John Owen

 

 

Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,

in His Person, Office, and Grace:

with

The Differences between Faith and Sight;

applied unto the use of them that believe.

____________

 

CHAPTER IX

 

 THE GLORY OF CHRIST IN HIS INTIMATE CONJUNCTION
WITH THE CHURCH

 

WHAT CONCERNS the glory of Christ in the mission the Holy Ghost to the Church, with all the divine truths that are branched from it, I have declared in my discourse concerning the whole dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Here, therefore, it must have no place among those many other things which offer themselves to our contemplation as part of this glory, or intimately belonging to it. I shall insist briefly on three only, which cannot be reduced directly to the former heads.

And the first of these is: That intimate conjunction that is between Christ and the Church; whence it is just and equal in the sight of God, according to the rules of His eternal righteousness, that what He did and suffered in the discharge of His office should be esteemed, reckoned, and imputed to us, as to all the fruits and benefits of it, as if we had done and suffered the same things ourselves. For this conjunction of His with us was an act of His own mind and will, wherein He is ineffably glorious.

The enemies of the glory of Christ and of His cross take it for granted that there ought to be such a conjunction between the guilty person and him that suffers for him, that in him the guilty person may be said, in some sense, to undergo the punishment himself. But then they affirm, on the other hand, that there was no such conjunction between Christ and sinnersónone at all; but that He was a man, as they were men; and otherwise, that He was at the greatest distance from them all as it is possible for one man to be from another (Socin. de Servat. lib. iii. cap. 3). The falseness of this latter assertion and the gross ignorance of the Scripture, under a pretense of subtility in them that make it, will evidently appear in our ensuing discourse.

The apostle tells us (I Peter 2:24) that in "his own self he bare our sins in his own body on the tree"; and that He "suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (3:18). But this seems somewhat strange to reason. Where is the justice, where is the equity, that the just should suffer for the unjust? Where is divine righteousness herein? For it was an act of God: "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6). The equity of this, with the grounds of it, must be here inquired into.

First of all, it is certain that all the elect, the whole Church of God, fell in Adam under the curse due to the transgression of the law. It is so also that in this curse death, both temporal and eternal, was contained. This curse none could undergo and be saved. Nor was it consistent with the righteousness, or holiness, or truth of God, that sin should go unpunished. Wherefore there was a necessity, upon a supposition of Godís decree to save His Church, of a translation of punishmentó from them who had deserved it, and could not bear it, to One who did not deserve it but could bear it.

A supposition of this translation of punishment by divine dispensation is the foundation of Christian religion, yea, of all supernatural revelation contained in the Scripture. This was first intimated in the first promise; and afterward explained and confirmed in all the institutions of the Old Testament. For although in the sacrifices of the law, there was a revival of the greatest and most fundamental principle of the law of natureóthat God is to be worshiped with our bestóyet the principal end and use of them was to represent this translation of punishment from the offender to another who was to be a sacrifice in his stead.

The reasons of the equity of this, and the unspeakable glory of Christ in it, is what we now inquire into. I shall reduce what ought to be spoken concerning it to the ensuing heads:

1. It is not contrary to the nature of divine justice, nor does it interfere with the principles of natural light in man, that in sundry cases some persons should suffer punishment for the sins and offenses of others.

I shall at present give this assertion no other confirmation but only that God has often done so, who will, who can, do no iniquity.

He affirms that He does (Exod. 20:5): "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." It is no exception of weight that they also are sinners, continuing in their fathersí sins; for the worst of sinners must not be dealt with unjustly; but they must be so if they are punished for their fathersí sins, and it be absolutely unlawful that anyone should be punished for the sin of another.

So the Church affirms, "Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their inquities" (Lam. 5:7). And so it was; for in the Babylonish captivity God punished the sins of their forefathers, especially those committed in the days of Manasseh (II Kings 23:26,27); as afterward, in the final destruction of that Church and nation, God punished in them the guilt of all bloody persecutions from the beginning of the world (Luke 11:50,51).

