John Owen: Discerning the work of God

5 08 2013

Below you’ll find a section from Owen’s sermon “The Shaking and Translating of Heaven and Earth,” preached before parliament sometime in 1649.  In the sermon, Owen exhorts his listeners to seek earnestly through prayer what God might be doing to advance his Kingdom so that they might join him in his work.  He lists four things that help believers gain insight into the work God is doing in their own days.  Read them below and see what you think.  Then why not go a bit further and pray into what God might be doing in our own day.

There be four things whereby we may come to have an insight into the work which the Lord will do and accomplish in our days. (1st.) The light which he gives. (2dly.) The previous works which he doth. (3dly.) The expectation of his saints. (4thly.) The fear of his adversaries.

(1st.) The light which he gives. God doth not use to set his people to work in the dark. They are the “children of light,” and they are no “deeds of darkness” which they have to do. However others are blinded, they shall see; yea, he always suits their light to their labour, and gives them a clear discerning of what he is about. The Lord God doth nothing, but he reveals his secrets to his servants. The light of every age is the forerunner of the work of every age.

 When Christ was to come in the flesh, John Baptist comes a little before — a new light, a new preacher. And what doth he discover and reveal? Why, he calls them off from resting on legal ceremonies, to the doctrine of faith, repentance, and gospel ordinances; — tells them “the kingdom of God is at hand;” — instructs them in the knowledge of Him who was coming. To what end was all this? Only that the minds of men being enlightened by his preaching, who was a “burning and a shining lamp,” they might see what the Lord was doing.

Every age hath its peculiar work, hath its peculiar light. Now what is the light which God manifestly gives in our days? Surely not new doctrines, as some pretend — (indeed old errors, and long since exploded fancies). Plainly, the peculiar light of this generation is that discovery which the Lord hath made to his people of the mystery of civil and ecclesiastical tyranny. The opening, unravelling, and revealing the Antichristian interest, interwoven and coupled together, in civil and spiritual things, into a state opposite to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, is the great discovery of these days. Who almost is there amongst us now who doth not evidently see, that for many generations the western nations have been juggled into spiritual and civil slavery by the legerdemain of the whore, and the potentates of the earth made drunk with the cup of her abominations? — how the whole earth hath been rolled in confusion, and the saints hurried out of the world, to give way to their combined interest? Hath not God unveiled that harlot, made her naked, and discovered her abominable filthiness? Is it not evident to him that hath but half an eye, that the whole present constitution of the government of the nations is so cemented with antichristian mortar, from the very top to the bottom, that without a thorough shaking they cannot be cleansed? This, then, plainly discovers that the work which the Lord is doing relates to the untwining of this close combination against himself and the kingdom of his dear Son; and he will not leave until he have done it. To what degree in the several nations this shaking shall proceed, I have nothing to determine in particular, the Scripture having not expressed it. This only is certain, it shall not stop, nor receive its period, before the interest of Antichristianity be wholly separated from the power of those nations.

 (2dly.) The previous works he doth. How many of these doth our Saviour give as signs of the destruction of Jerusalem, — and so, consequently, of propagating the gospel more and more to the nations!

Matt. xxiv. 1; Luke xxi. 1. How fearful and dreadful they were in their accomplishment, Josephus the Jewish historian relateth; and how by them the Christians were forewarned, and did by them understand what the Lord was doing, Eusebius and others declare. “When,” saith he, “you shall see the abomination of desolation” (the Roman eagles and ensigns) “standing in the holy place,” Matt. xxiv. 15, — or “Jerusalem compassed with armies,” as Luke xxi. 20, — then know by that, that “the end thereof is come, and your deliverance at hand.”

The works of God are to be sought out of them that have pleasure in them. They are vocal-speaking works; the mind of God is in them. They may be heard, read, and understood: the “rod may be heard, and who hath appointed it.” Now, generally, he begins with lesser works, to point out to the sons of men what he is about to accomplish. By these may his will be known, that he may be met in righteousness.

