Thursday, 24 July 2008

Christologia - Chapter 3 (pt 2). The Glory of Christ

In the second half of this chapter, Owen turns to the place of faith in relation to the glory of God in Jesus. Faith, says Owen, is more excellent than any of the other powers of the soul, because it 'receives, assents unto, and rests in, things in their own nature absolutely incomprehensible', that is, the union of man and God in Jesus, and , as we shall see, that death of Jesus for us.

Owen goes so far as to say that:
...the more sublime and glorious - the more inaccessible unto sense and reason - the things are which we believe; the more are we changed into the image of God.

Owen isn't, I don't think, saying that if we believe really crazy things we'll be transformed into the image of God, but rather that things revealed, which are beyond sense and reason (a man rising from the dead, the union of God and man in one person, the substitution of the innocent for the guilty, etc.), when believed, is that which transforms us. The exercise of faith does something to the believer:
Hence we find this most glorious effect of faith, or the transformation of the mind into the likeness of God...

Even those whose 'comprehensive abilities are weak and contemptible' are able to respond to God in faith, and by doing so are transformed into the likeness of Christ. Faith in Christ is for all, regardless of academic standing or cognitive ability.

Some however, observes Owen, disagree, saying that things should only be believed if they 'be obvious and comprehensible unto our reason'. Such an approach arises from our own pride, is an 'invention to debase religion; and is designed to destroy the 'principal' mysteries of the Gospel' - the trinity and the incarnation. You can't help but get the sense that Owen is here saying that you're much better off with 'weak and contemptible' 'comprehensive abilities' if the alternative is to reject faith on the basis of 'reason'.

Yes, says Owen, things should be believed if they are reasonable - particularly in the areas of philosophy, etc. But it is a different matter for 'spiritual and heavenly mysteries'. In these areas only faith is the appropriate instrument of appropriation, and those without faith reject them - the reason people don't believe is because they don't have faith (2 Thes 3:2). By faith, says Owen, we receive these mysteries, and
...where this faith is, the greatness of the mysteries which it embraceth heightens its efficacy, in all its blessed effects, upon the soul.

Faith breeds faith. Faith strengthens faith. Faith grasps the glory of the person of Christ (2 Cor 4:6) as revealed in the gospel, and we behold his glory by faith alone.
And those whose view [of Jesus] is steadfast, who most abound in the contemplation by the exercise of faith, are thereby "changed into the same image, from glory to glory" - or are more and more renewed and transformed into the likeness of God, so represented unto them.

Ultimately, notes Owen, we will have sight (1 John 3:2) - 'faith begins what sight shall perfect hereafter'. But while faith and sight are different means, their object is the same - the glory of God in Christ - the 'will and wisdom of God'. Faith, Owen seems to be saying, is preparation (he speaks of it as an inititation) for sight - it raises and perfects the mind more than any other spiritual exercise.

Owen then appears to change tack very sharply - not a untypical things for him to do - although I think he is developing a tangent which still relates to faith. Christ, notes Owen, is the foundation and grounds of divine wisdom, and therefore is the only place 'wherein alone faith can find rest and peace.' For that is what we long for - rest and peace - Owen ties this rest and peace in with salvation in the words of the Philippian jailer. Only in Christ is there oblation and intercession for sinners, and Christ's death is the death of God himself for us. When we are reminded of our salvation, observes Owen, it is the person of Jesus that we are pointed to - 1 John 2:1-2 'If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins'. Owen points us to the fact that is the person of Jesus Christ who has died for us - our faith is faith in him, because he has provided the sacrifice we require.

Owen rounds out the chapter by showing his readers how faith actually does give rest and peace. Starting with the realisation that we are sinners, and by God's work in us, (is this, possibly, the beginning of faith breeding faith?) we realise that we require relief from this sin and its consequences. This relief, says Owen, is proposed in the gospel. But:
When any person comes practically to know how great a thing it is for an apostate sinner to obtain the remission of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified, endless objections through the power of unbelief will arise unto his disquietment.

And it is at this point, says Owen, that faith comes into its own. For faith in Christ, in what he has done, in him as the wisdom and goodness of God in our salvation, is the only thing which can give rest and peace and comfort:
On this consideration of him, faith apprehends Christ to be - as he is indeed - the power of God, and the wisdom of God, unto the salvation of them that do believe; and therein does it find rest with peace.

Owen's work is always hard going, but in the space of four pages, he takes us on a wonderful journey as to the efficacy and aptness of faith in Christ. Faith transforms us into the image of Christ (although I hope Owen will go on to explore more how this is the case). Faith is the right response to revelation; it prepares us for the sight we will have when we are with God in glory, for the object of faith and sight are the same. And faith is the only thing suited to our greatest concern - how might we be saved - how might we find rest and peace before God. For faith fixes our eyes upon Jesus, the wisdom and goodness and power of God for the salvation of all who believe. I hope you saw, too, the way in which Owen moved from theology to pastoral care. His concern is not just to say that Jesus is great, or that faith is important, but to show his readers how these truths affect them in their walk with Christ. Faith in Christ is glorious because it is faith in Christ. Because Christ is glorious, because what he has done for us and for our salvation is glorious.

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