(Owen, Christologia, Part 3)

Chapter III. The Person cf Christ the most ineffable Effect of Divine 
Wisdom and Goodness--Thence the next Cause of all True Religion--In 
what sense it is so 
The person of Christ is the most glorious and ineffable effect of 
divine wisdom, grace, and power; and therefore is the next foundation 
of all acceptable religion and worship. The Divine Being itself is the 
first formal reason, foundation, and object of all religion. It all 
depends on taking God to be our God; which is the first of his 
commands. For religion, and the worship performed in it, is nothing 
but the due respect of rational creatures unto the divine nature, and 
its infinite excellencies. It is the glorifying of God as God; the way 
of expressing that respect being regulated by the revelation of his 
will. Yet the divine essence is not, in itself, the next and immediate 
cause of religious worship. But it is the manifestation of this Being 
and its excellencies, wherewith the mind of rational creatures is 
immediately affected, and whereby it is obliged to give that religious 
honour and worship which is due unto that Being, and necessary from 
our relation thereunto. Upon this manifestation, all creatures capable 
by an intelligent nature of a sense thereof, are indispensably obliged 
to give all divine honour and glory to God. 
 The way alone whereby this manifestation may be made, is by outward 
acts and effects. For, in itself, the divine nature is hid from all 
living, and dwelleth in that light whereunto no creature can approach. 
This, therefore, God first made, by the creation of all things out of 
nothing. The creation of man himself--with the principles of a 
rational, intelligent nature, a conscience attesting his subordination 
unto God and the creation of all other things, declaring the glory of 
his wisdom, goodness, and power, was the immediate ground of all 
natural religion, and yet continues so to be. And the glory of it 
answers the means and ways of the manifestation of the Divine Being, 
existence, excellencies, and properties. And where this manifestation 
is despised or neglected, there God himself is so; as the apostle 
discourseth at large, Rom.1:18-22. 
 But of all the effects of the divine excellencies, the constitution 
of the person of Christ as the foundation of the new creation, as "the 
mystery of Godliness," was the most ineffable and glorious. I speak 
not of his divine person absolutely; for his distinct personality and 
subsistence was by an internal and eternal act of the Divine Being in 
the person of the Father, or eternal generation--which is essential 
unto the divine essence--whereby nothing anew was outwardly wrought or 
did exist. He was not, he is not, in that sense, the effect of the 
divine wisdom and power of God, but the essential wisdom and power of 
God himself. But we speak of him only as incarnate, as he assumed our 
nature into personal subsistence with himself. His conception in the 
womb of the Virgin, as unto the integrity of human nature, was a 
miraculous operation of the divine power. But the prevention of that 
nature from any subsistence of its own--by its assumption into 
personal union with the Son of God, in the first instance of its 
conception--is that which is above all miracles, nor can be designed 
by that name. A mystery it is, so far above the order of all creating 
or providential operations, that it wholly transcends the sphere of 
them that are most miraculous. Herein did God glorify all the 
properties of the divine nature, acting in a way of infinite wisdom, 
grace, and condescension. The depths of the mystery hereof are open 
only unto him whose understanding it infinite, which no created 
understanding can comprehend. All other things were produced and 
effected by an outward emanation of power from God. He said, "Let 
there be light, and there was light." But this assumption of our 
nature into hypostatical union with the Son of God, this constitution 
of one and the same individual person in two natures so infinitely 
distinct as those of God and man--whereby the Eternal was made in 
time, the Infinite became finite, the Immortal mortal, yet continuing 
eternal, infinite, immortal--is that singular expression of divine 
wisdom, goodness, and power, wherein God will be admired and glorified 
unto all eternity. Herein was that change introduced into the whole 
first creation, whereby the blessed angels were exalted, Satan and his 
works ruined, mankind recovered from a dismal apostasy, all things 
made new, all things in heaven and earth reconciled and gathered into 
one Head, and a revenue of eternal glory raised unto God, incomparably 
above what the first constitution of all things in the order of nature 
could yield unto him. 
