John Owen (1616-1683): Distinguishing between the matter and manner of knowing

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“The difference between believers and unbelievers as to knowledge, is not so much in the matter of their knowledge, as in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers some of them may know more, and be able to say more of God, his perfections and his will, than many believers, but they know nothing as they ought: nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly; nothing with an holy, heavenly light. The excellency of a believer is not, that he hath a large apprehension of things, but that what he doth apprehend (which perhaps may be very little) he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving soul-transforming light: And this is that which gives us communion with God, and not prying thoughts, or curious raised notions.”

– John Owen (1616-1683), Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (3rd edition), p. 141-142

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John Owen (1616-1683) on the promised seed of Genesis 3:15

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With Christmas edging closer and the shops decorated all over with the customary Christmas decorations, we do well to remind ourselves of the true message of Christmas: the glorious Incarnation of the Son of God in the Person of Jesus Christ, who came into the world “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). In this line, here is John Owen (1616-1683) on the promised seed of Genesis 3:15:

“God having from the foundation of the world promised to bring forth the ‘Seed of the woman,’ to work out the redemption of his elect in the conquest of Satan, did, in the separation of Abraham from the rest of the world, begin to make provision of a peculiar stock, from whence the Seed of the woman should spring. That this was the cause and end of his call and separation is evident from hence, that immediately thereupon God assures him that ‘in his seed all the kindreds of the earth should be blessed,’ Gen. 12:1–3, 22:18; which is all one as if he had expressly said to him, ‘For this cause have I chosen and called thee, that in thee I might lay a foundation of bringing forth the promised Seed, by whom the curse is to be taken away, and the blessing of everlasting life procured,’ as Gal. 3:13, 14. For this cause was his posterity continued in a state of separation from the rest of the world, that He might seek a godly seed to himself, Num. 23:9; Mal. 2:15: for this cause did he raise them into a civil, regal, and church state, that he might in them typify and prefigure the offices and benefits of the promised Messiah, who was to gather to himself the nations that were to be blessed in the seed of Abraham, Gen. 49:10; Ps. 45; Hos. 3:5; Ezek. 34:23. And all their sacrifices did but shadow out that great expiation of sin which he was to make in his own person.”

– John Owen (1616-1683), An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol. 3, p. 22

John Owen (1616-1683): Preaching from the heart

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“I think, truly, that no man preaches that sermon well to others that doth not first preach it to his own heart. He who doth not feed on, digest, and thrive by, what he prepares for his people, he may give them poison, as far as he knows; for, unless he find the power of it in his own heart, he cannot have any ground of confidence that it will have power in the heart of others. It is an easier thing to bring our heads to preach than our hearts to preach. To bring our heads to preach, is but to fill our minds and memories with some notions of truth, of our own or other men, and speak them out to give satisfaction to ourselves and others: this is very easy. But to bring our hearts to preach, is to be transformed into the power of these truths; or to find the power of them, both before, in fashioning our minds and hearts, and in delivering of them, that we may have benefit; and to be acted with zeal for God and compassion to the souls of men. A man may preach every day in the week and not have his heart engaged once. This hath lost us powerful preaching in the world, and set up, instead of it, quaint orations; for such men never seek after experience in their own hearts: and so it is come to pass, that some men’s preaching and some men’s not preaching, have lost us the power of what we call the ministry; that though there be twenty or thirty thousand in orders, yet the nations perishes for want of knowledge, and is overwhelmed in all manner of sins, and not delivered from them unto this day.”

– John Owen (1616-1683), “The Duty of a Pastor,” Works, 9:455

John Owen (1616–1683) on the Father’s love

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“Assure yourself, there is nothing more acceptable unto the Father than for us to keep up our hearts unto Him as the eternal fountain of all that rich grace which flows out to sinners in the blood of Jesus.

This will be exceeding effectual to endear your soul unto God, to cause you to delight in Him, and to make your abode with Him.

Many saints have no greater burden in their lives than that their hearts do not come clearly and fully up, constantly to delight and rejoice in God—that there is still an unwillingness of spirit unto close walking with Him. What is at the bottom of this distemper?

Is it not their unskillfulness in or neglect of this duty, even of holding communion with the Father in love? So much as we see of the love of God, so much shall we delight in him, and no more. Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from Him.

But if the heart be once much taken up with this the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot choose but be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto Him. This, if anything, will work upon us to make our abode with Him.

If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will? Exercise your thoughts upon this very thing, the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your hearts be not wrought upon to delight in Him.

I dare boldly say: believers will find it as thriving a course as ever they pitched on in their lives. Sit down a little at the fountain, and you will quickly have a further discovery of the sweetness of the streams.

