The prior post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/of-communion-with-the-father-son-and-holy-spirit-digression-2a/
Owen’s second digression concerns three elements of wisdom:
The sum of all true wisdom and knowledge may be reduced to these three heads: —
1. The knowledge of God, his nature and his properties.
2. The knowledge of ourselves in reference to the will of God concerning us.
3. Skill to walk in communion with God: —
The knowledge of God being addressed in the previous post, we most to the knowledge of ourselves, which Owen breaks down into three elements which he takes form John 16:8: Our Savior sends his Spirit to convince the world of, — even “sin, righteousness, and judgement,” John 16:8.
Knowledge of Sin
Scripture affirms that all human beings have some sense of law (Romans 2:14-15, “15. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”). All cultures show some sense of divine sanction and law.
This understanding of sin may be improved by teaching of God’s law. Yet, however, much training one may receive, such training alone will never be sufficient to give sufficient understanding of sin.
In Christ we see two things plainly (1) the true nature of sin, and (2) salvation from the judgment due for sin.
How Christ Shows the True Nature of Sin:
First, Christ shows what sin deserves. We see this first in who was punished for sin. That the justice of God could be propitiated by nothing than the death of Christ demonstrates the extraordinary guilt and evil of sin. Christ’s death also demonstrates the sinfulness of sin in the punishment suffered by sin:
Would you, then, see the true demerit of sin? — take the measure of it from the mediation of Christ, especially his cross. It brought him who was the Son of God, equal unto God, God blessed for ever, into the form of a (Philippians 2:8) servant, who had not where to lay his head. It pursued him all his life with afflictions and persecutions; and lastly brought him under the rod of God; there bruised him and brake him, — (1 Corinthians 2:7) slew the Lord of life. Hence is deep humiliation for it, upon the account of him whom we (Zechariah 12:10.) have pierced. And this is the first spiritual view of sin we have in Christ.
Second, the atonement of Christ demonstrates our inability to save ourselves.
No sacrifice could suffice to make atonement:
Romans 3:24-26, by setting forth his only Son “to be a propitiation,” he leaves no doubt upon the spirits of men that in themselves they could make no atonement; for “if righteousness were by the law, then were Christ dead in vain.” To what purpose should he be made a propitiation, were not we ourselves weak and without strength to any such purpose? So the apostle argues, Romans 5:6, when we had no power, then did he by death make an atonement; as verses 8, 9.
An implication of Owen’s argument was raised in a recent essay on the Gospel Coalition website:
If Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and all the other world religions are true paths to God, then why did God kill his Son, Jesus, in order to make a way for men to come to him? The very notion is absurd and insulting to God. It paints a portrait of a God who is just plain cruel. He sent Jesus into the world to live a miserable life of scorn, rejection, poverty, betrayal, humiliation, sorrow, and ultimately, torture and death, in order to create a path whereby men can come to know him. Yet all the while he knew that following the Five Pillars of Islam or the Noble Eight-fold Path could accomplish the same thing. What a waste! Jesus’ life—God’s plan of salvation— is completely in vain, for the same result could be achieved by simply adhering to the tenets of any world religion. God is not only cruel but also incompetent for putting into effect the worst salvation plan possible.
It also demonstrates our inability to render the obedience due God under the law:
Our disability to answer the mind and will of God, in all or any of the obedience that he requireth, is in him only to be discovered. This, indeed, is a thing that many will not be acquainted with to this day. To teach a man that he cannot do what he ought to do, and for which he condemns himself if he do it not, is no easy task.
Since teaching human beings their inability to render obedience sufficient to satisfy God is no easy thing, we must look to the cross to see this truth:
The law can bring forth no righteousness, no obedience; it is weak to any such purpose, by reason of the flesh, and that corruption that is come on us. These two things are done in Christ, and by him: — First, Sin is condemned as to its guilt, and we set free from that; the righteousness of the law by his obedience is fulfilled in us, who could never do it ourselves. And, secondly, That obedience which is required of us, his Spirit works it in us. So that that perfection of obedience which we have in him is imputed to us; and the sincerity that we have in obedience is from his Spirit bestowed on us. And this is the most excellent glass, wherein we see our impotency; for what need we his perfect obedience to be made ours, but that we have not, can not attain any? what need we his Spirit of life to quicken us, but that we are dead in trespasses and sins?
Third, Christ’s cross also demonstrates the death of sin. Owen notes that one can see the killing effects of sin without the need of seeing Christ’s death on the cross. But it is only by means of Christ’s cross that one can learn dying to sin:
Sin is a thing that of itself is not apt to die or to decay, but to get ground, and strength, and life, in the subject wherein it is, to eternity; prevent all its actual eruptions, yet its original enmity against God will still grow. In believers it is still dying and decaying, until it be utterly abolished. The opening of this treasury [mystery] you have, Romans 6:3-6, etc.
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”
This is the design of the apostle in the beginning of that chapter, not only to manifest whence is the principle and rise of our mortification and the death of sin, even from the death and blood of Christ; but also the manner of sin’s continuance and dying in us, from the manner of Christ’s dying for sin. He was crucified for us, and thereby sin was crucified in us; he died for us, and the body of sin is destroyed, that we should not serve sin; and as he was raised from the dead, that death should not have dominion over him, so also are we raised from sin, that it should not have dominion over us. This wisdom is hid in Christ only
Fourth, There is a glorious end whereunto sin is appointed and ordained, and discovered in Christ. Sin itself tends only to the destruction of human beings, their condemnation, death and hell. Yet, in Christ, something new is seen. The law can only condemn. But in Christ, God manifests forgiveness and mercy:
In the Lord Jesus there is the manifestation of another and more glorious end; to wit, the praise of God’s glorious (Ephesians 1:6.) grace in the pardon and forgiveness of it; — God having taken order in Christ that that thing which tended merely to his dishonor should be managed to his infinite glory, and that which of all things he desireth to exalt, — even that he may be known and believed to be a (Hebrews 8:6-13.) “God pardoning iniquity, transgression and sin.”
Next we will look to the second aspect of knowledge of ourselves brought by the Spirit and mentioned in John 16:8:
7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.