Sunday, May 01, 2022

John Owen, High Calvinist

John Owen, (1616-1683), the High Calvinist

Last time we extracted 2 sections of Dr Owen’s work on the Holy Spirit. The first was a statement of the stance before God of the unregenerate, which he used I Corinthians 2 to make clear the second of how those called to preach and others to the regenerate. It is this that attracted me first. Dr Owen is clearly a Calvinist, or Augustinian – the entirety of volume 3 makes this clear, but his opening of the section 2 (p.295) make clear his opposition to any form of hyper – Calvinism.)See 'John Owen , the Preacher'.

 The 2008 Articles of the Gospel Stand Strict and Particular Baptists

24 Gospel Invitations We believe that the invitations of the Gospel, being spirit and life*, are intended only for those who have been made by the blessed Spirit to feel their lost state as sinners and their need of Christ as their Saviour, and to repent of and forsake their sins. 

26 Duty Faith and Duty Repentance DeniedWe deny duty faith and duty repentance – these terms signifying that it is every man’s duty to spiritually and savingly repent and believe1. We deny also that there is any capability in man by nature to any spiritual good whatever. So that we reject the doctrine that men in a state of nature should be exhorted to believe in or turn to God2.


29 Indiscriminate Offers of Grace Denied

While we believe that the Gospel is to be preached in or proclaimed to all the world, as in Mark 16. 15, we deny offers of grace; that is to say, that the gospel is to be offered indiscriminately to all.


32  Preaching of the gospel.

We believe that it would be unsafe, from the brief records we have of the way in which the apostles, under the immediate direction of the Lord, addressed their hearers in certain special cases and circumstances, to derive absolute and universal rules for ministerial addresses in the present day under widely- different circumstances. And we further believe that an assumption that others have been inspired as the apostles were has led to the grossest errors amongst both Romanists and professed Protestants.

Such articles encourage passivity

Hyper-Calvinism developed in the latter part of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century, a time when  the Protestant Christians were granted freedom of worship in the 1689? The Calvinists were mainly either Presbyterians or Congregational and Baptist. There were ‘Calvinists’ within them all. They were resistant to whose ministry included were  invitations to. Christ. For ‘Calvinists’ such gospel invitations ‘upset’ their understanding of God’s eternal will. Not only election and predestination, added to the godhead itself and Christ’s eternal divinity particularly the work of Goodwin Using. Answer: Christ’s eternal will would keep this the divine eternal will  was intact. So the unconverted were  directed to one or other of this eternal will of God.

Peter Toon’s small book on Hyper -Calvinism (Olive Tree, 1967) surprisingly remains a worthwhile account of these developments, with accounts of individuals and their writings, particularly Chapter `VI with its accounts of Richard Davis, John Brine and John Gill, and the following chapter on God’s eternal decrees and covenants, supplementing by John Skepp and Joseph Hussey. These were days of  shiftings between views. The internal acts of God 108 his immutability and covenants. Early reference 74 & 76. Thomas Goodwin 76-77, who was prominent in discussion on eternal  justification

Toon has the following paragraphs

First,  we may note that after the Restoration in 1660 orthodox Calvinism became, as it were, a cause under siege.The majority  of Puritans  who were orthodox left the Church of England in 1662 to become conform Nonconformists. Thus the religious leadership of the nation was lodged in the hands of men who were either Arminian or moderately Calvinistic in theology. The ejected  ministers,  being Nonconformists,  were placed under  harsh and cruel restrictions until 1688 and this severely curtailed their influence  upon the religious thought  of the nation. As the older men  died their places were taken by younger men who had been educated under liberalising influences in Holland and so a Moderated Calvinism gradually became popular, especially amongst   the Presbyterian Dissenters.  As the years passed  by High Calvinism became more and more the sole preserve  of the Independents and the particular Baptists. The Antinomian  controversy of the 1690s served to widen the gap between High Calvinism and Moderated Calvinism, and as the eighteenth century passed by, High Calvinism became in the main, the faith of the poorly-educated Independents and Baptists.

