea, to the Lord in Christ they address themselves for mercy, but yet will keep the sweet morsel of their sin under their tongue; — let them, I say, never think to have true and solid peace. For instance, you find your heart running out after the world, and it disturbs you in your communion with God; the Spirit speaks expressly to you, — “He that loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (21) This puts you on dealing with God in Christ for the healing of your soul, the quieting of your conscience; but yet, withal, a thorough detestation of the evil itself abides not upon you; yea, perhaps that is liked well enough, but only in respect of the consequences of it. Perhaps you mayst be saved, yet as through fire, and God will have some work with you before he has done; but you will have little peace in this life, — you will be sick and fainting all your days, Isa. lvii. 17. This is a deceit that lies at the root of the peace of many professors and wastes it. They deal with all their strength about mercy and pardon, and seem to have great communion with God in their so doing; they lie before him, bewail their sins and follies, that any one would think, yea, they think themselves, that surely they and their sins are now parted; and so receive in mercy that satisfies their hearts for a little season. But when a thorough search comes to be made, there has been some secret reserve for the folly or follies treated about, — at least, there has not been that thorough abhorrency of it which is necessary; and their whole peace is quickly discovered to be weak and rotten, scarce abiding any longer than the words of begging it are in their mouths.
2. When men measure out peace to themselves upon the conclusions that their convictions and rational principles will carry them out unto, this is a false peace, and will not abide. I shall a little explain what I mean hereby. A man has got a wound by sin; he has a conviction of some sin upon his conscience; he has not walked uprightly as becomes the gospel; all is not well and right between God and his soul. He considers now what is to be done. Light he has, and knows what path he must take, and how his soul has been formerly 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 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 upon the mount; the Lord is near, but the Lord is not in it. It has not been the work of the Spirit, who alone can “convince us of sin, and righteousness, and judgment,” (22) but the mere actings of the intelligent, rational soul. As there are three sorts of lives, we say, — the vegetative, the sensitive, and the rational or intelligent, — some things have only the vegetative; some the sensitive also, and that includes the former; some have the rational, which takes in and supposes both the other. Now, he that has the rational does not only act suitably to that principle, but also to both the others, — he grows and is sensible. It is so with men in the things of God. Some are mere natural and rational men; some have a superadded conviction with illumination; and some are truly regenerate. Now, he that has the latter has also both the former; and therefore he acts sometimes upon the principles of the rational, sometimes upon the principles of the enlightened man. His true spiritual life is not the principle of all his motions; he acts not always in the strength thereof, neither are all his fruits from that root. In this case that I speak of, he acts merely upon the principle of conviction and illumination, whereby his first naturals are heightened; but the Spirit breathes not at all upon all these waters. Take an instance: Suppose the wound and disquiet of the soul to be upon the account of relapses, — which, whatever the evil or folly be, though for the matter of it never so small, yet there are no wounds deeper than those that are given the soul on that account, nor disquietments greater; — in the perturbation of his mind, he finds out that promise, Isa. lv. 7, “The Lord will have mercy, and our God will abundantly pardon,” — he will multiply or add to pardon, he will do it again and again; or that in Hos. xiv. 4, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely.” This the man considers, and thereupon concludes peace to himself; whether the Spirit of God make the application or no, whether that gives life and power to the letter or no, that he regards not. He does not hearken whether God the Lord speak peace. He does not wait upon God, who perhaps yet hides his face, and sees the poor creature stealing peace and running away with it, knowing that the time will come when he will deal with him again, and call him to a new reckoning; (23) when he shall see that it is in vain to go one step where God does not take him by the hand. I see here, indeed, sundry other questions upon this arising and interposing themselves. I cannot apply myself to them all: one I shall a little speak to. It may be said, then, “Seeing that this seems to be the path that the Holy Spirit leads us in for the healing of our wounds and quieting of our hearts, how shall we know when we go alone ourselves, and when the Spirit also does accompany us?”
