The Vital Necessity of Knowing the Power of Truth in our Own Experience
When engaging theological opponents, we need an approach that takes in view the people we are dealing with. This means showing kindness to the person in error.This means showing compassionate understanding, while at the same time being in prayer for them that God would open and soften their hard hearts. But it also means skillfully exposing and correcting their doctrinal error. The great Puritan John Owen wrote a refutation of the theological errors found in the Racovian Catechism called Vindicae Evangelicae ((Volume 12 in the Banner edition). Although the entire book was one of polemics, he reveals here a humble spirit and an example to us when contending for truth. He helps us to understand what graces we are expected to display when dealing with theological opponents; what must be at the heart of those defending the truth in a way that is pleasing to God. Near the end of his introduction to his Vindicae Evangelicae he wisely said:
"When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth; when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us; when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the things abides in our hearts; when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for, --then shall we be garrisoned, by the grace of God, against all the assaults of men. And without this all our contending is, as to ourselves, of no value.
What am I the better if I can dispute that Christ is God, but have no sense or sweetness in my heart from hence that he is a God in covenant with my soul?
What will it avail me to evince by testimonies and arguments, that he hath made satisfaction for sin if, through my unbelief, the wrath of God abideth on me, and I have no experience of my own being made the righteousness of God in him,--if I find not, in my standing before God, the excellency of having my sins imputed to him and his righteousness imputed to me?
Will it be any advantage to me, in the issue, to profess and dispute that God works the conversion of a sinner by the irresistible grace of his Spirit, if I was never acquainted experimentally with the deadness and utter impotency to good, that opposition to the law of God, which is in my own soul by nature, with the efficacy of the exceeding greatness of the power of God in quickening, enlightening, and bringing forth the fruits of obedience in me?
It is the power of truth in the heart alone that will make us cleave unto it indeed in an hour of temptation.
Let us, then, not think that we are any thing the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we contend with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in out own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him." (John Owen, Vindicae Evangelicae).