Tolkien & Owen On Communion With God

 If you have ever read The Lord of The Rings or watched the movies, one of the main themes that drives the plot is fellowship. You are introduced to characters like Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and Sam as well as the silly and inseparable duo that enjoy second breakfasts Merry and Pippin. The relationships each had with each other were deep before the great journey and it grew more intimate while on it. Struggles and battles, victories and loss all shaped the fellowship they had with each other. At the end you got a glimpse of how the bonds that they made were indivisible.

This is the stuff of communion.

And it doesn’t just happen in fantasy. The fellowship of close friends in a common purpose embodies one of the most precious privileges that we cherish and long for in this life. Whether in a strong Christian marriage or with that friend who sticks “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24), or, ultimately, in our union and communion with God.

Communion With God 

Normally when we see or hear the word ‘communion’ we automatically think of the ‘Lord’s Supper.’ Communion hopefully does happen when we do the Lord’s Supper, but it’s not limited to that event. John Owen says it like this, “Communion relates to things and persons. A joint participation in anything whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions.” To have Communion with God is an intimate, mutual, covenantal bond between God and his people. Normally when the Bible talks about communion and fellowship, specifically in the New Testament, the Greek word is koinonia. The words primary meaning is “fellowship, sharing in common, communion.” J.I. Packer does much for us in explaining what this kind of communion with God looks like, “Communion with God is a relationship in which Christians receive love from, and respond in love to, all three persons of the Trinity.”

Read the words of Owen. “Now, communion is the mutual communication of such good things as wherein the persons holding that communion are delighted, bottomed upon some union between them. Our communion then, with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return unto him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” So without Christ and ultimately because of sin, communion with God is impossible. As Owen puts it, “By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man hath any communion with God. He is light, we are darkness; and what communion hath light with darkness?” Communion can only be a reality because of the Triune God being sovereign has sought to reconcile His enemies to Himself. By sending His Son, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The wrath we deserve fell upon Him and He stood in our place as our substitute. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

This communion is possible because each of the persons of the Trinity plays a unique role in the salvation of the elect (1 John 5:7). The Father elects to save His people in Christ (Eph. 1:4). The Son is appointed and willingly offers Himself as the Savior and Mediator (Luke 22:29; Heb. 10:5–7). The Holy Spirit furnishes Christ with the gifts necessary to accomplish His saving work (Luke 1:35; 3:21–22; 4:18), and also applies the benefits of Christ’s work to those whom the Father gives to the Son (John 6:38–39; 17:4). Thus, in a delightful harmony of mutual love and purpose, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally covenanted to redeem the elect community.

The glorious truth is this that, all areas of our covenant relationship to God are Triune “so that no one may boast.”

Our justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are ‘Triunely’ planned, purchased, and applied. Our access to God is through Christ, by the Spirit, and to the Father (Eph. 2:18). The gifts of the Spirit are won by Christ and offered to the Father (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Our worship is through the mediation of Christ, by the Spirit, and presented to the Father. Our prayers are in the name of Christ, by the Spirit, and addressed to the Father.

All that we have from God and enjoy with him is Triune.

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John Owen: An Honest Pastoral Appeal to Come to Christ

The Puritan John Owen is my next major dead influence.  This is due to two things.  

First Owen’s books have been a great help for my heart in pastoral ministry.  I’ve found that it is rare to have friends around you who are willing to call you out as Owen does in his writing.  I’ve read everything that Owen has written except for his commentary on Hebrews and his heart has greatly impacted my own.  He holds nothing back, calls sin as what it is – cosmic treason, and comforts my soul with sweet descriptions of the atonement provided to me by Christ.  Few others do this for me, and when I need it I go to Owen and a few other Puritans first.

Second, John Owen’s writing is incredibly personal.  Here’s what I mean.  After giving a breathtaking description of a the gruesome nature of sin compared to the grace of God which conquers it Owen often follows these moments with a highly personal application where he directly addresses his readers and asks them if they have repented, forsook sin, and turned to Christ.  He does this over and over and over and over – and I feel as if his writing is preaching to me personally.  Calling me out and calling me to Christ. It’s what we all need.

