CONCERN FOR THE SINS OF THE DAY
John Owen 1616-1683*
QUESTION. What concern have we in the sins of the day wherein we live?
ANSWER. All sins may be referred to two heads:- First, Irreligion. Secondly, Immorality.
First. Irreligion; and that may be reduced to two heads, – atheism and false worship: you may add, also, particularly, the contempt of all instituted worship. It takes up much of the sins against the first table of the law of Moses; however, at present I shall only speak of the first of them:-
As to atheism, then, it may be no age can parallel that wherein we live, considering all the ways whereby the atheism of man’s heart may discover itself. “The fool hath said in his heart. There is no God.” The heart is the seat of atheism. But we consider the ways whereby this atheism may and doth manifest itself: –
(1.) By horrid, cursed, blasphemous swearing; which is a contempt of the name of God. And when did it ever more abound in this nation?
(2.) By reproaching of the Spirit of God. Perhaps this is the peculiar sin of the nation at this day; and that the like hath not been known or heard of in any nation under the sun.
(3.) By scoffing at all holy things; – at the Scriptures, – at every thing that carries a reverence and fear of God; so that a man who dares profess a fear of God in what he doth, makes himself a scorn.
(4.) Contempt of all God’s providential warnings is another proof of atheism. Never had a nation more warnings from God’s providence, nor ever were they more despised. These things, brethren, are not done in a corner; they are perpetrated in the face of the sun. The steam of them darkens the whole heaven, and they abound more and more every day.
Secondly. Shall we go to the other head, – namely, Immorality – and see how it is there? It would be an endless thing, to go over the sins that reign among us: oppression, blood, uncleanness, sensuality, drunkenness, – all to the height, raging and reigning in the nation. I mention these things as a matter to be bewailed before the Lord by us this day; and we ought to be affected with the consideration of them.
Unto this great prevalency and predominancy of sin in the whole nation, there is added a strange and unspeakable security. I can say this, that it is now towards forty years since God enabled me to observe something in the world; and, to my knowledge, I never observed this nation in that state of security wherein it is at this day. For, even in former times, there were warnings continually that God had a
controversy with the nation; and those that had any fear of God spake one to another about it; and we saw and found their warnings were not in vain. But here is now a general security. Men complain of straits, want, poverty, and the like; but as to any thing wherein God hath to do with the world, either my observation doth greatly deceive me, or I never saw, I think, so general a security as at this day in this nation. And this security hath reached us all, – even the churches of God themselves.
These things are matter of fact. The whole question is. Whether we are greatly to be concerned in these things or not? “They are the sins of wicked men, and they are the sins of the persecutors of God’s people, and the like; and what have we to do with them?”
The psalmist of old said, that “rivers of waters ran down his eyes, because men did not keep the law of God.” And you know that God doth set a special mark upon those, not only that are free from the abominations of the age, but upon those that mourn for the abominations that are in the midst of us. It will not be enough for us, that we are free from those abominations, unless we are found to mourn for them. Brethren, our own hearts know we are guilty in this matter, and that we had need seek the face of God this day to give us a deeper sense of these things than we have obtained. The name of God is blasphemed, the Spirit of God reproached, a flood of iniquity spreads itself over the nation, the land of our nativity, over the inheritance of Christ, over a nation professing the reformed religion; – all things go backward, – every thing declines. Indeed, brethren, if you will not, I do acknowledge here before you, and to my own shame, I have great guilt upon me in this matter, that I have not been sensible of the abominations of the nation, so as to mourn for them and be humbled for them, as I ought to have been. The security that is upon the nation is dismal; and, I may say, I see no way or means whereby the nation should be freed from this security. The conduct of the ministry, which they are under generally, is not able to free them from this security; nor the dispensation of the word: so that it seems to be a security from God to lead on the nation to judgment; the means for the removal of it and the awakening of us being laid aside. And if it comes this way, or that way, any way, though we see not the approaching of it, you will find yourselves concerned in it. – “Who may abide the day of his coming?”
We may do well, brethren, to consider the state of the church of God in the world, among ourselves, and our own condition. I need not tell you how it is in the world; but this I can say, that to my apprehensions, the interest of Christ and the gospel was never so fast going down in the world since it came into it, as at this day. Many, indeed, are in great misery and distress: some I have heard of lately sold for slaves,1 for the testimony of their conscience. How is it with the church of Christ in this nation? Truly, some [are] in great poverty, in great affliction, in great
distress; and I am afraid we and others have not hearts to relieve them, as we ought to do, in a due manner: however, let us help them with our prayers. And that which is worst of all, there seems to me, I must acknowledge it, to be a very great decay in all churches of Christ in the nation, especially among those of us who have had most peace, most prosperity. That which we call zeal for God is almost quite lost among us. Some of us have almost forgot whether there be such a thing as the cause and interest of Christ in the world. We who have cried and prayed about it, and had it upon our hearts, have sat down in our small corners and almost forgot there is such a thing as the interest of Christ in the world, so as to have an active zeal for the ordinances of God according to rule, as God requires of us. Our primitive love, – how is it decayed! Value of the ordinances of Christ, and the society of His people for edification, – how cold are we grown in these things! How little is the church society upon our hearts, which some of us remember when it was the very joy of our souls! Truly we have reason to lift up our cry to God, that He would return and visit the churches, and pour out a new, fresh, reviving spirit upon them, that we fall not under the power of these decays till we come to formality, and God withdraws Himself from us, and leaves us; which He seems to be at the very point of doing.
Then, brethren, let us remember our own church; that God would in an especial manner revive the spirit of life, power, and holiness among us; that He would be pleased to help the officers of the church to discharge their duty, and not suffer them to fall under any decay of grace or gifts, unfitting of them to the discharge of their office to the edification of the church; that He would give them also to beware and take heed of formality as to the exercise of gifts in their administration; and that He would take care of us, since we are apt to fall under these things. Let us pray that we may be acted by the Spirit of God, and enlivened by the grace of God, in all things we do.
Have any of us any particular occasions in reference to temptations, trials, and troubles? – we may bear it upon our hearts to the Lord this day. The Lord help us to know the plague of our own hearts, and to be enabled to plead with the Lord, upon this opportunity, for grace and mercy to help us in every time of need!
* Although written over three hundred years ago these words have a sad relevance to our day.
1 No date is assigned to this discourse. It was about the time, however, in which these discourses seem to have been delivered, that many of the Scottish Covenanters were banished. They were crowded into vessels bound for the West Indies or North America;
and, after enduring fearful sufferings on the passage, were sold, when they reached Jamaica or Carolina, to work as slaves on the plantations. By a refinement of cruelty, it was provided that this punishment should be reserved for “such rebels as were penitent”! From the language of Owen, it would seem that he alludes to some occurrences that had taken place at a distance, and not within the sphere of his own observation. It is probable, therefore, that he refers to the proceedings of the government in Scotland.