John Owen on Hebrews: To read or not to read?

Should I read John Owen's 7-volume commentary on Hebrews?


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Reformed Covenanter

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I also began reading James Durham's Commentary on Revelation this morning after finishing John Calvin on Isaiah. I am also currently reading John Davenant on Colossians in the evenings. I think that I will commence reading John Owen's Hebrews volume 2 tomorrow. Not a bad reading list.
 

Regi Addictissimus

Completely sold out to the King
I also began reading James Durham's Commentary on Revelation this morning after finishing John Calvin on Isaiah. I am also currently reading John Davenant on Colossians in the evenings. I think that I will commence reading John Owen's Hebrews volume 2 tomorrow. Not a bad reading list.
I am also getting ready to start Durham on Revelation. Thanks to our brother, @Ed Walsh, for his kindness in sending me a copy.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
I am also getting ready to start Durham on Revelation.
I have abandoned the idea of trying to read James Durham on Revelation as part of my morning devotions, not because it is not good, but because the mediations are so rich and deep that it takes about 2 hours to read 10 pages. I have only read the first 10 pages in two sittings today, however, Durham's reflections on the Trinity in its relation to the unity of esssence/divine simplicity and the personal properties of the three Trinitarian persons are priceless. He also points out something that we normally miss: the Book of Revelation is so theologically valuable because of its relevance to the subject of the distinction of the person belonging to the Godhead.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
I have abandoned the idea of trying to read James Durham on Revelation as part of my morning devotions, not because it is not good, but because the mediations are so rich and deep that it takes about 2 hours to read 10 pages. I have only read the first 10 pages in two sittings today, however, Durham's reflections on the Trinity in its relation to the unity of esssence/divine simplicity and the personal properties of the three Trinitarian persons are priceless. He also points out something that we normally miss: the Book of Revelation is so theologically valuable because of its relevance to the subject of the distinction of the person belonging to the Godhead.
You are correct about that! Durham's discussion about worship and the Trinity is invaluable.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
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You are correct about that! Durham's discussion about worship and the Trinity is invaluable.
Durham is not the most elegant of speakers (though in the case of the Revelation he did write and prepare that for the press), but he is pretty weighty as far as what he conveys. I'm about convinced of a way forward on finally doing a new edition on his lectures on Revelation. If that is of interest make it a matter of prayer as I have to pull off a relaunch of publishing endeavors after a manner with some other titles first.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
Are any of you familiar with John Owen's discussion of the order of the decrees in volume 2 of the Hebrews commentary (pp 30-32)? Calling @py3ak to the front desk!

Would it be fair to label the three positions that he surveys as representing 1) Amyraldianism, 2) Supralapsarianism, 3) Infralapsarianism?
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
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Daniel, I take it this is the section you are referring to:

17. There is yet another argument mentioned by Aquinas, and much improved by the modem Scotists, insisted on also by some divines of our own, which deserves a somewhat fuller consideration; and this is taken from the predestination of the man Christ Jesus. This the schoolmen consider on that of our apostle, Romans 1:4, “Concerning Jesus Christ, ορισθεντος Υιου Θεου εν δυναμει" which the Vulgate renders, “Qui praedestinatus est Filius Dei in virtute;” — “ Predestinate the Son of God
with power,” as our Rhemists. But ορισθεντος there is no more than αποδεδειχθεντος, “manifested, declared,” as it is well rendered by ours.

Nor can expositors fix any tolerable sense to their “predestinate” in this place. But the thing itself is true. The Lord Christ was predestinated or preordained before the world was. We were “redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, προεγνωσμενου προ καταζολης κοσμου,” 1 Peter 1:20, — “foreordained” (“predestinated’’) “before the foundation of the world.” Now, it is pleaded that “this predestination of Christ unto the grace of union and glory was the first of God’s purposes and decrees in order of nature, and antecedent unto the predestination of the elect, at least as it should comprise in it a purpose of deliverance from the fall. For God
first designed to glorify himself in the assumption of human nature, before he decreed to save the elect by that nature so assumed; for we are said to be ‘chosen in him,’ that is, as our head, Ephesians 1:4, whence it necessarily ensues that he was chosen before us, and so without respect unto us. So in all things was he to have the preeminence, Colossians 1:19; and thence it is that we are ‘predestinated to be conformed to his image,’ Romans 8:29. This preordination, therefore, of the Lord Christ,
which was unto grace, and glory, was antecedent unto the permission of the fall of man; so that he should have been incarnate had that never fallen out.”