These men who clung to the doctrine of High Calvinism saw themselves as a group preserved by God in an apostate age  to defend “the faith once delivered to the saints”. Their time was taken up by the defence of their faith and it was in this atmosphere of  course under siege  that Hyper-Calvinism was born and nurtured. (146-7)

This is a plausible picture, such as was being written by John Owen at that time, as that  the High Calvinism became ‘eternalised’, into Hyper-Calvinism, to protect the saints against Arminianism] Let Toon put it in more detail again: often made no distinction between  

It was a system of doctrines of God, of man and grace, which was framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and did so at the expense  of minimising the moral and spiritual responsibility of glory of sinners to  God. It placed excessive emphasis on the immanent acts of God,  - eternal justification,  eternal adoption and the eternal covenant of grace. (144)

In practice this  meant that “Christ and Him crucified”, the central message of the apostles, was obscured.

Let us finally get a closer statement of Hyper Calvinism.

 The hyper Calvinist Baptists.

Calvinist Baptists, Protestants,  confess justification but not justification by  faith. But in Romans 4 justification is by faith, believing God, see the verses in  Romans 4, verses 3, 5 (twice), 9,11,12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24 which continues through chapter 5.

In Owen’s volume on justification (in volume V of his Works ed. W.H. Goold, written in 1677 the full title was ‘The Doctrine of Justification by Faith  through the Imputation of the Righteousness, of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated’. Despite its thoroughness of the treatment, the phrase of ‘eternal justification’ is utterly absent. Owen is a notable Protestant, showing to be a High Calvinist. Owen is cited when replied to `Mr Baxter, who charged him with holding eternal justification: I neither am, nor ever was of that judgment; though as it may be explained `I know better, wiser, and more learned men than myself…..’’(Gill. Bk.II Ch.V, 208)   It is difficult if we say that ‘internal and immanent acts’, that is, acts of the same eternality of God as his existence and essence, it becomes difficult to stop oneself being persuaded that God’s eternality embraces everything. God’s eternality is one thing, events in time another.

Nonetheless, Gill has a long discussion in support of eternal justification in his Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity. (published in 1769-1770) He claims that  ‘Faith is not the cause  but an effect of justification’. Calvin used the expression ‘instrumental cause by faith. faith’. In 200, To dominate discussion with internal and immanent acts of God taken up in the mind of God from eternity, and which abide in his will: in which they have their complete esse, or being as eternal election has,  being of the same kind and nature (Eph. 1 4-6).  Gill continues ‘It is an act that does not first take place in time, or as sat believing – 1. Faith is not the cause of it in any sense; it is the moving  cause, that is the free grace of God. But then how are we to understand growth in grace, and the adorning of  graces, as the product of the Spirit not in eternity, but in time.There is little of the mysteriousness of the eternal God and his moment-by-moment creation. Little of Paul' ''Oh! the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchaBle are hisjudgments and how inscrutable ways! (Rom.10.33. There is a touch of rationalism in John Gill, I'm afraid.

So,  eternal justification is the mark of Hyper-Calvinism.

 ( I was surprised to discover that Peter Toon, Hyper-Calvinism, Olive Tree, 1967, is still for sale via Amazon)







Friday, April 01, 2022

John Owen ,the Preacher,




John Owen spent a good deal of his writing and preaching in Restoration England as the pastor of….. .He laboured to write on the Holy Spirit, in several  books, the chief which was A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (1674) . In 1673, 47  years old, he was working his mammoth works on the Holy Spirit which are gathered in chapter 3 of the Goold edition of his works.  He died in 1683. For him the role of the Spirit is basically the renewal and regeneration of unregenerate, fallen, people, including the preaching of the Gospel  as the means Christ has made redemption  for the elect.



In the page 295 (he had said) ,  


Preachers of the gospel and others have sufficient warrant to press upon all men the duties of faith, repentance and  obedience, although they know that in themselves they have not a sufficiency of ability for their due performance, for______(1) It is the will and command  of God that so they should do, and that is the rule all our duties. They are not to consider what men can do or will do, what God  requires. To  make a judgment of man’s ability, and  to accommodate the commands of God unto them accordingly, is not committed unto any of the sons of men. (2) They have a double end in pressing on men the observance of duties, with a supposition of the state of impotency described : -----


[1] to prevent  them from such courses of sin as would harden them, and so render their conversion more difficult, if not desperate. [2] To exercise a means appointed  of God for their conversion, or the communication of saving grace  unto them. Such are God’s commands, and such are the duties required of them. In and by them God doth use to communicate of his grace unto the souls of men; not with respect them as their duties, but as they are ways appointed and sanctified by him unto such ends.


