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Archive for the ‘John Owen’ Category


This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the Spirit’s work in sanctification out of Galatians 5.  I wish I had more time this week to thumb thru some of the great books I have on this work of the Spirit, and the Spirit of this gracious work.

Here are my favs:

  • Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I. Packer.  The focus on this great book is sanctification, and the Spirit’s role.  I read this as a young Christian, and it was very helpful for me, grounding me in a biblical understanding of sanctification.
  • The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and His Power by John Owen.  I read this separately before owning it as part of his Works.  Great stuff!  It was one of the first books by Owen that I read, and helped me major on the majors instead of being caught in excess as a younger Christian.
  • The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson.  It is a bit more technical than most of his books.  But that is fine by me.  More people need to read this to avoid the abundance of confusion that is out there today.  There are so many ways in which the Spirit works in our lives, but we focus on the spectacular and extraordinary.  He’s heavily dependent on John Owen, who is one of his favorite theologians.

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Since I’m preaching through Galatians, one of the topics or themes is justification: how we are in a right relationship with God.  It is the main idea of the letter since they had fallen prey to false teachers with hetero-gospels.

I thought it would be a good time to list my recommendations for books on the doctrine of justification.

Great Books I’ve Read:

The Doctrine of Justification by Jame Buchanan.  This is THE book any serious student of the doctrine must read.  I loved this book, and was challenged by this book.  He traces the history of the doctrine, then explains the doctrine.  There is plenty of historical data (keeping in mind it was originally published in 1867) that helps us gain some perspective on the current deviations from the biblical doctrine.  It is rather lengthy, and this may turn off some people.

Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification by R.C. Sproul.  R.C. wrote this, in part, in response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together.  He saw that movement as undermining the heart of the gospel.  This is typical RC- good stuff written for average people.  He has a gift for making theology accessible to laypeople.

Justification By Faith Alone by Charles Hodge.  The old Princeton theologian tackles the subject thoroughly in this book.

The Future of Justification & Counted Righteous in Christ by John Piper interact with the current attacks on the historical Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone (but that is not alone).   Piper does a good job, and a fair job, but they are polemical theology.  He is disputing a matter.

Books I Hope to Read Someday:

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith by John Owen.  I’ve got this in my Works of John Owen volumes.  I’ll get there.  He can be a difficult read, but I find it immensely rewarding.  As the subtitle reads, he explains it, confirms it and vindicates it as only he can.

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine by John Fesko.   A bit pricey, it also looks at the classic formulation of the doctrine in light of current challenges to the doctrine.

Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification edited by K. Scot Oliphint.  It contains chapters by Westminster professors past and present.

Justification by Francis Turretin.  This is edited from his Institutes of Elentcic Theology, which is very good.  It presents theology in a question and answer format.  He was one of the early Reformed “scholastics”.  Sproul highly recommended Turretin when his Eclentic Theology was finally reprinted by P&R.

Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation by Brian Vickers.  It covers both the imputation of our sin to Jesus, and His righteousness to us.

Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification by Mark Seifrid.  This is part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series edited by D.A. Carson.  A bit academic, but focused on biblical theology.

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Back to working my way through Steve McCoy’s Big 5 Books, today the Cross.  As Spurgeon once said:

“Endeavor to know more and more of Christ Jesus. Endeavor especially to know the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ.” C.H. Spurgeon

Here are the best books I’ve read:

The books I have yet to read, and hope to:

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Scottish pastor-theologian Eric Alexander has said this about Our Sovereign Saviour: The Essence of the Reformed Faith by Roger Nicole: “I could not speak too highly of this book.”  That is an apt summary of my sentiments as well.

All the more reason for me to wonder why this delightful little book is so unavailable.  It seems downright difficult to find in the places it should be easy to find.  Dr. Nicole is one of the pre-eminent theologians of the 20th century.  In the words of ‘King Arthur’, “You make me sad.”  But to the book!

In 184 pages Dr. Nicole summarizes and explains the distinctives of the Reformed Faith, and its implications on other doctrines.  Here is a chapter outline:

