Owen has the reputation of not being easy to read. Therefore I approached this first volume of his collected works of 16 with some degree of trepidation. I need not have feared! Apart from the occasional untranslated bits of Latin and at times the somewhat dated and prosaic language, the fact is that this is a beautiful book – not to be skimmed over, but just read and digested slowly as one would digest the most gorgeous of food.
You could quite easily skip the first part – the life of Dr Owen by Thomson- especially if you already know about his life. But I found it fascinating. It was interesting to learn that he suffered from depression, but not surprising when you discover that ten of his eleven children died in infancy!
I also loved this bit of information.
“ For several years of his university curriculum he allowed himself only four hours of the night for sleep, though he had the wisdom so far to counteract the injurious influences of sedentary habits and excessive mental toil, by having recourse to bodily recreation in some of its most robust and even violent forms. Leaping, throwing the bar, bellringing, and similar amusements, occasionally lured him from his books; and it may perhaps surprise some, who conceive of the men of that age as unsocial and unfriendly to all the lighter graces and accomplishments, to learn that Owen received lessons in music from Dr Thomas Wilson, a celebrated performer on the flute, and the favourite preceptor in the same elegant and delightful art of Charles I.” (Page XX1V)
There is also this well known anecdote:
““ the King is reported to have asked Owen, on one occasion, how a learned man like him could go to hear a Tinker prate; to which the great theologian answered, “May it please your Majesty, could I possess the tinkers abilities for preaching, I would willingly relinquish all my learning.” (Page XCII)
I even found one error in a Banner book! On page LIII there is a mistake in the date. It should be 1553 and not 1563. Do I win the prize?
The two short catechisms at the end were not particularly useful – but ‘The declaration of the glorious mystery of the person of Christ” and the “Meditations and discourses on the glory of Christ.” were stunning. They fed my soul, challenged me, and gave me Christ. I regard John Flavell as my pastor, but after reading this first volume I suspect that Owen is going to give him a run for his money!
Rather than go through each chapter let me just share with you some of the gems that I found in this field full of diamonds!
On the Incarnation
Irenaeus – “Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who, from his own infinite love, was made what we are, that he might make us what he is;” (p.26)
“ It were easy also to demonstrate that Mohammedanism, which has been so sore a stroke unto the Christian profession, is nothing but a concurrence and combination of these two ways, of force and fraud, in opposition to the person of Christ.” (p.41)
The Design of the Gospel
“And this is the principal design of the gospel. It is the declaration, as of the grace of God the Father, so of the love, grace, goodness, and compassion of the Son, in undertaking from everlasting the accomplishment of God’s counsels, in the salvation of the church.” (P 56)
Nominal Knowledge of the Bible
“Men profess they know the truth; but they know it not in its proper order, in its harmony and use. It leads them not to Christ, it brings not Christ unto them; and so is lifeless and useless. Hence, oft-times, none are more estranged in the life of God than such as have much notional knowledge of the doctrines of the Scripture.” (P 84)
The Importance of the Infallibility of the Bible
“And it must be infallible also. For this divine truth whereof we treat, being concerning things unseen – heavenly, eternal mysteries, transcending the reach of human reason – nothing but the absolute infallibility of the revealer can bring the mind of man to assurance and acquiescence.” (Page 94)
The Dying Church
“That which was faith truly spiritual and evangelical in their first planting, becomes a lifeless opinion in succeeding ages. The same truths are still professed, but that profession springs not from the same causes, nor does it produce the same effects in the hearts and lives of men. Hence, in process of time, some churches continue to have an appearance of the same body which they were at first, but – being examined – are like a lifeless, breathless carcase, wherein the animating Spirit of grace does not dwell. And then is any church, as it was with that of the Jews, nigh to destruction, when it corrupts formerly professed truths, to accommodate them unto the present lusts and inclinations of men.” (P103)
On Trouble in the Christian Life
“A time of trouble is a time of the special exercise of faith in Christ.” (P114)
On Knowing Christ through the Bible
“The clear revelation of the person of Christ, so as to render him the direct object of our love, with the causes and reasons of it, is one of the most eminent privileges of the New Testament.” (Page 148)
“This is the foundation of our love unto Christ – namely, the revelation and proposal of him unto us in the Scripture as altogether lovely.” (P. 160)
“They know nothing of the life and power of the gospel, nothing of the reality of the grace of God, nor do they believe aright one article of the Christian faith, whose hearts are not sensible of the love of Christ herein; nor is he sensible of the love of Christ, whose affections are not there and drawn out unto him.” (P167)
Christian Character the best Witness
“One Christian who is meek, humble, kind, patient, and useful unto all; that condescends to the ignorance, weaknesses and infirmities of others; that passes by provocations, injuries, contempt, with patience and with silence, unless where the glory and truth of God call for a just vindication; that pities all sorts of men in their failings and miscarriages, who is free from jealousies and evil surmises; that loves what is good in all men, and all men even wherein they are not good, nor do good, – Does more express the virtues and excellencies of Christ than thousands can do with the most magnificent works of piety or charity where this frame is wanting in them. For men to pretend to follow the example of Christ, and in the meantime to be proud, wrathful, envious, bitterly zealous, calling for fire from heaven to destroy men, or fetching at themselves from hell, is to cry “hail unto him,” and to crucify him afresh onto their power.” (P176)
