Posts filed under Communion with God

Communion with God chapters 5&6

These two chapters shift from exploring the communion believers have with the Father into looking at the communion believers have with the Son. 

Believe it or not, these are some of the most "controversial" portions of "Communion with God". Not because of what Owen says about Christ's fellowship with his people, but because of his use of "Song of Songs". There's been a long debate, predating Christianity even, going back to the Jewish understandings of this book, concerning how "Song of Songs" should be read. Should it be read and understood within the context of a literal love-relationship between a man and his lover, or should it be understood allegorically to describe God's love for his people? Owen here appears to side with many throughout the history of the Church and even many within the Jewish Rabbinical tradition by taking a more allegorical approach to "Song of Songs", using it to describe Christ's love for the church. And while many may argue against Owen's use of "Song of Songs" here, I do think that ultimately, what he says concerning Christ's relationship with his people is correct. In other words, we may disagree with Owen's interpretive approach to Scripture in these two chapters, but hopefully none of us would disagree with his conclusions! 

Listen to and reflect upon some of Owen's conclusions concerning Christ and his relationship with the church based upon his understanding of "Song of Songs":


The Lord Christ greatly delights in the sweet fruits of the Spirit in his saints.
The souls of the saints are the garden of Jesus Christ, the good ground which is blessed by God. 
He (Jesus) is, in the heavens, as glorious as the sun, and as the bright morning star. Among the beasts is is like like the lion, the lion of the tribe of Judah. Among the flowers, Christ is as beautiful and as glorious as the rose and the lily. He is like the rose for the sweetness of its perfume, and like the lily for its beauty. 

Owen spends ample time discussing the beauty of Jesus Christ, giving us great reason to delight in who Jesus is and to bask in the reality that we do, indeed, have communion and fellowship with him. 

How does one have communion with Christ? Owen stresses that it is by grace that we enjoy this fellowship with Jesus. "We have communion with Christ in grace. We receive from Jesus all manner of grace whatever. In grace, then, we have fellowship with Jesus."

Owen lays out three uses of the word, "grace":
 1-Grace can mean a personal presence and beauty. This is how we use the word when we refer to someone as being "graceful".
2-Grace can mean free favor and acceptance. Owen equates this use with "by grace you have been saved".
3-Grace can mean the fruit of the Spirit that sanctifies and renews our natures, that grace that enables us to do good things which God has commanded and ordained us to do. 

All three of these uses have a redemptive purpose. This is typical of the Puritan writers. In our context today, we tend to give broad use to the word, "grace". For example, we talk about God's "common grace", that is, the idea that there is a general grace that is shown to all peoples on earth. It's the idea that the "rain falls on the wicked as well as the righteous". It's not a saving grace, but rather, a grace that sustains and provides for all creation. But for the Puritans, "grace" was generally used only in direct connection with redemption. They would talk about the rain falling on the wicked as well as the righteous in terms of God's general love for his creation rather than use the word "grace", and for Owen, even the first use of the word "grace" as it applies to Jesus is understood within the context of Christ as our mediator. This "personal grace" of Christ, as he calls it, refers to his mediatorial work on our behalf. Here, his glory and his beauty, "as appointed and anointed by the Father", does the great work of "bringing home all his elect". In Christ, in our mediator, God and man meet and the person of Jesus Christ becomes "More beautiful and gracious than anything here on earth." In this union of God and man in Jesus Christ, Christ is "fit to save".  Owen writes,

Christ brings God and man together who were driven apart by sin. We who were afar off are brought near to God by Christ. For this very reason, he had room enough in his heart to receive us and strength enough in his spirit to bear all the wrath that was prepared for us. Sing brought infinite punishment because it was committed against an infinite God. Christ, being the infinite God in human nature, could suffer the infinite punishment that the sinner deserved. And so, by this personal union in Christ we are saved.

And it is because of this first use of the word grace, this "personal grace" of Christ, that the other two uses, what Owen calls "purchased grace", our "fellowship in his sufferings, and the power of his resurrection" are ours to enjoy. 

Owen ends chapter six with several charges directed towards those who are truly seeking Christ, those who reject him, directed to "the young", and to those who would look to themselves for their righteousness before God. And we find at the heart of these charges Owen's final sentences in this chapter:

Has Christ his rightful place in your hearts? Does he mean anything to you? Is he in all your thoughts? Do you know him in all his glory and beauty? Do you desire him more and more? Do you really count all things 'loss and dung' in comparison to him? Or do you prefer almost anything in the world to him?
 
 
Posted on July 6, 2017 and filed under Communion with God.

"Communion With God" Chapter 1&2

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Last week began this blog series on John Owen's book, "Communion with God". If you missed last week's post, please read it to see our plans and hopes for reading and blogging through the book this summer. 

Chapter 1

The greatest joy for any created being is to have fellowship with his Creator. But John Owen points out that we have a major problem. 

Because of sin, no man in his natural state has fellowship with God. God is light, and we are darkness. What communion has light with darkness? God is life; we are dead. God is love; we are enmity. So what agreement can there be between God and man?

Our hope, however, is in Jesus Christ. Owen calls Christ "our way back into fellowship with God". Sinners would be terrified to approach a Holy God, but in Christ, we can approach him without fear. 

We have a tendency to think of our salvation as being saved from something. And that's true. In Christ, we're saved from God's wrath. We're saved from spiritual death. We're saved from an eternity cut off from God's favor. But Owen's work helps us to think in terms of what we've been saved to.  We're saved to have communion with God. And Owen defines that communion as:

the mutual sharing of those good things which delight all those in that fellowship. This was so with David and Jonathan. Their souls were bound together in love. Their love for one another was shown in various ways. But their love was nothing in comparison to the love that is between God and his people. This fellowship of love is far more wonderful. Those who enjoy this communion are gloriously united to God through Christ and share in all the glorious and excellent fruits of such communion. 

