But the context of the quote makes its impact on my thinking even greater. It comes in the penultimate section of Owen's introduction to Vindicae Evangelicae, his massive refutation of the Socinians. That he should write like this in the introduction to a polemical book shows me all the more what must be at the heart of contending for the faith in a way that pleases God.
The three questions that he asks give the game away as to the identity of his opponents. But they are great questions to ask whenever we may need to contend for the gospel.
Owen has not only a weapon in his hand, for the pulling down of the Socinian anti-gospel stronghold, but a plea for grace in the heart of all those who fight for the glory of God.
"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, againist 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, p. 52
Our calling is to preach good news; and when we deal with error in the Church it is the effect of that good news in our own hearts that will preserve and protect us from sin.