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John Owen on Communication from God

For my birthday, my best friend gave me the book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen.  I was both thrilled and terrified at the same time.  From all I had heard, Owen is one of the most difficult of the Puritans to read.  People I know that are far and above me in intellect find him difficult reading; at the same time, though, I had heard that this was a profound book.  I plan on reading it soon when I get my courage up for the task.  I had a little introduction to Owen in the chapter "John Owen on Communication from God" in Packer's A Quest for Godliness.

The section "The Puritans and the Bible" is broken down into three chapters, and this is the first.  Even as I read Packer telling me about Owen, I knew that the people who commented on the difficulty of Owen were correct.  Even hearing someone explain Owen was not simple or easy.  But yes, it was rich.  Packer considers Owen the greatest among the Puritan theologians, and the most like Calvin.  In this chapter, he reveals Owen's teaching with regard to how God communicates to his children, specifically His cognitive communication to men.  Owen would have been against "encounters" with God; he was soundly anchored in Scripture, and saw Scripture as the foundation of this communication.  His concept of divine communication revolved around five aspects:

  1. giving of revelation
  2. inspiring of Scripture
  3. authentication of Scripture
  4. establishing of faith in Scripture
  5. interpreting of Scripture

All five of these involve the use of God's Holy Word, which is to be expected of a Puritan.  Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Owen continually emphasizes the Holy Spirit in all of these aspects.  The Holy Spirit, he said, causes His work to be received with divine faith by its external witness and its internal witness.  The Holy Spirit gives evidence in and by the Scripture and the internal work acts upon the minds of men.  The Holy Spirit does this by imparting light and power and by acting personally on the individual.

Thus, through the action of the Holy Spirit, Scripture evidences and authenticates itself as the word of God.

Scripture establishes faith by inward illumination; it removes our blindness, our hard-heartedness.  The Holy Spirit is essential for this removal, because knowing is not enough.  There must be an action done on the heart of the person by the Holy Spirit.

There is so much more I could share about Owen's thoughts on just this one issue.  This brief introduction to Owen was very encouraging to me, because if I can puzzle my way through the complicated writing (Hemingway would have hated the Puritans, I think), I will see rich treasures.  Packer ends the chapter with this:

What lessons has this study for us?  It reminds us that Scripture is always the best evidece for itself, and that preaching biblical truth in the power of the Holy Ghost will do more than any amount of arguing to bring about faith in biblical inspiration, and in the divine realities which Scripture proclaims.  It also challenges us to ask ourselves whether in our own searching and teaching of the Scriptures we are honouring the Holy Ghost as we should.  What problems of interpretation arise, how much and how hard do we pray?  And are we who preach wholly men of the word?  Is it our glory, as Christian instructors, to refuse to do anything save expound and apply the word of God?  May our study of Owen's doctrine of communication from God renew our zeal to fulfil such a ministry, and our confidence in the fruitfulness that, under God, such a ministry will have.


He came to fulfill, not abolish

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says quite clearly that He came not to abolish the Law, but rather to fulfill it.  This is the subject of the chapter "Christ and the Old Testament," in Dr. Lloyd-Jones's book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.  In this chapter, he emaphsizes especially the fact that the Old and the New Testament are God's Word, and that we cannot separate them.  I have to admit wondering, when I became a Christian at the age of 20, why did I need the Old Testament?  I remember being very loath to read it, apart from the Psalms, of course.  Of course, as I have grown in my faith, I see things more clearly.

Lloyd-Jones says:

The moment you begin to question the authority of the Old Testament, you are of necessity questioning the authority of the Son of God Himself, and you will find yourself in endless trouble and difficulty.  If you once begin to say that He was just a child of His age and was limited in certain respects because of that and liable to error, you are seriously qualifying the biblical doctrine as to His full, absolute and unique deity.

I must admit that I have never really heard someone question the need for the Old Testament; at least not someone who was a fairly established, orthodox believer.  Perhaps that was an issue in the Doctor's day.  He lived in England in the era immediately following a huge liberal movement in English churches, so perhaps there were scholars who were doing exactly what Lloyd-Jones warned against.

A number of months ago, I listened to a lecture by Carl Trueman.  I don't remember the actual title of the lecture, or even what it was ultimately about, because I didn't take notes.  I do, however remember him saying that when a church is contemplating hiring a pastor, the candidate should be asked to preach about the Old Testament.  If he could demonstrate the supremacy of Christ in the Old Testament, then that was a good sign.  I have come to appreciate the Old Testament more and more as I grow as a Christian.

This chapter in the book is the first of two which focus on Matthew 5:17-18, and I'm hoping to get through the next one soon.  It's March Break here, and having noisy boys at home may affect the peace and quiet for reading and pondering.


Heart Aflame - March 14, 2010

Psalm 23:2-3

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.  David relates how abundantly God has provided for all his necessities.  The heavenly Shepherd had omitted nothing which might contribute to make him live happily under his care.  He, therefore, compares the great abundance of all things requisite for the purposes of the present life which he enjoyed, to meadows richly covered with grass, and to gently flowing streams of water; or he compares the benefit or advanraga of such things to sheep-cots; for it would not have been enough to have been fed and satisfied in rich pasture, had there not also been provided waters to drink, and the shadow of the sheep-cot to cool and refresh him.

He restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousess for his name's sake.  As is the duty of a good shepherd to cherish his sheep, and when they are diseased or weak to nurse and support them, David declares that this was the manner in which he was treated by God.  The restoring of the soul, or the conversion of the soul, as it is, literally rendered is of the same import as to make anew, or to recover.

By the paths of righteousness, David means easy and plain paths.

God is in no respect wanting to his people, seeing he sustains them by his power, invigorates and quickens them, and averts from them whatever is hurtul, and they may walk at ease in plain and straight paths.  That, however, he may not ascribe any thing to his own worth or merit, David represents the goodness of God as the cause of so great liberality, declaring that God bestows all these things upon him for his own name's sake.  And certainly his choosing us t be his sheep, and his performing towards us all the offices of a shepherd, is a blessing which proceeds entirely from his free and sovereign goodness.


Concluding the Primer of Justification

John Gerstner concluded his six part series, Primer on Justification, with three further categories:

The Antinominan Way of Justification

Roman Catholicism


These are excerpted from the book Primitive Theology.

The real kicker, of course, is that many who would call themselves "evangelical" may, in fact, embrace a view of justification that does not fall under that category. 


Poetry for a Wednesday

I See His Blood Upon the Rose
by Joseph Mary Plunkett

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.