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Owen on The Excellency of Christ’s Humanity

19 December, 2008

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Some thoughts from John Owen on the true and righteous humanity of Jesus the God-man, whose incarnation for us and for our salvation we celebrate at Christmas.

‘He is desirable and worthy [of] our acceptation, as considered in his humanity; even therein also, in reference to us, he is exceedingly desirable. I shall only, in this, note unto you two things: (1) its freedom from sin; (2) its fullness of grace — in both which regards the Scripture sets him out as exceedingly lovely and amiable.

Christ was Free from Sin

He was free from sin — the Lamb of God, without spot, and without blemish (1 Peter 1:19); the male of the flock, to be offered unto God, the curse falling on all other oblations, and them that offer them (Mal 1:14). The purity of the snow is not to be compared with the whiteness of this lily, this rose of Sharon (Song 2:1), even from the womb: “For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb 7:26). Sanctified persons, whose stains are in any measure washed away, are exceeding fair in the eye of Christ himself. “You are all fair,” says he, “my love, you have no spot in you” (Song 1:15-16; 4:1, 7, 10). How fair, then, is he who never had the least spot or stain!

It is true, Adam at his creation had this spotless purity (Eccl 7:29); so had the angels: but they came immediately from the hand of God, without concurrence of any secondary cause. Jesus Christ is a plant and root out of a dry ground (Is 53:2), a blossom from the stem of Jesse, a bud from the loins of sinful man — born of a sinner, after there after there had been no innocent flesh in the world for four thousand years, every one upon the role of his geneology being infected therewithal. To have a flower of wonderful rarity to grow in paradise, a garden of God’s own planting, not sullied in the least, is not so strange; but, as the psalmist speaks [Ps 107:35-37] (in another kind), to hear of it in a wood, to find it in a forest, to have a spotless bud brought forth in the wilderness of corrupted nature, is a thing which angels may desire to look into.

Nay, more, this whole nature was not only defiled, but also accursed; not only unclean, but also guilty — guilty of Adam’s transgression, in whom we have all sinned. That the human nature of Christ should be derived from hence free from guilt, free from pollution, this is to be adored….

Christ was Full of Grace

The fullness of grace in Christ’s human nature sets forth the amiableness and desirableness thereof. Should I make it my business to consider his perfections, as to this part of his excellency  – what he had from the womb (Luke 1:35), what received growth and improvement as to exercise in the days of his flesh (Luke 2:52), with the complement of them all in glory – the whole would tend to the purpose in hand. I am but taking a view of these things in transitu [‘in passing’].

These two things lie in open sight to all at the first consideration: all grace was in him, for the kinds thereof; and all degrees of grace, for its perfections; and both of them make up that fullness that was in him. It is created grace that I intend; and therefore I speak of the kinds of it: it is grace inherent in a created nature, not infinite; and therefore I speak of the degrees of it.

For the fountain of grace, the Holy Ghost, he received not him “by measure” (John 3:34); and for the communications of the Spirit, “it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell” (Col 1:18) — “that in all these things he might have the preeminence” (Col 1:18). But these things are commonly spoken unto.

This is the Beloved of our souls, “holy, harmless, undefiled”; “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, 16; 1 Cor 11:1; Eph 5:2; 1 Peter 2:21; Matt 3:17; Heb 2:18; 7:25)–

  • full, to a sufficiency for every end of grace
  • full, for practice, to be an example to men and angels as to obedience
  • full, to a certainty of uninterrupted communication with God
  • full, to a readiness of giving supply to others
  • full, to suit him to all the occasions and necessities of the souls of men
  • full, to a glory not unbecoming a subsistence in the person of God the Son
  • full, to a perfect victory, in trials, over all temptation
  • full, to an exact correspondence to the whole law, every righteous and holy law of God
  • full, to the utmost capacity of a limited, created, finite nature
  • full, to the greatest glory and beauty and glory of a living temple of God
  • full, to the full pleasure and delight of the soul of his Father
  • full, to an everlasting monument of the glory of God, in giving now such inconceivable excellencies to the Son of man.’

Communion with the Triune God, ed. Kapic and Taylor, 164-68.

  1. 21 December, 2008 7:43 am

    Humility helps us consider the excellency of Christ’s humanity. We tend to think that all we need to do is to consider Christ’s wonderful attributes, but the sin within us is so bad that we may think such wonderful attributes in Christ just makes us look bad in comparison. As an example, I belong to a gym. I don’t like standing next to another man who is a “world class athlete”. He makes me look bad in comparison. I should not feel that way, but I do.

    As we approach Christmas and prepare the way for the LORD, I think that we can take note of Isaiah 40:3-8 which contains such humility and exaltation.

    “A voice is calling,
    ”Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
    Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
    “Let every valley be lifted up,
    And every mountain and hill be made low;
    And let the rough ground become a plain,
    And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
    Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
    And all flesh will see it together;
    For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
    A voice says, “Call out.”
    Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”
    All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
    The grass withers, the flower fades,
    When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
    Surely the people are grass.
    The grass withers, the flower fades,
    But the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:3-8

    When we specifically point out natural man’s condition of ”Total Depravity”, we “make low every mountain and hill” to prepare the way for the LORD. Yes, it is much easier to “lift up every valley” by exalting God. But, do we humble man?

    We humble man by proclaiming not only that “all flesh is grass” meaning that man’s life is short, but we can also humble man in different ways including but not limited to proclaiming natural man’s “Total Depravity” condition.

    In conclusion, as we approach Christmas and prepare the way for the LORD, let us not only exalt God but let us also humble man. I certainly am not saying that John Owen nor anyone else fails to appreciate and emphasize such humility. I just want to remind all of us of the need and the help of such humility. Thank you.

  2. creedorchaos permalink*
    21 December, 2008 12:31 pm


    I think, biblically, these things — true understanding of the excellency of Christ and the humbling of our sinful pride — are inseparable. It’s like only truly knowing how black darkness is’because you’ve seen the light. When as Christians we read of who Jesus is and what he has done, we not only see the fullness of his love and grace, we also see how different his righteousness is from our unrighteousness, which in the wisdom of the gospel is actually good news: despite ourselves he loved us and gave himself up for us, and now looking to him the Spirit enables us to begin to walk in the holiness that is ours only in Christ.


  3. 22 December, 2008 12:16 pm

    Thank you. Your articles and comments are thought-provoking and edifying. I always enjoy checking out creed or chaos.

  4. creedorchaos permalink*
    22 December, 2008 12:35 pm

    Merry Christmas Bill!

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