Outline John Owen on the Christian Life

Ferguson, Sinclair.  John Owen on the Christian Life.  Banner of Truth.

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The Plan of Salvation

  1. Doctrine of the Covenant
    1. The Covenant of Works. The reward of eternal life succeeds strict justice, since it is in the nature of a promise.  Further, there is a grace of promise, even if the covenant is not itself gracious.
    2. Covenant of grace: the conditions in the covenant of grace devolve on the mediator (JO: 11.210).
    3. Covenant of Redemption:
    4. Covenant of Sinai: sometimes referred to as Old Covenant. Owen is aware of the tensions in saying that all covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace.
      1. Under the covenant of grace, yet in some way there were principles of the Covenant of Works (JO: 19:389).
      2. Sinai can’t simply be Covenant of Grace because of the sharp contrasts between “a better covenant.”
  2. Union with Christ: the work of grace–”same instant wherein anyone is united unto Christ, and by the same act whereby he is so united, he is really and habitually purified and sanctified” (JO: 3.517).

    Effectual calling takes place in Christ, is an act of God the Father (JO: 20: 498), and binds the believer by the indwelling of the spirit (JO: 21:147). Effectual calling produces a change in both status (justification) and life (sanctification), yet it does not idenitfy the two.

Grace Reigns through Righteousness

  1. The effects of sin.
  2. Regeneration.
    1. Owen seems to favor “physical” language of regeneration (JO: 4.166; 10. 459; 11: 443, 448; 567). Physical is seen as the antithesis of moral.
    2. Even in effectual calling, the will is not compelled or destroyed. The will is passive in the first act, but in the moment of conversion it acts itself freely (Ferguson 44).
      1. Conversion is “wrought in us by God” (Phil. 2.13).
  3. Structure of sanctification.  The work of grace produces the exercise of duty (Ferguson 55). Owen gives a long definition in JO 3.369-370.
    1. In one sense it is an immediate work on believers, since it flows from regeneration and from our Head, yet it is also a process (56).
    2. The Lord Jesus is the Head from whom all gifts flow, yet the Spirit is the efficient cause who communicates them to us (Ferguson 58).

Fellowship with God

Theme: God communicates himself unto us with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him (JO 2.8).

  1. Communion with the Father.
  2. Communion with the Son.
  3. Communion with the Holy Spirit.
  4. Indwelling. It is real and personal.
    1. Sealing.
    2. Anointing. We receive our anointing immediately from Christ in this way: Jesus communicates the Holy Spirit unto us (JO 4.393).
    3. Earnest.

The Assurance of Salvation

Several things in the Christian life mitigate against assurance: Our conscience, God’s law, and our natural sense of justice.

  1. (2) Practical rules for Assurance.
    1. Christ is the ultimate judge of our spiritual condition. He who bears witness to our condition has the same Spirit with us (Ferguson 108).
    2. Sometimes patient waiting is required (JO 6.554).
    3. Self-examination, especially of sins of youth.  Nonetheless, the foundation of assurance is Christ, not our self-examination so don’t spend too much time on this.  The foundation is Christ alone. The building is holiness.
    4. Don’t let complaints against yourself take away from vigorous actings of grace.
  2. Hindrances to assurance.
    1. Desire for extraordinary assurances.  We should seek the regular workings of the Spirit.  He does give extraordinary assurance, but we should be careful seeking that while burdened with doubts and anxieties.
  3. Sealing of the Holy Spirit
    1. Calvin taught that the Spirit of God is himself the seal (Comm. 2 Cor. 1.21ff).
    2. Perkins: Sealing of the promise to the believer in experience (Ferguson 117). This means the seal is an activity. However, this lead to a between regeneration and a subsequent activity of the Spirit in addition to his indwelling.
    3. Sibbes: We first seal God’s truth by our believing, and then God seals the Spirit on us (118).With later Puritans this comes very close to seeing 2 or 3 different classes of Christians.
    4. Goodwin: “An immediate assurance of the Holy Ghost, by a heavenly and divine light, of a divine authority…” (Goodwin, Works I:233).
    5. Owen: “No special act of the Spirit, but only in an especial effect of his communication unto us” (JO 4:400). He seals the believer by his personal indwelling, but there are no rules as to how/when the believer may recognize it.

Conflict with Sin

  1. Sin’s dominion ended. Owen makes a distinction between the dominion of sin and the influence of sin.
  2. Sin’s dominion is more than a force; it has the character of law.
  3. How do we know whether sin has dominion or not?

