John Owen (1616—1683) was a Puritan pastor and a prolific writer. In 41 years, he completed more than 80 works, many of them becoming Christian classics. Owen also served as vice-chancellor of Oxford University, as well as a consultant to Cromwell. Sinclair Ferguson refers to Owen as ‘one of the greatest spiritual masters, probably the greatest of the Puritan thinkers, and a man whose writings continue to be enormously relevant to the twenty-first century.’
In The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, Owen writes:
Spiritual mindedness grows from and consists of being delighted by spiritual things: what we love is what captures us. The great contest between heaven and earth is to see which of them can most draw out our love. Whoever has our love has the whole of us; love causes us to give ourselves away, as nothing else can. Our love is like the rudder of a ship—where it is turned, there the ship goes.
It is no surprise that the world seeks to capture our love. The world must try to attract our worship now, because it is doomed to come to an end. But it is surely a surprise that God seeks our love (Proverbs 23:26). So I want to suggest that you think about ways that will help you direct your love away from the world and towards God. To neglect what God teaches by his actions in regard to the world is to treat his wisdom with contempt.
God has made it very clear that compared with spiritual things, the things of this life are of less importance. There was a time before sin entered the world when God said that this world was very good. But now because of sin it is under a curse. Christians are urged not to love the world (1 John 2:15-17). God has made it plain that the world is not worthy of our love, by several things he has done.
For example, the true nature of the world is exposed by its reaction to the life of Christ. His was a faultless and good life, yet the world rejected him. The world’s rejection of Christ vividly exposes the rottenness of its opinions. Can believers love the values and opinions that crucified their Lord?
Again, God shows the poor nature of the world by the way in which the world of their day treated the apostles. Because those apostles were laying the foundations of the glorious kingdom of God on earth, would you not think that the world should have received them gladly? Yet they lived and died in poverty and persecution (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
There is a right use of the things of this world. The problem arises when people have no idea what is the right use. I suggest that only the spiritually minded have the wisdom to find that right way. They will know the danger of loving these things too much. They will not be anxious and worried about obtaining all these things for themselves, for they realize that any of the benefits of this life are not theirs to own but are only for them to borrow and to use well.
The attitude that believers have towards the things of this world is a good indicator of whether they are spiritually minded or not. No one can have a detached attitude to the things of this life unless there is a strong attachment to spiritual things. To think less of anything, one must think more of something else.
Our love for the things of this world needs to be strictly disciplined. How can we love what God has shown to be contemptible? Our love for this world will not fade away of its own accord. We must deliberately keep it from governing us. We are to be governed by God’s Word alone (1 John 2:5).
Christians can seem to be very zealous, but if they also love the world, that fact—not their zeal—is the true measure of their spirituality.