Friday, December 30, 2011

Year End Poem...

Romans 6:14 - For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace. 

Inspired by John Owen's A Treatise of the Dominion of Sin and Grace:

On the cross Christ Jesus for sinners procured
Sin's pardon, release from guilt and shame.
Under grace not law, believer's liberty secured.
Sin's dominion broken, no longer to reign.

Yet rebellious remnant still seeks to control,
To assert Satan's power, to regain its sway.
Holy Law gives no aid, cannot make one whole.
"Do this and live" points only the way.

God's foolish Word answers:  Mercy declared!
Power unto salvation Holy Spirit conveys.
Jesus’ blood and body, food rightly shared,
Faith looks not within but to Christ who was raised.

Sweet exchange, man's sin for Christ's merit proclaimed.
No condemnation, comfort alone in Him found.
Faith-repentance liturgy each day, as
Sinners-Saints plod along solid ground.
-Jack Miller

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

John Owen on Sin, Law, and Gospel - II

Continuing from the last post on Owen's A Treatise of the Dominion of Sin and Grace - which ended with his question, "But how doth this [the gospel] give relief'" - to the believer - regarding the dethroning of sin and delivering him from its dominion to a life empowered unto godliness under the rule of grace?  What follows is a message that needs a hearing and indeed a following in the local church.   It is encouraging and strengthening, reinforcing the proclamation of the Gospel of the grace in Christ Jesus administered in both Word and Sacrament.  In that glorious gospel we receive through faith not only our justification, but also the transforming power of Christ crucified and risen through the Holy Spirit's ongoing work of sanctification in us unto salvation.

     "But how doth this [the gospel] give relief?  Why, it is the ordinance, the instrument of God, which he [the believer] will use unto this end - namely, the communication of such supplies of grace and spiritual strength as shall eternally defeat the dominion of sin."
     This is the one principle difference between the law and the gospel, and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question:

Owen here is referring to the corruption of the means of grace in both the preaching of the Word and the right administration of the Sacraments in the medieval and then current Roman church.  The two Words of Scripture, law and gospel, had receded from the scene and were no longer employed by the Church in order to bring souls to Christ and build up and strengthen them in faith and godliness.  Owen goes on to explain the purposes and limitations of the law regarding sin and the centrality of the gospel administered in breaking the dominion of sin and as the power of God unto salvation for the work of sanctification in the believer.