Now, what, I pray, are the works that the Lord is bringing forth upon the earth? what is he doing in our own and the neighbouring nations? Show me the potentate upon the earth that hath a peaceable molehill to build himself a habitation upon. Are not all the controversies, or the most of them, that at this day are disputed in letters of blood among the nations, somewhat of a distinct constitution from those formerly under debate? — those tending merely to the power and splendour of single persons, these to the interest of the many. Is not the hand of the Lord in all this? Are not the shaking of these heavens of the nations from him? Is not the voice of Christ in the midst of all this tumult? And is not the genuine tendence of these things open and visible unto all? What speedy issue all this will be driven to, I know not; — so much is to be done as requires a long space. Though a tower may be pulled down faster than it was set up, yet that which hath been building a thousand years is not like to go down in a thousand days.

(3dly.) The expectation of the saints is another thing from whence a discovery of the will of God and the work of our generation may be concluded. The secret ways of God’s communicating his mind unto his saints, by a fresh favour of accomplishing prophecies and strong workings of the Spirit of supplications, I cannot now insist upon. This I know, they shall not be “led into temptation,” but kept from the hour thereof, when it comes upon the whole earth. When God raiseth up the expectation of his people to any thing, he is not unto them as waters that fail; nay, he will assuredly fulfil the desires of the poor.

Just about the time that our Saviour Christ was to be born of a woman, how were all that waited for salvation in Israel raised up to a high expectation of the kingdom of God! — such as that people never had before, and assuredly shall never have again; yea, famous was the waiting of that season through the whole Roman empire. And the Lord, whom they sought, came to his temple. Eminent was their hope, and excellent was the accomplishment.

Whether this will be made a rule to others or no, I know not: this I am assured, that, being bottomed on promises, and built up with supplications, it is a ground for them to rest upon. And here I dare appeal to all who with any diligence have inquired into the things of the kingdom of Christ, — that have any savour upon their spirits of the accomplishment of prophecies and promises in the latter days, — who count themselves concerned in the glory of the gospel, — whether this thing of consuming the mystery of iniquity, and vindicating the churches of Christ into the liberties purchased for them by the Lord Jesus, by the shaking and translating all opposing heights and heavens, be not fully in their expectations. Only, the time is in the hand of God, and the rule of our actings with him is his revealed will.

(4thly.) Whether the fears of his adversaries have not their lines meeting in the same point, themselves can best determine. The whole world was more or less dreaded at the coming of Christ in the flesh. When, also, the signs of his vengeance did first appear to the Pagan world, in calling to an account for the blood of his saints, the kings and captains presently cry out, “The great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” Rev. vi. 17.

I am not of counsel to any of the adherents to the man of sin, or any of those who have given their power unto the beast, — I have not a key to the bosoms of the enemies of Christ, — I am neither their interpreter nor do they allow me to speak in their behalf; yet truly, upon very many probable grounds, I am fully persuaded that, were the thoughts of their hearts disclosed, notwithstanding all their glittering shows, dreadful words, threatening expressions, you shall see them tremble, and dread this very thing, that the whole world as now established will be wrapped up in darkness, at least until that cursed interest which is set up against the Lord Jesus be fully and wholly shaken out from the heavens and earth of the nations.

And thus, without leading you about by chronologies and computations (which yet have their use, well to count a number being wisdom indeed), I have a little discovered unto you some rules whereby you may come to be acquainted with the work of God in the days wherein we live, and also what that work is; which is our first use.

-John Owen, Owen’s Works VIII pg 273-276





Rob Sturdy: The Knowledge of God in the Christological Thought of John Owen

20 12 2011

The essay below is about the knowledge of God in the Christological thought of John Owen.  Thanks again to Colin Burch for graciously reviewing this essay!   Footnotes and bibliography are at the bottom of the paper in case you want to chase anything down.