You who have run from Him, will not be able, after a while, to keep at a distance for a moment.”

– John Owen (1616–1683), Communion with the Triune God, p. 127-128

John Owen (1616–1683) on children in the church

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John Owen (1616–1683), in his Works, Vol. 16, p. 22, asks this question: “Whether a church may not, ought not, to take under its conduct inspection, and rule, such as are not yet meet to be received into full communion, such as are the children and servants of those who are complete members of the church?” In other words, can a church take into its company people who have not publicly professed faith?

Owen’s answer reminds me a little of the Heidelberg Catechism (Q/A 74):

“No doubt the church, in its officers, may and ought so to do, and it is a great evil when it is neglected.”

Clear enough. He goes on:

“For, 1) They are to take care of parents and masters as such, and as unto the discharge of their duty in their families; which without an inspection into the condition of their children and servants, they cannot do.

2) Households were constantly reckoned unto the church when the heads of the families were entered into covenant, Luke xix; 9 Acts xvi 15; Rom xvl 10 11; 1 Cor i 16; 2 Tim iv 19.

3) Children do belong unto and have an interest in their parents covenant; not only in the promise of it, which gives them right unto baptism, but in the profession of it in the church covenant, which gives them a right unto all the privileges of the church whereof they are capable, until they voluntarily relinquish their claim unto them.

4) Baptizing the children of church members, giving them thereby an admission into the visible catholic church, puts an obligation on the officers of the church to take care, what in them lieth, that they may be kept and preserved meet members of it, by a due watch over them and instruction of them.

5) Though neither the church nor its privileges be continued and preserved, as of old, by carnal generation, yet, because of the nature of the dispensation of God’s covenant, wherein be hath promised to be a God unto believers and their seed, the advantage of the means of a gracious education in such families, and of conversion and edification in the ministry of the church, ordinarily the continuation of the church is to depend on the addition of members out of the families already incorporated in it.  The church is not to be like the kingdom of the Marmalukes, wherein there was no regard unto natural successors, but it was continually made up of strangers and foreigners incorporated into it; nor like the beginning of the Roman commonwealth, which, consisting of men only, was like to have been the matter of one age alone.”

Very well said. By the way, though there’s much more to it, broadly speaking a Marmaluke was a boy/man around the 10-14th centuries who would be randomly chosen or bought to be a soldier for Islam. Owen’s point is that the Marmaluke decision on who would be a soldier had nothing to do with families or blood-lines, and the Roman principle was to wait until a person reached a certain age to become a citizen. The same things do not follow for incorporation into the visible church.

John Owen (1616–1683): Is faith a condition of salvation?

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Is faith, strictly speaking, a condition of salvation? In other words, did Jesus die on the cross, doing 99%, and now leaves it up to us to believe, doing the last 1%? In still other words, did Jesus’ death make salvation possible, or did he actually efficaciously accomplish redemption? John Owen (1616–1683) puts it so well:

“Christ did not die for any upon condition, ‘if they do believe;’ but he died for all God’s elect, ‘that they should believe,’ and believing have eternal life. Faith itself is among the principle effects and fruits of the death of Christ… It is nowhere said in Scripture, nor can it reasonably be affirmed, that if we believe, Christ died for us, as though our believing should make that to be which otherwise was not – the act create the object; but Christ died for us that we might believe. Salvation, indeed, is bestowed conditionally; but faith, which is the condition, is absolutely procured.”

– John Owen (1616–1683), The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, p. 123

I especially love the line above where Owen says that faith is one of the greatest effects and fruits of Christ’s death – saving faith is “absolutely procured.” Jesus actually accomplished salvation for his people when he died on the cross. So we must believe to be saved, but if we have true faith, it is a gift given by God through the death of Christ by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.

John Owen (1616-1683) on the Spirit’s work in the mortification of sin

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[13] For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:13

“The principal efficient cause of the performance of this duty is the Spirit: ei de pneumati—“if by the Spirit.” The Spirit here is the Spirit mentioned [in Rom. 8] verse 11, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, that “dwells in us” (v. 9), that “quickens us” (v. 11); “the Holy Ghost” (v. 14); the “Spirit of adoption” (v. 15); the Spirit “that makes intercession for us” (v. 26). All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit. Men, as the apostle intimates (Rom. 9:30-32), may attempt this work on other principles, by means and advantages administered on other accounts, as they always have done, and do; but, says he, “This is the work of the Spirit; by him alone is it to be wrought, and by no other power is it to be brought about.” Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-inven­tion, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”

– John Owen (1616-1683), Overcoming Sin & Temptation, p. 47.