Category Archives: Doctrine of God

“A holy admiration of what we cannot comprehend” by John Owen

“This is a short general view of this incomprehensible condescension of the Son of God, as it is described by the apostle in Phil. 2:5–8.

And this is that wherein in an especial manner we are to behold the glory of Christ by faith whilst we are in this world.

But had we the tongue of men and angels, we were not able in any just measure to express the glory of this condescension; for it is the most ineffable effect of the divine wisdom of the Father and of the love of the Son,—the highest evidence of the care of God towards mankind.

What can be equal unto it? What can be like it? It is the glory of Christian religion, and the animating soul of all evangelical truth.

This carrieth the mystery of the wisdom of God above the reason or understanding of men and angels, to be the object of faith and admiration only.

A mystery it is that becomes the greatness of God, with His infinite distance from the whole creation,—which renders it unbecoming Him that all His ways and works should be comprehensible by any of His creatures, (Job 11:7–9; Rom. 11:33–36).

He who was eternally in the form of God,—that is, was essentially so, God by nature, equally participant of the same divine nature with God the Father; ‘God over all, blessed forever;’ who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth,–He takes on Him the nature of man, takes it to be His own, whereby He was no less truly a man in time than He was truly God from eternity.

And to increase the wonder of this mystery, because it was necessary unto the end He designed, He so humbled Himself in this assumption of our nature, as to make Himself of no reputation in this world;–yea, unto that degree, that He said of Himself that He was a worm, and no man, in comparison of them who were of any esteem.

We speak of these things in a poor, low, broken manner,– we teach them as they are revealed in the Scripture,– we labour by faith to adhere unto them as revealed.

But when we come into a steady, direct view and consideration of the thing itself, our minds fail, our hearts tremble, and we can find no rest but in a holy admiration of what we cannot comprehend.

Here we are at a loss, and know that we shall be so whilst we are in this world; but all the ineffable fruits and benefits of this truth are communicated unto them that do believe.

It is with reference hereunto that that great promise concerning Him is given unto the church, (Isa. 8:14), ‘He shall be for a sanctuary’ (namely, unto all that believe, as it is expounded, 1 Peter 2:7-8); ‘but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence,’—’even to them that stumble at the word, being disobedient; where-unto also they were appointed.’

He is herein a sanctuary, an assured refuge unto all that betake themselves unto Him.

What is it that any man in distress, who flies thereunto, may look for in a sanctuary?

A supply of all his wants, a deliverance from all his fears, a defence against all his dangers, is proposed unto him therein.

Such is the Lord Christ herein unto sin-distressed souls; He is a refuge unto us in all spiritual distresses and disconsolations, (Heb. 6:18).

See the exposition of the place.

Are we, or any of us, burdened with a sense of sin?

Are we perplexed with temptations?

Are we bowed down under the oppression of any spiritual adversary?

Do we, on any of these accounts, ‘walk in darkness and have no light?’

One view of the glory of Christ herein is able to support us and relieve us.

Unto whom we betake ourselves for relief in any case, we have regard to nothing but their will and their power. If they have both, we are sure of relief.

And what shall we fear in the will of Christ as unto this end? What will he not do for us?

He who thus emptied and humbled Himself, who so infinitely condescended from the prerogative of His glory in His being and self-sufficiency, in the susception of our nature for the discharge of the office of a mediator on our behalf,– will He not relieve us in all our distresses?

Will He not do all for us we stand in need of, that we may be eternally saved?

Will He not be a sanctuary unto us?

Nor have we hereon any ground to fear His power; for, by this infinite condescension to be a suffering man, He lost nothing of His power as God omnipotent,– nothing of His infinite wisdom or glorious grace.

He could still do all that He could do as God from eternity.

If there be any thing, therefore, in a coalescency of infinite power with infinite condescension, to constitute a sanctuary for distressed sinners, it is all in Christ Jesus.

And if we see Him not glorious herein, it is because there is no light of faith in us.

This, then, is the rest wherewith we may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshment.

Herein is He ‘a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.’ (Isa. 32:2)

Herein He says, “I have satiated the weary soul, and have refreshed every sorrowful soul.” (Jer. 31:25)

Under this consideration it is that, in all evangelical promises and invitations for coming to Him, He is proposed unto distressed sinners as their only sanctuary.”

–John Owen, “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1684/2000), 1: 330-331.

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“The Rock on which the church is built” by John Owen

“It may, then, be said, ‘What did the Lord Christ, in this condescension, with respect unto His divine nature?’

