This morning I was greatly helped in reading the last several pages of John Owen's "The way and means of the recovery of spiritual decays, and of obtaining fresh springs of grace" in Volume 1 of his Works. He is basically addressing how Christians are to recover from a backslidden condition ("spiritual decays"). As in all of Owen's writings, which are relentlessly gospel-centric, the answer is through exercising faith in Christ. These last several paragraphs are particularly helpful in discussing how beholding the glory of Christ in the gospel (think 2 Corinthians 3:18) changes us. Owen says the following:
The only inquiry remaining, is, how a constant view of the glory of Christ will produce this blessed effect in us: and it will do so several ways.
1. It will be effected by that transforming power and efficacy which this exercise of faith is always accompanied withal. This is that which changeth us every day more and more into the likeness of Christ, as has been at large before declared. Herein all revivals and all flourishing are contained. To have a good measure of conformity unto Christ is all whereof in this life we are capable: the perfection of it is eternal blessedness. According as are our attainments therein, so is the thriving and flourishing of the life of grace in us; which is that which is aimed at. Other ways and means, it may be, have failed us, let us put this to the trial. Let us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and virtue will proceed from him to repair all our decays, to renew a right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of obedience. This way of producing these effects flesh and blood will not reveal, — it looks like washing in Jordan to 461cure a leprosy; but the life of faith is a mystery known only unto them in whom it is.
2. It will fix the soul unto that object which is suited to give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction. This in perfection is blessedness, for it is caused by the eternal vision of the glory of God in Christ; and the nearer approaches we make unto this state, the better, the more spiritual, the more heavenly, is the state of our souls. And this is to be obtained only by a constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, as has been declared. And it is several ways effectual unto the end now proposed. For, —
1. The most of our spiritual decays and barrenness arise from an inordinate admission of other things into our minds; for these are they that weaken grace in all its operations. But when the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, when the soul thereon cleaves unto him with intense affections, they will cast out, or not give admittance unto, those causes of spiritual weakness and indisposition. See Col. iii. 1–5; Eph. v. 8.
2. Where we are engaged in this duty, it will stir up every grace unto its due exercise; which is that wherein the spiritual revival inquired after does consist. This is all we desire, all we long for, this will make us fat and flourishing, — namely, that every grace of the Spirit have its due exercise in us. See Rom. v. 3–5; 2 Pet. i. 5–8. Whereas, therefore, Christ himself is the first proper, adequate object of all grace, and all its exercise (for it first respects him, and then other things for him), when the mind is fixed on him and his glory, every grace will be in a readiness for its due exercise. And without this we shall never attain it by any resolutions or endeavours of our own, let us make the trial when we please.
3. This will assuredly put us on a vigilant watch and constant conflict against all the deceitful workings of sin, against all the entrances of temptation, against all the ways and means of surprisals into foolish frames, by vain imaginations which are the causes of our decays. Our recovery or revival will not be effected, nor a fresh spring of grace be obtained, in a careless, slothful course of profession. Constant watching, fighting, contending against sin, with our utmost endeavour for an absolute conquest over it, are required hereunto. And nothing will so much excite and encourage our souls hereunto as a constant view of Christ and his glory; every thing in him has a constraining power hereunto, as is known to all who have any acquaintance with these things.