     The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin.  It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion.  But if you shall say unto it, "What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us.  What aid and assistance against it will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?"  Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God: nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner:  "The strength of sin is the law."  But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers.  By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion....
     Hereon then depends, in the first place, the assurance of the apostles's assertion, that "sin shall not have dominion over us," because we are "under grace."  We are in such a state as wherein we have supplies in readiness to defeat all the attempts of sin for rule and dominion in us.
     But some may say hereon, they greatly fear they are not in this state...
     In answer hereunto the things ensuing are proposed: -
  1. Remember what hath been declared concerning the dominion of sin.  If it be not known what it is and wherein it doth consist...  A clear distinction between the rebellion of sin and the dominion of sin is a great advantage unto spiritual peace.
  2. Consider the end for which aids of grace are granted and communicated by the gospel.  Now, this is not that sin may at once be utterly destroyed and consumed in us, that it should have no being, motion, or power in us any more.  This work is reserved for glory, in the full redemption of body and soul, which we here do by groan after.  But it is given unto us for this end, that sin may be so crucified and mortified in us, - that is, so gradually weakened and destroyed, - as that it shall not ruin spiritual life in us... although our conflict with sin doth continue, although we are perplexed by it, yet we are under grace, and sin shall have no more dominion over us.  This is enough for us, that sin shall be gradually destroyed, and we shall have sufficiency of grace on all occasions to prevent its ruling prevalency.
  3. Live in the faith of this sacred truth, and ever keep alive in your souls expectation of supplies of grace suitable thereunto.  It is of the nature of true and saving faith, inseparable from it, to believe that the gospel is the way of God's administration of grace for the ruin of sin.  He that believes it not believes not the gospel itself, which is "the power of God unto salvation," Rom.1:16... This is the fundamental principle of the gospel state, that we live in expectation of continual communications of life, grace, and strength, from Jesus Christ, who is "our life," and from whose "fulness we receive, and grace for grace."... This faith, hope, and expectation, we are called unto by the gospel; and when they are not cherished, when they are not kept up unto a due exercise, all things will go backward in our spiritual condition.
  4. ... Does [sin] take advantage from our darkness and confusion, under troubles, distresses, or temptations?  On these and the like occasions it is required that we make especial fervent application unto the Lord Christ for such supplies of grace as may be sufficient and efficacious to control the power of sin in them all.  This, under the consideration of his office and authority unto this end, his grace and readiness form special inducements, we are directed unto, Heb. 4:14-16.
  5. ... we may be sure we shall not fail of divine assistance, according to the established rule of the administration of gospel of grace.
     ... the truth stands firm, that "sin shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under the law, but under grace;"... the law gives no liberty of any kind, it gendereth unto bondage, and so cannot free us from any dominion, - not that of sin, for this must be by liberty.  But this we have also by the gospel.  There is a twofold liberty: - 1. Of state and condition; 2. Of internal operation; and we have both by the gospel... 
     The first consists in our deliverance from the law and its curse, with all things which claim a right against us by virtue thereof; Satan, death, and hell... This liberty Christ proclaims in the gospel unto all that do believe, Isa.61:1.  Hereon they who hear and receive the joyful sound are discharged from all debts, bonds, accounts, rights, and titles, and are brought into a state of perfect freedom.  In this state sin can lay no claim to dominion over any one soul.  They are gone over into the kingdom of Christ, and out from the power of sin, Satan, and darkness.  Herein, indeed, lies the foundation of our assured freedom from the rule of sin.  It cannot make an incursion on the kingdom of Christ, so as to carry away any of its subjects into a state of sin and darkness again...
     2.  ... Again, there is an internal liberty, which is the freedom of the mind from the powerful inward chains of sin... Hereby is the power of sin in the soul destroyed.  And this also is given us in the gospel.  There is power administered in it to live unto God, and to walk in all his commandments; and this also gives evidence unto the truth of the apostle's assertion.
     Thirdly, The law doth not supply us with effectual motives and encouragements to endeavour the ruin of the dominion of sin in a way of duty; which must be done...  It works only by fear and dread, with threatenings and terrors... "Do this, and live," yet withal it discovers such an impossibility in our nature to comply with its commands...  Now, these things enervate, weaken, and discourage, the soul in its conflict against sin; they give it no life, activity, cheerfulness, or courage, in what is undertaken.
   ... But the law makes nothing perfect, nor are the motives it gives for the ruin of the interest of sin in us able to bear us out and carry us through that undertaking.    Fourthly; Christ is not in the law; he is not proposed in it, not communicated by it, - we are not made partakers of him thereby.  This is the work of grace, of the gospel.  In it is Christ revealed, by it he is proposed and exhibited unto us; thereby are we made partakers of him and all the benefits of his mediation.  And he it is alone who came to, and can, destroy this work of the devil.... This "the Son of God was manifested to destroy."  He alone ruins the kingdom of Satan, whose power is acted in the rule of sin.  Wherefore, hereunto our assurance of this comfortable truth is principally resolved.  And what Christ hath done, and doth, for this end, is a great part of the subject of gospel revelation.


Monday, December 19, 2011

John Owen on Sin, Law and Gospel...

What does a believer need to hear, believe, and do in order to navigate what is called his sanctification?  I find there is much out there that helps, yet even more that confuses.  In practice where does the power for change come from?  Is the Christian life a two track path:  one path that celebrates the free gift of forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ (our justification), the other path the believer's job to appropriate the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to battle and find victory over sin and live obediently (our sanctification)?  What is the biblical remedy and food that is offered to counter and weaken that remnant of sin that daily seeks to draw the believer off the path of godliness and throw him into despondency? 

 In John Owen's A Treatise of the Dominion of Sin and Grace one finds a most helpful exposition on the role of law and gospel as regards sanctification and more specifically the battle against sin.  The book presents a focused teaching built around the Romans 6:14 verse, "For sin shall not have dominion over you:  for ye are not under law but under grace" (ASV).  For the one who has believed the gospel and received forgiveness of sins by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, the holy law continues to be the righteous, moral standard to which he is still called.  It nonetheless, Owen explains, has certain weaknesses and limitations as far as its ability to be a remedy for sin's dominion in the unregenerate or providing any comfort or aid in mortifying sin's continued rebellion within the believer.  Below are some gleanings regarding the law from the treatise.

