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Some Thoughts on Religious Experience

Some Thoughts on Religious Experience

In judging of religious experience, it is all important to keep steadily in view the system of divine truth contained in the Holy Scriptures; otherwise our experience, as is too often the case, will degenerate into enthusiasm. Many ardent professors seem too readily to take it for granted that all religious feelings must be good. They therefore take no care to discriminate between the genuine and the spurious, the pure gold and the tinsel. Their only concern is about the ardour of their feelings; not considering that if they are spurious, the more intense they are the further will they lead them astray.

There is no necessity for any other proof of native depravity than the aversion which children early manifest to religious instruction and to spiritual exercises.

Of two persons under conviction of sin, one of whom has had sound religious instruction, and the other none, the former will have an unspeakable advantage over the latter in many respects.

There is a common practical error in the minds of many Christians in regard to this matter. They seem to think that nothing has any relation to the conversion of the sinner but that which immediately preceded this event; and the Christian is ready to say, I was awakened under such a sermon, and never had rest until I found it in Christ; making nothing of all previous instructions and impressions. So, when a revival occurs under the awakening discourses of some evangelist, people are ready to think that he only is the successful preacher whose labours God owns and blesses; whereas he does but bring forward to maturity feelings and convictions which have been long secretly forming and growing within the soul, but so imperceptibly that the person himself was little sensible of any change.

We know very little, however, of what is passing in the minds of thousands around us. The zealous preacher often concludes and laments that there is no impression on the minds of his hearers, when, if the covering of the human heart could be withdrawn, he would be astonished and confounded at the variety and depth of the feelings experienced. Those impressions which manifest themselves by a flow of tears are not the deepest, but often very superficial; while the most awful distresses of the soul are entirely concealed by a kind of hypocrisy, which men early learn to practice to hide their feelings of a religious kind from their fellow-creatures.

If there be a truth established beyond all reasonable question by uniform experience, it is that lovers of pleasure are the enemies of God.

– Archibald Alexander, 1844, Thoughts on Religious Experience

John Owen on Mortification

John Owen on Mortification

By faith, fill your soul with a due consideration of that provision which is laid up in Jesus Christ for this end and purpose – that all your lusts, even this very lust with which you are entangled, may be mortified. By faith, ponder on this – that though you are in no way able to get the conquest over your disorder by yourself, though you are weary of fighting and are utterly ready to faint, yet there is enough in Jesus Christ to yield relief to you (Philippians 4:13).

Let, then, your soul by faith be exercised with such thoughts and apprehensions as these:

‘I am a poor, weak creature. Unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me and is at the very door of ruining my soul, and I don’t know what to do. My soul is become as parched ground and a habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them. Vows and engagements have been made for nothing. Many times I have persuaded myself that I had gotten victory and been delivered, but I have been deceived. I plainly see that without some eminent support and assistance, I am lost and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God.

But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up and the weak knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Christ, who has all fullness of grace in His heart and all fullness of power in His hand – He is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in Him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror’ (Isaiah 35:7, Isaiah 40:27-31, 2 Corinthians 12:9).

The efficacy of this consideration will be found only in the practice.

From The Works of John Owen, Volume 6, pages 79-80.