The previous post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/of-communion-with-the-father-son-and-holy-spirit-digression-1c-v-shame/
In 1 Corinthians 1:24, Paul writes that Christ is both the power and the wisdom of God. In the second digression, Owen unpacks the phrase “the wisdom of God”. First, he lays out the potential scope of meaning:
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: —
I. What one may know of God
A. Knowledge of God in Creation: Creation itself, prior to Fall displayed attributes of God’s power and goodness; but without sin, there would have been no time for God to display longsuffering patience or endurance.
B. Knowledge of God in Christ: Yet, even if God had patience with humanity for aeons, there would still be aspects of God’s character which could not be known by in and through Christ. Of these Owen sets out two: (1) love & (2) pardoning mercy.
By “love” Owen intends a very specific application:
Love; I mean love unto sinners. Without this, man is of all creatures most miserable; and there is not the least glimpse of it that can possibly be discovered but in Christ. The Holy Ghost says, 1 John 4:8,16, “God is love;” that is, not only of a loving and tender nature, but one that will exercise himself in a dispensation of his love, eternal love, towards us, — one that has purposes of love for us from of old, and will fulfill them all towards us in due season. But how is this demonstrated? how may we attain an acquaintance with it? He tells us, verse 9, “In this was manifested the love of God, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” This is the only discovery that God has made of any such property in his nature, or of any thought of exercising it towards sinners, — in that he has sent Jesus Christ into the world, that we might live by him.
In addition to love, Owen marks the pardoning mercy of God in Christ: “Pardoning mercy, or grace. Without this, even his love would be fruitless.”
Pardoning mercy is God’s free, gracious acceptance of a sinner upon satisfaction made to his justice in the blood of Jesus; nor is any discovery of it, but as relating to the satisfaction of justice, consistent with the glory of God. It is a mercy of inconceivable condescension in forgiveness, tempered with exact justice and severity. Romans 3:25, God is said “to set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness in the remission of sins;” f58his righteousness is also manifested in the business of forgiveness of sins: and therefore it is everywhere said to be wholly in Christ, Ephesians 1:7. So that this gospel grace and pardoning mercy is alone purchased by him, and revealed in him.
C. Those things which are seen most clearly in Christ.
Owen notes another category of God’s properties which are known most clearly in Christ:
There are other properties of God which, though also otherwise discovered, yet are so clearly, eminently, and savingly only in Jesus Christ; as, —
[1.] His vindictive justice in punishing sin;
[2.] His patience, forbearance, and long-suffering towards sinners;
[3.] His wisdom, in managing things for his own glory;
[4.] His all-sufficiency, in himself and unto others. All these, though they may receive some lower and inferior manifestations out of Christ, yet they clearly shine only in him; so as that it may be our wisdom to be acquainted with them.
1. Vindicative justice. While evidence of God’s judgment exists outside of Christ, in the life and death of Christ we can see most clearly that judgment of sin could not be avoided. One think that God could simply forgive becasue he is merciful. But such an act of God would subvert his justice. In the passion of Christ we see the unavoidable demand of God’s justice. Owen refers to this as the “naturalness” of punishment due sin, “In him God has manifested the naturalness of this righteousness unto him, in that it was impossible that it should be diverted from sinners without the interposing of a propitiation.”
Moreover, in the death of Christ we see more plainly than elsewhere the depth of God’s judgment upon sin:
In the penalty inflicted on Christ for sin, this justice is far more gloriously manifested than otherwise. To see, indeed, a world, made (Genesis 3:17-19, 8:21; Romans 8:21, 22; 2 Peter 2:4-6, 3:6; Jude 1:6, 7) good and beautiful, wrapped up in wrath and curses, clothed with thorns and briers; to see the whole beautiful creation made subject to vanity, given up to the bondage of corruption; to hear it groan in pain under that burden; to consider legions of angels, most glorious and immortal creatures, cast down into hell, bound with chains of darkness, and reserved for a more dreadful judgement for one sin; to view the ocean of the blood of souls spilt to eternity on this account, — will give some insight into this thing. But what is all this to that view of it which may be had by a spiritual eye in the Lord Christ? All these things are worms, and of no value in comparison of him. To see him who is the (1 Corinthians 1:30) wisdom of God, and the power of God, always (Matthew 3:17) beloved of the Father; to see him, I say, fear, (Matthew 26:37, 38; Mark 14:33; Luke 22:43, 44; Hebrews 5:7; Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:33, 34; Isaiah 53:6) and tremble, and bow, and sweat, and pray, and die; to see him lifted up upon the cross, the earth trembling under him, as if unable to bear his weight; and the heavens darkened over him, as if shut against his cry; and himself hanging between both, as if refused by both; and all this because our sins did meet upon him.