The Foundation of Christianity
“This is the original glory of Christ, given him by his father, and which by faith we may behold. He, and he alone, declares, represents, and makes known, unto angels and men, the essential glory of the invisible God, his attributes and his will; without which, a perpetual comparative darkness would have been on the whole creation, especially that part of it here below. This is the foundation of our religion, the Rock whereon the church is built, the ground of all our hopes of salvation, of life and immortality: all is resolved into this, – namely, the representation that is made of the nature and will of God in the person and office of Christ. If this fail us, we are lost forever; if this rock stand firm, the church is safe here, and shall be triumphant hereafter.” (P 294)
On ‘Liberal’ views of Christ
“There are some who regard not these things at all, but rather despise them. They never entertain any serious thoughts of obtaining a view of the glory of God in Christ, – which is to be unbelievers. They look on him as a teacher that came forth from God to reveal his will, and to teach us his worship; and so indeed he was. But this they say was the sole use of his purpose in religion, – which is Mohammedanism” (P.302)
On Legalistic views of Christ
“It is to be feared that there are some who profess religion with an appearance of strictness, who never separate themselves from all other occasions, to meditate on Christ and his glory; and yet, with a strange inconsistency of apprehensions, they will profess that they desire nothing more than to behold his glory in heaven for ever.” (Page 317)
Meditating on Christ
“Let your occasional thoughts of Christ be many, and multiplied every day.” (Page 317)
“Moreover, be not contented to have right notions of the love of Christ in your minds, unless you can attain a gracious taste of it in your hearts; no more than you would be to see a feast or banquet richly prepared, and partake of nothing of it unto your refreshment. It is of that nature that we may have a spiritual sensation of it in our minds; whence it is compared by the spouse to apples and flagons of wine. We may taste that the Lord is gracious; and if we find not a relish of it in our hearts, we shall not long retain the notion of it in our minds. Christ is the meat, the bread, the food of our souls. Nothing is in him of a higher spiritual nourishment than his love, which we should always desire. In this love is he glorious; for it is such as no creatures, angels or men, could have the least conceptions of, before its manifestation by its effects; and after its manifestation, it is in this world absolutely incomprehensible”. (Page 338)
“He unto whom prayer was made, prayed himself night and day. He whom all the angels of heaven and all creatures worship, was continually conversant in all the duties of the worship of God.” (P340)
Longing for Heaven
“The more we grow in faith and spiritual light, the more sensible are we of our present burdens, and the more vehemently do we groan for deliverance into the perfect liberty of the sons of God. This is the posture of their minds who have received the first fruits of the Spirit in the most eminent degree. The nearer anyone is to heaven, the more earnestly he desires to be there, because Christ is there.” (Page 384)
On Communion with Christ
“But there is no more sacred truth than this, that where Christ is present with believers, – where he is not withdrawn for a season from them, where they live in the view of his glory by faith as it is proposed unto them in the gospel, – he will give unto them, at his own seasons, such intimations of his love, such supplies of his Spirit, such holy joys and rejoicings, such repose of soul in assurance, as shall refresh their souls, fill them with joy, satisfy them with spiritual delight, and quicken them unto all acts of holy communion with himself.” (Page 399)
On the Sin of Unbelief
“There is more glory given unto God by coming unto Christ in believing, than in keeping the whole law; inasmuch as he has more eminently manifested the holy properties of his nature in the way of salvation by Christ, than in giving of the law. There is therefore no man who under gospel invitations, refuses to come and to close with Christ by believing, but secretly, through the power of darkness, blindness, and unbelief, he hates God, dislikes all his ways, would not have his glory exulted or manifested, choosing rather to die in enmity against him than to give glory to him. Do not deceive yourselves; it is not an indifferent thing whether you will come in unto Christ upon his invitations or no, – a thing that you may put off from one season unto another: your present refusal of it is as high an act of enmity against God as your nature is capable of.” (Page 44)
On Loss of Spiritual Appetite
“We hear the word preached as much as ever; but do we do it with the same desire and spiritual relish as before? Some hear to satisfy their convictions, some to please their fancies, and some to judge of the persons by whom it is dispensed. It is but in few that the necessary preparation for the due receiving of it is found. When men grow in age they lose much of their spiritual appetite for food. They must eat still for the maintenance of life; but they do not do it with that desire after it, and that gust in it, as in the days of youth and health. Hence they are apt to think that the meat which they had formally was more savoury than what is now provided for them; though what they now enjoy is much to be preferred before what they then had. The change is in themselves. So we may find not a few professors, who are ready to think and say that the preaching which they had in former days, and the religious exercises which they were engaged in, were far to be preferred above what they now enjoy. But the change is in themselves; they have lost their spiritual appetite, or their hunger and thirst after the food of their souls.” (Page 450)
“Let us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and virtue will proceed from him to repair all our decays, to renew a right spirit within us, and cause us to abound in all duties of obedience.” (Page 460)
15 more volumes to follow!