How do we know God?  Can we have an experience of God?  Can we be in relationship with him?  These questions will no doubt be familiar to the philosopher and theologian.  But perhaps that vocation most intimately familiar with such questions is the pastor, whose responsibility it is to provide adequate and honest responses to such questions.  The 17th-century Puritan, John Owen, was a man who at one point or another found himself occupying each of the roles of philosopher, theologian, and pastor.  Yet it was the last decade of his life, which he devoted to the pastoral ministry, that he engaged the above questions with the most depth and attention.  Owen concluded that knowledge of God depended upon an infinite condescension of God towards his creatures.  This condescension in the theology of John Owen took the form of a covenant, whereby man learns who God is by virtue of his covenant relationship with God.

Owen notes that two things are necessary for a proper revelation of God to a finite creature in the context of a covenant.  First, that “all the properties of the divine nature…be expressed in it, and manifested to us,” and second that “there be, therein, the nearest approach of the divine nature made unto us, whereof it is capable, andwhich we can receive (emphasis mine).”[1]  As will be shown, a simple covenant between God and man is insufficient for the type of revelation which Owen describes in the above quote.  For a full and proper revelation of God, Owen believes that God himself must draw as near as possible, so near in fact, that he must become a man himself.  This happens in the person of Christ, whereby the divine Son of God assumes the human nature unto himself.  Christ being fully God is the nearest manifestation of God imaginable.  Christ being fully man is the nearest manifestation of God which is nevertheless fit for the human capacity.  Owen believed that it was the rational, human mind of Christ which ultimately accommodated the knowledge of God to the capacity of human comprehension.  This paper will argue that it is only through the mediation of the human mind of Christ that full communion with God is possible.  This will be done by examining the transcendence of God, his condescension in entering into covenant relationship, and the full manifestation of his glory through the Triune God’s covenant with the person of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »





John Owen: “The Promise Stands Invincible”

20 12 2011

The following is a letter published in vol. I of Owen’s works.   It is remarkable on numerous fronts, which I shall let you discover for yourself.  I will point out though, that these great men of the 17th century had a remarkable experience of God the closer they drew to death.  I would point you to Richard Baxter’s “Dying Thoughts,” as well as John Owen’s preface to “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” both of which were written while the two men were close to death.  You’ll notice that what comes across in these writings is not a fixation on death, but rather a fixation on Christ.  That’s what makes them so comforting.

Dear Sir,

Although I am not able to write one word myself, yet I am very desirous to speak one more word to you in this world, and do it by the hand of my wife. The continuance of your entire kindness is not only greatly valued by me, but will be a refreshment to me, as it is, even in my dying hour.

I am going to Him whom my soul has loved, or rather who has loved me with an everlasting love, — which is the whole ground of all my consolation. The passage is very wearisome, through strong pains of various sorts, which are all issued in an intermittent fever.

All things were provided to carry me to London today, according to the advice of my physicians. But we are all disappointed by my utter disability to undertake the journey.

I am leaving the ship of the church in a storm. But while the great Pilot is in it, the loss of a poor under-rower will be inconsiderable. Live, and pray, and hope, and wait patiently, and do not despond. The promise stands invincible, that He will never leave us, nor forsake us.

Remember your dying friend with all fervency. I rest upon it that you do so, and am yours entirely,

John Owen





John Owen: The work of the Trinity in Redemption

20 12 2011

The following is taken from John Owen’s classic The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. I have lifted this text from the CCEL library, however if this peaks your interest in the slightest I would recommend purchasing this versionbecause it has a remarkable introduction to Owen and the book written by J.I. Packer. Owen is difficult to read and his theological discourse is on a level that few are accustomed to operating at these days. Nevertheless, he is worth your time and worth the headache you may receive by trying to hack through his stilted latin grammar. I will put up three posts in the following days from Owen. One on the work of the Father in redemption, one on the work of the Son in redemption, and finally one on the work of the Spirit in redemption.  Below is only a portion of Owen’s chapter on the Father’s work in redemption.  This section is on the covenant the Father makes with the Son, which is a particularly enriching aspect of Owen’s theology. 