And hence it follows that even such duties as are vitiated in their performance, yet are of advantage unto them by whom that are performed; for -- 1st By attendance unto them they are preserved from many sins. 2d. In an especial manner from the great sin of despising God, which ends commonly in that which is unpardonable. 3d. They are hereby made useful unto others, and many ends of God’s glory in the world. 4th They are kept in God’s way, wherein they may gradually be brought over unto a real conversion unto him. (Owen Works III,  295)



which occurs in the book before the one just referred to,  is an account of the temperament of an unregenerate person. As follows:

 There is in the minds of unregenerate persons a moral impotency, which is reflected on them greatly  from the will and affections, whence the mind never  will receive spiritual things, - that is, it will always and unchangeably reject and refuse them, - and that because of various lusts corruptions, and prejudices invincibly fixed in them, causing them to look on them as foolishness.  Hence it will  come to pass that no man shall be judged and perish at the last day merely on account of his natural impotency. Every one to whom the gospel hath been preached, and by whom it is refused, shall be convinced of positive actings of their minds, rejecting the gospel from the love of self, sin, and the world. Thus our Saviour tells the Jews that “no man can come unto him, except the Father draw him John vi 44. Such is their natural  impotency that they cannot. Nor is it to be cured but by an immediate divine instruction or illumination; as it is written, ’They shall be all taught of God, verse45. But this is not t all he tells them elsewhere, “Ye will not come to me that  ye might have life’, (John 6. 44) chapter.III 267.

As is usual it is necessary to take  a deep breath before the reading and the thinking of Owen. But one is repaid by a richness, or condensation. So reading these passages should  be undertaken more than once. His passage was based on I Corinthians 2.Here Paul expounds what he calls 'the natural man'. He starts by his policy as a preacher, 'For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified....and my speech and my message were. not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of  men but in the power of God' I Cor 2.4, 'we impart a secret and and hidden wisdom of God (1 Cor. 2. 7)...we have received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit  who is from God...we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom  but taught by the Spirit. And the apex of Paul's argument:  'The natural does not accept the things of the Spirit of God he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned......(I Cor 2.14, ) Owen had absorbed this and it warranted him saying in his earlier passage that the unregenerate possess 'a moral impotency which is reflected on them greatly from the will and affections, whence the mind (of the unregenerate) never will receive spiritual  things...(III 267) 

The unregenerate suffer from a moral impotency, yet later Owen advocates that preachers of the gospel must press upon all men, the duties of faith, repentance and obedience.

Next time I hope to take the answer of what otherwise is a conjundrum. How can the blind see?  How can a person be born again?




Monday, February 28, 2022

Conscience and God's grace


Conscience and God’s grace


In our last article, ‘The Conscience’, I ended it with the early preaching of Christ and of his cousin,  John the Baptist, calling their hearers to repentance. To come to repentance is to  become aware of one’s sin, and to resolve to keep  certain of the Lord’s commandments, which is the penitent hearer is begins  the process in which begin a new course of life. Currently the  Prime Minister, who is a great one for not to telling the truth, cancels this by an ‘apology’, the uttering of a form of words, which makes the one offended to which is meant to a  provide his or her forgiveness. Well, an apology of this kind, is something,  but it is  not much. The Bible does not have much or nothing at all for our apologies. The penitent are ‘pricked’,  their minds, (Acts 2.37, 9.5)


What ‘pricks’? the conscience. The ‘prick’ is a sign of penitence, a reaction of the conscience, which is worth a thousand apologies. For it is the mark of life, showing that the person is not ‘hardened’, but able to exhibit ‘in the Spirit that this person is beginning renewed. More than this, Paul says that these pricks have their character of sorrow. And they are signs of a new creation of God the Holy Spirit. He should know, who was to persecute Christians, he told to King Agrippa, how he Lord said to Dal of Tarsus ‘it is hard for you to kick against the pricks’. (Acts 26 .14)