 In the expression of this mystery, the Scripture does sometimes draw 
the veil over it, as that which we cannot look into. So, in his 
conception of the Virgin, with respect unto this union which 
accompanied it, it was told her, that "the power of the Highest should 
overshadow her:" Luke 1:35. A work it was of the power of the Most 
High, but hid from the eyes of men in the nature of it; and, 
therefore, that holy thing which had no subsistence of its own, which 
should be born of her, should "be called the Son of God," becoming one 
person with him. Sometimes it expresseth the greatness of the mystery, 
and leaves it as an object of our admiration, 1 Tim.3:16: "Without 
controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in 
the flesh." A mystery it is, and that of those dimensions as no 
creature can comprehend. Sometimes it putteth things together, as that 
the distance of the two natures illustrate the glory of the one 
person, John 1:14: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." But 
what Word was this? That which was in the beginning, which was with 
God, which was God, by whom all things were made, and without whom was 
not any thing made that was made; who was light and life. This Word 
was made flesh, not by any change of his own nature or essence, not by 
a transubstantiation of the divine nature into the human, not by 
ceasing to be what he was, but by becoming what he was not, in taking 
our nature to his own, to be his own, whereby he dwelt among us. This 
glorious Word, which is God, and described by his eternity and 
omnipotence in works of creation and providence, "was made flesh," 
which expresseth the lowest state and condition of human nature. 
Without controversy, great is this mystery of godliness! And in that 
state wherein he visibly appeared as so made flesh, those who had eyes 
given them from above, saw "his glory, the glory as of the 
only-begotten of the Father." The eternal Word being made flesh, and 
manifested therein, they saw his glory, the glory of the only-begotten 
of the Father. What heart can conceive, what tongue can express, the 
least part of the glory of this divine wisdom and grace? So also is it 
proposed unto us, Isa.9:6: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is 
given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name 
shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting 
Father, The Prince of Peace." He is called, in the first place, 
Wonderful. And that deservedly: Prov.30:4. That the mighty God should 
be a child born, and the everlasting Father a son given unto us, may 
well entitle him unto the name of Wonderful. 
 Some amongst us say, that if there were no other way for the 
redemption and salvation of the church, but this only of the 
incarnation and mediation of the Son of God, there was no wisdom in 
the contrivance of it. Vain man indeed would be wise, but is like the 
wild ass's colt. Was there no wisdom in the contrivance of that which, 
when it is effected, leaves nothing but admiration unto the utmost of 
all created wisdom? Who has known the mind of the Lord in this thing, 
or who has been his counsellor in this work, wherein the mighty God 
became a child born to us, a son given unto us? Let all vain 
imaginations cease: there is nothing left unto the sons of men, but 
either to reject the divine person of Christ--as many do unto their 
own destruction--or humbly to adore the mystery of infinite wisdom and 
grace therein. And it will require a condescending charity, to judge 
that those do really believe the incarnation of the Son of God, who 
live not in the admiration of it, as the most adorable effect of 
divine wisdom. 
 The glory of the same mystery is elsewhere testified unto, Heb.1:1-3: 
"God has spoken unto us by his Son, by whom also he made the worlds; 
who, being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his 
person, upholding all things by the word of his power, by himself 
purged our sin." That he purged our sins by his death, and the 
oblation of himself therein unto God, is acknowledged. That this 
should be done by him by whom the worlds were made, who is the 
essential brightness of the divine glory, and the express image of the 
person of the Father therein who upholds, rules, sustains all things 
by the word of his power, whereby God purchased his church with his 
own blood, (Acts 20:28,) is that wherein he will be admired unto 
eternity. See Phil.2:6-9. 
 In Isaiah (chap. 6) there is a representation made of him as on a 
throne, filling the temple with the train of his glory. The Son of God 
it was who was so represented, and that as he was to fill the temple 
of his human nature with divine glory, when the fulness of the godhead 
dwelt in him bodily. And herein the seraphim, which administered unto 
him, had six wings, with two whereof they covered their faces, as not 
being able to behold or look into the glorious mystery of his 
incarnation: verses 2,3; John 12:39-41; 2:19; Col.2:9. But when the 
same ministering spirits, under the name of cherubim, attended the 
throne of God, in the administration of his providence as unto the 
disposal and government of the world, they had four wings only, and 
covered not their faces, but steadily beheld the glory of it: 
Ezek.1:6; 10:2,3. 