  1. The Meaning of the Trinity.  He establishes the 3 truths we hold in balance, and how the various heresies exalt one truth at the expense of the others.
  2. Soli Deo Gloria– or to God Alone be the glory.  This is a chapter on the glorious extent of God’s sovereignty, including individuals and the Church.
  3. Predestination and the Divine Decrees.  He explores what is meant, and not meant, by God’s sovereignty.  It does not mean we are puppets, for as the Westminster Confession notes, “nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (III, 1).”  God ordains all things in keeping with our nature/character and how he plans to work to change our character.  He also briefly explains & critiques supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.
  4. Calvinism: the Five Points.  He briefly explains the 5 main ideas of Calvinism, and dispells some common misunderstandings based on poor terminology.
  5. Particular Redemption.  He explains and defends the doctine of definite atonement, summarizing John Owen’s arguments from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
  6. The Doctrines of Grace in the Teachings of Jesus.  He shows that these are not doctrines of John Calvin, or Paul but taught by Jesus Himself, particularly in the Gospel According to John.
  7. Reconciliation and Propitiation.  He explores the use of these terms in Scripture and how they fit best with an understanding of definite atonement.
  8. Justification: Standing by God’s Grace.  He explores the 3 main illustrations of justification in Scripture to understand it fully.  In this chapter he mentions students who ‘made a virtue of being poorly attired’ hoping they learned to dress better before candidating for a position.  Sadly, I was one of these immature slobs who thought so little of themselves.
  9. Sanctification: Growing unto God.  He explains what it means negatively (mortification) and positively (vivefication).  Whereas justification is something done for us, sanctification is something done in us.
  10. Predestination and the Great Commission.  He shows, primarily through the example of William Carey, that election and evangelism are not at odds with one another if properly understood.  He defends the free offer of the gospel from misunderstandings.
  11. When God Calls.  Shows from God’s call of Paul and Barnabas that God is mission-minded in a way that ought to challenge us all to become engaged.  Without using the term, he builds a quick case for missional living.
  12. Freedom and Law.  He addresses the issue of what freedom really is, against some silly misconceptions, and how the Law fits into freedom.
  13. Prayer: the Prelude to Revival.  He addresses prayer as an established means for revival.  He also talks about some fundamentals of prayer in relation to sovereignty.
  14. The Final Judgment.  He defends the doctrine of the final judgment.

In these chapters you find typical Dr. Nicole.  Though humble and irenic, you find him quite knowledgable and more than capable of dispelling any misunderstandings or strawmen opposed against the truth.  He is brief, not laboring his points.  He uses illustrations from everyday life, and history.  I’m not sure if he’s ever seen a movie.  But this means that the book is not bound in time unnecessarily.  How I wish he wrote more!  This is a book that often moved me to prayer- gratitude and petition.  That is what good theology does.  This is a book that can encourage those who understand the distinctives of the Reformed Faith.  It is also a great, winsome book for those who do not yet understand and embrace them. 

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Thus, the sovereignty of God immediately crushes man as sinner into the very just of the ground, for he is unable to rise in God’s presence but must be the object of his fearful condemnation. … When we talk about the sovereignty of God we emphasize the sovereignty of God the Holy Spirit who works in the lives of men and does not await some consent that would be coming fron unregenerate sinners but who himself transforms at the very depths of their personality lives that are disrupted, distorted and destroyed by sin.”

“There is no circumstance of life that should be totally disconcerting, because God has ordained it and is at the back of it.  His loving and gracious purpose is fulfilled even in the events which may appear quite contrary to our wishes.”

“The grace of God does not function against our wills but is rather a grace which subdues the resistance of our wills.  God the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish this.”

“Authentic Calvinism has always confessed particular redemption and at the same time insisted on the universal offer of the gospel.”

“God cannot punish a sin twice.  He cannot punish it once in the person of the Redeemer and then punish it again later in the person of the perpetrator.”

“The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is not going to allow his sheep to wander away.  That, in fact, is expressly stated.  He gives them eternal life.  They shall never perish.”

“It is only when we consider how grievous a thing sin is and how greatly displeased God is with it, that we are in a position to understand what it means to be reconciled to him.”

“The very fact that you know this person- the very fact that you are in contact with this person, the very fact that there is a burden upon your heart for this person- ought to be an indication that quite possibly, even probably, he or she has been picked by God.”

“There is no Christian who can say, ‘I am not a missionary.’  There are places that you can reach that nobody else can reach.  There  are people for whom you can work that nobody else can invite in the same way in God’s name.  We have a task to accomplish.”

“What people fail to understand is that the spiritual laws that God has established are equally binding. … They think they can violate the moral laws that God has established at the root of the universe and not bear the consequences. … To disregard the laws of God is not to achieve freedom; it is to sink into futility.  It is to break oneself against the structure of the world in which we live.”

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To be fair, I thought I’d put down how God brought me to embrace Reformed Theology as the most consistent understanding of biblical theology.