The third act of this sending is his entering into covenant and compact with his Son concerning the work to be undertaken, and the issue or event thereof; of which there be two parts:—

First, His promise to protect and assist him in the accomplishment and perfect fulfilling of the whole business and dispensation about which he was employed, or which he was to undertake. The Father engaged himself, that for his part, upon his Son’s undertaking this great work of redemption, he would not be wanting in any assistance in trials, strength against oppositions, encouragement against temptations, and strong consolation in the midst of terrors, which might be any way necessary or requisite to carry him on through all difficulties to the end of so great an employment; — upon which he undertakes this heavy burden, so full of misery and trouble: for the Father 169before this engagement requires no less of him than that he should “become a Saviour, and be afflicted in all the affliction of his people,” Isa. lxiii. 8, 9: yea, that although he were “the fellow of the Lord of hosts,” yet he should endure the “sword” that was drawn against him as the “shepherd” of the sheep, Zech. xiii. 7; “treading the winepress alone, until he became red in his apparel,” Isa. lxiii. 2, 3: yea, to be “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted; wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; to be bruised and put to grief; to make his soul an offering for sin, and to bear the iniquity of many,” Isa. liii.; to be destitute of comfort so far as to cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Ps. xxii. 1. No wonder, then, if upon this undertaking the Lord promised to make “his mouth like a sharp sword, to hide him in the shadow of his hand, to make him a polished shaft, and to hide him in his quiver, to make him his servant in whom he would be glorified,” Isa. xlix. 2, 3; that though “the kings of the earth should set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against him, yet he would laugh them to scorn, and set him as king upon his holy hill of Zion,” Ps. ii. 2, 4, 6; though the “builders did reject him,” yet he should “become the head of the corner,” to the amazement and astonishment of all the world, Ps. cxviii. 22, 23; Matt. xxi. 42, Mark xii. 10, Luke xx. 17, Acts iv. 11, 12, 1 Pet. ii. 4; yea, he would “lay him for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation,” Isa. xxviii. 16, that “whosoever should fall upon him should be broken, but upon whomsoever he should fall he should grind him to powder,” Matt. xxi. 44. Hence arose that confidence of our Saviour in his greatest and utmost trials, being assured, by virtue of his Father’s engagement in this covenant, upon a treaty with him about the redemption of man, that he would never leave him nor forsake him. “I gave,” saith he, “my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting,” Isa. l. 6. But with what confidence, blessed Saviour, didst thou undergo all this shame and sorrow! Why, “The Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know; that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me; who is he that condemn me? Lo! they shall all wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up,” verses 7–9. With this assurance he was brought as a “lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth,” Isa. liii. 7: for “when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously,” 1 Pet. ii. 23. So that the ground of our Saviour’s confidence and assurance in this 170great undertaking, and a strong motive to exercise his graces received in the utmost endurings, was this engagement of his Father upon this compact of assistance and protection.

