If you have been reading along through "Communion with God" this summer, then of course, you realize I am massively behind on this blog! But today I seek to amend this, and cover chapters 15-20 in one blog post!
There is much about chapter 15 that could be said. Owen's main thrust is that communion with Christ leads to acceptance with the Father. And just like every other chapter of this work, it's steeped in Trinitarian theology. For the sake of this post, I just want to point out Owen's discussion on the doctrine of imputation, or "the great exchange" as some have called it. Imputation has poked its head up in several sermons over the past few months at Proclamation, and it's a core doctrine for Protestantism. And actually, imputation may be at the heart of the justification debates between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran/Reformed traditions. If you're interested in this, here is a fairly good overview from a Reformed perspective on this issue.
Unfortunately today, it seems that imputation is now being attacked even in Protestant and Evangelical circles. The issue here, as it was for Rome as well, is not that our sin was put on (or imputed to) Christ. Generally, we all agree with that. The issue here is the other side of imputation, that is, Christ's righteousness put onto us. We see this attack on the imputation of Christ's righteousness from men like N.T. Wright who wrote,
It is therefore a straightforward category mistake, however venerable within some Reformed traditions including part of my own, to suppose that Jesus ‘obeyed the law’ and so obtained ‘righteousness’ which could be reckoned to those who believe in him. …It is not the ‘righteousness’ of Jesus Christ which is ‘reckoned’ to the believer. It is his death and resurrection. (Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision)
Owen, in response to the Catholics of his day, and equally applicable to the deniers of imputation today, does a wonderful job at defending this doctrine. At the heart of his argument is a clear distinction between the role of Christ's righteousness, as the mediator and covenant representative of God's people, and our works of obedience-which even after justification are not meritorious. Christ's righteousness counted to us is vital to the Holy God declaring us righteous! Even after regeneration, unless we can achieve pure holiness in this life, our sins would make us unrighteous in God's sight. But if Christ's righteousness is counted as our own, then our hope is sure. It's on solid ground because our works are really the works of God the Son Jesus Christ.
Yes, we are regenerated to new life. And yes, we can now, because of new life in Christ, do righteous works that please God. But pleasing God and earning favor or merit with him are not the same thing. Owen points out that these new works of obedience don't contribute to the finished work of Christ, but rather, are products of the workmanship of God, works that we do out of love gratitude to him for the grace he has given us.
We could do an entire blog series on the theology of imputation and justification, but we have much ground to cover! Chapter 16 deals with the issue of holiness. Namely, the holiness of God's people and it's role in our communion with God.
Owen states that Christ does three things to bring his people into holiness.
1) His work of intercession. Namely, Christ is interceding with the Father so that we would receive the promised Holy Spirit, who does the work of sanctification.
2) The receiving of the Spirit from the Father and sending him into the hearts of his saints, there to dwell in his place, and to do all things for them and in them which he himself has to do in them. In other words, Christ is the one who sends the Spirit from the Father to dwell in us and do the work of sanctification.
3) By his (Christ's) Spirit, he imparts a new, gracious, spiritual life. Owen explains what this means when he says that by the work of the Holy Spirit, "The soul is filled and enabled to obey, and to receive every divine truth presented to it according to the mind of God.
The focus of Chapter 17 is the doctrine of adoption, which Owen defines as
the authoritative transfer of a believer, by Jesus Christ, from the family of the world and Satan into the family of God with his being admitted into all the privileges and advantages of that family.
And what are the privileges and advantages we receive? Owen lists several (if you have not yet, read chapter 17 for a description of many of these):
We receive liberty
We receive a title (or a privilege)
Boldness with God by Christ
Affliction coming from love and leading to our spiritual good
The privilege of being called sons of God
Being heirs and joint-heirs with Christ
Being predestinated to be conformed to the image of God's Son
Being called Christ's brethren
Fellowship in Christ's suffering
Fellowship in God's kingdom
We shall reign with Christ
Owen now shifts from focusing on our fellowship with the Son to our communion and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. And here, he wants to examine the foundation of our fellowship with the Spirit, namely that our foundation with him is grounded upon the reality that it is Jesus Christ who has sent the Spirit to be our Comforter and helper. This is based on the promise of Christ in John 16:1-7 when after warning the disciples of many trials and persecutions, he gives the promise to send a helper, the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is more than willing to come and be the Comforter and helper of God's people. Owen states about our communion with God in light of the Spirit's work that it is a
special communion with the Father in love, the Son in grace, and the Holy Spirit in his work as comforter and helper. This is the way into fellowship with the Holy Spirit to which we are called. His gracious and blessed will, his infinite and wonderful willingness to come down to us, all the works he enables us to do and all the privileges he brings to us, of which we are made partakers, is what our souls by faith receive from him. And our response is to pour out on him all our gratitude and thanksgiving.
And what is the work of the Holy Spirit in communion with the believer? Owen answers this in chapter 19, reminding us of the Spirit's continual work in our lives.
1) The Spirit brings to mind the words and promises of Christ
2)The Spirit glorifies Christ
3)The Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts
4)The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God
5)The Spirit seals us, or is the evidence to our soul, that we have been accepted by God
6)The Spirit is our deposit or guarantee of our eternal inheritance
7)The Spirit anoints believers
Let me remind you of Owen's closing paragraph in this chapter:
Here, then, is the wisdom of faith. Faith looks for and meets with the Comforter in all these works of his. Let us not, then, lose their sweetness by remaining in the dark about them, nor fall short of the response required of us in gratitude.
Well, we come now at last to the final chapter in this "Catch-Up" blog post. Short and sweet, yet so essential to the lives of God's children, this chapter deals with the Holy Spirit and the hearts of believers. What are the works of the Spirit in the hearts of those who belong to Christ?
1) The Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens the hearts of believers
Owen calls this the "chief work" of the Spirit in our lives. He brings our souls, which are often troubled, to rest and contentment not in some temporal earthly way, but rather, by focusing us on the eternal truths of God. This is an everlasting comfort, a strong comfort, and a precious comfort.
2) The Holy Spirit brings joy to the hearts of believers.
Reminding us that the Spirit is called the "oil of gladness", Owen states that true joy is produced by the Spirit pouring God's love into our hearts, which carries us through every kind of trial. The Spirit does this directly. He needs no other means, no other tools, no other help. This is HIS work, and it's a work that, just like John the Baptist in his mother's womb, causes us to leap for joy in knowing Jesus. This joy flows from the assurance that the Spirit gives; assurance of God's love for us and our adoption into his family.
3) The Holy Spirit brings hope to the hearts of the believers.
What is our great hope? Owen says it's to "be like Christ and to enjoy God in Christ for ever". The Spirit, by showing us 'the things of Christ', and by glorifying Christ in our hearts, "arouses", as Owen puts it, our desires to be like Jesus. And this leads to our growth and increase in hope. This, Owen says, is one way that the Spirit sanctifies us. By arousing our hopes, which leads us to a desire to be more like Christ, the Spirit is actually making us more and more holy.
These are the general works of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers, which, if we consider them and all that they produce, will bring joy, assurance, boldness, confidence, expectation and glorying. We shall then see how much our whole communion with God is enriched and influenced by them.