In one part of his exposition of Psalm 130, John Owen discussed receiving forgiveness and being assured of it. One of his “rules” was this: “Mix not foundation and building-work together.” By this Owen meant that the Christian’s foundation of forgiveness and acceptance with God is not by works, but by grace alone and found in Christ alone. Here’s what he wrote:
“Our foundation in dealing with God is Christ alone, mere grace and pardon in him. Our building is by holiness and obedience, as the fruits of that faith by which we have received the atonement.
And great mistakes there are in this matter, which bring great entanglements on the souls of men. Some are all their days laying the foundation, and are never able to build upon it any comfort to themselves or usefulness to others; and the reason is, because they are mixing with the foundation stones that are fit only for the building. They will be bringing their obedience, duties, mortification of sin, and the like, to the foundation. These are precious stones to build with, but unmeet to be first laid, to bear upon them the whole weight of the building.
The foundation is to be laid, as was said, in mere grace, mercy, and pardon in the blood of Christ. This the soul is to accept of and to rest in as mere grace, without the consideration of any thing in itself, but that it is sinful and obnoxious unto ruin. This it finds a difficulty in, and would gladly have something of its own to mix with it. It cannot tell how to fix these foundation-stones without some cement of its own endeavors and duty; and because these things will not mix, they spend a fruitless labor about it all their days.
But if the foundation be of grace, it is not at all of works; for “otherwise grace is no more grace. ” If any thing of our own be mixed with grace in this matter, it utterly destroys the nature of grace; which if it be not alone, it does not exist at all….
This, then, is the soul to do who would come to peace and settlement. Let it let go of all former endeavors, if it has been engaged unto any of that kind, and let it alone receive, admit of, and adhere to, mere grace, mercy, and pardon, with a full sense that in itself it has nothing for which it should have an interest in them, but that all is of mere grace through Jesus Christ: ‘Other foundation can no man lay.’ Depart not hence until this work be well over. Cease not from an earnest endeavor with your own heart to acquiesce in this righteousness of God, and to bring your souls unto a comfortable persuasion that “God for Christ’s sake hath freely forgiven you all your sins. “
This is a great reminder of that biblical truth that we are justified, forgiven, and accepted by God only through Christ and only because of God’s grace (Rom 3-4, Gal 2-3, Eph 2, etc.). Our justification, forgiveness, and acceptance are not in any way dependent upon our works, deeds, or merits. As we begin to grow in understanding of this foundational truth, our assurance also grows and we learn more about what it means to give God all the glory.
The above quote is found in John Owen’s exposition of Psalm 130, chapter 13, rule 7.