Brief Bio:John_Owen_mortification-of-sin

Born at Stadhampton, Oxfordshire, Owen was educated at Queen’s College, Oxford, where he studied classics and theology and was ordained. Because of the “high-church” innovations introduced by Archbishop William Laud, he left the university to be a chaplain to the family of a noble lord. His first parish was at Fordham in Essex, to which he went while the nation was involved in civil war. Here he became convinced that the Congregational way was the scriptural form of church government. In his next charge, the parish of Coggeshall. in Essex, he acted both as the pastor of a gathered church and as the minister of the parish. This was possible because the parliament, at war with the king, had removed bishops. In practice, this meant that the parishes could go their own way in worship and organization.

Oliver Cromwell liked Owen and took him as his chaplain on his expeditions both to Ireland and Scotland (1649-1651). Owen’s fame was at its height from 1651 to 1660 when he played a prominent part in the religious, political, and academic life of the nation. Appointed dean of Christ Church, Oxford, in 1651, he became also vice-chancellor of the university in 1652, a post he held for five years with great distinction and with a marked impartiality not often found in Puritan divines. This led him also to disagreement, even with Cromwell, over the latter’s assumption of the protectorship. Owen retained his deanery until 1659. Shortly after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he moved to London, where he was active in preaching and writing until his death. He declined invitations to the ministry in Boston (1663) and the presidency of Harvard (1670) and chided New England Congregationalists for intolerance. He turned aside also from high preferment when his influence was acknowledged by governmental attempts to persuade him to relinquish Nonconformity in favor of the established church.

His numerous works include The Display of Arminianism (1642); Eshcol, or Rules of Direction for the Walking of the Saints in Fellowship (1648), an exposition of Congregational principles; Saius Electorum, Sanguis Jesu (1648), another anti-Arminian polemic; Diatriba de Divina Justitia (1658), an attack on Socinianism; Of the Divine Original Authority of the Scriptures (1659); Theologoumena Pantodapa (1661), a history from creation to Reformation; Animadversions to Fiat Lux (1662), replying to a Roman Catholic treatise; Doctrine of Justification by Faith (1677); and Exercitationes on the Epistle to the Hebrews (1668-1684).

Our Works Overthrow and Subvert the Whole Gospel

Glorious quote from puritan John Owen, pay attention to the last sentence:

[God] requires nothing of us (which we had all the reason in the world to expect that he would) to make atonement or satisfaction for our sins, that might compensate the injuries we have done him by our apostasy and rebellion; for whereas we had multiplied sins against him, lived in an enmity and opposition to him, and had contracted insupportable and immeasurable debts upon our own souls, terms of peace being now proposed, who could think but that the first thing required of us would be, that we should make some kind of satisfaction to divine justice for all our enormous and heinous provocations? yea, who is there that indeed doth naturally think otherwise?  But quite otherwise; in the gospel there is declared and tendered unto sinners an absolute free pardon of all their sins, without any satisfaction or compensation made or to be made on their part, that is, by themselves,—namely, on the account of the atonement made for them by Jesus Christ. And all attempts or endeavours after works or duties of obedience in any respect satisfactory to God for sin or meritorious of pardon do subvert and overthrow the whole gospel.

(The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 3: Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 377-378.)

Our works to earn merit with God and therefore pardon for sin in His eyes overthrow the gospel.  Why?  Because Jesus’ work has already done it for us, how arrogant are we to think we can add to what He has already done?

Why Should We Worship God?

Why should we worship God?

The principal and adequate reason of all divine worship, and that which makes it such, is what God is in Himself. Because He is, that is, an infinitely glorious, good, wise, holy, powerful, righteous, self-subsisting, self-sufficient, all sufficient Being, the fountain, cause, and author of life and being to all things, and of all that is good in every kind, the first cause, last end, and absolutely sovereign Lord of all, the rest and all satisfactory reward of all other beings – therefore is he by us to be adored and worshiped with divine and religious worship. Hence are we in our hearts, minds, and souls, to admire, adore, and love him; his praises are we to celebrate; him are we to trust and fear, and so to resign ourselves and all our concernments unto his will and disposal; to regard him with all the acts of our minds and persons, answerably to the holy properties and excellencies of his nature…This is to honour, worship, fear God for Himself; that is, on the account of what he is in himself. Where the divine nature is, there is true, formal object of religious worship, and where that is not, it is idolatry to ascribe it to or exercise it towards any. (John Owen, Works, III, 65)

God’s Love Producing Good in Us

“A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him. He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. . . . But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved. He loves life, grace and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.”

John Owen