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While the Government was enforcing stringent measures against Nonconformity, while dissenting ministers if they ventured to preach the gospel of salvation became liable to the penalties of the Conventicle or Five-mile Act, and when Owen himself on a visit to some old friends at Oxford narrowly escaped arrest, and imprisonment, our author did not abandon himself to inactivity, but employed the leisure of the concealment into which the rigour of the times had driven him in the preparation of some of his most valuable works. In one year (1668) the two treatises which conclude this volume were published, together with the first volume of his colossal and elaborate work, the “Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews.”
His treatise on “Indwelling Sin” has always ranked high among the productions of our author. The opinion which Dr Chalmers entertained of it will be seen in the “Life of Owen,” vol. i. p. lxxxiv. That such a work should have been prepared under the gloom of public trials, and the hardship of personal exposure to civil penalties, evinces not merely great industry, but a strength of religious principle with which no outward commotions were permitted to intermeddle. Temptations were strong at that time to merge all duty into a secular struggle for the rights of conscience and liberty of worship. Owen issued various tracts which had some share in securing these blessings for his country. But he was intent, with engrossing zeal, on the advancement of vital piety; and his treatise on “Indwelling Sin” is a specimen of the discourses which he preached whenever a safe opportunity occurred. It is avowedly designed for believers, to aid and guide them in the exercise of self-examination. There is uncommon subtilty of moral analysis in many of its statements, — an exposure, irksome it may be thought, in its fulness and variety, of the manifold deceitfulness of the human heart. A question may even be raised, if it be altogether a healthful process, for the mind to be conducted through this laborious and acute unvailing of the hidden mysteries of sin, and if it may not tend to exclude from the view the objective truths of the Word. But the process is in itself supremely needful, — essential to the life of faith and the growth of holiness; and with no guide can we be safer than with Owen. The reader is never suffered to lose sight of the fact, amid the most searching investigation into human motives, that our acceptance with God cannot depend upon the results of any scrutiny into our internal condition, and that the guilt of all lurking corruption which we may detect is remitted only by the blood of the cross.
The basis of the treatise is taken from Rom. vii. 21. After a brief explanation of the passage, he considers indwelling sin under the light and character of “a law;” — the seat and subject of this law, the heart; — its nature generally, as enmity against God; — its actings and operations; first, in withdrawing the mind from what is good; secondly, exciting positive opposition to God; thirdly, ensnaring the soul into captivity; and lastly, filling it with insensate hatred to the principles and claims of holiness. The power of indwelling sin is next illustrated from its deceitfulness, chap. viii. A lengthened exposition follows, of three stages along which indwelling sin may beguile us; first, when the mind is withdrawn from a course of obedience and holiness; secondly, when the affections are enticed and ensnared: and, lastly, when actual sin is conceived and committed. With chap. xiv. a new demonstration begins of the power of indwelling sin, as exhibited, first, in the lives of Christians; and, secondly, in unregenerate persons, in the last chapter evidence to the same effect is adduced from the resistance which sin offers to the authority of the moral law, and from the fruitless and unavailing endeavours of men in their own strength to subdue and mortify it. As to the way in which it is really to be mortified, the author refers to his treatise on the “Mortification of Sin.” — Ed.
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