25 August 2006

"You can go your own way"

by Dan Phillips

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, no—anything 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.

Dan Phillips's signature


44 comments:

Don Fields said...

Excellent! Very encouraging and helpful this morning!

Jared Wall said...

Amen. Thank you for the post, Dan.

Will said...

This was a good post--a much needed reminder of how much we need the grace of God. Call this a Trackback on "Prydain."

DJP said...

Thanks, guys. Now I'll add two thoughts. (I didn't want Phil to have to call this a "LONG post.")

1. I've often heard it said, as an evangelistic appeal, that "God is not a cosmic killjoy." While the point is a good one (God is the Fount of joy and pleasure and delight, and He's not going around looking for ways to make innocent people miserable), I'm not sure it communicates truth to the lost. He is locked into the delusion that autonomy is joy. "The pursuit of happiness," to him, is the pursuit of his own will, free from fetters and consequences. Hello, Cross. The Christian life is the death of that notion of joy -- though it is indeed the birth of true joy.

2. C. S. Lewis (whom I love as an author) is often quoted thus: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'"

While there's an excellent truth in that, it isn't really fully true. And I'm afraid that part of the reason it is so popular is that it takes the sting out of Hell.

The truth is, no one will be happy to be in Hell. It really isn't the rebel's will, though it is a product of his choice. His will would be to have his own way with no negative consequences. Since that is only possible in a universe in which the true God does not exist, the essence of his will is that God be killed.

This cannot happen, so he cannot have his will. But he will have the recompense for his will.

Gummby said...

I second that Amen!

Gummby said...

Oops. I think we cross-posted.

I read your comment, DJP, and I have a question. You said "no one will be happy in Hell," which I think is true. But isn't it also true that even though they will be miserable, they will still be unrepentant, and even if their suffering could wipe out all the sins they've committed in this life, they will continue to reject God & curse Him for their fate, just as many of them do now?

donsands said...

Thanks for the fine insight. And you have a way of making teachings very clear. Very much appreciated.

"Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee."

DJP said...

Gummby -- But isn't it also true that even though they will be miserable, they will still be unrepentant, and even if their suffering could wipe out all the sins they've committed in this life, they will continue to reject God & curse Him for their fate, just as many of them do now?

Yes, I believe so. Among other things, what makes Hell hell is the withdrawal of all common grace. Sin will be unfiltered and unharnessed. Joy and happiness are gifts of common grace (cf. Acts 14:17), and they will be withdrawn.

So, to make a fine distinction, I'd say Hell will be brim-full of regret (Matthew 8:12), but not repentance.

Is that helpful?

DJP said...

Thanks, Don. I can make things simple because I am simple! By the time I've broken it down for my understanding, anyone can "get" it! (c:

And AMEN to your hymn-citation; I haven't been able to sing that verse without resonance since the first time I heard it, a century or two ago.

marc said...

"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."

Dan, that is a potential worldclass quote!

Gordon Cloud said...

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Prov. 14:12

Daniel said...

Preach it Dan!

jeff said...

Thank you, Dan, for the very encouraging post. I had never thought about it in that light before. Thank you for the fresh (if you can call Owen "fresh") perspective!

Kim said...

I really like this post. I like it even more because you quoted something from Charnock that I have already read!

Even So... said...

Dan, in all candor, I am now preaching through Romans (since November), and we just got to 1:18 last week, giving the overall sense of the following section (1:18-3:20), but focusing on that one verse. This week its 1:19-20.

I ask your permission and possibly your forgiveness, but I am using the essence of what you have written here, it reflects what I was already going to say, but the phrase 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 cannot be improved upon, IMO.

Thank you.

Carla said...

Now if Fleetwood Mac would have sung that post, it would have been a collision of great talent & great encouragement.

Oh nevermind, we have Campi for that.

:o)

Good post Dan - as usual.

centuri0n said...

Amen. May God have His mercy on us, not our view of what His mercy ought to be.

LeeC said...

Thanks Dan.

On a similar vein people often seem to think that when the Bible talks of the weeping and gnashing of teeth that they are simply outpourings of the same thing.

In fact the weeping may have regret in it, but it is the weeping of the criminal who is upset at being caught and punished, not contrition. The gnashing of teeth though is clear a sign of defiance and anger.

Much like in Revelation 6:16 when the unrepentant ask the mountains to fall on them, because they prefer that to happen than to repent, thus once more showing how just God is in His wrath.


And that is how I was before He called me. If grace were not irresistable we all would flee it. Praise be to God for His mercy that soften our hearts and allows us to say "not my will Lord, but thine".

