At the end of part 2 of the Mortification of Sin, John Owen responds to the question: “When God speaks it, we must receive it, that is true; but how shall we know when He speaks?”  To which Owen responds –

There is, if I may so say, a secret instinct in faith, whereby it knows the voice of Christ when He speaks indeed; as the  babe leaped in the womb when the blessed Virgin came to Elizabeth [Luke 1:44], faith leaps in the heart when Christ indeed draws nigh to it.  ‘My sheep,’ says Christ, ‘know my voice’ (John 10:4)–“They know my voice; they are used to the sound of it,” and they know when His lips are opened to them and are full of grace.  The spouse was in a sad condition (Song 5:2)–asleep in security; but yet as soon as Christ speaks, she cries, ‘It is the voice of my beloved that speaks!’  She know His voice, and was so acquainted with communion with Him, that instantly she discovers Him; and so will you also.  If you exercise yourself to acquaintance and communion with Him, you will easily discern between His voice and the voice of a stranger.  And take this criterion with you: When He does speak, He speaks as never man spoke; He speaks with power, and one way or other will make your ‘hearts burn within you,’ as He did to the disciples (Luke 24:32).  He does it by ‘putting his hand at the hole of the door’ (Song 5:4)–His Spirit into your hearts to seize on you.




October 12, 2009

As an example of a good Christian theologian, John Owen observed two controlling principles (among others) that are instructive to all pastors, according to Dr. Rick Daniels.  For one, he brought his theology to bear on the needs of the time.  The pastor-theologian asks “What implications does this truth have for the lives of my people at this time?”  Secondly, and more importantly because it will impact every other question, is the necessity to relate every truth to the Bible’s exposition of Christ.  Dr. Daniels stated that Owen’s entire theological system is an exposition of Christ.  Owen’s commitment to these two principles, and the way that he faithfully brings them together in treatises and sermons, is a model for contemporary pastor-theologians.  We must see every truth in relation to Jesus Christ before bringing it to bear on the lives of His people.

This Christocentric principle meant that Owen rejected other alternatives that were adopted by some ministers of his time.  He rejected both rationalism and mysticism because they are not tied to the revelation of the Christ of Scripture.  The rationalist’s knowledge of God is restricted to the application of human reason to his limited perception as he observes the natural order.  The mystic’s knowledge of God is restricted to the applictaion of human imagination and existential experience.  The exposition of Jesus Christ that leads to saving knowledge of God requires something beyond these restrictions, something from outside of the subject, namely Divine special revelation.  Owen also rejected moralism, which marginalizes Christology while emphasizing practical Christian living.  Owen laid the foundation for practical Christian living in the knowledge of Christ.

By application of this Christocentric principle, Owen saw that everything edifying would be founded in Christ.  All of God’s involvement with creation is through the mediation of the Son.  All theology is, therefore, Christ-centered.  Indeed, Dr. Daniels affirmed, for Owen a truly Trinitarian Theology is Christocentric.  We may only use the creation rightly in relation to Christ.  Providence is expounded in the light of Christ.  The gifts of ministry are fruits of the tomb of Christ.  Our approach to God through Christ our Mediator is made possible by the incarnation of Christ in humiliation (cross) and exaltation (resurrection and ascension).

Whether we are seeking the conversion of sinners, the sanctification of the saints, or the maturation of the church, let’s bring the truth to bear through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Dr. Rick Daniels did us a great service by outlining John Owen’s Christology at our latest Fraternal meeting.  His dissertation on this subject, completed for Westminster Seminary, is available through Reformation Heritage Books for $25.  I will post several highlights from his talk in the next several days.  I begin with an extended quote of Owen, which Dr. Daniel’s read from Owen’s sermon “A Vision of Unchangeable, Free Mercy, In Sending the Means of Grace to Undeserving Sinners,” which can be found in vol. 8 of Owen’s works (Banner of Truth, pp. 2ff.)

Jesus Christ is all, and in all; and where he is wanting there can be no good.  Hunger cannot truly be satisfied without manna, the bread of life, which is Jesus Christ;—and what shall a hungry man do that hath no bread?  Thirst cannot be quenched without that water or living spring, which is Jesus Christ;—and what shall a thirsty soul do without water?  A captive, as we are all, cannot be delivered without redemption, which is Jesus Christ; —and what shall the prisoner do without his ransom?  Fools, as we are all, cannot be instructed without wisdom, which is Jesus Christ; —without him we perish in our folly.  All building without him is on the sand, which will surely fall.  All working without him is in the fire, where it will be consumed.  All riches without him have wings, and will away.  “Mallem ruere cum Christo, quam regnare cum Caesare,” said Luther.  A dungeon with Christ, is a throne; and a throne without Christ, a hell.  Nothing so ill, but Christ will compensate.  The greatest evil in the world is sin, and the greatest sin was the first; and yet Gregory feared not to cry, ‘O felix culpa, quae talem meruit redemptorem!” —“O happy fault, which found such a Redeemer!”  All mercies without Christ are bitter; and every cup is sweet that is seasoned but with a drop of his blood; —he truly is “amor et deliciae humani generis,”—the love and delight of the sons of men,—without whom they must perish eternally; “for there is no other name given unto them, whereby they may be saved, Acts iv.12.  He is the Way; men without him are Cains, wanderers, vagabonds:—he is the Truth; men without him are liars, like the devil, who was so of old:—he is the Life; without him men are dead, dead in trespasses and sins:—he is the Light; without him men are in darkness, and go they know not whither:—he is the Vine; those that are not grafted in him are withered branches, prepared for the fire:—he is the Rock; men not built on him are carried away with a flood:—he is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the author and the ender, the founder and the finisher of our salvation.  He that hath not him, hath neither beginning of good, nor shall have end of misery.  O blessed Jesus! how much better were it not to be, than to be without thee!—never to be born, than not to die in thee!  A thousand hells come short of this, eternally to want Jesus Christ, as men do that want the gospel.

In a recent discussion with Bruce Ware I had shared that John Owen understood the mortification of sin to be relative and not absolute.  Dr. Ware quickly added that there is one thing, however, that is absolute, namely, the removal of sin’s dominion in the life of a believer.  I agreed and added that Owen agreed as well.  Yesterday, I read the following in Owen’s work on the Holy Spirit, in which he has a brief chapter on the mortification of sin: “Who or what shall have the principal conduct of the mind and soul (chap. 8.7-9) is the matter in question.  Where sin hath the rule, there the Holy Ghost will never dwell.  He enters into no soul as his habitation, but at the same instant he dethrones sin, spoils it of its dominion, and takes the rule of the soul into the hand of his own grace.  Where he hath effected this work, and brought his adversary into subjection, there he will dwell, though sometimes his habitation be troubled by his subdued enemy.”

John Owen, The Holy Spirit, The Works of John Owen vol. III, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1850-53, reprint 2000), 551.