The apostle tells us that He ‘humbled Himself, and made Himself of no reputation,’ (Phil. 2:7-8). He veiled the glory of His divine nature in ours, and what He did therein, so as that there was no outward appearance or manifestation of it.

The world hereon was so far from looking on Him as the true God, that it believed Him not to be a good man. Hence they could never bear the least intimation of His divine nature, supposing themselves secured from any such thing, because they looked on Him with their eyes to be a man,—as He was, indeed, no less truly and really than any one of themselves.

Wherefore, on that testimony given of Himself, ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ (John 8:58)—which asserts a pre-existence from eternity in another nature than what they saw,—they were filled with rage, and ‘took up stones to cast at Him,’ (John 8:58-59).

And they gave a reason of their madness, (John 10:33),—namely, that ‘He, being a man, should make Himself to be God.’

This was such a thing, they thought, as could never enter into the heart of a wise and sober man,—namely, that being so, owning Himself to be such, He should yet say of Himself that He was God.

This is that which no reason can comprehend, which nothing in nature can parallel or illustrate, that one and the same person should He both God and man. And this is the principal plea of the Socinians at this day, who, through the Mohammedans, succeed unto the Jews in an opposition unto the divine nature of Christ.

But all this difficulty is solved by the glory of Christ in this condescension; for although in Himself, or His own divine person, He was ‘over all, God blessed forever,’ (Rom. 9:5) yet He humbled Himself for the salvation of the church, unto the eternal glory of God, to take our nature upon Him, and to be made man: and those who cannot see a divine glory in His so doing, do neither know Him, nor love Him, nor believe in Him, nor do any way belong unto Him.

So is it with the men of these abominations. Because they cannot behold the glory hereof, they deny the foundation of our religion,—namely, the divine person of Christ.

Seeing He would be made man, He shall be esteemed by them no more than a man.

So do they reject that glory of God, His infinite wisdom, goodness, and grace, wherein He is more concerned than in the whole creation. And they dig up the root of all evangelical truths, which are nothing but branches from it.

It is true, and must be confessed, that herein it is that our Lord Jesus Christ is ‘a stumbling-stone and a rock of offence’ (1 Peter 2:8) unto the world.

If we should confess Him only as a prophet, a man sent by God, there would not be much contest about Him, nor opposition unto Him.

The Mohammedans do all acknowledge it, and the Jews would not long deny it; for their hatred against Him was, and is, solely because He professed Himself to be God, and as such was believed on in the world.

And at this day, partly through the insinuation of the Socinians, and partly from the efficacy of their own blindness and unbelief, multitudes are willing to grant Him to be a prophet sent of God, who do not, who will not, who cannot, believe the mystery of this condescension in the susception of our nature, nor see the glory of it.

But take this away, and all our religion is taken away with it.

Farewell Christianity, as to the mystery, the glory, the truth, the efficacy of it;—let a refined heathenism be established in its room.

But this is the rock on which the church is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.”

–John Owen, “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1684/2000), 1: 327-328.

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“There is order in the Divine Persons, but no inequality in the Divine Being” by John Owen

“That we may the better behold the glory of Christ herein, we may briefly consider the especial nature of this condescension, and wherein it doth consist.

But whereas not only the denial, but misapprehensions hereof, have pestered the church of God in all ages, we must, in the first place, reject them, and then declare the truth.

This condescension of the Son of God did not consist in a laying aside, or parting with, or separation from, the divine nature, so as that He should cease to be God by being man.

The foundation of it lay in this, that he was ‘in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God,’ (Phil 2:6);—that is, being really and essentially God in His divine nature, He professed Himself therein to be equal with God, or the person of the Father.

He was in the form of God,—that is, He was God, participant of the divine nature, for God hath no form but that of His essence and being; and hence He was equal with God, in authority, dignity, and power.

Because He was in the form of God, He must be equal with God; for there is order in the Divine Persons, but no inequality in the Divine Being.

So the Jews understood Him, that when He said, ‘God was His Father, He made Himself equal with God.’

For in His so saying, He ascribed unto Himself equal power with the Father, as unto all divine operations. ‘My Father,’ saith He, ‘worketh hitherto, and I work,’ (John 5:17-18).

And they by whom his divine nature is denied do cast this condescension of Christ quite out of our religion, as that which hath no reality or substance in it. But we shall speak of them afterward.

Being in this state, it is said that he took on Him the form of a servant, and was found in fashion as a man, (Phil. 2:7). This is His condescension.

It is not said that He ceased to be in the form of God; but continuing so to be, He ‘took upon Him the form of a servant’ in our nature: He became what He was not, but He ceased not to be what He was.

