Our Men's Fellowship is going through R. K. Law's version of John Owen's Communion with God (Banner of Truth: 1991). Law breaks up Owen's complex, involved sentences, leaves out the Greek and Hebrew excursions, and updates the language to a degree. Some of us try to stay up to speed while reading both versions.
Last Saturday two passages in particular struck me. I shared the first in "Somebody up there must like me"? This is the second.
The great John Owen, once again almost in passing, wrote this in part two, chapter three, digression two of Communion with God:
It was but to leave them inexcusable, that his power and wrath against sin might be manifested in their destruction. And therefore he calls it “a suffering of them to walk in their own ways,” Acts 14:16; which elsewhere he holds out as a most dreadful judgement, — to wit, in respect of that issue whereto it will certainly come; as Psalm 81:12, “I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lusts, and they walked in their own counsels:” which is as dreadful a condition as a creature is capable of falling into in this world.Here's Law's update:
Therefore God allowed "them to walk in their own ways," which is shown to be a most dreadful judgment (Acts 14:16; Psa. 81:12). To be given up to our own heart's lusts and to be left to walk according to our own ideas is as dreadful a condition as a creature is capable of falling into in this world.This absolutely arrested me, as we worked through it together last Saturday. I saw here, in the boldest terms, the colossal chasm dividing men in Adam from men in Christ.
I saw two men standing before God. God says to both: "Go your own way."
The first man leaps to his feet with a surprised, happy shout. "All right!" he cries. "Now that is exactly what I wanted to hear!" He dances a gleeful little victory-dance, then shoots out of God's presence faster than Satan heading off to do Job misery. You can hear his joyous laughter and whoops of delight fading in the distance.
But at the very same moment, the second man also leaps up. "Oh, dear God, no! No, God, noanything but that! Have mercy, Lord! Do anything, but don't leave me to myself!"
Autonomy. It is the essence of Hell, it is sin's direst judgment, it is the Christian's most horrifying fear. Left to oneself, left to go one's own way.
The rebel imagines that he knows what is best for himself. He believes in his passions, his drives, his notions. The word of his viscera and glands is the word of his god. Anything that opposes his will is his enemy; anything that would thwart him or frustrate him, or force consequences upon him, is his sworn foe.
And his chief foe is God. Because "joy" to him is unbridled autonomy, unfettered self-will, God truly is a "cosmic killjoy."
Charnock (Existence and Attributes of God, 1:142), says it wonderfully well:
God cannot outlive his will and his glory: because he cannot have any other rule but his own will, or any other end but his own honor. The setting up self as our end puts a nullity upon the true Deity; by paying to ourselves that respect and honor which is due to God, we make the true God as no God. Whosoever makes himself a king of his prince's rights and territories, manifests an intent to throw him out of his government. To choose ourselves as our end is to undeify God, since to be the last end of a rational creature is a right inseparable from the nature of the Deity; and therefore not to set God, but self always before us, is to acknowledge no being but ourselves to be God.The sinner's very image of Paradise is the saint's vision of Hell. The saint knows what is in his heart. He knows that, left to himself and given the proper drives and opportunities, there is literally no sin, no degradation, no depth of depravity, of which he is truly incapable. He knows his heart to be "the laboratory of evil," as Bridges remarks on Proverbs 6:14. He knows the "way" in which his heart would ultimately lead him (Proverbs 14:12). And he has learned that the "way" of God is a way of ultimate, true delight and joy (Psalm 1; 16:11; Proverbs 4:18; Matthew 7:14; John 14:6).
The rebel's greatest fear is that he would be denied the desires of his heart. The saint's is that he would be abandoned to his.
Were God to offer the option, the first would bellow "Yes!", even as the other screamed "No!"
And this, at bottom, is the stark demarcation between the heart left to itself, and the heart made alive by the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 2:1ff.).
Dear God, whatever You do, don't let us go our own way.