Chuck said...

What an incredible post. My heart breaks when I hear lost people talk about how they will approach God on judgment day. They have no idea what dire consequences they face. These eloquent words have provided me with some potential responses when I hear such things. God bless!

Chuck said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
REM said...

DJP
Sweet.

Also reminds me of the Lewis quote in Problem of Pain on Hell(regarding the unbeliever):

"To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, that is what he does."

Doug McHone said...

"Our Men's Fellowship is going through R. K. Law's version of John Owen's Communion with God (Banner of Truth: 1991)."

I'm having a hard time finding this book. Can you offer a link to it?

Michael Herrmann said...

Thanks, donsands!

Come Thou Fount

Breaks my heart and lifts it up simultaneously.

Flat. Out. Masterpiece.

Michael Herrmann said...

Oh...and because Centuri0n has not yet said it on this post...

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

DJP said...

Even So -- thanks, and go for it.

Doug -- HERE

Doug McHone said...

Thanks Dan!

Taliesin said...

His will would be to have his own way with no negative consequences.

In a debate between a Christian and an atheist ("former believer" [sic]), I heard the Christian tell the atheist he didn't want to be saved. The atheist responded that he did want to be saved, who wouldn't want to escape eternal torment. The Christian pointed out (correctly, I think, and in tune with what you say above) that the atheist did not want to be saved, he wanted to escape punishment. Being saved meant having a relationship with God, which the atheist clearly didn't want.

Gummby said...

DJP: Yes, very helpful. Tku.

GUNNY said...

"Law breaks up Owen's complex, involved sentences, leaves out the Greek and Hebrew excursions, and updates the language to a degree."

Holy Cow!

Without all that, ANYBODY could read Owen.

Without all that, you're no longer reading Owen!

Back in my day, we beat our heads against the wall reading Owen, translating his Greek, Latin, & Hebrew. That's the way it was and we liked it. We loved it!

Kudos to those trying to read both concurrently.

I mean that Owen's good. I wanna be friends with it.

DJP said...

Oh, I agree, Gunny. You know, everyone says Owen is so hard, and Edwards is so great and exalting. My experience is just the opposite. Yes, Owen is dense, and you can't skim him; but he's pithy, pointed, practical, deep.

And Edwards to me is just as dry as tomb-dust.

Bhedr said...

Wow! This was a great post with the most profound truth that seperates the believer from the non-believer.

Steve said...

DJP said: "And Edwards to me is just as dry as tomb-dust."

Whew. I've felt guilty for having to struggle through Edwards at times.

Ryan S. said...

John Owen is great! This is sound!

“Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you”
—John Owen

Chris said...

And Edwards to me is just as dry as tomb-dust.

Oh, you don't know Dan? We'll be reading The Religious Affections for our next book at our men's fellowship.

;-)

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan,

I think that what you say is really a misunderstanding of what has been accomplished in the regenerate believer.

Biblically, "our own way" is now a new way. We are a New Creation, old things have passed away, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). We have been given a new heart. Our heart of stone has been replaced by a heart of flesh (Ezek. 11:19).

True, we still sin, but that sinning is a *violation* of our new nature, not a giving in to it. We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin, and alive to God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:11).

We have been made "one spirit" with Christ (1 Cor. 6:17), and so to "go our own way" would be to go the way of Christ.

Only when we are deceived into walking according to the flesh do we fulfill the lusts of the flesh. That is not "our own way", it is the way of the flesh. If we walk according to the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

Paul made it clear in Rom. 7 that sin is not us. He made the bold statement that he realized "it is no longer I who do it, but sin which dwells in me" (Rom. 7:17,20).

It *sounds* good and humble to say, "Please, God, don't let me go my own way." But that thought comes from a profound misunderstanding of our new identity in Christ, that of a Saint who loves Christ and hates sin, not of a Sinner (i.e., in terms of identity).

Blessings,
Terry

Even So... said...

Terry,

First, if I misunderstand, please forgive me...and Dan, forgive me if I misunderstand you...

Dan was talking about unbelievers, these are the ones left to their own way. Of course he knows (if I may say so) believers aren't left to themselves, that was the point of the post, this was just the last line, showing his gratefulness that God doesn't let us alone, and perhaps the heart cry for more practical sanctification.

Perhaps I am way off, and I would apologize if I was, but it seems you have read the whole article(?) in light of the last statement. Perhaps you should read the last statement in light of the whole article.

Again, I may be waaaayy off, it's late, and yes, I have been to your site many times, although not lately, admittedly. I like some of your stuff, and your zeal for sure, but I think you're overanalyzing it here.

