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  • John Owen on Sin and Perseverance

    Stream in Field

    Today’s post comes from John Owen (1616-1683) and deals with the provision of grace against sin in believers. Though Owen is harder to read than some, consider his words today from his exposition on Psalm 130 (free here). In this excerpt, Owen discusses how true believers will never ultimately fall away from Christ, but must dutifully be on guard against falling into “peace-ruining, soul-perplexing” sins. His words are below:

    The Provision of Grace Against Sin

    There is provision made of grace to prevent and preserve the soul from great and enormous sins, such as in their own nature are apt to wound conscience, and cast the person into such depths and entanglements as wherein he shall have neither rest nor peace. Of what sort these sins are shall be afterward declared. There is in this covenant “grace for grace,” John 1:16, and abundance of grace administered from the all-fulness of Christ. Grace reigneth in it, Rom. 6:6, destroying and crucifying “the body of sin.”

    But this provision in the covenant of grace against peace-ruining, soul-perplexing sins, is not, as to the administration of it, absolute. There are covenant commands and exhortations, on the attendance whereunto the administration of much covenant grace doth depend. To watch, pray, improve faith, to stand on our guard continually, to mortify sin, to fight against temptations, with steadfastness, diligence, constancy, are everywhere prescribed unto us; and that in order unto the insurance of the grace mentioned. These things are on our part the condition of the administration of that abundant grace which is to preserve us from soul-entangling sins. So Peter informs us, 2 Epist. 1:3, “The divine power of God hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” We have from it an habitual furnishment and provision for obedience at all times. Also, saith he, verse 4, “He hath given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature.”

    What, then, is in this blessed estate and condition required of us, that we may make a due improvement of the provision made for us, and enjoy the comforting influence of those promises that he prescribes unto us? Verses 5–7, “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly-kindness, and to brotherly-kindness charity;” that is, carefully and diligently attend to the exercise of all the graces of the Spirit, and unto a conversation in all things becoming the gospel. What, then, shall be the issue if these things are attended unto? Verse 8, “If these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Making Use of the Provision of Grace Against Sin

    It is not enough that these things be in you, that you have the seed and root of them from and by the Holy Ghost; but you are to take care that they flourish and abound: without which, though the root of the matter may be in you, and so you be not wholly devoid of spiritual life, yet you will be poor, barren, sapless, withering creatures all your days. But now, suppose that these things do abound, and we be made fruitful thereby? Why then, saith he, verse 10, “If ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”

    What! never fall into sin? Nay, that is not in the promise; and he that says, when he hath done all, “that he hath no sin, he is a liar.” Or is it never fall totally from God? No; the preservation of the elect, of whom he speaks, from total apostasy, is not suspended on such conditions, especially not on any degree of them, such as their abounding imports. But it is that they shall not fall into their old sins, from which they were purged, verse 9,—such conscience-wasting and defiling sins as they lived in, in the time and state of their unregeneracy. Thus, though there be, in the covenant of grace through Jesus Christ, provision made of abundant supplies for the soul’s preservation from entangling sins, yet their administration hath respect unto our diligent attendance unto the means of receiving them appointed for us to walk in.

    Do Not Be Overtaken

    And here lies the latitude of the new covenant, here lies the exercise of renewed free-will. This is the field of free, voluntary obedience, under the administration of gospel grace. There are extremes which, in respect of the event, it is not concerned in. To be wholly perfect, to be free from every sin, all failings, all infirmities, that is not provided for, not promised in this covenant. It is a covenant of mercy and pardon, which supposeth a continuance of sin. To fall utterly and finally from God, that is absolutely provided against. Between these two extremes of absolute perfection and total apostasy lies the large field of believers, obedience and walking with God. Many a sweet, heavenly passage there is, and many a dangerous depth, in this field. Some walk near to the one side, some to the other; yea, the same person may sometimes press hard after perfection, sometimes be cast to the very border of destruction. Now, between these two lie many a soul-plunging sin, against which no absolute provision is made, and which, for want of giving all diligence to put the means of preservation in practice, believers are oftentimes overtaken withal.

    Taken from John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 339–341.

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