Owen on Soul-Satisfied Sanctification

SteakThree great statements by C. H. Spurgeon, Matthew Henry and John Piper have become a great blessing in my spiritual life. All insist that the best way to remove the teeth of temptation is to find a greater satisfaction in intimate fellowship with God. They can be found here.

Add to those a similar thought from John Owen. What follows is a paragraph by Kelly M. Kapic explaining and quoting Owen in a short essay in Overcoming Sin and Temptation:

“The goal of the Christian life is not external conformity or mindless action, but a passionate love for God informed by the mind and embraced by the will. So the path forward is not to decrease one’s affections but rather to enlarge them and fill them with ‘heavenly things.’ Here one is not trying to escape the painful realities of this life but rather endeavoring to reframe one’s perspective of life around a much larger canvas that encompasses all of reality. To respond to the distorting nature of sin you must set your affections on the beauty and glory of God, the loveliness of Christ, and the wonder of the gospel: ‘Were our affections filled, taken up, and possessed with these things . . . what access could sin, with its painted pleasures, with its sugared poisons, with its envenomed baits, have unto our souls?’ Resisting sin, according to this Puritan divine, comes not by deadening your affections but by awakening them to God himself. Do not seek to empty your cup as a way to avoid sin, but rather seek to fill it up with the Spirit of life, so there is no longer room for sin.” (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, p. 28. The quote is from The Works of John Owen, 6:250)

These are life-changing thoughts, friends. They shift our obedience from mere duty to delight. They make fellowship with Christ a feast rather than a medicine. Sadly, I don’t think most Christians in our churches “get it.” Our young people certainly don’t. If that’s true, they’re missing out on (a) the pleasure of fellowship with God and (b) a key defense against sin’s appeals.

Is soul-satisfied sanctification not the point of Psalm 1? Is it not taught in Psalm 16:11; 19:10; 23:1; 37:4; 73:25; 119:103 and many others? Is it not that the heart of commands to rejoice in the Lord in Philippians 3:1 and 4:4 and Habakkuk 3:17-18? Is it not the testimony of Solomon throughout the book of Ecclesiastes?

We need to think more on these things. Even more importantly, we need to be sure that we’re not teaching the Lord’s people that Christianity is a joyless duty in which they miss out on the pleasures of the world. Far from it. Christianity is a great delight in which we enjoy eternal pleasures which far exceed anything the world can offer. In other words, satisfaction with the steak of divine fellowship removes the appeal of the peanuts of the world. We’re not missing anything but chaff, and our lives in Christ are lush and green (Psalm 1). Soul-satisfaction with Christ alone is a crucial part of our sanctification!

Meditate on these great truths. Shout them from the housetops!

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold Thee as Thou art,
And Thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart;
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets, supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings:
Thine is love indeed!

(Jean S. Piggot, Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting)


21 Responses

  1. Chris,

    Great quotes. Now if we would just believe it on a daily basis.

    Playing off a question that you asked in the earlier post mentioned above, “Why would people want to continue to eat popcorn when they could eat steak?”, the answer is “because all that they know is popcorn.” That has been one of the most damaging things about much of the preaching over the last few decades. It seems as if most preaching simply tells people to stop eating popcorn without fully laying out the wonders of steak. So people keep going back to popcorn because it, although certainly incompletely, fills the void that all men have. When we begin to see the loveliness of Christ, we will have no need for the things of the world. We will be completely satisfied.

  2. <>

    This is exactly where I am, and I really needed this reminder today. Thank you!
    Andrew, very true.

  3. I think you’re exactly right about the preaching issue, Andrew. Scripture certainly has prohibitions, but it also is chock-full of the glories of Christ. Too much of our preaching has ignored the latter & focused on the former.

    The role of II Corinthians 3:18 in this deserves consideration, too. Good stuff.

  4. […] Owen on Soul-Satisfied Sanctification […]

  5. Well…

    What is the Psalmist saying the blessed man is satisfied with in Psalm 1? The law.

