I am reading a little book by Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen. It rings true to what I have known and experienced.
From the chapter, “Communion with God”:
In his early years, Owen appears to have been troubled about his relationship to God. There is some evidence that he went through more than one period of spiritual discouragement and even depression His first deliverance from this came…when a stranger substituted for Edmund Calamy and preached on Jesus’ words to His disciples: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” The sermon was the means of “leading him forth into the sunshine of a settled peace.” But it was also probably the reason why Owen developed a lifelong concern for others who had little or no sense of peace with God.
Owen refers to this problem several times in the context of his exposition of communion with the Father in love. The problem as he sees it–surely rightly–is that many Christians, in their heart of hearts, are not deeply convinced that the Father indeed loves them. An extended quotation from Owen will make his point clear:
There is a twofold divine love, beneplacti and amicitiae, a love of good pleasure and
destination, and a love of friendship and approbation, they are both peculiarly assigned
to the Father in an eminent manner:–
John iii.16, “God so loved the world that he gave,” etc.; that is with the love of his
purpose and good pleasure, his determinate will of doing good. This is distinctly
ascribed to him, being laid down as the cause of sending his Son…
John xiv.23, there is mention of that other kind of love whereof we speak.
“If a man love me,” saith Christ, “he will keep my words: and my Father will
love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” The love
of friendship and approbation is here eminently ascribed to him. Says Christ,
“We will come,” even Father and Son, “to such as one and dwell with him;”
that is, by the Spirit: but yet he (Jesus) would have us notice, that, in point of love,
the Father hath a peculiar prerogative: “My Father will love him.”
Yea, and as this love is peculiarly to be eyed in him, so it is to be looked on
as the fountain of all following gracious dispositions. Christians walk oftentimes
with exceedingly troubled hearts, concerning the thought of the Father toward them.
They are well persuaded of the Lord Christ and his good-will; the difficulty lies in what
is their acceptance with the Father.
…What, exactly, is the problem here? There are Christians who are not deeply convinced
of the love that their heavenly Father has for them. They may grasp the love of Christ,
but there seems to be a cognitive gap or a dissonance between their trust in Him and
their trust in the Father. It is almost as though they fear that behind Christ, the Father
is actually distant and dark, even sinister:
(Owen again now)…Many dark and disturbing thoughts are apt to arise in this thing.
Few can carry up their hearts and minds to this height by faith, as to rest their souls
in the love of the Father; they live below it in the troublesome region of hopes and
fears, storms and clouds. All here is serene and quiet. But how to attain to this pitch
they know not….
How few of the saints are experimentally acquainted with this privilege of holding
immediate communion with the Father in love. With what anxious, doubtful thoughts
do they look upon him! What fears, what questionings are there, of his good-will
and kindness. At the best, many think there is no sweetness at all in him towards
us, but what is purchased at the high price of the blood of Jesus. It is true, that alone
is the way of communication; but the free fountain and spring of all is in the bosom of
the Father. (italics are Ferguson’s)
For me, worship becomes easier and more natural, and a complaining spirit becomes more difficult when I contemplate the steadfast and perfect love of the one true God. Descriptors flow in my mind and heart, “merciful, omnipotent, omniscient, altogether righteous, gracious, forgiver, restorer, giver of all good things, sustainer, creator, judge.” And of course I am still looking through a dark glass, but I see a glimmer of joyous light and I have hope.