 This is the glory of the Christian religion--the basis and foundation 
that bears the whole superstructure--the root whereon it grows. This 
is its life and soul, that wherein it differs from, and inconceivably 
excels, whatever was in true religion before, or whatever any false 
religion pretended unto. Religion, in its first constitution, in the 
estate of pure, uncorrupted nature, was orderly, beautiful and 
glorious. Man being made in the image of God, was fit and able to 
glorify him as God. But whereas, whatever perfection God had 
communicated unto our nature, he had not united it unto Himself in a 
personal union, the fabric of it quickly fell unto the ground. Want of 
this foundation made it obnoxious unto ruin. God manifested herein, 
that no gracious relation between him and our nature could be stable 
and permanent, unless our nature was assumed into personal union and 
subsistence with himself. This is the only rock and assured foundation 
of the relation of the church unto God, which, now, can never utterly 
fail. Our nature is eternally secured in that union, and we ourselves 
(as we shall see) thereby. "In him all things consist;" (Col.1:17,18;) 
wherefore, whatever beauty and glory there was in the relation that 
was between God and man, and the relation of all things unto God by 
man--in the preservation whereof natural religion did consist--it had 
no beauty nor glory in comparison of this which does excel, or the 
manifestation of God in the flesh--the appearance and subsistence of 
the divine and human natures in the same single individual person. And 
whereas God in that state had given man dominion "over the fish of the 
sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all 
the earth," (Gen.1:26,) it was all but an obscure representation of 
the exaltation of our nature in Christ--as the apostle declares, Heb. 
2: 6-9. 
 There was true religion in the world after the fall, both before and 
after the giving of the Law; a religion built upon and resolved into 
divine revelation. And as for the outward glory of it--the 
administration that it was brought into under the tabernacle and 
temple--it was beyond what is represented in the institutions of the 
gospel. Yet is Christian religion, our evangelical profession, and the 
state of the church thereon, far more glorious, beautiful, and 
perfect, than that state of religion was capable of, or could attain. 
And as this is evident from hence, because God in his wisdom, grace, 
and love to the church, has removed *that* state, and introduced 
*this* in the room thereof; so the apostle proves it--in all 
considerable instances--in his Epistle to the Hebrews, written unto 
that purpose. There were two things, before, in religion;--the 
promise, which was the life of it; and the institutions of worship 
under the Law, which were the outward glory and beauty of it. And both 
these were nothing, or had nothing in them, but only what they before 
proposed and represented of Christ, God manifested in the flesh. The 
promise was concerning *him*, and the institutions of worship did only 
represent *him*. So the apostle declares it, Col.2:17. Wherefore, as 
all the religion that was in the world after the fact was built on the 
promise of this work of God, in due time to be accomplished; so it is 
the actual performance of it which is the foundation of the Christian 
religion, and which gives it the preeminence above all that went 
before it. So the apostle expresseth it: (Heb.1:1-3:) "God, who at 
sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the 
fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his 
Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made 
the worlds; who, being the brightness of his glory, and the express 
image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his 
power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right 
hand of the Majesty on high." 
 All false religion pretended always unto things that were mysterious. 
And the more men could invent, or the devil suggest, that had an 
appearance of that nature, as sundry things were so introduced horrid 
and dreadful, the more reverence and esteem were reconciled unto it. 
But the whole compass of the craft of Satan and the imaginations of 
men could never extend itself unto the least resemblance of this 
mystery. And it is not amiss conjectured, that the apostle, in his 
description of it, 1 Tim.3:16, did reflect upon and condemn the vanity 
of the Eleusinian mysteries, which were of the greatest vogue and 
reputation among the gentiles. 
 Take away the consideration hereof, and we despoil the Christian 
religion of all its glory, debasing it unto what Muhammadanism 
pretends unto, and unto what in Judaism was really enjoyed. 
 The faith of this mystery enables the mind wherein it is--rendering 
it spiritual and heavenly, transforming it into the image of God. 
