Wednesday, April 05, 2006

John Owen on the "Apostasy of the Church of Rome"

1. Romanists are the supreme example of those who have turned away from the holy ways of gospel obedience into paths which they have made for themselves

None boast more of holiness than does the Roman Catholic Church. They claim their church is the true church because of its sanctity. But because of the unholy lives of the majority of Roman Catholics, and also of many of their chief rulers and guides, they point to those who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and who have dedicated themselves to a monastic life and to stricter rules and duties than others reach up to, or are obliged to submit to. These alone have obtained the name of religious among them. But many have already discovered the vanity, superstition and hypocrisy of their daily routines in which they generally spend their time. But this holy obedience is not that required and commanded in the gospel.

2. Romish vows of holiness do not show the spiritual freedom of gospel holiness

The first thing that truth does in our minds is to free them from all error and prejudices (John 8:32). Truth is the principle of all holiness, enlarging the mind and spirit. So it is called “true holiness” or “ the holiness of truth” (Eph. 4:24). So “where the Spirit of the Lord (or the Spirit of truth) is, there is liberty“ (2 Cor. 3:17).

Men are, since the fall, “servants of sin”. Willingly giving themselves up to its service, satisfying its lusts and obeying its commands. In such a state, they are ”free from righteousness.” They refuse to serve and obey the demands of the righteousness. But where the Holy Spirit works with the Word of truth, men are freed from sin and become servants to God, producing holy fruit in their lives (Rom. 6:20, 22). So it is said of all believers that they “have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15). They have not received the “spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).

The teaching of the whole of Scripture is that the hearts of believers, by God’s grace, are freed from fear of judgment, to a free, willing, cheerful spirit that loves to do all the duties that holiness requires, moved by gratitude for mercies received. They are not driven by fear to a scrupulous bondage to outward duties, but with delight and true freedom of will they gladly obey. Because they have received the “Spirit of adoption” they live as children of God, honoring their Father by doing His will gladly and out of gratitude for the great salvation which He has wrought for us in and through Christ.

But there are strong proofs that those who place themselves under Romish vows and strict monastic rules of life and who spend their days in many outward religious duties, which the Church of Rome calls holiness, are not free, but are ruled by a servile, slavish spirit. They are forced to bind themselves and to be bound by their vows if they wish to live in that community, which is contrary to true Christian fellowship. In obeying these vows, they are not their own masters, free to discipline and rule themselves, but are under the strict discipline of others who administer outward punishments in cases of failure. Those are the servants of men in religious duties are not God’s freemen, nor do they have Christ for their Lord who subject themselves religiously to men.

What drives these men to a monastic life, and in strict religious rules of life invented by men, are vows and rules of life nowhere requited by God or our Lord Christ in the gospel. And the chief reason why they continue in this life is the obedience, which they have vowed and so owe to their superiors.

It is easy to see how opposite this way is to true spiritual freedom of mind, which is the root of all true gospel holiness. Romish vows and rules of religious life are also motivated by thoughts of achieving merit, which stimulates them to further religious disciplines. The desire to achieve merit also makes for a servile, slavish spirit in all that they do, for they cannot but know that everything done in order to achieve merit must not only be tried by the strict, relentless standard of perfect sincerity, but also weighted in the balance of absolute perfection. This thought utterly destroys that free, willing, cheerful, glad obedience given out of gratitude for the free gift of justification and eternal life. Those under Romish vows are also driven to obedience by the tormenting thought that they have no assurance either that they are accepted by God in this life, or ever shall be accepted by Him in the next. So in all their duties, they are of necessity driven by “a spirit of fear” and not “of power and a sound mind.”

3. Romish vows and rules of religious life bind men to observe that which is not commanded by the gospel, but is a system of laws and rules invented by men.

So some obey the rule of Benedict, some of Francis, some of Dominic, some of Ignatius and the like. This proves that all that they do has nothing to do with gospel holiness, for that holiness is conformity to the rule of the gospel, which is the will of God. Thus, like the Pharisees of old whom Christ rebuked, they add duties not commanded by God. So, “in vain they worship God, teaching for doctrines the commands of men” (Matt. 15:6-9). Let the number of false, invented duties of religion be ever so great, let the manner of their performance be ever so exact or sever, they only divert the minds of men from the obedience which gospel requires. “As plants which the heavenly Father never planted, they shall, in due time, be rooted up” and cast into the fire (Matt. 15:13).

There is nothing in all that is prescribed by the masters of these rules and vows, or practiced by their disciples, but may all be done without either faith in Christ or a sense of His love to souls.
On the other hand, the obedience the gospel requires is the “obedience of faith”. On that and on no other root will gospel holiness grown. And the chief nature of gospel holiness is “the love of Christ” which alone “constrains” to it (2 Cor. 5:14).

But what is there in all these monastic vows and rules of life that makes it necessary for them to be carried out for the love Christ? May not men rise at midnight to repent a number of prayers, or go barefoot, or wear sackcloth, or abstain from meat on occasions or always, or submit to discipline from themselves or others and, if strong enough, undergo all the horrid and indeed ridiculous hardships without the least dram of saving faith or love? All false religions have always had some among them who have loved to amuse others with their self inflicted punishments and penances.

All the good that these Romish vows and rules of life do is utterly corrupted by the proud thought of gaining merit and doing works of supererogation*, works above all that was required by them, which can then be used to help others to achieve the required standard of merit. The whole idea of merit and works of supererogation utterly weakens the covenant grace, treats with contempt the blood and mediation of Christ, and is totally inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the gospel.

And when we add to these vows all the gross superstition and idolatry to which they give themselves up in their devotions, then we can see that, notwithstanding all Rome’s claims to holiness and a more strict obedience to duties than other men, yet it is clear that the best of their works falls far below the standard of the holiness required by the gospel and without which no-one shall see the Lord.


On the John Owen page at A Puritan's Mind you'll find most of his works.
Or try
More can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Fire and Ice is alway a good source for Owen and other Puritans.

Here is a Bio of John Owen.

May God raise up more like him. In light of the condition of the Church in America today, I'd be happy with 1/2 of a John Owen.

* supererogation - those good deeds believed to have been performed by saints, or capable of being performed by men, over and above what is required for their own salvation.


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