These things are by some at large deduced and explained, but this is the sum of what is pleaded in the pursuit of this argument, which shall be as briefly examined as the nature of the matter itself will permit.

The order of the divine eternal decrees, as to their priority one unto another in order of nature and reason, so as not the decrees themselves, which are all absolutely free and irrespective, but the things decreed, should be one for another, hath been at large discoursed of and discussed by many. But there are yet not a few who suppose those very discourses on all hands to have more of nicety and curious subtilty than of solid truth unto edification. And because this is a matter wherein the Scripture is
utterly silent, though one opinion may be more agreeable to sound reason than another, yet none is built upon such certain foundations as to become a matter of faith, or the principle of any thing that is so. That which explains this order most conveniently and suitably unto divine wisdom, will, and sovereignty, and which best answers the common apprehensions
of rational natures and the rules of their actings, is to be preferred before any opinion that includes what is opposite unto or alien from any of these things, which that order hath respect unto. From any such order in the decrees of God no advantage can be drawn unto the opinion under consideration; but if men may be allowed to suppose what they will, they may easily infer thereon what they please. Let us, therefore, take a view of the several series of divine decrees, which have been confirmed with a
considerable suffrage of learned men, setting aside particular conjectures, which never received entertainment beyond the minds of their authors.

And these may be reduced unto three: –

All agree that the glory of God is the utmost and supreme end that he intendeth in all his decrees. Although they are free acts of his will and wisdom, yet, on the supposition of them, it is absolutely necessary, from the perfection of his being, that he himself or his glory be their utmost end. His absolute all-sufficiency will not allow that he can in them have any other end. Accordingly, in pursuit of them he makes all for himself, Proverbs 16:4; and they serve to declare and make known the perfection of his nature, Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:19, 20. And it is his glory, in the way of justice and mercy, which he ultimately intends in his decrees concerning the salvation of man by Jesus Christ. Whereas many things are ordered by him in a subserviency hereunto, the decrees of God concerning them are conceived by some in that order which answers the order of their accomplishment; — as, first, they say, God decreed to make the world, and man therein upright in his image; secondly, to permit the fall and the
consequents thereof, man being to that end left unto the liberty of his will; thirdly, he designed to send his Son to be incarnate, for the work of their redemption; fourthly, he decreed to give eternal life unto as many as should believe on him and obey him; and, lastly, he determined to bestow effectual grace on some persons in particular, to work faith and obedience in them infallibly, and thereby to bring them unto glory, unto the praise of his grace and mercy. According unto this order of God’s decrees, it is plain that in the order of nature the predestination of Christ is antecedent unto the election of other particular or individual persons, but withal that it is consequential unto the decree concerning the permission of the fall of Adam; and, accordingly, his incarnation doth suppose it; which is inconsistent with the opinion under examination.

Others take a contrary course, and, by a misapplication of a common rule, that what is first in intention must be last in execution, they suppose the order of God’s decrees, being his intentions or purposes, to be best conceived in a direct retrogradation unto the order of their execution. Supposing, therefore, the decree of glorifying himself in the way before mentioned, they judge God’s first decree in order of nature to be for the eternal salvation and glory of some certain persons, who are actually at last brought thereunto; for this being the last thing executed must be first intended. Secondly, In subserviency hereunto, he purposeth to give them grace, and faith, and obedience thereby, as the way to bring them unto the possession of glory. Thirdly, Unto these purposes of God they make the decrees concerning the creation and permission of the fall of man, with the incarnation and mediation of Christ, to be subservient, some in one method, some in another. But that all their conceptions must have an inconsistency with the predestination of Christ unto his incarnation antecedent unto a respect unto sin and grace, is plain and evident.