  1. What was the first book you read that introduced you to Reformed Theology?   That would be Packer’s Knowing God, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I had been a Christian for less than a year when I bought it.  It remains one of my favorites.  After I “got” Reformed Theology, I re-read Knowing God, and saw all the seeds had been sown there.  Sproul’s Chosen By God was the one that gave me words to express what I had come to believe.
  2. Besides the Bible, list the five most influential books in your Reformed theological journey.  In addition to the 2 already mentioned, Martin Luther- Bondage of the Will; John Piper- Desiring God; J.I. Packer- Keep in Step with the Spirit; Jerry Bridges- Trusting God; R.C. Sproul- The Holiness of God.
  3. List three preachers and/or teachers who were most influential in your journey? Prior to seminary, R.C. Sproul.  I devoured his books and audio tapes prior to going to seminary.  J.I. Packer, who joined Sproul in introducing me to the Puritans, the Reformers and Jonathan Edwards.  In seminary, I spent lots of time reading Edwards and the Puritans (particularly Burroughs, Owen & Boston).  Post-seminary it would be John Frame, Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller and Jack Miller.  Yes, I cheated.  But I affirm grace, baby.
  4. If you could give one book to someone interested in Reformed theology, what book would you give them?  Probably Sproul’s Grace Unknown (I think it is now called What is Reformed Theology?) or Ferguson’s In Christ Alone.
  5. What doctrine would you say distinguishes Reformed Theology?  Particular Atonement.  Packer’s intro to Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is must reading to understand how essential this doctrine is to grasping biblical Christianity, and how other theologies offer a different gospel.  This is a much understood doctrine thanks to the many straw men those opposed to it put up.  This is usually the hardest distinctive doctrine for people to accept.

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This is my chosen sermon text for the week.  Here are some interesting thoughts I ran across in my prep today:

“There can be no sustained faithfulness on our part unless we are convinced that we can trust God.  The basis for that trust is the consideration that we have a high priest who is merciful and compassionate in his relationship with us.”  Wiliam Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“The promise is that God’s children will receive mercy accompanied by sustaining grace.  Mercy and grace are closely allied and essential aspects of God’s love.  That love is outgoing in providing the protective help that does not arrive too late but at the appropriate time, because the moment of its arrival is left to the judgment of our gracious God.”  William Lane in Hebrews: A Call to Commitment

“For he is not talking about sin and its guilt but about temptations, afflictions, and persecutions.  So the mercy meant here must be the cause for our deliverance- namely, in its consequences.  … In addition to this, the apostle is not here referring to the initial approach of sinners to God through Christ for mercy and pardon, but about the daily access of believers to him for grace and assistance.  To receive mercy, therefore, is to be made to participate in the gracious help and support of the kindness of God in Christ, when we are in distress.  This springs from the same root as pardoning grace and is therefore called ‘mercy’.”  John Owen in Hebrews

“… God’s word is like a long staff by which he examines and searches what lies deep in our hearts… God, who knows our hearts, has assigned to his word the office of penetrating even into our inmost thoughts.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“… for when Christ receives us under his protection and patronage, he covers with his goodness the majesty of God, which would otherwise be terrible to us, so that nothing appears there but grace and paternal favor.”  John Calvin in Commentary on Hebrews

“After terrifying us, the Apostle now comforts us, after pouring wine into our wound, he now pours in oil.”  Martin Luther, quoted by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

“The hardness of the struggle should be an inducement to the Christian to draw near to the throne of God’s grace, rather than to draw back and abandon the conflict…”  Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews

These are things I need to keep in mind, not just for a sermon, but everyday life.  As I prepare, it has been one rough week.  It is not just something to talk about, but something I need to be true and rely upon.

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Have you ever wanted to sit down and chat with Sinclair Ferguson?  I have.  Though I’ve met him, I haven’t really talked to him.  I feel … so unworthy.  He’s not just a thoughtful theologian, but he exudes godliness.  It could just be the Scottish accent, but I doubt it.

Well, C.J. Mahaney did sit down and chat with him, and made the conversation available to all of us.  I am so thankful.  I laughed, I cried and had godly passions stirred up.

He mentioned his mentors, the 4 Johns- the Apostle, Calvin, Owen and Murray.  When he first heard of John Murray he remembers wondering “who’s John Murray and what’s Westminster Theological Seminary?”

He talked about an older pastor who poured his life into him.  What a magnificent gift that so many young men never receive.

He spent time talking about learning how to preach in a Christ-centered fashion.  We tend to look inward, rather than outward to Christ.  He also ties that in with C.S. Lewis’ comments about Milton’s Paradise Lost that it is easier to portray evil than good.  As pastors we fall into this trap, focusing more on sin than the “sweetness and excellency of Christ” (as Jonathan Edwards often said).

I can’t wait for my copy of In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life to arrive so I can dig in.  You can download the first 3 chapters.  I suspect this book will challenge us to get out of ourselves and lay hold of Christ who lays hold of us.

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