In the recent magazine of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales, my friend, the Rev Ian Hamilton of Cambridge reflects on the nature of sin. Fundamentally, sin turns us in on ourselves. it is congenitally incurvatus in se. It makes self and not God the ultimate referent in life, he says. This lies at the heart of many problems in the Christian life.
He quotes John Owen’s commentary on I John 4:10 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the propitiation for our sins.” Owen, in a typically pastoral way, anticipated a query arising from a listener to his exposition: “I cannot find my heart making returns of love unto God. Could I find my soul set upon him, I could then believe that his soul delighted in me.” Owen responds:
“This is the most preposterous course that possibly thy thoughts can pitch upon…”Herein is love”, saith the Holy Ghost, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us” first. Now thou wouldst invert this order and say “herein is love, not that god loved me, but that I loved him first”… This is a course of flesh’s finding out that will never bring glory to God, nor peace to thy own soul. Lay down then thy reasonings; take up the love of the Father upon a pure act of believing, and that will open thy soul to let it out unto the Lord in the communion of love.”
Ian says, “Too easily and often we look within ourselves for crumbs of spiritual comfort. There is a place for healthy, gospel self-examination, but only when it is done in the light of the foundational truth that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins….Looking away to Jesus is the principal movement of a spiritually healthy soul. Sin turns us in upon ourselves; the gospel turns us out to Christ.” Well said, Ian.