And this communion is an unbreakable communion because it flows out of our union with Christ, and that is a union that will never be broken!

Chapter 2

Owen turns our attention to what it means to have communion with each person of the God-Head. That is, what it means for Christians to have communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian emphasis is one that runs the whole way through the book, and the rich Trinitarian theology of the Puritan writers like Owen is one of the huge benefits to reading the Puritans! 

Communion with the Father
"To believe on the Son of God is to receive the Lord Christ as the Son, the Son given to us to fulfill in us the purposes of the Father's love". Owen reminds us that the Son is the Father's gift to us. Could there be a greater gift? And to receive this gift, to believe in the Son and put our faith in him, it is not only putting our hope and trust in the Son, but also our hope and trust in the Father who sent him. And so, communion with the Father is to receive his love, it is to receive his favor, it is to be tapped into "the fountain and the source of all good things which come to us in Christ".

Communion with the Son
Faith is the means through which we have communion with the Son.

Believing is putting our trust and confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the Son of God. The Son, whom the Father gave, is to be trusted as the one that gives us everlasting life and who will keep us from perishing.
  

Notice Owen's emphasis on the worship of Christ as the Son of God. He writes,

Love for the Lord Jesus Christ is love for him as God and it therefore includes love for him in religious worship. Only where there is such love does the apostolic benediction belong: 'Grace be with all those that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. 

For Owen, Jesus is to be the centerpiece of our worship together. Apart from Christ, there can be no true Christian worship. And, drawing from John's vision in the book of Revelation, it's clear to Owen that both the Father and the Son are worthy to receive the worship of God's people. 

Communion with the Holy Spirit
Not only is worship to the Father and Son necessary for Christian worship, but also worship of the Holy Spirit. And while Owen doesn't spend much time at all on how communion with the Spirit works, his point in this brief discussion is this. If we are called to worship all three persons of the God-Head, then we can be assured that we also have communion with each person in the God-head. A God who does not receive our worship and adoration, our "faith, hope, and love", as Owen stresses throughout the chapter, is not a God with whom we have fellowship. 

But this communion with God is expressed differently for each person of the Trinity. The Father, Owen says, communes with us, (here Owen speaks of him communicating his grace to us) by his own authoritative will. The Son communicates his grace to us out of a purchased treasury. That is to say, Christ, in whom the fulness of the Father was pleased to dwell, has the authority to communicate that fulness to us. And the Spirit communicates grace to us by directly working in us by his power. 

All of this bears testimony that Father, Son, and Spirit are all in agreement to raise us from death unto life. And as he wrote in chapter 1, the reason we could not have communion with God prior to his work in our lives is because "God is life; we are dead". Now, here, each person of the Trinity, through their communing with us, their communicating grace to us, has raised us to life. The Great and Holy Triune God has made it possible now for us to have sweet fellowship with him. 

Posted on June 15, 2017 and filed under Communion with God.

Communion With God Introduction

Today we begin a new blog series, working our way through John Owen's book, "Communion with God". For those who are unfamiliar with Owen, he was one of the great leading English Puritan thinkers of the 17th century. He served as both a minister and as Dean of Christ Church in the University of Oxford.

For this blog, we'll be using the abridged "Puritan Paperback" edition published by Banner of Truth

The goal of this blog, just like the goal of the blog we did on Owen's, "Mortification of Sin" two years ago, is to read this book together. Please read the corresponding chapters of the book prior to each blog post. We're aiming to publish the blog every Thursday. So that means that before next Thursday, June 15th, we'd encourage you to read chapters 1&2 of the book.

So why are we reading this book? What can we learn from a 17th century Puritan today in the 21st century? 

Well, there are a few reasons why we chose this work.

First, this is a blog Troy and I have talked about doing for quite some time. In fact, we were discussing this book in 2015 while working through "The Mortification of Sin". For the past 3 years, we've had the privilege of attending the "Banner of Truth Minister's Conference", held at Elizabethtown College. The first year we were there, one of the speakers was talking about John Owen's writings, and said that "we should always read 'The Mortification of Sin' together with 'Communion with God'". So, 2 years later, we're finally going to take that advice and read, "Communion with God"! 

Secondly, if you've been joining us for our sermon series on the book of Ephesians, then you'll remember Troy speaking about how to make the best use of our time in his sermon on Ephesians 5:14-21. One of his suggestions was to spend at least 15 minutes a day reading. Here, then, is a great book to be reading this summer! It's devotional, it's remarkably Trinitarian, and hopefully it shapes the affections of your hearts and influences the thinking of your minds!

Thirdly, and most importantly, in this book, John Owen offers us a wonderful reminder of the hope every Christian has: Through our union with Jesus Christ, we have restored communion, that is, restored fellowship, with the great and holy Triune God. This communion with God is not just a future promise, but a present reality for the believer. And this book will remind us of that reality, helping us to reflect on what this communion means for our lives here and now. 

R.J.K. Law, the editor of this edition of the book, writes, 

John Owen believed that communion with God lies at the heart of the Christian life. With Paul he recognized that through the Son we have access by the Spirit to the Father. He never lost the sense of amazement expressed by (the Apostle) John: 'Our fellowship is with the Father and with the Son, Jesus Christ'. In this outstanding book he explains the nature of this communion and describes the many privileges it brings.


We hope that your hearts are encouraged and lifted up in the gospel as we read this book together, and it's our prayer that none of us ever loses the sense of amazement that "through the Son we have access by the Spirit to the Father". 

Posted on June 8, 2017 and filed under Communion with God.