So Canaan was cursed for the sin of his father (Gen. 9:25). Saulís seven sons were put to death for their fatherís bloody cruelty (II Sam. 21:9,14). For the sin of David, seventy thousand of the people were destroyed by an angel, concerning whom he said, "It is I that have sinned and done evil; these sheep, what have they done?" (II Sam. 24:15ó17; see also I Kings 21:29). So was it with all the children or infants that perished in the Flood, or in the conflagration of Sodom and Gomorrah. And other instances of the like nature may be mentioned.

It is therefore evident that there is no inconsistency with the nature of divine justice, nor the rules of reason among men, that in sundry cases the sins of some may be punished on others.

2. It is to be observed that this administration of justice is not promiscuous. It is not that any person whatever may be punished for the sins of any others. There is always a special cause and reason of itóa peculiar conjunction between those who sin and those who are punished for their sins. And two things belong to this conjunction: 1) special relation; 2) special mutual interest.

a) There is a special relation required for this translation of punishment, such as that between parents and children, as in most of the instances before given; or between a king and subjects, as in the case of David. Hereby the persons sinning and those suffering are constituted one body, wherein if one member offend, another may justly suffer; the back may answer for what the hand takes away.

b) It consists in mutual interest. Those whose sins are punished in others have such an interest in them that their being so is a punishment to themselves. Therefore are such sinners threatened with the punishment and evils that shall befall their posterity or children for their sakes; which is highly penal to themselves (Num. 14:33), "Your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms." The punishment due to their sins is in part transferred to their children; and therein did the sting of their own punishment also consist.

3. There is a greater, a more intimate conjunction, a nearer relation, a higher mutual interest between Christ and the Church, than ever was or can be between any other persons or relations in the world. Therefore, it became just and equal in the sight of God that He should suffer for us, and that what He did and suffered should be imputed to us; which will be cleared later in this book.

There neither is nor can be any more than a threefold conjunction between divers distinct persons. The first is natural; the second is moral, to which I refer that which is spiritual or mystical; and the third federal, by virtue of mutual compact. In all these ways is Christ in conjunction with His Church, and in every one of them in a way singular and peculiar.

1. The first conjunction of distinct persons is natural. God has made all mankind "of one blood" (Acts 17 :26), whereby there is a cognation and alliance between them all. Hence every man is every manís brother or neighbor, unto whom lovingkindness is to be showed (Luke 10:36). And this conjunction was between Christ and the Church, as the apostle declares (Heb. 2:14,15), "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Hence "both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one" (v. 11). His infinite condescension, in coming into this communion and conjunction of nature with us, was before declared; but it is not common, like that between all other men who are partakers of the same nature. There are two things wherein it was peculiar and eminent.

a) This conjunction between Him and the Church did not arise from a necessity of nature, but from a voluntary act of His will. The conjunction that is between all others is necessary. Every man is every manís brother, whether he will or no, by being a man. Natural generation, communicating to everyone his subsistence in the same nature, prevents all acts of their own will and choice. With the Lord Christ it was otherwise, as the text affirms. For such reasons as are there expressed, He did, by an act of His own will, partake of flesh and blood, or came into this conjunction with us. He did it of His own choice, because the children did partake of the same. He would be what the children were. Wherefore the conjunction of Christ in human nature with the Church is ineffably distinct from that common conjunction which is among all others in the same nature. And, therefore, although it should not be meet among mere men that one should act and suffer in the stead of others, because they are all thus related to one another, as it were, whether they will or no; yet this could not reach the Lord Christ who, in a strange and wonderful manner, came into this conjunction by a mere act of His own.

b) He came into it on this design and for this end only that in our nature, taken to be His own, He might do and suffer what was to be done and suffered for the Church; so it is added in the text, "That by death he might destroy him who had the power of death; and deliver them who through fear of death were subject to bondage (Heb. 2:15). This was the only end of His conjunction in nature with the Church; and this puts the case between Him and it at a vast distance from what is or may be between other men.