Secondly, [His promise] of success, or a good issue out of all his sufferings, and a happy accomplishment and attainment of the end of his great undertaking. Now, of all the rest this chiefly is to be considered, as directly conducing to the business proposed, which yet would not have been so clear without the former considerations; for whatsoever it was that God promised his Son should be fulfilled and attained by him, that certainly was it at which the Son aimed in the whole undertaking, and designed it as the end of the work that was committed to him, and which alone he could and did claim upon the accomplishment of his Father’s will. What this was, and the promises whereby it is at large set forth, ye have Isa. xlix.: “Thou shalt be my servant,” saith the Lord, “to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the end of the earth. Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful.” And he will certainly accomplish this engagement: “I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them. And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted. Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim,” verses 6–12. By all which expressions the Lord evidently and clearly engageth himself to his Son, that he should gather to himself a glorious church of believers from among Jews and Gentiles, through all the world, that should be brought unto him, and certainly fed in full pasture, and refreshed by the springs of water, all the spiritual springs of living water which flow from God in Christ for their everlasting salvation. This, then, our Saviour certainly aimed at, as being the promise upon which he undertook the work, — the gathering of the sons of God together, their bringing unto God, and passing to eternal salvation; which being well considered, it will utterly overthrow the general ransom or universal redemption, as afterward will appear. In the 53d chapter of the same prophecy, the Lord is more express and punctual in these promises to his Son, assuring him that when he “made his soul an offering for sin, he should see his seed, and prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his 171hand; that he should see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied; by his knowledge he should justify many; that, he should divide a portion with the great, and the spoil with the strong,” verses 10–12. He was, you see, to see his seed by covenant, and to raise up a spiritual seed unto God, a faithful people, to be prolonged and preserved throughout all generations; which, how well it consists with their persuasion who in terms have affirmed “that the death of Christ might have had its full and utmost effect and yet none be saved,” I cannot see, though some have boldly affirmed it, and all the assertors of universal redemption do tacitly grant, when they come to the assigning of the proper ends and effects of the death of Christ. “The pleasure of the Lord,” also, was to “prosper in his hand;” which what it was he declares, Heb. ii. 10, even “bringing of many sons unto glory;” for “God sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we live through him,” 1 John iv. 9; as we shall afterward more abundantly declare. But the promises of God made unto him in their agreement, and so, consequently, his own aim and intention, may be seen in nothing more manifestly than in the request that our Saviour makes upon the accomplishment of the work about which he was sent; which certainly was neither for more nor less than God had engaged himself to him for. “I have,” saith he, “glorified thee on earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do,” John xvii. 4. And now, what doth he require after the manifestation of his eternal glory, of which for a season he had emptied himself, verse 5? Clearly a full confluence of the love of God and fruits of that love upon all his elect, in faith, sanctification, and glory. God gave them unto him, and he sanctified himself to be a sacrifice for their sake, praying for their sanctification, verses 17–19; their preservation in peace, or communion one with another, and union with God, verses 20, 21, “I pray not for these alone” (that is, his apostles), “but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us;” and lastly, their glory, verse 24, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.” All which several postulata are no doubt grounded upon the fore-cited promises which by his Father were made unto him. And in this, not one word concerning all and every one, but expressly the contrary, verse 9. Let this, then, be diligently observed, that the promise of God unto his Son, and the request of the Son unto his Father, are directed to this peculiar end of bringing sons unto God. And this is the first act, consisting of these three particulars.