    What does it mean to set your affections on things above (Col 3.2)? Put off the old man (lust, anger, wrath, etc) and put on the new man (kindness, mercy faith, etc)

    What does it mean to delight thyself in the Lord (Ps 37.4)? commit your way to the Lord (v. 5), Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way (v 7), Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. (v 8)…

    The context of these admonitions is fairly earthly and is in the context of a spiritual struggle against the old nature by the new nature.

    Unless you can provide some further biblical definition of ‘being satisfied with glories of Christ’, I think I will skip Mr Owen and such mysticism.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Don’t forget Mr. Henry and Mr. Spurgeon. :)

    And let me know how being dissatisfied with the glories of Christ works out for you.

  7. I have been in Isaiah 24. But now I am in Isaiah 25. The nations of the earth were pursuing the wine and music. But God cuts it off. Yet look what Yahweh offers in Isaiah 25. There is no match on the earth for this feast . . . for this wine. I will remember this when tempted.

    I am in league with Chris on this theme.

  8. Hi, Todd.

    Don’t forget Mr. Owen, Mr. Henry and Mr. Spurgeon. Good company, eh?

    Oh—and Mr. Piper. There’s the rub. Don can’t get himself to agree with Piper, even if John, Matt and Chuck do. :)

  9. Sorry guys, I sound too chippy on this. I do want to know, really and practically, what does it mean to be satisfied with the glories of Christ, etc.? Please provide scripture that directs our minds on this, not Owen or Piper or Edwards or whoever…

    It is all well and good to talk about being so satisfied with Christ that you are able thus to be sanctified… but what does that mean?

    It is not that we teach following Christ is a joyless duty which we must endure while sacrificing the pleasures of this world. It is that the pleasures of this world are utter vanity and ashes offering no satisfaction at all. It is that the pursuit of kindness, humility, righteousness, love, etc. bring lasting satisfaction in this life and eternal rewards in the life to come. It is no sacrifice to give up sin.

    The problem with Piperism is that is just plain mysticism with no meaning. How is it different from the Keswick movement in any real practical way?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  10. I think you just agreed with me in your third paragraph.

    I already listed many Scriptures. Taking one example: the whole argument of Psalm 1 is that being separate from the world is no sacrifice, for the righteous find absolute delight and satisfaction in the Law of the Lord, while the world offers only chaff. There is more joy in righteousness than unrighteousness. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t see how you can disagree with that, or with any of the quotations.

    I say if Piper’s name had been omitted, you would have been fine with the post.

  11. Hi Chris

    No, it is not just that Piper’s name was invoked. The whole concept of Desiring God, however it is framed, has never been adequately explained to me. There is a difference between delighting in the law and contemplating the mysteries. The orientation of Col 3 is very much rooted in practical terms that I can understand: putting on the new man in his various characteristics.

    What I am reacting to are statements like this:

    To respond to the distorting nature of sin you must set your affections on the beauty and glory of God, the loveliness of Christ, and the wonder of the gospel

    What does that mean, exactly? Is sanctification a battle or not? Does the Bible ever frame our Christian experience in these terms? How would I go about setting my affections on the beauty and glory of God, or the loveliness of Christ?

    I think this teaching errs into mysticism.

    I know that I have said the same thing repeatedly here, so I’ll just leave it at this if you like. It isn’t just Piper I am reacting to, but the whole unreality of this kind of approach to sanctification. I believe God enables sanctification by his grace, and impels us forward on the path, but I also believe that it involves my effort, my yielding of my will, my faith.

    Ok, I’ll quit…

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  12. Chris, I have never commented on your blog before, but I read it regularly with great interest. You make us think – not at all a bad thing.

    I especially appreciated this post. We have so much in Christ! The world’s appeal has probably never been stronger because of all the means Satan now has in his arsenal for getting to us. The various media are constantly sending us messages of dissatisfaction with the status quo, entitlement, glitz, offers of fleeting satisfaction, and on and on it goes – all boiled down in Scripture to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Satan’s game plan hasn’t changed, but he’s finely polished his newest tools that are sometimes sharp and sometimes quite blunt.