2. His patience toward sinners. Certainly experiences teach that God does not immediately punish every and all sin. Yet, without a sight of God in Christ, how could we be certain of God patience? Christ demonstrates to us the basis of God’s dealing with the world:
In him the very nature of God is discovered to be love and kindness; and that he will exercise the same to sinners, he has promised, sworn, and solemnly engaged himself by covenant. And that we may not hesitate about the aim which he has herein, there is a stable bottom and foundation of acting suitably to those gracious properties of his nature held forth, — namely, the reconciliation and atonement that is made in the blood of Christ.
In this we see God’s kindness with an aim to save us:
That which lies hid in Christ, and is revealed from him, is full of love, sweetness, tenderness, kindness, grace. It is the Lord’s waiting to be gracious to sinners; waiting for an advantage to show love and kindness, for the most eminent endearing of a soul unto himself, Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you; and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you.” Neither is there any revelation of God that the soul finds more sweetness in than this. When it [one’s soul] is experimentally convinced that God from time to time has passed by many, innumerable iniquities, he is astonished to think that God should do so; and admires that he did not take the advantage of his provocations to cast him out of his presence. He finds that, with infinite wisdom, in all long-suffering, he has managed all his dispensations towards him to recover him from the power of the devil, to rebuke and chasten his spirit for sin, to endear him unto himself; — there is, I say, nothing of greater sweetness to the soul than this: and therefore the apostle says, Romans 3:25, that all is “through the forbearance of God.” God makes way for complete forgiveness of sins through this his forbearance; which the other does not. </blockquote.
3. The wisdom of God in managing all for his glory.
So, then, this also is hid in Christ, — the great and unspeakable riches of the wisdom of God, in pardoning sin, saving sinners, satisfying justice, fulfilling the law, repairing his own honor, and providing for us a more exceeding weight of glory; and all this out of such a condition as wherein it was impossible that it should enter into the hearts of angels or men how ever the glory of God should be repaired, and one sinning creature delivered from everlasting ruin. Hence it is said, that at the last day God “shall be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe,” 2 Thessalonians 1:10. It shall be an admirable thing, and God shall be for ever glorious in it, even in the bringing of believers to himself. To save sinners through believing, shall be found to be a far more admirable work than to create the world of nothing.
4. God’s self-sufficiency.
D. “There is no saving knowledge of any property of God, nor such as brings consolation, but what alone is to be had in Christ Jesus, being laid up in him, and manifested by him.” To know God outside of Christ is to know judgment. It is only in Christ that we can know the reconciliation of God’s justice and mercy:
This is to be received, that God has actually manifested the glory of all his attributes in a way of doing us good. What will it avail our souls, what comfort will it bring unto us, what endearment will it put upon our hearts unto God, to know that he is infinitely righteous, just, and holy, unchangeably true and faithful, if we know not how he may preserve the glory of his justice and faithfulness in his comminations and threatening, but only in one ruin and destruction? if we can from thence only say it is a righteous thing with him to recompense tribulation unto us for our iniquities? What fruit of this consideration had Adam in the garden? Genesis 3. What sweetness, what encouragement, is there in knowing that he is patient and full of forbearance, if the glory of these is to be exalted in enduring the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction? nay, what will it avail us to hear him proclaim himself “The LORD, The LORD God, (Exodus 34:6, 7) merciful and gracious, abundant in goodness and truth,” yet, withal, that he will “by no means clear the guilty,” so shutting up the exercise of all his other properties towards us, upon the account of our iniquity? Doubtless, not at all.
Moreover, it is only in Christ that we can know that God can but actually has reconciled justice and mercy.
It is then in covenant brought about by Christ that God does bring this reconciliation to bear in our relationship with Him:
There remaineth only, then, that these attributes of God, so manifested and exercised, are powerful and able to bring us to the everlasting fruition of him. To evince this, the Lord wraps up the whole covenant of grace in one promise, signifying no less: “I will be your God.” In the covenant, God becomes our God, and we are his people; and thereby all his attributes are ours also. And lest that we should doubt — when once our eyes are opened to see in any measure the inconceivable difficulty that is in this thing, what unimaginable obstacles on all hands there lie against us — that all is not enough to deliver and save us, God has, I say, wrapped it up in this expression, Genesis 17:1, “I am,” saith he, “God Almighty” (all- sufficient); — “I am wholly able to perform all my undertakings, and to be thy exceeding great reward. I can remove all difficulties, answer all objections, pardon all sins, conquer all opposition: I am God all-sufficient.” Now, you know in whom this covenant and all the promises thereof are ratified, and in whose blood it is confirmed, — to wit, in the Lord Christ alone; in him only is God an all-sufficient God to any, and an exceeding great reward. And hence Christ himself is said to “save to the uttermost them that come to God by him,” Hebrews 7. And these three things, I say, are required to be known, that we may have a saving acquaintance, and such as is attended with consolation, with any of the properties of God; and all these being hid only in Christ, from him alone it is to be obtained.