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The Spirit’s Conviction with Respect to Righteousness: Owen on John 16:8 and Law & Gospel, Part 2

11 October, 2008

This is the second half of a highlight some of Owen’s thoughts on part of what Christ is saying in John 16:8 (the first post is just below, or click here). The first part was on the character of the Spirit’s convicting with respect to the law. Here’s what Owen says on the Spirit’s conviction with respect to the gospel:

…The matter comes at length to this issue — [those convicted by the Spirit regarding righteousness] look upon themselves under this twofold qualification:

As sinners, obnoxious to the law of God and the curse thereof; so that unless that be satisfied, that nothing from thence shall ever be laid to their charge, it is altogether in vain once to seek after an appearance in the presence of God.

As creatures made to a supernatural and eternal end; and therefore bound to answer the whole mind and will of God in the obedience required at their hands. Now, it being before discovered to them that both there are beyond the compass of their own endeavors, and the assistance which they have formerly rested on, if their eternal condition be of any concern to them, their wisdom is to find out a righteousness that may answer both these to the utmost.

Now, both these are to be had only in he Lord Christ, who is our righteousness. This wisdom, and all the treasures of it, are hid in him.

He expiates former iniquities, he satisfies for sin, and procures remission of it. “Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Rom 3:24-25). “All we like sheep,” etc. (Is 53:6). “Through his blood we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph 1:7). “God spared not his own Son, but delivered,” etc. (Rom 8:32). This, even this alone, is our righteousness; as to that first part of it which consists in the removal of the whole guilt of sin, whereby we are come short of the glory of God. On this account it is that we are assured that none shall ever lay anything to our charge, or condemn us (Rom 8:33-34) — there being “no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). We are purged by the sacrifice of Christ, so as to have “no more conscience of sin” (Heb 10:2); that is, troubles in conscience about it. This wisdom is hid only in the Lord Jesus; in him alone is there an atonement discovered: and give me the wisdom which shall cut all scores concerning sin, and let the world take what remains. But —

There is yet something more required; it is not enough that we are not guilty, we must also be actually righteous — not only all sin is to be answered for, but all righteousness is to be fulfilled. By taking away the guilt of sin, we are as persons innocent; but something more is required to make us to be considered as persons obedient. I know nothing to teach me that an innocent person shall go to heaven, be rewarded, if he be no more but so. Adam was innocent at his first creation, but he was to “do this,” to “keep the commandments,” before he entered into “life”: he had no title to life by innocence.

This, then, moreover, is required, that the whole law be fulfilled, and all the obedience performed that God requires at our hands. This is the soul’s second inquiry; and it finds a resolution only in the Lord Christ: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). His death reconciled us; then are we saved by his life. The actual obedience which he yielded to the whole law of God is that righteousness whereby we are saved; if so be we are found in him, not having our own righteousness which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith (Phil 3:9)….

To return, then: It is not, I suppose, any difficult task to persuade men, convinced of immortality and judgment to come, that the main of their wisdom lies in this, even to find out such a righteousness as will accompany them forever, and abide the severe trial of God himself. Now, all the wisdom of the world is but folly, as to the discovery of this thing. The utmost that man’s wisdom can do is but to find out most wretched, burdensome, and vexatious ways of perishing eternally. All the treasures of this wisdom are hid in Christ; he “of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness” (1 Cor 1:30).

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