2. The second is of laying upon him the punishment of sins, everywhere ascribed unto the Father: “Awake; O sword, against my shepherd, against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of 172hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered,” Zech. xiii. 7. What here is set down imperatively, by way of command, is in the gospel indicatively expounded. “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad,” Matt. xxvi. 31. “He was stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted;” yea, “the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all;” yea, “it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and to put him to grief,” Isa. liii. 4, 6, 10. “He made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Cor. v. 21. The adjunct in both places is put for the subject, as the opposition between his being made sin and our being made righteousness declareth. “Him who knew no sin,” — that is, who deserved no punishment, — “him hath he made to be sin,” or laid the punishment due to sin upon him. Or perhaps, in the latter place, sin may be taken for an offering or sacrifice for the expiation of sin, ἁμαρτία answering in this place to the word חַטָּאת in the Old Testament, which signifieth both sin and the sacrifice for it. And this the Lord did; for as for Herod, Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, when they were gathered together, they did nothing but “what his hand and counsel had determined before to be done,” Acts iv. 27, 28. Whence the great shakings of our Saviour were in his close conflict with his Father’s wrath, and that burden which by himself he immediately imposed on him. When there was no hand or instrument outwardly appearing to put him to any suffering or cruciating torment, then he “began to be sorrowful, even unto death” Matt. xxvi. 37, 38; to wit, when he was in the garden with his three choice apostles, before the traitor or any of his accomplices appeared, then was he “sore amazed, and very heavy,” Mark xiv. 33. That was the time, “in the days of his flesh, when he offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death,” Heb. v. 7; which how he performed the evangelist describeth, Luke xxii. 43, 44: “There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. But being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Surely it was a close and strong trial, and that immediately from his Father, he now underwent; for how meekly and cheerfully doth he submit, without any regret or trouble of spirit, to all the cruelty of men and violence offered to his body, until this conflict being renewed again, he cries, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And this, by the way, will be worth our observation that we may know with whom our Saviour chiefly had to do, and what was that which he underwent for sinners; which also will give some light to the grand query concerning the persons of them for whom he undertook all this. His sufferings were far from consisting in mere corporal perpessions and afflictions, with such impressions upon his 173soul and spirit as were the effects and issues only of them. It was no more nor less than the curse of the law of God which he underwent for us: for he freed us from the curse “by being made a curse,” Gal. iii. 13; which contained all the punishment that was due to sin, either in the severity of God’s justice, or according to the exigence of that law which required obedience. That the execration of the law should be only temporal death, as the law was considered to be the instrument of the Jewish polity, and serving that economy or dispensation, is true; but that it should be no more, as it is the universal rule of obedience, and the bond of the covenant between God and man, is a foolish dream. Nay, but in dying for us Christ did not only aim at our good, but also directly died in our stead. The punishment due to our sin and the chastisement of our peace was upon him; which that it was the pains of hell, in their nature and being, in their weight and pressure, though not in tendence and continuance (it being impossible that he should be detained by death), who can deny and not be injurious to the justice of God, which will inevitably inflict those pains to eternity upon sinners? It is true, indeed, there is a relaxation of the law in respect of the persons suffering, God admitting of commutation; as in the old law, when in their sacrifices the life of the beast was accepted (in respect to the carnal part of the ordinances) for the life of the man. This is fully revealed, and we believe it; but for any change of the punishment, in respect of the nature of it, where is the least intimation of any alteration? We conclude, then, this second act of God, in laying the punishment on him for us, with that of the prophet, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,” Isa. liii. 6: and add thereunto this observation, that it seems strange to me that Christ should undergo the pains of hell in their stead who lay in the pains of hell before he underwent those pains, and shall continue in them to eternity; for “their worm dieth not, neither is their fire quenched.” To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists:— God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the Lord should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. cxxx. 3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isa. ii. 20, 21. If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, 174why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will.

read the whole chapter here





J.I. Packer: On Reformed Evangelism (of course its worth reading…it’s J.I. Packer!)

19 12 2011

The Puritan type of evangelism, on the other hand, was the consistent expression in practice of the Puritans’ conviction that the conversion of sinner is a gracious sovereign work of Divine power.  We shall spend a little time elaborating this.

The Puritans did not use “conversion” and “regeneration” as technical terms, and so there are slight variations in usage. Perhaps the majority treated the words as synonyms, each denoting the whole process whereby God brings the sinner to his first act of faith.  Their technical term for the process was effectual calling; calling being the Scriptural word used to describe the process in Rom. 8:30, 2 Th.  2:14, 2 Tim. 1:9, etc., and the adjective effectual being added to distinguish it from the ineffectual, external calling mentioned in Mt. 20:16, 22:14.  Westminster Confession, X. i., puts “calling,” into its theological perspective by an interpretative paraphrase of Rom. 8:30: “All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism analyses the concept of “calling” in its answer to Q. 31: “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.”

Concerning this effectual calling, three things must be said if we are to grasp the Puritan view:

(i) It is work of Divine grace; it is not something a man can do for himself or for another.  It is the first stage in the application of redemption to those for whom it was won; it is the time when, on the grounds of his eternal, federal, representative union with Christ, the elect sinner is brought by the Holy Ghost into a real, vital, personal union with his Covenant Head and Redeemer.  It is thus a gift of free Divine grace.

(ii) It is a work of Divine power. It is effected by the Holy Ghost, who acts both mediately, by the Word, in the mind, giving understanding and conviction, and at the same time immediately, with the Word, in the hidden depths of the heart, implanting new life and power, effectively dethroning sin, and making the sinner both able and willing to respond to the gospel invitation.  The Spirit’s work is thus both moral, bypersuasion (which all Arminians and Pelagians would allow), and also physical, by power (which they would not).

