Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday Meditations: Translating Punishment!

Tim and Susan, look forward to reading more about your work. Thanks for the sneak peek! Chris and Joe, how about feedback from ETS later in the week?

Now, to start things off this week, here are a few 'meditations' on...well, you guessed it - John Owen.

For Owen, central to the Christian religion is substitutionary atonement. It is the “life, soul, and centre of all Scripture revelations” (Works 1:353, 358).

Because of the fall of Adam in the Garden, all are under the curse of the law. In this curse, death, both temporal and eternal, was contained. In other words, justice demands punishment for sin. So how could God punish sin and pardon sinners and remain just? Part of the answer to this question is what Owen calls the “conjunction” between Christ and his church.

In order to procure the salvation of the church, a translation of punishment was necessary – “namely, from them who had deserved it, and could not bear it, unto one who had not deserved it, but could bear it” (Works 1:353).

But for this translation of punishment to take place, there must be a peculiar conjunction or relationship between sinners and the one who is punished for their sins. Owen outlines a threefold relationship between persons in general and Christ and his church in particular.

  • The relationship between Christ and his church is natural. God has made “from one man (i.e. Adam)” all men (Acts 17:26). Every man is every man’s brother. Therefore, to be our substitute, Christ voluntarily assumed our nature. His relation to us did not arise out of a necessity of nature, but by a free act of his will he took on our nature. As Hebrews 2:14-15 (a hugely important text for Owen) states, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Christ] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

  • The relationship between Christ and his church is mystical (or moral or spiritual). As head and husband, Christ died for the church. “The church designed to be the spouse of Christ in the counsel of God; whereon he loved her and gave himself for her” (Works 1:357; cf. Hos. 12:12; Eph. 5:25-32).

  • The relationship between Christ and his church is federal (or covenantal). This is the most important. For it is upon this relationship that the translation (or imputation) of our punishment to Christ and his righteousness to us is based. “So did the Lord Christ undertake to be surety of the new covenant in behalf of the church, Heb. 7:22, and thereon tendered himself unto God, to do and suffer for them, in their stead, and on their behalf, whatever was required, that they might be sanctified and saved” (Works 1:358).

At the cross, God’s justice and mercy meet. Without this relationship between Christ and his church, we are left in our sins. But with this “intimate conjunction” sin is punished and we are pardoned. To God be praised.

I leave you with this reflection by Owen. Take special note of the last sentence.

These are some of the foundations of that mystery of transmitting the sins of the church, as to the guilt and punishment of them from the sinners themselves unto another, every way innocent, pure, and righteous in himself…No heart can conceive, no tongue can express the glory of Christ herein…In due apprehensions hereof let my soul live – in the faith hereof let me die, and let present admiration of this glory make way for the eternal enjoyment of it in its beauty and fullness (Works 1:358, 359).

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