As many of you know, on Fridays I am required to attend a Clinical Pastoral Education course. People talk about their feelings. A lot. Sometimes there are tears. To be honest I’m not a huge fan (but I am learning stuff). However, there is one aspect of Fridays that I look forward to. A friend of mine (a great guy who took over running Christianity Explored from me at St John’s, and who, might I add, instigated this), meet up for an hour to drink beer and chat about John Owen. I imagine it's a bit like coming out of purgatory into glory (if you're into that sort of thi. We’re reading through Christologia, and I thought that given we’re spending a fair amount of time reading it and thinking about it, it would be worth letting you know what the great one has to say.
Goold (Owen’s editor) states that Owen’s purpose is to ‘illustrate the mystery of divine grace in the person of Christ’ (Works, 1:2). Owen himself states that his purpose is to ‘plead and vindicate’ the ‘eternal truth of God concerning the mystery of his wisdom, love, grace, and power, in the person and mediation of Christ, with our duties towards himself therein’. (Works, 1:5).
Owen writes extensively in the prologue setting out what he is going to do, as well as reminding readers about the historical (i.e., first four centuries) opposition to Christ. I’ve taken some notes but can’t find them right now, so let’s get to the meat of it.
In chapter one Owen starts with addressing Peter’s confession of Christ in Matthew 16:16. Owen sees that Peter’s confession contains the heart of the Christian faith – it identifies that Jesus is both God and man, and also contains his offices towards the church. I’ve already commented on Owen’s insightful point that it isn’t an inability to understand that puts people in danger, but adding or subtracting things to this confession.
A number of points that Owen identifies about Peter’s confession of faith. First, it comes about by revelation, and it brings blessing. Second, and contrary to Roman Catholicism, it is not Peter but Christ who is the foundation of faith. Owen lists four reasons – one exegetical, one on the humanity of Peter (cf. Hebrews 7:8, 23-24), one on the basis of the Old Testament only ever referring to one rock (and Jesus clearly being that rock from elsewhere in the NT), and the last showing that if indeed Peter was the rock, look how he was treated by Jesus only a few verses later ‘get behind me Satan’.
Owen then turns to a positive statement regarding Peter’s confession, which essentially sets out where he is going to go over the next few chapters. First, the person of the Christ, the Son of God, as vested with his offices, is the foundation upon which the church is built. Second, the church will always be opposed. But, third, this opposition will never prevail.
Finally, Owen stresses the nature of the foundation – it is both real and doctrinal. By real, he picks up on Calvin’s idea of a mystical union. We are really united to the rock by faith and our life comes from him. And by doctrinal Owen means ‘that the faith or doctrine concerning him and his offices is that divine truth which in a peculiar manner animates and constitutes the Church of the New Testament: Eph. ii. 19:22’ (Works, 1:34).
Who and what we are as Christians, as the church, is grounded in who and what Christ is to us. Him we confess, him we are united to, and upon him the church is built.