 

Scripture and Ministry

  1. Scripture. Owen locates Scripture’s authority primarily in God, rather than the autographa (Ferguson 185n 4).  God is the divine original, upon whom Scripture depends.
    1. Inspiration.  
    2. Authority of Scripture.  It is a correlate of the character of God (JO 16.303).
    3. Preservation of Scripture.
    4. Attestation of Scripture. The Scriptures are like light.  They are self-evidencing, but “light” is not “eyes.” Light does not remove men’s blindness.  Faith in Scripture finds its motive cause in Scripture itself, and in its efficient cause in the testimony of the Spirit.
    5. Understanding Scripture.
  2. Ministry.
    1. Gifts and graces.  A spiritual gift is not the same as the grace of the Spirit.  This explains how some “fall away.” Graces are evidences of the Spirit’s personal indwelling.
    2. Extraordinary gifts. Only differ in degree from other gifts.  This is a rather unique cessationist approach.

Sacraments and Prayer

  1. Have both objective and subjective content: they signify and seal (objective) yet the Holy Spirit is involved in each of the means of communication to ratify subjectively the objective message (Ferguson 211).
    1. Baptism. Ferguson calls attention to the quasi-Baptistic views of paedobaptists like Bannerman and Cunningham, who view adult baptism as the norm and infant baptism as the exception (215 n64).
    2. The Lord’s Supper. Our faith is directed to the human nature of Christ (220).
  2. Prayer.

Apostasy and its Prevention

  1. Danger of Apostasy. Those mentioned in Hebrews 6 received the outward benefits of the substance of the covenant.
  2. Apostasy from Gospel Doctrine.
  3. Apostasy from holiness of Gospel precepts.
  4. Apostasy from Gospel Worship.

Perseverance and the Goal

  1. Perseverance
    1. Immutability of the divine nature.
    2. Immutability of the divine purposes.
    3. Principium essendi of the covenant of grace
    4. Promises of God
    5. Mediatorial work of Christ
      1. He became a surety (JO 11:289).
      2. Satisfied requirements of divine justice.
      3. Intercedes for us.
  2. The Goal
    1. Eternal glory.
      1. The mind will be freed from all darkness.
      2. A new light, light of glory, will be implanted.
      3. Our body will be glorified through union with Christ.

 

Review: John Owen, Communion with God

My copy of Owen was from his Works, volume 2.  Nonetheless, this review will also serve for the shorter Puritan Paperbacks edition.  following the review is an outline on the book.

Owen gives us a dense, thorough, yet manageable snapshot, not only of Reformed prolegomena, but of Trinitarian piety as well. Given the current (if overblown) popularity of the YRR crowd–who know not Turretin nor his principia–yet strangely seek Owen, Owen can give them a taste of proper Reformed theologomena. In many ways, this can function as a primer to systematic theology. So here it goes:

Basic definitions:

communion: A mutual communication of such good things grounded upon some union (Owen, II:8). The person of Christ, as head of the Church, communicates grace to us via his Holy Spirit, to the members of his body. Our communion with God is his communication of himself to us, flowing from our union which we have in Christ. Our union with Christ is mystical and spiritual, not hypostatic (313). He is the Head, we the members and he freely communicates “grace, righteousness, and salvation, in the several and distinct ways whereby we are capable to receive them from him.”

Sealing the Union

Any act of sealing always imparts the character of the seal to the thing (242). Owen is clear: The Spirit really communicates the image of God unto us. “To have the stamp of the Holy Ghost…is to be sealed in the Spirit.”

This isn’t the most concise treatment of the issues, but Owen is quite fine in his own way. His writing is only difficult when he gets off topic (as in his otherwise fine Vindication of the Trinity at the end of the volume). Some in the YRR make it seem like Owen is borderline incomprehensible. He isn’t.

Short Outline:

  1. That the saints have communion with God
    1. Communion as to state and Communion as to condition
      1. Things internal and spiritual
      2. Outward things
    2. Communion fellowship and action.
    3. Definition:   A mutual communication of such good things grounded upon some union (Owen, II:8).  The person of Christ, as head of the Church, communicates grace to us via his Holy Spirit, to the members of his body. Our communion with God is his communication of himself to us, flowing from our union which we have in Christ.
  2. The saints have this communion with the Trinity.
    1. The way and means of this communion:
      1. Moral and worship of God: faith, hope, love.
        1. For the Father: He gives testimony and beareth witness to the Son (1 John 5.9).
        2. For the Son:
        3. For the Holy Spirit:
      2. The Persons communicate good things to us:
        1. Grace and peace (Rev. 1.4-5)
        2. The Father communicates all grace by way of original authority (Owen 17).
        3. The Son by way of making a purchased treasury (John 1.16; Isa. 53.10-11).
        4. The Spirit doth it by way of immediate efficacy (Rom. 8.11).
  3. Peculiar and Distinct Communion with the Father:
    1. Our communion with the Father is principialy and by way of eminence (18).
    2. There is a concurrence of actings and operations of the whole Deity in that dispensation, wherein each person concurs to the work of salvation.
    3. If we speak particularly of a person, it does not exclude other media of communion.
    4. God’s love (19).
      1. God’s love is antecedent to the purchase of Christ.
      2. The apostles particularly ascribe love to God the father (2 Cor. 13).
      3. Love itself is free and needs no intercession.  Jesus doesn’t even bother to pray that the Father will love his own (John 16.26-27).
      4. Twofold divine love
        1. Beneplaciti:  Love of good destination for us
        2. Amicitiae: love of friendship (21).
      5. The father is the fountain of all following gracious dispensations:
    5. Communion with the Father in love
      1. That they receive it of him
      2. That they make suitable returns unto him.

