Fallen, sinful man stands in need of the utmost encouragement that divine condescension can extend unto, to prevail with him to receive and lay hold of the promise of grace and mercy by Jesus Christ.
There is nothing that we are so prone unto, as to distrust the promises of God; nothing that we are with more difficulty won over unto, than to mix them with faith. To evidence this we may consider,—
1. That the first entrance of sin into the world was by a disbelief of the truth of God; yea, that very sin formally consisted in an apprehension that God, in his promises and threatenings, had a mind to deceive us, Gen. 3:4–6. And as sin thus laid its foundation by the craft of Satan, so it endeavours to carry on its building. It continually suggests to the hearts and minds of men that they shall certainly be deceived in trusting to God’s promises. For,—
(1.) Secret thoughts there are in the hearts of men,—which are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,”—that neither the promises nor threatenings of God are true, in the terms and sense wherein they are proposed unto them. They neither think that it shall be so bad with any as he threateneth, nor so well as he promiseth. Did men believe the threatenings of God as to the fearful and eternal ruin of sinners, it were not possible they should live in sin as they do, without any endeavour of amendment, so to flee from the wrath to come. Nor do they think in their hearts that it shall be with them that believe according as God hath promised. They say in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil,” Zeph. 1:12,—namely, as he hath either promised or threatened.
(2.) Men think that there are still some reserves and latent conditions in the promises and threatenings of God, and that God knows it shall be otherwise than they seem to portend. By this imagination Satan deceived our first parents as to the truth of God in his threatening. He persuaded them that there was a reserve therein, that was directly contrary unto what the words of it declared; and that by transgressing of his command they should not die, but be wise and like himself. And still men suppose that the promises propose a fair ground, indeed, but that if they should go to build upon it, there is a mine under it, which would be sprung at one time or another, unto their ruin. They cannot apprehend that it shall be with them according unto and as the promise doth declare. If they should attempt to believe, yet one latent condition or other would defeat them of obtaining it; whereas, indeed, the whole and entire condition of enjoying the promise is faith alone.
(3.) Whatever may be the truth of the promise, yet they cannot conceive that God intends them therein; whereas yet there is no declaration or intention of God, whereby our duty is to be regulated and whereon we shall be judged, but what is contained and expressed in the proposal of the promise itself.
On these and the like grounds, the great contest in the world, between God and man, is whether God be true or a liar in his promise. It is not thus directly stated in the minds of men, for they have many other pretences why they do not believe; but this is that which it is resolved into. For “he that receiveth not the testimony of God, maketh him a liar.”
John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 22, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1855), 272–73.