But whereas both these ways are exposed unto insuperable objections and difficulties, some have fixed on another method for the right conception of the order of God’s eternal decrees in these things, which hath a consistency in itself, and may be fairly brought off from all opposition, — which is the utmost that with sobriety can be aimed at in these things, — namely, that nothing be ascribed unto God in the least unsuited unto the infinite perfections of his nature, nor any thing proposed unto the minds of men inconsistent with the general principles and rules of reason. And those lay down the general rule before mentioned, namely, that what is first in intention is last in execution. But, secondly, they say withal, that this rule concerns only such things as in their own nature, and in the will of him that designs them, have the relation of end and means unto one another; for it hath no place among such things as are not capable of that relation. And, moreover, it is required that this end be ultimate and supreme, and not subordinate, which hath also the nature of the means. The meaning of it, therefore, is no more but that in all rational purposes there are two things considered, — first, the end aimed at, and then the means of its effecting or accomplishment; and that in order of nature, the end, which is the last thing effected, is the first designed, and then the means for it; which things are true, and obvious unto the understanding of all men. According unto this rule, they ascribe unto God but two decrees that have any order of priority between them. The first is concerning his end, which is first intended and last executed; the other concerning all those means which, being in the second place intended for the production of the end, are first accomplished and wrought. The first of these, which is the supreme end of all the dispensations of God towards the things that outwardly are of him, is his own glory, or the declaration of himself in a way of justice and mercy, mixed with infinite wisdom and goodness, as he is the first Being, sovereign Lord and Ruler over all. The second decree, of things subordinate and subservient hereunto, consisteth in an intention concerning all intermediate acts of divine wisdom, power, and goodness, which tend unto the production of this ultimate end. Such are the creation, the permission of the fall, the pre-ordination of Christ, and others in him, unto grace and glory, by the way and means thereunto appointed. Now, although these things are evidently subordinate and subservient unto one another, and although there may be apprehended singular decrees concerning them, yet because none of them do lie in the order of the means and ultimate end, there is no priority of one decree before another to be allowed therein; only a decree is supposed of disposing them in their execution, or the things executed, into that order, both in nature and time, as may constitute them all one suitable means of attaining the supreme end intended. Now, it is evident that, according unto this order, there cannot be a priority in the pre-ordination of Christ unto the decree of the permission of the fall and entrance of sin.

It is true, indeed, Christ was preordained, or [rather] the Son of God was so, to be incarnate before the foundation of the world, 1 Peter 1:20. But how? Even as he was “manifested in these last times.” As he was preordained to be incarnate, so he was to be so of the blessed Virgin: and this neither was nor could be but with respect unto the redemption of mankind; for he took flesh of her in answer to the first promise concerning the seed of the woman, which respected our recovery from sin. As he was born or made of her, he was the Lamb of God that was to take away the sin of the world. Besides, he was not ordained unto the grace of union before and without the consideration of glory and exaltation. But this included a supposition of his suffering for sin; for he was first to “suffer,” and then to “enter into his glory,” Luke 24:26. Accordingly, he ordered his own prayer, John 17:4, 5, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self.”

To fancy a pre-ordination of the Son of God unto incarnation not of the blessed Virgin after the entrance of sin, not as the Lamb of God, not as one to be exalted after suffering, is that which neither Scripture nor reason will admit of. It is said, indeed, that we are “predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ,” Romans 8:29, which seems to imply an antecedency in his predestination unto ours; but “the image of Christ” there intended includes his suffering, holiness, and exaltation unto glory on his obedience, all which have respect unto sin and redemption. And, moreover, the predestination here intended is subordinate unto our election unto glory, being our designation unto the assured and infallible means thereof, Ephesians 1:4, 5. It is true, it was the design of God that he “in all things should have the pre-eminence,” Colossians 1:18; which, as it denotes excellency, worth, use, dignity, supremacy, nearness unto God for the receiving, and unto us for the communicating, of all good, so no respect therein is had unto such a pre-ordination as should imply his incarnation without an intention of glorifying God in the redemption of sinners thereby, which alone we have undertaken to disprove.
The first approach (in the paragraph beginning "All agree that") certainly does sound Amyraldian at best, although I would be interested in knowing specifics about who Owen might have had in mind. The principle governing that approach is, the order in which God decreed things is the order in which they occurred. I'm not aware of other theologians describing Amyraldianism from that point of view, but of course my lack of awareness means nothing.

