Tag Archives: John Owen

Suffering and Glory

 

Within God’s holy, inerrant, infallible, all-sufficient Word there runs a biblical theme as wide as the Amazon and as deep as the Mariana Trench.  This theme concerns the humiliation and exaltation of Christ Jesus, or more simply His sufferings and glory.  We read of this in numerous passages including those below.  Take a minute to read through and meditate upon them:

“the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” 1 Peter 1:11

Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Luke 24:26

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Hebrews 2:9-10

Commenting on this grand theme, John Owen writes, “So much as we know of Christ, his sufferings, and his glory, so much do we understand of the Scripture, and no more. These are the two heads of the mediation of Christ and his kingdom, and this is their order which they communicate unto the church, —first suffering’s, and then glory.”[1]

If we observe the sufferings and glory of Christ throughout Scripture and meditate deeply upon the significance, namely that the King of Glory condescended to take upon Himself human nature and suffer at the hands of sinful men all manner of abuse and reproach (let us not forget the propitiation of God’s wrath) yet His reward was the satisfaction of the Father and exaltation of His name above all others, we will be better equipped to endure the sufferings that mark our path in this life knowing well that glory too awaits us.

2 Timothy 2:12a KJV “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him”

Conversely, if ever we are consumed by the attractions of this world and submit to the “desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), we will be all too ready to embrace glory in this life thus reversing the order of the trail that Christ has blazed for those who would follow Him.  Far too often we can observe those who would chase the temporal glory of this life only to see it fade before their eyes.  Some who would be so desperate to either return to that glory once achieved or resigned to avoid humiliation and suffering, they often attempt to manage their own escape; as was evident most recently with the departure of a famed actor, failing to realize that apart from Christ, this life is their glory and only destruction and judgment await them in the next life.

For the believer, we must constantly be aware that suffering is to be expected.  As the Apostle Peter reminds us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)

Perhaps most notably we may turn to Romans 8 and find an anchor for the Christian soul during times of suffering so that we may receive grace and encouragement in our time of need, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18ff  Sufferings and glory.

Concluding then with a final thought from Owen:

“When the sun is under a total eclipse, he loseth nothing of his native beauty, light, and glory. He is still the same that he was from the beginning,—a “great light to rule the day.” To us he appears as a dark, useless meteor; but when he comes by his course to free himself from the lunar interposition, unto his proper aspect towards us, he manifests again his native light and glory. So was it with the divine nature of Christ, as we have before declared. He veiled the glory of it by the interposition of the flesh, or the assumption of our nature to be his own; with this addition, that therein he took on him the “form of a servant,”—of a person of mean and low degree. But this temporary eclipse being past and over, it now shines forth in its infinite lustre and beauty, which belongs unto the present exaltation of his person. And when those who beheld him here as a poor, sorrowful, persecuted man, dying on the cross, came to see him in all the infinite, uncreated glories of the divine nature, manifesting themselves in his person, it could not but fill their souls with transcendent joy and admiration. And this is one reason of his prayer for them whilst he was on the earth, that they might be where he is to behold his glory; for he knew what ineffable satisfaction it would be unto them for evermore.”[2]

As with our Lord, so also with us, we must embrace suffering to taste glory.

Soli Deo Gloria – For the Glory of God alone



[1] John Owen, Volume 1 The Glory of Christ, page 343.

[2] Owen, pg 344

Shadow Boxing Sin

 

Shadow Boxing is a familiar term to anyone that has grown up in the era of Rocky Balboa, or the dominance of professional boxing, prior to the emergence of MMA-style fighting.  It involves only one person, literally boxing his shadow for the purpose of training and strengthening the muscles for an actual fight.  In preparation for physical contact it has some value, similar to practice, without any actual contact being made with the opponent.  As it relates to the spiritual battle against sin, shadow boxing has little to no value at all.  Why?  Because for the Christian, there never exists a time when he or she is not actively engaged in a fight against sin, therefore any and all efforts spent on practice is vanity.  The apostle Paul describes this very practice using the shadow boxing analogy in 1 Corinthians 9:26

24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Paul says that he does not box as one beating the air, i.e. shadow boxing.  As the context of this passage makes clear, Paul does not run aimlessly, but has a goal.  He does not box the air, but has a clearly identified opponent.  This analogy is important for the believer to understand how he or she is to fight sin.

For the Christian, the fight against sin is never passive, i.e. the believer knows of no times of peace, though perception may and often does conflict with reality.  In other words, the fight must be daily.  Contrary to any form of perfectionism in this life, John Owen, writing in his magisterial work on Temptation and Sin says, “That the choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.”  Owen clearly understands and communicates that this fight will be one that the believer is engaged in for the entirety of their lives.  Likewise, he summarizes that taking up this work of mortifying or killing sin, should be daily, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

For the believer, it too often seems that we neither recognize the on-going requirement of killing sin nor ever fully recognize our opponent, perhaps better stated our enemy, namely sin.  We either never engage in the fight or spend our time and energy boxing the air.  The disengaged fighter may be obvious for us to recognize through the evidences of unmortified sin.  Owen comments on the nature of the disengaged fighter from this very passage in Paul’s letter to Corinth,

“And the apostle tells you what was his practice, 1 Cor. 9:27, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” “I do it,” saith he, “daily; it is the work of my life: I omit it not; this is my business.” And if this were the work and business of Paul, who was so incomparably exalted in grace, revelations, enjoyments, privileges, consolations, above the ordinary measure of believers, where may we possibly bottom an exemption from this work and duty whilst we are in this world?” 