Herein consists the excellency of faith above all other powers and 
acts of the soul--that it receives, assents unto, and rests in, things 
in their own nature absolutely incomprehensible. It is "elegchos ou 
blepomenoon", (Heb.11:1,)--"The evidence of things not seen" that 
which makes evident, as by demonstration, those things which are no 
way objected unto sense, and which reason cannot comprehend. 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, in the exercise of faith upon them. Hence we find this most 
glorious effect of faith, or the transformation of the mind into the 
likeness of God, no less real, evident, and eminent in many, whose 
rationally comprehensive abilities are weak and contemptible, in the 
eye of that wisdom which is of this world, than in those of the 
highest natural sagacity, enjoying the best improvements of reason. 
For "God has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of 
the kingdom:" James 2: 5. However they may be poor, and, as another 
apostle speaketh, "foolish, weak, base, and despised;" (1 Cor. 1: 27, 
28;) yet that faith which enables them to assent unto and embrace 
divine mysteries, renders them rich in the sight of God, in that it 
makes them like unto him. 
 Some would have all things that we are to believe to be levelled 
absolutely unto our reason and comprehension--a principle which, at 
this day, shakes the very foundations of the Christian religion. It is 
not sufficient, they say, to determine that the faith or knowledge of 
any thing is necessary unto our obedience and salvation, that it seems 
to be fully and perspicuously revealed in the Scripture--unless the 
things so revealed be obvious and comprehensible unto our reason; an 
apprehension which, as it ariseth from the pride which naturally 
ensues on the ignorance of God and ourselves, so it is not only an 
invention suited to debase religion, but an engine to evert the faith 
of the church in all the principal mysteries of the Gospel--especially 
of the Trinity and the incarnation of the Son of God. But faith which 
is truly divine, is never more in its proper exercise--doth never more 
elevate the soul into conformity unto God--than when it acts in the 
contemplation and admiration of the most incomprehensible mysteries 
which are proposed unto it by divine revelation. 
 Hence things philosophical, and of a deeps rational indagation, find 
great acceptance in the world--as, in their proper place, they do 
deserve. Men are furnished with proper measures of them, and they find 
them proportionate unto the principles of their own understandings. 
But as for spiritual and heavenly mysteries, the thoughts of men for 
the most part recoil, upon their first proposal, nor will be 
encouraged to engage in a diligent inquiry into them--yea, commonly 
reject them as foolish, or at least that wherein they are not 
concerned. The reason is that given in another case by the apostle: 
"All men have not faith;" (2 Thess. 3: 2;) which makes them absurd and 
unreasonable in the consideration of the proper objects of it. But 
where this faith is, the greatness of the mysteries which it embraceth 
heightens its efficacy, in all its blessed effects, upon the soul. 
Such is this constitution of the person of Christ, wherein the glory 
of all the holy properties and perfections of the divine nature is 
manifested, and does shine forth. So speaks the apostle, 2 Cor. 3: 18: 
"Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into 
the same image, from glory to glory." This glory which we behold, is 
the glory of the face of God in Jesus Christ, (chap. 4: 6,) or the 
glorious representation which is made of him in the person of Christ, 
whereof we shall treat afterwards. The glass wherein this glory is 
represented unto us--proposed unto our view and contemplation--is 
divine revelation in the gospel. Herein we behold it, by faith alone. 
And those whose view is steadfast, who most abound in that 
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. 
 That which shall, at last, perfectly effect our utmost conformity to 
God, and, therein, our eternal blessedness--is vision, or sight. "We 
shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is:" 1 John 3: 2. Here 
faith begins what sight shall perfect hereafter. But yet "we walk by 
faith, and not by sight:" 2 Cor. 5: 7. And although the life of faith 
and vision differ in degrees--or, as some think, in kind--yet have 
they both the same object, and the same operations, and there is a 
great cognation between them. The object of vision is the whole 
mystery of the divine existence and will; and its operation is a 
perfect conformity unto God--a likeness unto him--wherein our 
blessedness shall consist. Faith has the same object, and the same 
operations in its degree and measure. The great and incomprehensible 
mysteries of the Divine Being--of the will and wisdom of God--are its 
proper objects; and its operation, with respect unto us, is conformity 
and likeness unto him. And this it does, in a peculiar manner, in the 
contemplation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; and 
herein we have our nearest approaches unto the life of vision, and the 
effects of it. For therein, "beholding the glory of God in the face of 
Jesus Christ, we are changed into the same image, from glory to 
glory;" which, perfectly to consummate, is the effect of sight in 
glory. The exercise of faith herein does more raise and perfect the 
mind--more dispose it unto holy, heavenly frames and affections--than 
any other duty whatever. 
