The Glory of Christ in his LoveJohn Owen (1616-1683) - One of the Greatest English Puritans
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“If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. Let this be one aspect of our daily intercession: ‘God, preserve my soul, and keep my heart and all its ways so that I will not be entangled.’ When this is true in our lives, a passing temptation will not overcome us. We will remain free while others lie in bondage.”
In the susception and discharge of the mediatory office by the Son of God, the Scripture doth most eminently represent,—
II. His LOVE, as the sole impelling and leading cause thereof, Gal 2:20; 1 John 3:16; Rev 1:5.
Herein is he glorious, in a way and manner incomprehensible; for in the glory of divine love the chief brightness of glory doth consist. There is nothing of dread or terror accompanying it,—nothing but what is amiable and infinitely refreshing. Now, that we may take a view of the glory of Christ herein by faith, the nature of it must be inquired into.
1. The eternal disposing cause of the whole work wherein the Lord Christ was engaged by the susception of this office, for the redemption and salvation of the church, is the love of the Father. Hereunto it is constantly ascribed in the Scripture. And this love of the Father acted itself in his eternal decrees, “before the foundation of the world,” Eph 1:4; and afterward in the sending of his Son to render it effectual, John 3:16. Originally, it is his eternal election of a portion of mankind to be brought unto the enjoyment of himself, through the mystery of the blood of Christ, and the sanctification of the Spirit, 2 Thess 2:13,16; Eph 1:4-9; 1 Pet 1:2.
This eternal act of the will of God the Father doth not contain in it an actual approbation of, and complacency in, the state and condition of those that are elected; but only designeth that for them on the account whereof they shall be accepted and approved. And it is called his love on sundry accounts.
(1.) Because it is an act suited unto that glorious excellency of his nature wherein he is love; for “God is love,” 1 John 4:8-9. And the first egress of the divine properties must, therefore, be in an act of communicative love. And whereas this election, being an eternal act of the will of God, can have no moving cause but what is in himself,—if we could look into all the treasures of the divine excellencies, we should find none whereunto it could be so properly ascribed as unto love. Wherefore,—
(2.) It is styled LOVE, because it was free and undeserved, as unto anything on our part; for whatever good is done unto any altogether undeserved, if it be with a design of their profit and advantage, it is an act of love, and can have no other cause. So is it with us in respect of eternal election. There was nothing in us, nothing foreseen, as that which, from ourselves, would be in us, that should any way move the will of God unto this election; for whatever is good in the best of men is an effect of it, Eph 1:4. Whereas, therefore, it tends unto our eternal good, the spring of it must be love. And,—
(3.) The fruits or effects of it are inconceivable acts of love. It is by multiplied acts of love that it is made effectual; John 3:16; Jer 31:3; Eph 1:3-5; 1 John 4:8-9,16.
2. This is the eternal spring which is derived unto the church through the mediation of Christ. Wherefore, that which put all the design of this eternal love of the Father into execution, and wrought out the accomplishment of it, was the love of the Son, which we inquire after; and light may be given unto it in the ensuing observations:—
(1.) The whole number or society of the elect were creatures made in the image of God, and thereby in a state of love with him. All that they were, had, or hoped for, were effects of divine goodness and love. And the life of their souls was love unto God. And a blessed state it was, preparatory for the eternal life of love in heaven.
(2.) From this state they fell by sin into a state of enmity with God; which is comprehensive of all miseries, temporal and eternal.
(3.) Notwithstanding this woeful catastrophe of our first state, yet our nature, on many accounts, was recoverable unto the enjoyment of God; as I have at large elsewhere declared.
(4.) In this condition, the first act of love in Christ towards us was in pity and compassion. A creature made in the image of God, and fallen into misery, yet capable of recovery, is the proper object of divine compassion. That which is so celebrated in the Scripture, as the bowels, the pity, the compassion of God, is the acting of divine love towards us on the consideration of our distress and misery. But all compassion ceaseth towards them whose condition is irrecoverable. Wherefore the Lord Christ pitied not the angels that fell, because their nature was not to be relieved. Of this compassion in Christ, see Heb 2:14-16; Isa 63:9.
(5.) As then we lay under the eye of Christ in our misery, we were the objects of his pity and compassion; but as he looketh on us as recoverable out of that state, his love worketh in and by delight. It was an inconceivable delight unto him, to take a prospect of the deliverance of mankind unto the glory of God; which is also an act of love. See this divinely expressed, Prov 8:30-31, as that place hath been elsewhere explained.
(6.) If it be inquired, whence this compassion and delight in him should arise, what should be the cause of them, that he who was eternally blessed in his own self-sufficiency should so deeply concern himself in our lost, forlorn condition? I say it did so merely from the infinite love and goodness of his own nature, without the least procuring inducement from us or any thing in us, Titus 3:5.
(7.) In this his readiness, willingness, and delight, springing from love and compassion, the counsel of God concerning the way of our recovery is, as it were, proposed unto him. Now, this was a way of great difficulties and perplexities unto himself,—that is, unto his person as it was to be constituted. To the divine nature nothing is grievous,—nothing is difficult; but he was to have another nature, wherein he was to undergo the difficulties of this way and work. It was required of him that he should pity us until he had none left to pity himself when he stood in need of it,—that he should pursue his delight to save us until his own soul was heavy and sorrowful unto death,—that he should relieve us in our sufferings by suffering the same things that we should have done. But he was not in the least hereby deterred from undertaking this work of love and mercy for us; yea, his love rose on this proposal like the waters of a mighty stream against opposition. For hereon he says, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God;”—it is my delight to do it, Heb 10:5-7; Isa 50:5-7.