    I appreciate Don’s posts to this current discussion. The Bible contains plenty of prohibitions and warnings, but it also contains much about the glories of our wonderful Lord Jesus Christ. Don’s comments made me think of so many issues in Christianity where there are poles or extremes, and the truth actually lies across the whole spectrum, from the tip of one extreme to the tip of the other extreme. One such issue is Calvinism and Arminianism. The truth is in the middle and includes both extremes. (Naturally a staunch Calvinist or Arminian would disagree with that!) The problem is man’s limited understanding of an infinite God. Isn’t it great that God’s truth is so balanced!

    I am no preacher, and so my comments probably carry no weight. To some I’ve probably already disqualified myself with what I said in the last paragraph. Too bad, I guess. But doing a quick search in e-Sword I found several NT verses that speak of Christ’s glory and the strength that it gives us. One example is Eph. 3:16 “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.”

    We’re definitely to glory in his law (Ps. 119 makes that abundantly clear), but we’re also to delight in his glory. To ignore the preaching of God’s law and holiness would be wrong, but to ignore the preaching of Christ’s glory would be equally wrong. I seem to remember something about teaching the whole counsel of God.

    All that to say, I’m thanking you for reminding us of something that is too often neglected.


  13. Don, if I’ve said anything which indicates that I don’t believe that sanctification is a struggle, that we must put off the old man, renew our minds, and put on the new man, that we must mortify the deeds of the flesh, that we must obey Scripture’s commands and prohibitions by grace, etc., I apologize. I obviously believe all of those things. I also believe that meditating on the greatness of God and the privilege of fellowshipping with Him removes much of the appeal of temptation and makes resisting the world, flesh and devil much easier by offering a greater and eternal satisfaction in Christ. These aren’t mutually exclusive ideas.

    Rob, thanks for chiming in. Feel free!

  14. Man, Chris, no need to apologize! If anyone needs to apologize it is me. I obviously don’t get what you are driving at here. I hate disagreeing with my friends. I will retire on this and think about it some. Maybe I will have something intelligent to say later.

    And with all here, I am not counseling AGAINST meditating and worshiping the Lord, of course. I just don’t think this is the way of sanctification.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  15. Don, I can’t pursue this further today. However, your suggestion that meditating on and worshiping Christ isn’t the way of sanctification is mistaken, probably because it compartmentalizes aspects of the Christian life in artificial ways. (This is worship; this is sanctification; etc.) I don’t think that demonstrates a right understanding of either, frankly.

    Psalm 115:1-8 and 135:15-18 indicate that our worship greatly influences our character for good or bad–we become like what we worship.

    Much more clearly, II Cor. 3:18 teaches that looking at Christ in the Scriptures and meditating on His person and work is the key to being changed into His image through the Spirit’s ministry. I can’t think of a clearer passage on our sanctification. True sanctification and worship are absolutely inseparable.

    Some things to consider, anyway.

  16. […] Pastor Chris Anderson is one of my great online friends. I really appreciate his ministry. We most often agree on many matters. But… […]

  17. […] address the points made in two recent posts on the connection between joy and resisting temptation (here and […]

  18. […] Two people whom I know are having an online discussion regarding sanctification. […]

  19. […] with me at your own peril, friend. Doing so has put you at odds with Chuck (twice), John Owen, Matthew Henry and other prominent dead men. […]

  20. Dear Chris and Don, if Christ’s death, into which we are exhorted to enter – to share in his sufferings,…if this merely gained for us a clean slate, merely payed of the penalty of sin, this would not be much of an incentive. All of us in life need motivation. After all who works without expecting some kind of wage or return; the death of Christ also gained for us a new life of infinite possibilities. Christ himself was prepared to go through being crucified because he knew what was waiting for him on the other side. Hebrews says “ Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
    Jim Eliot’s statement :“ He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he can never loose” also says the same thing. There is nothing mystical about being given a heart of flesh in place of one of stone. Christ’s death was not simply to resurrect our spirits, but our bodies also.
    Don, I think you are the one being super spiritual- which is a path full of fleshly dangers.

    David Skinner Dorset UK

  21. […] And those ruled by emotional desires need to find their fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can satisfy. They need to learn to say that there is nothing on earth they desire besides Him (Psalm 73:25). That with Him as their Shepherd, they lack nothing (Psalm 23:1). That Christ is enough. That satisfaction is a key to sanctification. […]

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