It is a foolish thing to argue that because a mere participation of the same nature among men is not sufficient to warrant the righteousness of punishing one for another, therefore the conjunction in the same nature between Christ and the Church is not a sufficient and just foundation of His suffering for us and in our stead. For, by an act of His own will and choice, He partook of our nature, and that for this very end that therein He might suffer for us, as the Holy Ghost expressly declares. Among others there neither is nor can be anything of this nature, and so no objection from what is equal or unequal among them can arise against what is equal between Christ and the Church. And herein is He glorious and precious to them that believe, as we shall see immediately.

2. There is a mystical conjunction between Christ and the Church. This answers all the most strict, real, or moral unions or conjunctions between other persons or things. Such is the conjunction between the head of a body and its members, or the tree of the vine and its branches, which are real; or between a husband and wife, which is moral and real also. That there is such a conjunction between Christ and His Church the Scripture plentifully declares, as also that it is the foundation of the equity of His suffering in its stead. So speaks the apostle (Eph. 5:25ó32), "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." Being the Head and Husband of the Church, which was to be sanctified and saved, and could not be so except by His blood and sufferings, He was both meet so to suffer and it was righteous also that what He did and suffered should be imputed to them for whom He both did it and suffered.

Let the adversaries of the glory of Christ assign any one instance of such a union between any among mankind, as is between Christ and the Church, and they may give some countenance to their cavils against His obedience and sufferings in our stead, with the imputation of what He did and suffered to us. But the glory of Christ is singular in this, and as such it appears to them by whom the mystery of it is, in any measure, spiritually apprehended.

But yet it will be said, that this mystical conjunction of Christ with His Church followed what He did and suffered for it; for it results in the conversion of men to Him. For it is by faith that we are implanted into Him. Until that be actually wrought in us, we have no mystical conjunction with Him. He is not a head or a husband to unregenerate, unsanctified unbelievers, while they continue so to be; and such was the state of the whole Church when Christ suffered for us (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:5). There was, therefore, no such mystical conjunction between Him and the Church as to render it meet and equal that He should suffer in its stead. Wherefore the Church is the effect of the work of redemption, that which rose out of it, which was constituted by it; and so cannot be the object of it as if it were redeemed by virtue of a previous union with it. I answer,

a) Although this mystical union is not actually consummated without an actual participation of the Spirit of Christ, yet the Church of the elect was designed prior to all His sufferings to be His Spouse and Wife, so that He might love her and suffer for her; so it is said (Hos. 12:12), "Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep." Howbeit she was not his married wife until after he had served for her, and thereby purchased her to be his wife; yet as he served for her she is called his wife, because of his love to her, and because she was so designed to be upon his service. So was the Church designed to be the Spouse of Christ in the counsel of God; whereon He loved her and gave Himself for her.

Hence, in the work of redemption, the Church was the object of it, as designed to be the Spouse of Christ; and the effect of it, inasmuch as it was made meet for the full consummation of that alliance (Eph. 5:25ó27).

b) Prior to all that the Lord Christ did and suffered for the Church, there was a supreme act of the will of God the Father, giving all the elect to Him, entrusting them with Him to be redeemed, sanctified, and saved; as He Himself declares (John 17:6,9; 10:14ó16). And on these grounds this mystical union between Christ and the Church has its virtue and efficacy before it was actually consummated.

3. There is a federal union between distinct persons. As this is various, according to the variety of the interests and ends of them that enter into it; so that is most eminent where one, by the common consent of all that are concerned, undertakes to be a sponsor or surety for others, to do and answer what is required of them for attaining the ends of the covenant. So did the Lord Christ undertake to be surety of the new covenant in behalf of the Church (Heb. 7:22), and thereon tendered Himself to God to do and suffer for them in their stead whatever was required, that they might be sanctified and saved. These things I have treated of at large elsewhere, as containing a great part of the mystery of the wisdom of God in the salvation of the Church. Here, therefore, I only observe that by this is the mystical conjunction between Christ and the Church, in which it was meet, just, and equal in the sight of God that what He did and suffered should be imputed to us, is completed.