Ans. (1.) If any of you are out of the way upon this account, God will speedily let you know it; for besides that you have his promise, that the “meek he will guide in judgment and teach them his way,” Ps. xxv. 9, he will not let you always err. He will, I say, not suffer your nakedness to be covered with fig-leaves, but take them away and all the peace you have in them, and will not suffer you to settle on such lees. You shall quickly know your wound is not healed; that is, you shall speedily know whether or no it be thus with you by the event. The peace you thus get and obtain will not abide. Whilst the mind is overpowered by its own convictions, there is no hold for disquietments to fix upon. Stay a little, and all these reasonings will grow cold and vanish before the face of the first temptation that arises. But, —
(2.) This course is commonly taken without waiting; which is the grace, and that peculiar acting of faith which God calls for, to be exercised in such a condition. I know God does sometimes come in upon the soul instantly, in a moment, as it were, wounding and healing it, — as I am persuaded it was in the case of David, when he cut off the lap of Saul’s garment; but ordinarily, in such a case, God calls for (24) waiting and labouring, attending as the eye of a servant upon his master. Says the prophet Isaiah, chap. viii. 17, “I will wait upon the Lord, who hides his face from the house of Jacob.” God will have his children lie a while at his door when they have run from his house, and not instantly rush in upon him; unless he take them by the hand and pluck them in, when they are so ashamed that they dare not come to him. Now, self-healers, or men that speak peace to themselves, do commonly make haste; they will not tarry; they do not hearken what God speaks, but on they will go to be healed. (25)
(3.) Such a course, though it may quiet the conscience and the mind, the rational concluding part of the soul, yet it does not sweeten the heart with rest and gracious contentation. The answer it receives is much like that Elisha gave Naaman, “Go in peace;” (26) it quieted his mind, but I much question whether it sweetened his heart, or gave him any joy in believing, other than the natural joy that was then stirred in him upon his healing. “Do not my words do good?” saith the Lord, Micah ii. 7. When God speaks, there is not only truth in his words, that may answer the conviction of our understandings, but also they do good; they bring that which is sweet, and good, and desirable to the will and affections; by them the “soul returns unto its rest,” Ps. cxvi. 7.
(4.) Which is worst of all, it amends not the life, it heals not the evil, it cures not the distemper. When God speaks peace, it guides and keeps the soul that it “turn not again to folly.” (27) When we speak it 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, upon your plastering yourself, you find yourself rather animated to the battle again than utterly weaned from it, it is too palpable that you hast been at work with your own soul, but Jesus Christ and his Spirit were not there. Yea, and oftentimes nature having done its work, will, ere a few days are over, come for its reward; and, having been active in the work of healing, will be ready to reason for a new wounding. In God’s speaking peace there comes along so much sweetness, and such a discovery of his love, as is a strong obligation on the soul no more to deal perversely. (28)
3. We speak peace to ourselves when we do it slightly. This the prophet complains of in some teachers: Jer. vi. 14, “They have healed the wound of the daughter of my people slightly.” And it is so with some persons: they make the healing of their wounds a slight work; a look, a glance of faith to the promises does it, and so the matter is ended. The apostle tells us that “the word did not profit” some, because “it was not mixed with faith,” Heb. iv. 2, — me sunkekramenos; “it was not well tempered” and mingled with faith. It is not a mere look to the word of mercy in the promise, but it must be mingled with faith until it is incorporated into the very nature of it; and then, indeed, it does good unto the soul. If you hast had a wound upon your conscience, which was attended with weakness and disquietness, which now you art freed of, how came you so? “I looked to the promises of pardon and healing, and so found peace.” Yea, but perhaps you hast made too much haste, you hast done it overtly, you hast not fed upon the promise so as to mix it with faith, to have got all the virtue of it diffused into your soul; only you hast done it slightly. You will find your wound, ere it be long, breaking out again; and you shalt know that you art not cured.
