Saturday, April 29, 2006

John Owen on Justification

I've been reading a little of John Owen, and so here are some quotes I'd like to remember :-)
"This, therefore, is that which herein I affirm:— The righteousness of Christ (in his obedience and suffering for us) imputed unto believers, as they are united unto him by his Spirit, is that righteousness whereon they are justified before God, on the account whereof their sins are pardoned, and a right is granted them unto the heavenly inheritance... The foundation of the imputation asserted is union. Hereof there are many grounds and causes, as has been declared; but that which we have immediate respect unto, as the foundation of this imputation, is that whereby the Lord Christ and believers do actually coalesce into one mystical person. This is by the Holy Spirit inhabiting in him as the head of the church in all fulness, and in all believers according to their measure, whereby they become members of his mystical body. That there is such a union between Christ and believers is the faith of the catholic church, and has been so in all ages. Those who seem in our days to deny it, or question it, either know not what they say, or their minds are influenced by their doctrine who deny the divine persons of the Son and of the Spirit. Upon supposition of this union, reason will grant the imputation pleaded for to be reasonable; at least, that there is such a peculiar ground for it as is not to be exemplified in any things natural or political among men." [The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, Ch9; note the emphasis on union with Christ]
"Christ and believers are one mystical person, one spiritually-animated body, head and members. This, I suppose, will not be denied; to do so, is to overthrow the church and the faith of it. Hence, what he did and suffered is imputed unto them. And it is granted that, as the surety of the covenant, he paid all our debts, or answered for all our faults; and that his righteousness is really communicated unto us. “Why, then,” say some, “there is no need of repentance; all is done for us already.” But why so? Why must we assent to one part of the gospel unto the exclusion of another? Was it not free unto God to appoint what way, method, and order he would, whereby these things should be communicated unto us?
"... Not only, therefore, the thing itself, or the communication of the righteousness of Christ unto us, but the way, and manner, and means of it, do depend on God’s sovereign order and disposal. Wherefore, although Christ did make satisfaction to the justice of God for all the sins of the church, and that as a common person (for no man in his wits can deny but that he who is a mediator and a surety is, in some sense, a common person); and although he did pay all our debts; yet does the particular interest of this or that man in what he did and suffered depend on the way, means, and order designed of God unto that end. This, and this alone, gives the true necessity of all the duties which are required of us, with their order and their ends
"... [Answering like objections that faith is also unnecessary:] the whole fallacy of this objection lies in the opposing one part of the design and method of God’s grace in this mystery of our justification unto another; or the taking of one part of it to be the whole, which, as to its efficacy and perfection, depends on somewhat else. Hereof we warned the reader in our previous discourses. For the whole of it is a supposition that the satisfaction of Christ, if there be any such thing, must have its whole effect without believing on our part; which is contrary unto the whole declaration of the will of God in the gospel... Wherefore, on the only making of that satisfaction, no one for whom it was made in the design of God can be said to have suffered in Christ, nor to have an interest in his satisfaction, nor by any way or means be made partaker of it antecedently unto another act of God in its imputation unto him. For this is but one part of the purpose of God’s grace as unto our justification by the blood of Christ, — namely, that he by his death should make satisfaction for our sins; nor is it to be separated from what also belongs unto it in the same purpose of God. Wherefore, from the position or grant of the satisfaction of Christ, no argument can be taken unto the negation of a consequential act of its imputation unto us; nor, therefore, of the necessity of our faith in the believing and receiving of it, which is no less the appointment of God than it was that Christ should make that satisfaction... And what he underwent and suffered, he underwent and suffered in our stead. But yet the act of God in laying our sins on Christ conveyed no actual right and title to us unto what he did and suffered. They are not immediately thereon, nor by virtue thereof, ours, or esteemed ours; because God has appointed somewhat else, not only antecedent thereunto, but as the means of it, unto his own glory. These things, both as unto their being and order, depend on the free ordination of God. But yet
"... It cannot be said that this satisfaction was made for us on such a condition as should absolutely suspend the event, and render it uncertain whether it should ever be for us or no. Such a constitution may be righteous in pecuniary solutions. A man may lay down a great sum of money for the discharge of another, on such a condition as may never be fulfilled; for, on the absolute failure of the condition, his money may and ought to be restored unto him, whereon he has received no injury or damage. But in penal suffering for crimes and sins, there can be no righteous constitution that shall make the event and efficacy of it to depend on a condition absolutely uncertain, and which may not come to pass or be fulfilled; for if the condition fail, no recompense can be made unto him that has suffered. Wherefore, the way of the application of the satisfaction of Christ unto them for whom it was made, is sure and steadfast in the purpose of God
"... God has appointed that there shall be an immediate foundation of the imputation of the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ unto us; whereon we may be said to have done and suffered in him what he did and suffered in our stead, by that grant, donation, and imputation of it unto us; or that we may be interested in it, that it may be made ours: which is all we contend for. And this is our actual coalescency into one mystical person with him by faith. Hereon does the necessity of faith originally depend. And if we shall add hereunto the necessity of it likewise unto that especial glory of God which he designs to exalt in our justification by Christ, as also unto all the ends of our obedience unto God, and the renovation of our natures into his image, its station is sufficiently secured against all objections. Our actual interest in the satisfaction of Christ depends on our actual insertion into his mystical body by faith, according to the appointment of God." [The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, Ch9; answering objections that the necessary conclusion of Owen's view would be that of 'eternal justification', where faith and repentance are unnecessary]


  1. Williams, p 511---How does John Owen avoid the accusation of Richard Baxter, that satisfaction would have to be applied immediately upon being made? For John Owen, the gift of faith is itself a certain result of the work of Christ, produced by it ipso facto, BUT NOT "in am immediation of time but causality." John Owen argues for the compatiblity of identical satisfaction and delayed application on the basis of covenant (that stipulates how the satisfaction will be applied).

    Owen, volume 10, p 450---Of the Death of Christ, the Price He Paid, and the Purcahse He Made

    Charles Hodge rejects the term "ipso facto" in relation to satisfaction, but it is clear that he equates it with temporal immediacy, ST 2:472