Owen said, “There is not only a moral, but a physical immediate operation of the Spirit…upon the minds or souls of men in their regeneration…The work of grace in conversion is constantly expressed by words denoting a real internal efficacy; such as creating, quickening, forming, giving a new heart…Wherever this work is spoken of with respect unto an active efficacy, it is ascribed to God.  He creates us anew, he quickens us, he begets us of His own will; but when it is spoken of with respect to us, there it is passively expressed; we are created in Christ Jesus, we are new creatures, we are born again, and the like; which oneobservation is sufficient to avert the whole hypothesis of Arminian grace.” (Works, ed.  Russell 1,1, II. 369). “Ministers knock at the door of men’s hearts (persuasion), the Spirit comes with a key and opens the door” (T. Watson, Body of Div., 1869, p. 154).  The Spirit’s regenerating action, Owen goes on, is “infallible, victorious, irresistable, or always efficacious” (loc cit.); it “removeth all obstacles, overcomes all oppositions, and infallibly produceth the effect intended.” Grace is irresistible, not because it drags man to Christ against his will, but because it changes men’s hearts so that they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.”(West.  Conf.  X. i). The Puritans loved to dwell on the Scriptural thought of the Divine power put forth in effectual calling, which Goodwin regularly described as the one “standing miracle” in the Church.  They agreed that in the normal course of events conversion was not commonly a spectacular affair; but Goodwin notes that sometimes it is, and affirms that thereby God shows us how great an exercise of power every man’s effectual calling involves. “In the calling of some there shoots up very suddenly an election-conversion (I use to call it so).  You shall, as it were, see election take hold of a man, pull him out with a mighty power, stamp upon him, the divine nature, stub up corrupt nature by the roots, root up self-love, put in a principle of love to God, and launch him forth a new creature the first day … He did so with Paul, and it is not without example in others after him.” (Works, ed.. Miller IX. 279). Such dramatic conversions, says Goodwin, are “visible tokens of election by such a work of calling, as all the powers in heaven and earth could not have wrought upon a man’s soul so, nor changed a man so on a sudden, but only that divine power that created the world (and) raised Christ from the dead.”

The reason why the Puritans thus magnified the quickening power of God is plain from the passages quoted:it was because they took so seriously the Bible teaching that man is dead in sin, radically depraved, sin’s helpless bondslave.  There is, they held, such a strength in sin that only omnipotence can break its bond; and only the Author of Life can raise the dead.  Where Finney assumed plenary ability, the Puritans taught total inability in fallen man.

(iii)   Effectual calling is and must be a work of Divine sovereignty. Only God can effect it, and He does so at His own pleasure.  “It is not of him that willith, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).  Owen expounds  this in a sermon on Acts 16:9, “A vision of unchangeable, free mercy in sending the means of grace to undeserving sinners” (XV, I ff.). He first states the following principle: “All events and effects, especially concerning the propagation of the gospel, and the Church of Christ, are in their greatest variety regulated by the eternal purpose and counsel of God,” He then illustrates it.  Some are sent the gospel, some not.  “In this chapter…the gospel is forbidden to be preached in Asia or Bithynia; which restraint, the Lord by His  providence as yet continueth to many parts of the world;” while “to some nations the gospel is sent…as in my text, Macedonia; and England…”  Now, asks Owen, why this discrimination?  Why do some hear and others not? And when the gospel is heard, why do we see “various effects, some continuing in impenitency, others in sincerity closing with Jesus Christ?…In effectual working of grace…whence do you think it takes its rule and determination . . . that it should be directed to John, not Judas; Simon Peter, not Simon Magus? Why only from this discriminating counsel of God from eternity…Acts 13:48…The purpose of God’s election, is the rule of dispensing saving grace.”

watch him contrast this with modern evangelism here