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The idea developed by Owen – and found through the theology of this period — is that Christ is of such great beauty, that one will desire him above all rivals. As Taylor wrote in Meditation on Canticle 2.1:


The gawdy world me courts t’unlock the box,

A motion made where love may pick and choose


Love pausing on’t, these clayey faces she

Disdains to court ….

       And there doth see

The Rose of Sharon which with beauty shines.

Her chest unlocks; the spark of love outbreathes

To court this Rose: and lodgeth in its leaves.


Owen explains it thus:


The liking of Christ, for his excellency, grace, and suitableness, far above all other beloveds whatever, preferring him in the judgement and mind above them all. In the place above mentioned, Song of Solomon 5:9, the spouse being earnestly pressed, by professors at large, to give in her thoughts concerning the excellency of her Beloved in comparison of other endearments, answereth expressly, that he is “the chiefest of ten thousand, yea,” verse 16, “altogether lovely,” infinitely beyond comparison with the choicest created good or endearment imaginable. The soul takes a view of all that is in this world, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” and sees it all to be vanity, — that “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof,” 1 John 2:16,17. These beloveds are no way to be compared unto him. It views also legal righteousness, blamelessness before men, uprightness of conversation, duties upon conviction, and concludes of all as Paul does, Philippians 3:8,


“Doubtless, I count all these things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”


So, also, does the church, Hosea 14:3, reject all appearing assistance whatever, — as goodly as Asshur, as promising as idols, — that God alone may be preferred. And this is the soul’s entrance into conjugal communion with Jesus Christ as to personal grace, — the constant preferring him above all pretenders to its affections, counting all loss and dung in comparison of him. Beloved peace, beloved natural relations, beloved wisdom and learning, beloved righteousness, beloved duties, [are] all loss, compared with Christ.


This desire for Christ is the true key in understanding the Puritan concept of mortification of sin and striving for holiness.  Often times holiness can be understood as refraining from some thing which I want. Such a method of “holiness” is bitterness and pain. It requires one’s self-will to combat sin. It is Romans 7 living.