(8.) Being thus inclined, disposed, and ready, in the eternal love of his divine person, to undertake the office of mediation and the work of our redemption, a body was prepared for him. In this body or human nature, made his own, he was to make this love effectual in all its inclinations and actings. It was provided for him unto this end, and filled with all grace in a way unmeasurable, especially with fervent love unto mankind. And hereby it became a meet instrument to actuate his eternal love in all the fruits of it.
(9.) It is hence evident, that this glorious love of Christ doth not consist alone in the eternal actings of his divine person, or the divine nature in his person. Such, indeed, is the love of the Father,—namely, his eternal purpose for the communication of grace and glory, with his acquiescency therein; but there is more in the love of Christ. For when he exercised this love he was man also, and not God only. And in none of those eternal acts of love could the human nature of Christ have any interest or concern; yet is the love of the man Christ Jesus celebrated in the Scripture.
(10.) Wherefore this love of Christ which we inquire after is the love of his person,—that is, which he in his own person acts in and by his distinct natures, according unto their distinct essential properties. And the acts of love in these distinct natures are infinitely distinct and different; yet are they all acts of one and the same person. So, then, whether that act of love in Christ which we would at any time consider, be an eternal act of the divine nature in the person of the Son of God; or whether it be an act of the human, performed in time by the gracious faculties and powers of that nature, it is still the love of one and the selfsame person,—Christ Jesus.
It was an act of inexpressible love in him, that he assumed our nature, Heb 2:14,17. But it was an act in and of his divine nature only; for it was antecedent unto the existence of his human nature, which could not, therefore, concur therein. His laying down his life for us was an act of inconceivable love, 1 John 3:16. Yet was it only an act of the human nature, wherein he offered himself and died. But both the one and the other were acts of his divine person; whence it is said that God laid down his life for us, and purchased the church with his own blood.
This is that love of Christ wherein he is glorious, and wherein we are by faith to behold his glory. A great part of the blessedness of the saints in heaven, and their triumph therein, consists in their beholding of this glory of Christ,—in their thankful contemplation of the fruits of it. See Rev 5:9-10, etc.
The illustrious brightness wherewith this glory shines in heaven, the all-satisfying sweetness which the view of it gives unto the souls of the saints there possessed of glory, are not by us conceivable, nor to be expressed. Here, this love passeth knowledge,—there, we shall comprehend the dimensions of it. Yet even here, if we are not slothful and carnal, we may have a refreshing prospect of it; and where comprehension fails, let admiration take place.
My present business is, to exhort others unto the contemplation of it, though it be but a little, a very little, a small portion of it, that I can conceive; and less than that very little that I can express. Yet may it be my duty to excite not only myself, but others also, unto due inquiries after it; unto which end I offer the things ensuing.
1. Labour that your minds may continually be fitted and prepared for such heavenly contemplations. If they are carnal and sensual, or filled with earthly things, a due sense of this love of Christ and its glory will not abide in them. Virtue and vice, in their highest degrees, are not more diametrically opposite and inconsistent in the same mind, than are an habitual course of sensual, worldly thoughts and a due contemplation of the glory of the love of Christ; yea, an earnestness of spirit, pregnant with a multitude of thoughts about the lawful occasions of life, is obstructive of all due communion with the Lord Jesus Christ herein.
Few there are whose minds are prepared in a due manner for this duty. The actions and communications of the most evidence what is the inward frame of their souls. They rove up and down in their thoughts, which are continually led by their affections into the corners of the earth. It is in vain to call such persons unto contemplations of the glory of Christ in his love. A holy composure of mind, by virtue of spiritual principles, an inclination to seek after refreshment in heavenly things, and to bathe the soul in the fountain of them, with constant apprehensions of the excellency of this divine glory, are required hereunto.
2. Be not satisfied with general notions concerning the love of Christ, which represent no glory unto the mind, wherewith many deceive themselves. All who believe his divine person, profess a valuation of his love,—and think them not Christians who are other wise minded; but they have only general notions, and not any distinct conceptions of it, and really know not what it is. To deliver us from this snare, peculiar meditations on its principal concerns are required of us. As,—
(1.) Whose love it is,—namely, of the divine person of the Son of God. He is expressly called God, with respect unto the exercise of this love, that we may always consider whose it is, 1 John 3:16, “Hereby perceive we the love [of God], because he laid down his life for us.”
(2.) By what ways and means this wonderful love of the Son of God doth act itself,—namely, in the divine nature, by eternal acts of wisdom, goodness, and grace proper thereunto; and in the human, by temporary acts of pity or compassion, with all the fruits of them in doing and suffering for us. See Eph 3:19; Heb 2:14-15; Rev 1:5.
(3.) What is the freedom of it, as to any desert on our part, 1 John 4:10. It was hatred, not love, that we in ourselves deserved; which is a consideration suited to fill the soul with self-abasement,—the best of frames in the contemplation of the glory of Christ.
(4.) What is the efficacy of it in its fruits and effects, with sundry other considerations of the like nature.
By a distinct prospect and admiration of these things, the soul may walk in this paradise of God, and gather here and there a heavenly flower, conveying unto it a sweet savour of this love of Christ. See Song 2:2-4.
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.