Thanks for the indulgence, and God bless you all...

Lighthouse Blog said...

Excellent. Dan, I can't avoid to comment this but after my trip to Peru and after gotten sick of all the 'sacred heart of Jesus' stamps all over the place, is your signing picture a parody of such image? are you iconoclast? :)

Francisco

Terry Rayburn said...

JD,

Perhaps you are too sleepy. Dan writes,

"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."

and

"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."

In other words, Dan is speaking in the *present* tense of the Saint, and that's where I think he is wrongly portraying the identity of the Saint with his regenerated spirit.

This isn't splitting hairs, this is a foundation for the believer's walk in the Spirit, an understanding of his identity in Christ.

If he thinks he is essentially evil, he will expect to act accordingly.

If he understands he is essentially a new creation who is dead to sin and alive to God, he will expect to act accordingly, walking "according to the Spirit", Who is now "one spirit" with him.

Or to put it another way, "walking according to the spirit" is both walking according to the Holy Spirit, *and* walking according to our own [new] spirit, since we are now "one in spirit" with Christ (1 Cor. 6:17).

Even So... said...

Terry, I am wide awake now (ha ha), and I still feel you missed it.

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...

Yes, that is present tense, and the Christian knows he isn't left alone, and therefore realizes what he has come out of, and is grateful.

Perhaps Dan will shed some light as to authorial intent, which we see again is vital to our understanding and interpretation of the written word. Thank you for participating with me in this object lesson, no matter what his intent was, as we see the importance here illustrated...

EJ said...

"If all is of free and sovereign grace, then free grace has undertaken the matter to complete and finish it, and has not left it to men themselves, and to the power of their own wills, as it was under the first covenant. As divine grace has commenced the work, it will finish it; and therefore we shall be kept to the end." -Jonathan Edwards, Charity and its Fruits, Lecture XIV (emphasis mine).

Not so dry, is it? ;-)Enjoyed the post. Yes, we are given a new nature at conversion. But we are still dependent on God's grace acting upon us to accomplish His will. (And yes, if Pastor Edwards were blogging today, I'd have to nitpick about whether the first covenant really left things up to the will of man, but I think I know what he means there).

Bhedr said...

Actually Even so...I kinda think Terry was right to catch this. Ah Terry you don't miss a beat.

Hey Dan dont be offended and consider that Terry has a point. We are new creations. Terry is good sword sharpener. Our old natures may ghost us with its dead fleshly presence but we do have a new nature and a new heart. The Puritans did seem to not catch this much but I think Spurgeon did.
I would say that Spurgeon was haunted by some Puritan teaching but in the end he learned a good balance I think...but struggled all his life convincing himself as well as others that we have a warrant for peace and rest.

And so too Terry.

DJP said...

bhedr -- Terry has a point....

Not really. Terry may want an argument; if so, I don't plan to give him one. Every other commenter caught the point immediately, so I'll score it as a beyond-average successful communication. Can't get 'em all. (See here.)

Even so -- as to authorial intention (bless you), it's simple:

Galatians 5:17 -- For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

The Christian is in a state of war, internally. What if the Spirit's flesh-opposing desires and powers were withdrawn? What the WC calls "remaining corruption" would be all there were. It's a hypothetical. The believer's reaction to the hypothetical contrasts him starkly with the unbeliever, who can imagine nothing better than the same status whose very contemplation brings horror to the normal, healthy Christian breast.

Can you think of a place in the Scripture where "left to go their own way" was spoken as a blessing on the regenerate?

Beyond a sober realization of this Biblical state of affairs lies that land which, to some, is far more than just a river in Egypt.

Ah, but now I fear I've dulled my point by explaining the obvious, which I think you caught on your first read.

Bhedr said...

>Terry may want an argument; <

AAWWW com 'on guy. You don't know the blessed Terry I know.

Hey anyway let me just say that your posts are my favorite ones now. You have transcended the ultimate Pyro and are a great communicator in your own right.

Enough butter for now...may want an argument later.

Bhedr said...

Lets Just face it Dan..we people are draining. Why do you think Jesus had to get alone to pray?

Phew.

Why do you think I teach Childrens Church?

Because I get tired of the draining...yeh buts.

I gotta hand it to you though. I couldnt be a Pyro or a Phil Johnson for that matter.

That was a good article though.

Just remember that Jesus didn't let the rich young ruler wear him out along with thousands of others who grumbled.

Tough job handling the word of God and apologizing for him.

Take care and enjoy this blessed Sunday.

P.S- I was just looking for an argument. Ohhh waaaah waaaah.