Review: Puritan Theology (Beeke and Jones)

Beeke, Joel.  and Jones, Mark.  Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life.  Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.

This is one of those “game-changer” books.  Beeke provides decades of pastoral reflection from the Puritans (and admittedly, there is a lot of repetition) while Jones brings clear Christological reflection from giants like Thomas Goodwin and John Owen.  The book is structured around the standard loci.  While we perhaps would like more from some chapters, the overwhelming amount of primary sources, and the clear mastery of secondary literature, allows us to continue the research if necessary.

My review will reflect my biases and what I like to study.  That can’t be helped, otherwise an exegetical review of this book would take ten pages.  This book is a Christological masterpiece.  I learned more from the chapters on Christology than I did in my week-long seminary class on Christology.  I agree with Carl Trueman, this book is both doctrinal and devotional.

Christological Supralapsarianism

In regard to the end, Goodwin viewed mankind as unfallen in His election of human beings, but fallen in His decrees as the means to that end” (155).

“Means” — what Christ, as redeemer of God’s elect, performed for his people.  It has reference to Christ’s redemptive work, which presupposes a fall.

Key point: “whether God’s decree regarding both the end and the means was pitched ‘either wholly upon man considered in the mass of creability [potential human beings] afore the Fall, or wholly upon the mass of mankind considered and viewed first as fallen into sin” (Jones, quoting Goodwin 156).

The decree to elect falls under a twofold consideration: a) regarding the end, the fall was not a necessity…but an impediment; b) the decree to elect may be understood also with respect to man fallen, which God foresaw, as the means.

Election has reference to the end.  Here God decrees to give men eternal life without consideration of the fall.  But when we look at predestination, we view man as fallen.  Predestination involves the means to the end.

Covenants

While some have noted concern on the section of the Covenant of Works, the section on the Covenant of Redemption is fantastic. Differences between Covenant of Grace and Covenant of Redemption

(1) CoR sprang from grace in both parties (Father and Christ), whereas the CoG sprang from grace only from the Father.
(2) Though both are everlasting, only the CoR is eternal.
(3) The parties in the CoR are equal; the parties in CoG (and CoW) are not.
(4) The parties differ in both covenants.
(5) There is no mediator in the CoR
(6) The promises of the New Covenant (such as a new heart and forgiveness of sins) cannot be applied to Christ.
(7) Christ was not threatened in the CoR, whereas those in the CoG are (Heb. 2.3; 1 Cor. 16.22).
(8) The conditions in each covenant differ.
(9) The CoR did not require man’s consent.

Taken from Patrick Gillespie, Ark of the Covenant Opened, 113-117, quoted in Beeke and Jones, 254.

On Coming to Christ

The chapter on preparationism, while correct in rebutting the “Calvin vs. Calvinists/Preparationists” thesis, didn’t quite address the reality of those covenant children  who hear the covenant promises from earliest days and trust in the Christ of these promises, yet don’t appear to go through the preparationist stages.  

Owen on Justification and Union

For Puritans like Owen and Goodwin, there is a Three fold union

Immanent: being elected in union with Christ from all eternity
Transient: union with Christ in time past; to wit, his mediatorial death and resurrection
Applicatory: experience of union in the present time.

Christ “apprehends” and gives his Spirit to the believer.

Owen: Christ is the first and principal grace in respect of causality and efficacy” (20:150). Union is the cause of the other graces.  It is the ground of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers.  Such is the logical priority of union regarding justification.  The act whereby Christ unites himself to the elect is the same act whereby he regenerates them (3:464).

Witsius: the elect are united to Christ when his Spirit takes a hold of them and infuses a new principal of life.  Yet, there is a mutual union whereby the soul draws near to Christ by faith only.  From this follows the other benefits of the covenant of grace.

Charnock: justification gives us a right; regeneration gives us a fitness (3:90).

Conclusion

This review did not cover all, or even much of the book.  Indeed, it could not.  But not only does it encourage you to read the Puritans, it points one to a number of crucial studies on the Puritans.