These are some of the foundations of that mystery of transmitting the sins of the Church, as to the guilt and punishment of them, from the sinners themselves to Another, every way innocent, pure, and righteous in Himself, which is the life, soul, and center of all Scripture revelations. And herein is He exceedingly glorious and precious to them that believe. No heart can conceive, no tongue can express the glory of Christ in this. Now, because His infinite condescension and love have been spoken to before, I shall here only instance its greatness in some of its effects.

First, it shines forth in the exaltation of the righteousness of God in the forgiveness of sins. There is no more adequate conception of the divine nature than that of justice in rule and government. It belongs to Godís justice to punish sin according to its desert; and in this consisted the first actings of God as the governor of the rational creation. Godís justice acted in the eternal punishment of the angels that sinned, and the casting of Adam out of paradiseóan emblem also of everlasting ruin. Now, all the Church, all the elect of God, are sinners; they were so in Adam, they have been and are so in themselves. What becomes the justice of God to do in this case? Shall it dismiss them all unpunished? Where, then, is that justice which spared not the angels who sinned, nor Adam at the first? Would this procedure be in harmony with itóbe reconcilable to it? Wherefore the establishment of the righteousness of God on the one hand, and the forgiveness of sin on the other, seem so contradictory that many stumble and fall at it eternally. (See Rom. 10:3,4.)

But in this interposition of Christ, in this translation of punishment from the Church to Him by virtue of His union with it, there is a blessed harmony between the righteousness of God and the forgiveness of sins, the exemplification of which is His eternal glory. "O blessed change! O sweet permutation!" as Justin Martyr speaks.

By virtue of His union with the Church, which of His own accord He entered into, and His undertaking therein to answer for it in the sight of God, it was a righteous thing with God to lay the punishment of all our sins upon Him so that He might freely and graciously pardon them all, to the honor and exaltation of His justice as well as of His grace and mercy (Rom. 3:24ó26).

Herein is He glorious in the sight of God, angels, and men. In Him there is at the same time, in the same divine actions, a glorious resplendency of justice and mercy, of the one in punishing, of the other in pardoning. The apparent inconsistency between the righteousness of God and the salvation of sinners, wherewith the consciences of convinced persons are exercised and terrified and which is the rock on which most of them split themselves into eternal ruin, is herein removed and taken away. In His cross were divine holiness and vindictive justice exercised and manifested; and through His triumph, grace and mercy are exerted to the utmost.

This is that glory which ravishes the hearts and satiates the souls of those that believe. For what can they desire more, what is farther needful to the rest and composure of their souls, than at one view to behold God eternally well pleased in the declaration of His righteousness and the exercise of His mercy, in order to their salvation? In due apprehensions of it let my soul live; in the faith of it let me die, and let present admiration of this glory make way for the eternal enjoyment of it in its beauty and fullness.

Second, He is glorious in that the obedience which the law required was perfectly fulfilled and accomplished. That it should be so was absolutely necessary from the wisdom, holiness, and righteousness of Him by whom it was given. For what could be more remote from those divine perfections than to give a law which never was to be fulfilled in them to whom it was given, and who were to have the advantages of it? This could not be done by us; but through the obedience of Christ, by virtue of this His union with the Church, the law was so fulfilled in us by being fulfilled for us that the glory of God in the giving of it and annexing eternal rewards to it is exceedingly exalted. (See Rom. 8:3,4.)

This is that glory of Christ of which one view by faith will scatter all the fears, answer all the objections, and give relief against all the despondencies of poor, tempted, doubting souls; and it will be an anchor to all believers which they may cast within the veil, to hold them firm and steadfast in all trials, storms, and temptations in life and death.




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