So He testifieth of Himself, (John 3:13), ‘No man hath ascended up to heaven, but be that came down from heaven, the Son of man which is in heaven.’

Although He was then on earth as the Son of man, yet He ceased not to be God thereby;—in His divine nature He was then also in heaven.

He who is God, can no more be not God, than He who is not God can be God; and our difference with the Socinians herein is,—we believe that Christ being God, was made man for our sakes; they say, that being only a man, he was made a god for His own sake.

This, then, is the foundation of the glory of Christ in this condescension, the life and soul of all heavenly truth and mysteries,—namely, that the Son of God becoming in time to be what He was not, the Son of man, ceased not thereby to be what He was, even the eternal Son of God.”

–John Owen, “Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 1: The Glory of Christ (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1684/2000), 1: 325–326.

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“An infallible interpretation” by Richard Barcellos

“Let us consider Genesis 1:2 once again.

While Genesis 1:2 says, ‘And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,’ Psalm 104:24 says, ‘O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions–‘ and in Ps. 104:30 we read, ‘You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the earth.’

In Job 26:13 we read, ‘By His Spirit He adorned the heavens.’

These texts (and there are others) outside of Genesis echo it and further explain it to and for us. These are instances of inner-biblical exegesis within the Old Testament.

When the Bible exegetes the Bible, therefore, we have an infallible interpretation because of the divine author of Scripture.

Scripture not only records the acts of God, it also interprets them. If we are going to explain the acts of God in creation, God’s initial economy, with any hope of accurately accounting for those acts, we must first know something of the triune God who acts.

And the only written source of infallible knowledge of the triune God who acts is the Bible and the Bible alone.”

–Richard C. Barcellos, Trinity and Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020), 23.

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“It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Neither the Old Testament believer nor the Savior severed the law of God from His gracious person.

It was not legalism for Jesus to do everything His Father commanded Him. Nor is it for us.

In some ways the Marrow Controversy resolved itself into a theological version of the parable of the waiting father and his two sons. (Luke 15:11-32)

The antinomian prodigal when awakened was tempted to legalism: ‘I will go and be a slave in my father’s house and thus perhaps gain grace in his eyes.’

But he was bathed in his father’s grace and set free to live as an obedient son.

The legalistic older brother never tasted his father’s grace. Because of his legalism he had never been able to enjoy the privileges of the father’s house.

Between them stood the father offering free grace to both, without prior qualifications in either.

Had the older brother embraced his father, he would have found grace that would make every duty a delight and dissolve the hardness of his servile heart.

Had that been the case, his once antinomian brother would surely have felt free to come out to him as his father had done, and say:

‘Isn’t the grace we have been shown and given simply amazing? Let us forevermore live in obedience to every wish of our gracious father!’

And arm in arm they could have gone in to dance at the party, sons and brothers together, a glorious testimony to the father’s love.”

–Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 173-174.

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“Our safety lieth in God’s immutability” by Thomas Manton

“The Lord is unchangeable in holiness and glory. He is a sun that shineth always with a like brightness.

God, and all that is in God, is unchangeable; for this is an attribute that, like a silken string through a chain of pearl, runneth through all the rest:

His mercy is unchangeable, ‘His mercy endureth forever,’ (Ps. 100:5).

So His strength, and therefore He is called ‘The Rock of ages,’ (Isa. 36:4).

So His counsel, Mutat sententiam, sed non decretum (as Bradwardine); He may change His sentence, the outward threatening or promise, but not His inward decree; He may will a change, but not change His will.

So His love is immutable; His heart is the same to us in the diversity of outward conditions: we are changed in estate and opinion, but God, He is not changed.

Well, then,—

1. The more mutable you are, the less you are like God. Oh! how should you loathe yourselves when you are so fickle in your purposes, so changeable in your resolutions!

God is immutably holy, but you have a heart that loveth to wander. He is always the same, but you are soon removed, (Gal. 1:6); ‘soon shaken in mind,’(2 Thess. 2:2); whirried with every blast, (Eph. 4:14), borne down with every new emergency and temptation.

The more you do ‘continue in the good that you have learned and been assured of,’ (2 Tim. 3:14), the more do you resemble the divine perfection.

2. Go to Him to establish and settle your spirits. God, that is unchangeable in Himself, can bring you into an immutable estate of grace, against which all the gates of hell cannot prevail; therefore be not quiet, till you have gotten such gifts from him as are without repentance, the fruits of eternal grace, and the pledges of eternal glory.

