They called it the Victorious Spirit- filled life. You got into it, they said, by total surrender to Jesus Christ (they assumed no one does this at conversion), and then looking to him whenever you felt sinful impulses stirring. He would then by his Spirit douse the desire, and quiet peace and joyful satisfaction would be your portion once again. As described by the gifted preachers under whom I sat, it sounded wonderful. But I could not make it work.
I was a new convert in my late teens. I had kept Christ at bay for too long and was trying to make up for lost time. Like any other introverted adolescent, I was a loner, my emotional life was all over the place, and I was essentially a mixed-up kid. I heard the formula as a way of transcending my less-than-satisfying inner state and labored to follow the instructions, but the mad, bad urges still raged and the quiet peace did not come.
What was wrong? I concluded that my surrender could not have been total and scoured my inside to find what more I could consecrate. Harry Iron— sometime preacher at Moody Church in Chicago — drove himself into a nervous breakdown doing this, and I might well have gone the same way. But I chanced upon a mini-treatise, a set of sermons stitched together by the Puritan John Owen (1616-1663), entitled Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. And here was Gods chemo for my cancered soul.
But what happened? I scraped my inside, figuratively speaking, to ensure that my consecration was complete, and laboured to ‘let go and let God’ when temptation made its presence felt. At that time I did not know that Harry Ironside, sometime pastor of Moody Memorial Church, Chicago, once drove himself into a full-scale mental breakdown through trying to get into the higher life as I was trying to get into it; and I would not have dared to conclude, as I have concluded since, that this higher life as described is a will-o’-the-wisp, an unreality that no one has ever laid hold of at all, and that those who testify to their experience in these terms really, if unwittingly, distort what has happened to them. All I knew was that the expected experience was not coming. The technique was not working. Why not? Well, since the teaching declared that everything depends on consecration being total, the fault had to lie in me. So I must scrape my inside again to find whatever maggots of unconsecrated selfhood still lurked there. I became fairly frantic.
And then (thank God) the group was given an old clergyman’s library, and in it was an uncut set of Owen, and I cut the pages of volume VI more or less at random, and read Owen on mortification—and God used what the old Puritan had written three centuries before to sort me out.