Wednesday, November 1, 2006

John Owen: Doxological Theology

Following the Reformation, one of the issues addressed by the Reformed orthodox was the need to hammer out a definition of theology. For example, it is during this time-frame we find the classic definitions by William Perkins (theology is "the science of living blessedly forever") and William Ames ("theology is the doctrine of living to God"). For background to this discussion, see my notes from Muller's Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics.

It is no surprise that in his 'theologoumena' John Owen provides his own definition of theology. He defines theology as "the doctrine of God with regard to himself, his works, his will, his worship, as well as our required obedience, our future rewards and punishments, all as revealed by God himself [in Scripture] to the glory of his name" (Biblical Theology, trans. Stephen Westcott [Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria], 16-17).

Without much elaboration, I think we can make at least the following six observations about this definition of theology by Owen.

1. Theology assumes the archtypal/echtypal distinction. This is to say that theology is not concerned with God's knowledge of God per se but the knowledge of God revealed in Scripture. It is apprehensive not comprehensive.

2. Theology is Scriptural, as it provides the basis for the knowledge of God.

3. Theology is concerned with the flow of redemptive-history (God's work, will, and revealed by God himself). This is played out in the sctructure of Owen's work which follows the main epochs of Scripture (e.g. Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, etc.).

4. Theology is theocentric, or more specifically (for Owen), it is Trinitarian.

5. Theology is pastoral, as it reflects upon the faith, worship, and obedience God requires of man.

6. Theology is doxological, as it is to the glory of God.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Gates of Paradise: Evangelical Breakthrough

Happy Reformation Day!

In honour of the occasion, I leave you with these famous words of Martin Luther.

I greatly longed to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, "the justice of God," because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by his faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas the "justice of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven...

If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God' s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who see God as angry does not see him rightly but look only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.

Quoted in Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950), p. 65.

Monday, October 30, 2006

This Just In...

TOMORROW AFTERNOON (31 October 2006) at 3pm, Professor Carl Trueman from Westminster Theological Seminary will be giving The MacMillan Lecture on Evangelism.

The lecture is entitled "Evangelising Postmoderns" and is open to the public. The venue is in The Presbytery Hall at the Free Church College on The Mound.

A Dying Testimony

Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ was John Owen’s final work – his swan song. It was written during a time when “weakness, weariness, and near approaches of death” loomed large over him. In fact, he never saw the book in its published form. On the morning of his death on 24 August 1683, his longtime friend William Payne came to bid him farewell. Payne said, “Doctor, I have just been putting your book on the Glory of Christ to the press.” To which Owen memorably replied, “I am glad to hear that that performance is put to the press; but, O brother Payne, the long looked-for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done yet, or was capable of doing in this world!

The book is a sweet collection of personal reflections on the glory of the person, office, and work of Christ as the “principal object of our faith, love, delight, and admiration.” Based on John 17:24, Owen states that these “meditations” were written for the benefit of “the exercise of my own mind, and then for the edification of a private congregation” (Works, 1:275). In other words, this work is Owen’s dying testimony to his church at Leadenhall Street in London and to the world.

In Owen’s mind nothing prepares us better for beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ by sight in heaven than beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ by faith on earth. He states,

For if our future blessedness shall consist in being where he is, and beholding of his glory, what better preparation can there be for it than in a constant previous contemplation of that glory in the revelation that is made in the Gospel, unto this very end, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory? (Works, 1:275)

How shall we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus by faith in preparation for beholding him by sight? For Owen, this can only be done by diligent, prayerful reflection on the revelation of Christ in Scripture. So for a taste of what Owen means, I want to leave you with two meditations for your encouragement regarding the active and passive obedience of Christ. Both quotes come from a chapter entitled “The Glory of Christ in the Discharge of his Mediatory Office.”

The first reflects on Christ’s obedience to the law (cf. Hebrews 5:8):

The glory of this obedience ariseth principally from the consideration of the person who thus yielded it unto God. This was no other but the Son of God made man, God and man in one person. He who was in heaven, above all, Lord of all, at the same time lived in the world in a condition of no reputation, and a course of the strictest obedience unto the whole law of God. He unto whom prayer was made, prayed himself night and day. He whom all the angels of heaven and all creatures worshipped, was continually conversant in all the duties of the worship of God. He who was over the house, diligently observed the meanest office of the house. He that made all men, in whose hand they are all as clay in the hand of the potter, observed amongst them the strictest rules of justice, in giving unto every one his due; and of charity, in giving good things that were not so due. This is that which renders the obedience of Christ in the discharge of his office both mysterious and glorious (Works, 1:340).

Now on the glory of Christ in what he suffered.

We might here look on him as under the weight of the wrath of God, and the curse of the law; taking on himself, and on his whole soul, the utmost of evil that God had ever threatened to sin or sinners. We might look on him in his agony and bloody sweat, in his strong cries and supplications, when he was sorrowful unto the death, and began to be amazed, in apprehensions of the things that were coming on him, — of that dreadful trial which he was entering into. We might look upon him conflicting with all the powers of darkness, the rage and madness of men, suffering in his soul, his body, his name, his reputation, his goods, his life; some of these sufferings being immediate from God above, others from devils and wicked men, acting according to the determinate counsel of God. We might look on him praying, weeping, crying out, bleeding, dying, — in all things making his soul an offering for sin; so was he “taken from prison, and from judgement: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off from the land of the living: for the transgression,” says God, “of my people was he smitten,” (Isaiah 53:8). But these things I shall not insist on in particular, but leave them under such a veil as may give us a prospect into them, so far as to fill our souls with holy admiration (Works, 1:341).

I cannot read these lines without thinking of the following story about John Gresham Machen. In December 1936 Prof John Murray received a letter from a dying Machen. Despite being extremely ill, Machen preached over the Christmas holidays to several struggling churches in North Dakota. However, he would not make it through the holidays. Before New Year he was in the hospital. Though largely unconscious, Machen was able to dictate one final telegram to his friend John Murray. The note read, “I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.

What are you reflecting upon at this moment? What is the object of your faith, love, delight, and admiration? What will be your dying testimony? Both Owen and Machen knew that without Christ, life was meaningless and death was hopeless. They could savor Christ in their deaths, because they glorified him in their lives. They knew their faith would become sight. While these stories may fill us with admiration for these men, I hope they fill you even more with “holy admiration” for Christ.


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