4. Whoever speaks peace to himself upon any one account, and at the same time has another evil of no less importance lying upon his spirit, about which he has had no dealing with God, that man cries “Peace” when there is none. A little to explain my meaning: A man has neglected a duty again and again, perhaps, when in all righteousness it was due from him; his conscience is perplexed, his soul wounded, he has no quiet in his bones by reason of his sin; he applies himself for healing, and finds peace. Yet, in the meantime, perhaps, worldliness, or pride, or some other folly, wherewith the Spirit of God is exceedingly grieved, may lie in the bosom of that man, and they neither disturb him nor he them. Let not that man think that any of his peace is from God. Then shall it be well with men, when they have an equal respect to all God’s commandments. God will justify us from our sins, but he will not justify the least sin in us: “He is a God of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.”
5. When men of themselves speak peace to their consciences, it is seldom that God speaks humiliation to their souls. God’s peace is humbling peace, melting peace, as it was in the case of David; (29) never such deep humiliation as when Nathan brought him the tidings of his pardon.
But you will say, “When may we take the comfort of a promise as our own, in relation to some peculiar wound, for the quieting the heart?”
First, In general, when God speaks it, be it when it will, sooner or later. I told you before, he may do it in the very instant of the sin itself, and that with such irresistible power that the soul must needs receive his mind in it; sometimes he will make us wait longer: but when he speaks, be it sooner or later, be it when we are sinning or repenting, be the condition of our souls what they please, if God speak, he must be received. There is not anything that, in our communion with him, the Lord is more troubled with us for, if I may so say, than our unbelieving fears, that keep us off from receiving that strong consolation which he is so willing to give to us.
But you will say, “We are where we were. When God speaks it, we must receive it, that is true; but how shall we know when he speaks?”
(1.) I would we could all practically come up to this, to receive peace when we are convinced that God speaks it, and that it is our duty to receive it. But, —
(2.) There is, if I may so say, a secret instinct in faith, whereby it knows the voice of Christ when he speaks indeed; as the babe leaped in the womb when the blessed Virgin came to Elisabeth, faith leaps in the heart when Christ indeed draws nigh to it. “My sheep,” says Christ, “know my voice,” John x. 4; — “They know my voice; they are used to the sound of it;” and they know when his lips are opened to them and are full of grace. The spouse was in a sad condition, Cant. v. 2, — asleep in security; but yet as soon as Christ speaks, she cries, “It is the voice of my beloved that speaks!” She knew his voice, and was so acquainted with communion with him, that instantly she discovers him; and so will you also. If you exercise yourselves to acquaintance and communion with him, you will easily discern between his voice and the voice of a stranger. And take this criterion with you: When he does speak, he speaks as never man spake; he speaks with power, and one way or other will make your “hearts burn within you,” as he did to the disciples, Luke xxiv. He does it by “putting in his hand at the hole of the door,” Cant. v. 4, — his Spirit into your hearts to seize on you. He that has his senses exercised to discern good or evil, being increased in judgment and experience by a constant observation of the ways of Christ’s intercourse, the manner of the operations of the Spirit, and the effects it usually produces, is the best judge for himself in this case.
Secondly, If the word of the Lord does good to your souls, he speaks it; if it humble, if it cleanse, and be useful to those ends for which promises are given, — namely, to endear, to cleanse, to melt and bind to obedience, to self-emptiness, etc. But this is not my business; nor shall I farther divert in the pursuit of this direction. Without the observation of it, sin will have great advantages towards the hardening of the heart.
(21) 1 John ii. 15.
(22) John xvi. 8.
(23) Hos. ix. 9.
(24) Ps. cxxx. 6, cxxiii. 2. (25) Isa. xxviii. 16.
(26) 2 Kings v. 19. (27) Ps. lxxxv. 8. (28) Luke xxii. 32. (29) Ps. li. 1.