 To be nigh unto God, and to be like unto him, are the same. To be 
always with him, and perfectly like him, according to the capacity of 
our nature, is to be eternally blessed. To live by faith in the 
contemplation of the glory of God in Christ, is that initiation into 
both, whereof we are capable in this world. The endeavours of some to 
contemplate and report the glory of God in nature in the works of 
creation and providence--in the things of the greater and the lesser 
world--do deserve their just commendation; and it is that which the 
Scripture in sundry places calls us unto. But for any there to abide, 
there to bound their designs--when they have a much more noble and 
glorious object for their meditations, viz, the glory of God in Christ- 
-is both to despise the wisdom of God in that revelation of himself, 
and to come short of that transforming efficacy of faith in the 
contemplation hereof, whereby we are made like unto God. For hereunto 
alone does it belong, and not unto any natural knowledge, nor to any 
knowledge of the most secret recesses of nature. 
 I shall only say, that those who are inconversant with these objects 
of faith--whose minds are not delighted in the admiration of, and 
acquiescence in, things incomprehensible, such as is this constitution 
of the person of Christ--who would reduce all things to the measure of 
their own understandings, or else wilfully live in the neglect of what 
they cannot comprehend--do not much prepare themselves for that vision 
of these things in glory, wherein our blessedness does consist. 
 Moreover, this constitution of the person of Christ being the most 
admirable and ineffable effect of divine wisdom, grace, and power, it 
is that alone which can bear the weight of the whole superstructure of 
the mystery of godliness--that whereinto the whole sanctification and 
salvation of the church is resolved--wherein alone faith can find rest 
and peace. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which 
is Jesus Christ:" 1 Cor. 3: 11. Rest and peace with God is that which 
we seek after. "What shall we do to be saved?" In this inquiry, the 
acts of the mediatory office of Christ are, in the Gospel, first 
presented unto us--especially his oblation and intercession. Through 
them is he able to save unto the uttermost those that come to God by 
him. But there were oblations for sin, and intercessions for sinners, 
under the Old Testament; yet of them all does the apostle affirm, that 
they could not make them perfect that came unto God by them, not take 
away conscience condemning for sin: Heb. 10: 1-4. Wherefore, it is not 
these things in themselves that can give us rest and peace, but their 
relation unto the person of Christ. The oblation and intercession of 
any other would not have saved us. Hence, for the security of our 
faith, we are minded that "God redeemed the church with his own 
blood:" Acts 20: 28. He did so who was God, as he was manifested in 
the flesh. His blood alone could purge our consciences from dead 
works, who did offer himself unto God, through the eternal Spirit: 
Heb. 9: 14. And when the apostle--for our relief against the guilt of 
sin--calleth us unto the consideration of intercession and 
propitiation, he mindeth us peculiarly of his person by whom they are 
performed, 1 John 2: l,2: "If any man sin, we have an advocate with 
the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for 
our sins." And we may briefly consider the order of these things. 
 1. We suppose, in this case, conscience to be awakened unto a sense 
of sin, and of apostasy from God thereby. These things are now 
generally looked on as of no great concernment unto us--by some made a 
mock of--and, by the most, thought easy to be dealt withal--at time 
convenient. But when God fixeth an apprehension of his displeasure for 
them on the soul--if it be not before it be too late--it will cause 
men to look out for relief. 
 2. This relief is proposed in the gospel. And it is the death and 
mediation of Christ alone. By them peace with God must be obtained, or 
it will cease for ever. But, 
 3. 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. Wherefore, 
 4. That which is principally suited to give him rest, peace, and 
satisfaction--and without which nothing else can so do--is the due 
consideration of, and the acting of faith upon, this infinite effect 
of divine wisdom and goodness, in the constitution of the person of 
Christ. This at first view will reduce the mind unto that conclusion, 
"If thou canst believe, all things are possible." For what end cannot 
be effected hereby? What end cannot be accomplished that was designed 
in it? Is any thing too hard for God? Did God ever do any thing like 
this, or make use of any such means for any other end whatever? 
Against this no objection can arise. 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. 

John Owen, Christologia

(continued in Part 4...)

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