     The law falls under a double consideration, but in neither of them was designed to give power of strength against sin:-
  1. As it was given unto mankind in the state of innocency; and it did then absolutely and exactly declare the whole duty of man, whatever God in his wisdom and holiness did require of us.  It was God's ruling of man according to the principle of the righteousness wherein he was created.  But it gave no new aids against sin; nor was there any need that so it should do.  It was not the ordinance of God to administer new or more grace unto man, but to rule and govern him according to what he had received; and this it continueth to do forever.  It claims and continues a rule over all men, according to what they had and what they have; but it never had power to bar the entrance of sin, nor to cast it out when it is once enthroned.
  2. As it was renewed and enjoined unto the church of Israel on Mount Sinai, and with them unto all that would join themselves unto the Lord out of the nations of the world.  Yet neither was it then, nor as such, designed unto any such end as to destroy or dethrone sin by an administration of spiritual strength and grace.  It had some new ends given then unto it, which it had not in its original constitution, the principal whereof was to drive men to the promise, and Christ therein; and this it doth by all the acts and powers of it on the souls of men.  As it discovers sin, as it irritates and provokes it by its severity, as it judgeth and condemneth it, as it denounceth a curse on sinners, it drives unto this end; for this was added of grace in the renovation of it, this new end was given unto it.  In itself it hath nothing to do with sinners, but to judge, curse, and condemn them. //  There is, therefore, no help to be expected against the dominion of sin from the law.  It was never ordained of God unto that end; nor doth it contain, nor is it communicative of, the grace necessary unto that end, Rom. viii.3. //  Wherefore, those who are "under the law: are under the dominion of sin.  "The law is holy." but it cannot make them holy who have made themselves unholy; it is :just," but it cannot make them so, - it cannot justify them whom it doth condemn; it is "good," but can do them no good, as unto their deliverance from the power of sin.  God hath not appointed it unto that end.  Sin will never be dethroned by it, it will not give place unto the law, neither in its title nor its power.
Those under law...
     "will attend unto what the saith, under whose power they are, and endeavour a compliance therewith; many duties shall be performed, and many evils abstained from, in order to the quitting themselves of sin's dominion.  But, alas! the law cannot enable them hereunto, - it cannot give them life and strength to go through with what their convictions press them unto; therefore, after a while they begin to faint and wax weary in their progress, and at length give quite over."

Having explained the purpose and limitations of the law, Owen goes on to explain the presence of sin and the role of the gospel in the believer who is no longer under law but under grace.

     "Grace" is a word of various acceptations in the Scripture.  As we are here said to be under it, and as it is opposed unto the law, it is used or taken for the gospel, as it is the instrument of God for the communication of himself and his grace by Jesus Christ unto those that do believe, with that state of acceptation with himself which they are brought into thereby, Rom. v.1,2.  Wherefore, to be "under grace" is to have an interest in the gospel covenant and state, with a right unto all the privileges and benefits thereof, to be brought under the administration of grace by Jesus Christ, - to be a true believer.... 
    Is it that there shall be no sin in them any more?  Even this is true in some sense.  Sin as unto its condemning power hath no place in this state, Rom. viii.1.  All the sins of them that believe are expiated or done away, as to the guilt of them, in the blood of Christ, Heb.i.3; 1 John i.7.  This branch of the dominion of sin, which consists in its condemning power, is utterly cast out of the state.  But sin as unto its being and operation doth still continue in believers whilst they are in this world; they are all sensible of it...
      Wherefore, to be freed from the dominion of sin is not to be freed absolutely from all sin, so as that it should in no sense abide in us any more.  This is not to be under grace, but to be in glory...
     But the assurance here given is built on other considerations; whereof the first is, that the gospel is the means ordained and instrument used by God for the communication of spiritual strength unto them that believe, for the dethroning of sin.  It is the "power of God unto salvation," Rom.i.16, that whereby and wherein he puts forth the his power unto that end...  We are absolved, aquitted, freed from the rule of sin, as unto its pretended right and title, by the promise of the gospel; for thereby are we freed and discharged from the rule of the law, wherein all the title of sin unto dominion is founded, for "the strength of sin is in the law:"  but we are freed from it, as unto its internal power and exercise of its dominion, by the internal spiritual grace and strength in its due exercise.  Now, this is communicated by the gospel; it gives life and power, with such continual supplies of grace as are able to dethrone sin, and forever to prohibit its return...
     "This you have," saith the apostle, "Ye are not under law, but under grace; of the rule of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, administered in the gospel."  But how doth this give relief?

To be continued...