3. Carry yourselves to Him as unto an immutable good; in the greatest change of things see Him always the same: when there is little in the creature, there is as much in God as ever: (Ps. 102:26-27), ‘They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; they shall all wax old as a garment: Thou art the same for ever, and Thy years have no end.’

All creatures vanish, not only like a piece of cloth, but like a garment. Cloth would rot of itself, or be eaten out by moths; but a garment is worn and wasted every day.

But God doth not change; there is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity; the arm of mercy is not dried up, nor do His bowels of love waste and spend themselves.

And truly this is the church’s comfort in the saddest condition, that however the face of the creatures be changed to them, God will be still the same. It is said somewhere, that ‘the name of God is as an ointment poured out.’ (Song of Solomon 1:3)

Certainly this name of God’s immutability is as an ointment poured out, the best cordial to refresh a fainting soul. When the Israelites were in distress, all the letters of credence that God would give Moses were those, (Exod. 3:14), ‘I AM that I AM hath sent me unto you.’

That was comfort enough to the Israelites, that their God remained in the same tenor and glory of the divine essence; He could still say I AM. With God is no change, no past or present; He remaineth in the same indivisible point of eternity; and therefore saith, I AM.

So the prophet (Malachi 3:6), ἔγω κύριος, οὐκ ἠλλοίωμαι, ‘I am the Lord, that change not’ (or am not changed); ‘therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.’

Our safety lieth in God’s immutability; we cannot perish utterly, because He cannot change.”

–Thomas Manton, “Commentary on the Epistle of James,” The Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. 4 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1871/2020), 4: 113-114. Manton is commenting on James 1:17.

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“Union with Christ is the greatest and most glorious grace that we can be made partakers of in this world” by John Owen

“Union with Christ is the greatest, most honourable, and glorious of all graces that we are made partakers of. It is called ‘glory,’ (2 Cor. 3:18).

The greatest humiliation of the Son of God consisted in His taking upon Him of our nature, (Heb. 2:8-9).

And this was ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich,’—rich in the eternal glory, the glory that He had with the Father before the world was, (John 17:5), as being in Himself ‘God over all, blessed for ever,’ (Rom. 9:5),— ‘for our sakes He became poor,’ (2 Cor. 8:9), by taking on Him that nature which is poor in itself, infinitely distanced from Him, and exposed unto all misery.

All which our apostle fully expresseth, (Phil. 2:5–7), ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.’

There was indeed great grace and condescension in all that He did and humbled Himself unto in that nature, as it follows in that place, ‘And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,’ (Phil. 2:8).

But His assumption of the nature itself was that whereby most signally ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, He ’emptied’ and ‘humbled Himself, and made Himself of no reputation.’

On this all that followed did ensue, and on this it did depend. From hence all His actings and sufferings in that nature received their dignity and efficacy.

All, I say, that Christ, as our mediator, did and underwent in our nature, had its worth, merit, use, and prevalency from His first condescension in taking our nature upon Him; for from thence it was that whatever He so did or suffered, it was the doing and suffering of the Son of God.

And, on the contrary, our grace of union with Christ, our participation of Him and His nature, is our highest exaltation, the greatest and most glorious grace that we can be made partakers of in this world.

He became poor for our sakes, by a participation of our nature, that we through His poverty may be rich in a participation of His, (2 Cor. 8:9). And this is that which gives worth and excellency unto all that we may be afterwards intrusted with.

The grace and privileges of believers are very great and excellent, but yet they are such as do belong unto them that are made partakers of Christ, such as are due to the quickening and adorning of all the members of His body; as all privileges of marriage, after marriage contracted, arise from and follow that contract.

For being once made co-heirs with Christ, we are made heirs of God, and have a right to the whole inheritance.

And, indeed, what greater glory or dignity can a poor sinner be exalted unto, than to be thus intimately and indissolubly united unto the Son of God, the perfection whereof is the glory which we hope and wait for, (John 17:22-23)?

Saith David, in an earthly, temporary concern, ‘What am I, and what is my father’s family, that I should be son-in-law unto the king, being a poor man, and lightly esteemed?’ (1 Samuel 18:23)

How much more may a sinner say, ‘What am I, poor, sinful dust and ashes, one that deserves to be lightly esteemed by the whole creation of God, that I should be thus united unto the Son of God, and thereby become His son by adoption!’

This is honour and glory unparalleled. And all the grace that ensues receives its worth, its dignity, and use from hence.

Therefore are the graces and the works of believers excellent, because they are the graces and works of them that are united unto.”

–John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Volume 4, The Works of John Owen (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1667/1854), 4: 148–149.

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