The true believer in Christ knows of no time when he or she should not be actively fighting sin.  If anyone professes to be a believer, yet neglects the great duty of killing sin, let them be keenly aware that sin will not rest until it has choked the life out of any professor of Christ, until they show evidence that their faith was disingenuous to begin with.  Owen writes, “Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.”

Conversely, the shadow-boxer might well be us if we are just going through the motions of prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, etc. with no effectual power of the Holy Spirit in our lives both rooting out sin and granting us a greater desire to delight in the majesty of Christ.  It is both “if you” AND “by the Spirit” that the Apostle Paul directs the charge of mortifying sin in Romans 8:13.  If our spiritual life has become a comfortable routine rather than an all-out engagement of war on sin, we may very well find ourselves shadow-boxing, spending a lot of unnecessary time and energy “beating the air,” as the Apostle says, and feeling good about our efforts.  The shadow boxer has the appearance of godliness, but denies its power.  At its heart, this is legalism, “under the power of conviction from the law…pressed to fight against sin, but hath no strength for the combat.  The law drives them on, and sin beats them back” as Owen writes.

Christian, we must not neglect war on sin.  We must by necessity be trained diligently by the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit to land blows effectively; not simply box the air with no intended target.  Take heed in your spiritual life to ensure that you are properly fighting against sin, to mortify and kill the desires of the flesh.

Mortification of Sin

 

Romans 8:13 “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” KJV

The conditional assertion from the Apostle Paul could not be more clear, living in the flesh results in death while mortifying, or killing, the deeds of the body through the Spirit results in life.  But what inferences are there for us to make here and how can we apply this mortification to our lives?  Sometimes, we Christians know just enough to be dangerous.  Give us one grain of truth and we’ll take it, expand it, and offer up overgeneralizations for any and every situation that arises.  Perhaps this is never more evident than the passivity with which we treat the presence of indwelling sin in our lives.  We read verses like Romans 3:10 ESV “None is righteous, no, not one,” or we see Paul’s discourse on the presence of sin in his own life, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18 ESV) and we apply them outside of their contextual meaning and assert that these, and similar verses on the nature of sinful man, must mean that there is nothing to be done regarding sin in our lives.  We instead hang our hat on our “decision” made to “receive” Christ as Savior, simply stopping there and neglecting the main purpose for our salvation, “to be conformed to the image of Christ” through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Far too quick are we to presume that since sin is ever-existent on the earth and that our past, present, and future sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ, then it really doesn’t matter if we sin or not, it’s covered and we’re still on our way to heaven.  Nothing could be further from the truth that God’s Word teaches.  Salvation is not the end in and of itself; it’s the means to the end of glorification with Jesus Christ in heaven for all eternity.  Paul affirms this later in the same chapter of our subject passage, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  Romans 8:29-30 ESV

“Predestined to be conformed to the image of his son,” in other words, holy.  While we know holiness is impossible as long as we remain in our fleshly bodies, it still remains the goal of every person that professes Christ as Savior, the duty to obey out of love His command to “be holy as I am holy.”  It is with this perspective we can view Romans 8:13 and realize our duty as believers is to not be satisfied with the presence of sin in our lives, but to kill it, to mortify it through the power of Holy Spirit.  The Puritan great, John Owen, in his monumental work The Mortification of Sin, describes the role of believers as follows, “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.”

If Owen and the Puritans recognized this nearly 400 years ago, why then have we become so desensitized toward sin these days?  The answer is likely due to multiple reasons, not the least of which include a lack of reverence for God, failure to recognize His holiness, lack of fear of God, and a lack of love for Him.  Nevertheless it is the role of those who follow Christ to put to death the deeds of the flesh, to make it our “business…to mortify the indwelling power of sin,” that we may be vessels “for honorable use.”

Owen continues, “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.  The principle efficient cause of the performance of this duty is the Spirit – ‘If by the Spirit.’  All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leaves us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.”  Christianity is not a will power religion, as one pastor states, it’s a supernatural one and as such, we must constantly be looking to God for our daily bread and this is especially true in regards to our war with sin.  The key clause in this assertion from Paul is, “through the Spirit” and is a necessary statement because it removes any works-based sanctification from our own power, the self-strength that John Owen made reference, but instead instructs us to rely on the divine power of God.

What then is our role in this matter?  We must ask if it is the Spirit that mortifies sin, why then does Paul exhort us to do this, just as he did in Romans 6:12 “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.”  We can conclude from Owen 4 principles that defines our role, 1) “It is no otherwise the work of the Spirit, but as all graces and good works which are in us are His.” 2)”He doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience” 3) “The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience.” 4)”He works upon our understanding, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that His assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself” 1

Every good we do is by the power of God’s grace and this includes the good works that He has prepared us to do (Ephesians 2:10), while our mortification of sin through the Spirit is a direct result obedience to God.  The power and presence of the Holy Spirit working in our lives sanctifies us while retaining our innate gift of liberty and freedom for obedience such that the blame of not mortifying sin, i.e. disobedience, falls squarely on our own shoulders leaving us without excuse.  Finally we see that the Holy Spirit works in us and with us, encouraging us all the while to fight the presence of sin in our lives, perhaps similar to the effect of a young child riding a bike all the while their father is holding onto the seat helping them to balance and maintain forward progress, only in this instance He will never let go but instead will guide us all the way.

We may conclude with one final thought from John Owen, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  Christian be not satisfied and complacent with the presence of sin in your life, you were called to holiness, therefore by all means strive by the Spirit to kill indwelling sin.

 

1 Owen, John. Volume 6 Temptation and Sin from The Works of John Owen, ed. William Goold. 24 vols. Edinburgh and London: Johnstone and Hunter, 1850-53; vols. 1-16 reprint ed., London: Banner of Truth, 1965.