"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: -
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- ... 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.
- ... we may be sure we shall not fail of divine assistance, according to the established rule of the administration of gospel of grace.
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.