By Elizabeth Prata
John Owen’s treatise on indwelling sin is a devastating look at our internal selves, both regenerate and unregenerate. It’s devastating because he draws out the reality of our sin, something, to be honest, most of us would rather just glance at then away, than study for any length of time.
It’s worth it though.
Owen uses the picture of ‘streams’ in several ways when describing sin or grace. Either way, when he uses the word-picture, it’s potent. In his last three chapters, which I believe to be his best, Owen remarks about the situation for the Christian why he at first was fervent but then as time goes on loses his oomph so to speak. Here are a few excerpts.
Decays in degrees of grace caused by indwelling sin
Upon the first conversion and calling of sinners unto God and Christ, they have usually many fresh springs breaking forth in their souls and refreshing showers coming upon them, which bear them up to a high rate of faith, love, holiness, fruitfulness, and obedience; as upon a land-flood, when many lesser streams run into a river, it swells over its bounds, and rolls on with a more than ordinary fulness. Now, if these springs be not kept open, if they prevail not for the continuance of these showers, they must needs decay and go backwards.
What would cause the springs to decay and go backwards?
Some great sin lying long in the heart and conscience unrepented of, or not repented of as it ought,
Neglect your great sin at your peril.
If it be neglected, it certainly hardens the heart, weakens spiritual strength, enfeebles the soul, discouraging it unto all communion with God, and is a notable principle of a general decay. … His present distemper was not so much from his sin as his folly, — not so much from the wounds he had received as from his neglect to make a timely application for their cure.
Back to the streams-
But now, if the utmost diligence and carefulness be not used to improve and grow in this wisdom, to keep up this frame, indwelling sin, working by the vanity of the minds of men, will insensibly bring them to content themselves with slight and rare thoughts of these things, without a diligent, sedulous endeavour to give them their due improvement upon the soul.
As men decay herein, so will they assuredly decay and decline in the power of holiness and close walking with God. The springs being stopped or tainted, the streams will not run so swiftly, at least not so sweetly, as formerly.
Some, by this means, under an uninterrupted profession, insensibly wither almost into nothing. They talk of religion and spiritual things as much as ever they did in their lives, and perform duties with as much constancy as ever they did; but yet they have poor, lean, starving souls, as to any real and effectual communion with God. By the power and subtlety of indwelling sin they have grown formal, and learned to deal about spiritual things in an overly manner; whereby they have lost all their life, vigour, savour, and efficacy towards them. Be always serious in spiritual things if ever you intend to be bettered by them.
As I was reading this wonderful book, I thought of the Christian’s failure t repent and keep his streams flowing afresh, of a beaver building a dam.
The power of the Holy Spirit allows us to resist sin, but we fail to make as much use of Him and His power as we might. Add onto that, our choice to sin, we pile it on and pile it on,m as logs onto a fire. Or as a beaver onto a dam. Soon the streams of grace are hindered, diverted, tainted, and we wither and dry.
Watch this beaver for a couple of minutes and see the lengths we go to indulge our sin and the decays it causes the streams of grace.