Conscience and Consciousness


‘Conscience’, the word, is not a technical theological term in the NT, but a term that means literally,’ fellow-knowledge with oneself’, a state of self-knowledge, an awareness of that person’s  self, and appropriated in the OT as an expression (or power) of the ‘heart’ Paul and the writer of the Hebrews make clear. It is a climax of the writer, showing that Christ’ s work of the cross and resurrection. outshone the Old Testament revelation of the temple  (Hebrews, 9.14, 10.2, 10.22, and 3.18)


So in the Christian, the conscience has to do with godliness. It shows us to be part of the image of God in us, unlike the beasts.  Pricks of the conscience are a big deal. For Saul it was the consequence of the voice of the risen Jesus. And, accompanied by a bright light, It was the summons of the Lord himself. God is the one who was calling. In his great book on the work of the Holy Spirit, John Owen draws the distinction between holiness and morality. We see that we are deep here in the work of the Spirit in Holiness, in territory when it makes sense to ‘be imitators of God’ (5.1), or godly. This is the gift of God’s grace, not of our education. It is light, not darkness, (2Cor. 4.6)


There is a difference between the activities of the conscience. Some activities do not have to do with grace, but with the habits that we might have developed about friendships, habits of our development via education, values and places that we come to have, and so on. They might be called non-theistic values.  Everyone has myriads of such beliefs, or of practical matters, each which set up ‘consciences’, if and until they change,  and their conscience takes a different ‘shape’, having different changes.  So take an everyday example. We paint the house with brushes, but then it is suggested by someone the use of rollers are better, which are then regarded as superior to what had been before. So the skill of painting is changed. So almost every activity has a ‘shape’ of do’s and don’ts.


For Christians , and for all created in God’s image through the work of the Spirit., the conscience has to do with the  law of God, the 10 Commandments, and also with relate to each other, there are ladders of ‘moving up’ and there are   snakes of sliding down. I shall try to illustrate these from Scripture.


The Fall is the chief ‘slide’ in the history of humankind.. Men and women, created  directly by the Lord, there was rebellion. Gen 3.1-4,8, and that change, the result of deception by the serpent, changed the relation of the first pair altogether.  But their conscious was at work.


Conscience in the Letter to the Hebrews


Contrast this with the language of the writer of the  Hebrews.  As we saw there are three places in which the conscience is referred to,  at the climax at the writer(was it Paul?). Much of the Letter to the Hebrews  is taken to the superiority of Christ’s work to the religion of the OT. He shows this in various ways. Christ is not a human priest, a Levite, but one who is after the order of Melchizedek (ch.5), not a man but the Son of God, in a unique priesthood. His was taken in a sacrifice, and by his death and resurrection  ’he is the mediator of a new covenant’. Christ’s was a ‘death that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant repeatedly, many times. But Christ entered ‘once for all into  the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption……how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God’. (ch.9) This is the first of several references to our consciences in referring to the redemption by Christ. ‘that  cannot perfect the conscience   of the worshipper’ (9.9, 9.14, 10.2),  ‘otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshippers, having once been cleansed would no longer have any consciousness of sin?’ Here  the KJV translates ‘conscience’ In 10.22, whereas the ESV  uses ‘consciousness’ showing the close relation of the two. `And  further, ‘let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water’ and lastly  “pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honourably in all things’. 13.16.


We have seen the close relation there is between our conscience and our consciousness. The relation between the conscience  and the ‘ heart’, is also shown, and this  suggests depth. If we examine our consciences then we have a direct track to ourselves and the Iiving God., the law revealed the inwardness of the law with John the Baptist, ch.3 of Matthew, continued into the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes and then the law more explicitly, the golden rule 6.13 this is a message from God.


How to sharpen one’s conscience


How do we examine ourselves in our faith? The conscience takes us deep, to our heart. Try some passages of Paul,  say, Chapter 4 of Ephesians , or Romans 12. We are educated by the list of Christian values that Paul presents, from v.25, on falsehood, and speaking the truth. The control of anger, corrupting talk, building up, not grieving the Holy Spirit,  bitterness, wrath and anger. But kindness to others, forgiving others as we have been forgiven by God. And so. As you measure yourself, your conscience pricks, and gives a God-given reflection, a sign of regenerate,  if you are regenerate.  There is more in Chapter 5 of Ephesians.