The "contrary course" depending on a "misapplication of a common rule" is supralapsarian, and appeals to the slogan used by some supralapsarians, that what is first in intention is last in execution. I think Owen's criticisms there would not really affect the Christological supralapsarianism of a Thomas Goodwin or Geerhardus Vos.

The third approach (in the paragraph beginning "But whereas both these") sounds infralapsarian, but in a way that is somewhat more accepting of supralapsarian critiques than certain formulations of infralapsarianism. E.g., Owen does accept the rule about what is first in intention being last in execution, if this is understood of the relation of means and end.

I agree with him that the "incarnation anyway" folks, ancient or modern, do not have a leg to stand on. In my view, that's an absurd counterfactual hypothetical which implicitly undermines the universal providence of God by endeavoring to say what would have happened under other conditions, as though God needed more than one way to skin this particular cat.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
I finished volume 2 last night, having read 200 pages yesterday. A combination of 200 pages of John Owen and the sea-air of Portrush meant that I slept for 13 hours last night. (Yes, I literally did.) :lol:

Seriously, though, Owen's treatment of the Sabbath in that volume is masterful (even correcting some "Puritanical" excesses). I also enjoyed his summaries of each chapter of the epistle before he gets to the exegesis.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
Needless to say, I do not regret my decision to begin reading the Hebrews' commentary. If you are still on the fence as to whether or not you should read it, I highly recommend doing so.

I have a significant back-log of John Owen posts to publish on the blog, but this one on John Owen on the three-fold division of the law is the first one that I have taken from Hebrews.
 

Brian R.

Puritan Board Freshman
If you are still on the fence as to whether or not you should read it, I highly recommend doing so.
How about someone like me who hasn't completed much of his Works yet? Finish the Works first? Or skip them and tackle Hebrews? Guess you probably can't lose either way...
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
How about someone like me who hasn't completed much of his Works yet? Finish the Works first? Or skip them and tackle Hebrews? Guess you probably can't lose either way...
That question is a good one and a difficult one to answer. As you say, though, you cannot lose either way. I would still be of the opinion that it is always best to begin with John Owen's shorter/easier works and try to work your way up to the more difficult material. That said, his summary of the contents of each chapter of Hebrews at the end of volume 2 is probably his most simple work.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I have never understood why Owen held to the Mosaic the way he did after I became Reformed. Didn't understand it as a Particular Baptist either. I would classify him as a confused Particular Baptist when it comes to classic Reformed theology like I would classify Charles Wesley as a confused Calvinist. I can explain that. And can it be.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
Trucking right along! Is there a good bit of Latin sprinkled in the volumes?
Yes, there is, although he translates a fair bit of it. There were, however, lengthy sections in volume 2 of extended quotations from an opponent which he left untranslated. I can make sense of some of his Greek citations, but am at a loss when it comes to Latin and Hebrew. But you cannot know everything, so not to worry.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
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I have a question. I have asked this before, during what time of his life did Owen do this wonderful work? We all develop and mature theologically different. Sometimes we write with more clarity or write so exhaustively we can cloud issues. We write in time and based upon situations environmentally. Owen was a top scholar. I am asking this question because Owen has said much concerning the Covenant of grace and the Mosaic covenant. I would like to know when his comments were written in regards to other statement made in his works.

Does that make sense?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
I have a question. I have asked this before, during what time of his life did Owen do this wonderful work? We all develop and mature theologically different. Sometimes we write with more clarity or write so exhaustively we can cloud issues. We write in time and based upon situations environmentally. Owen was a top scholar.
From what I can gather from the bibliography at the back of Crawford Gribben's book, John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat, Owen appears to have published this work between 1668 and 1684 (the final volume must have been published posthumously, as he died in August 1683). I have heard it said that it is better to focus on Owen's writings post-1660, as they are supposed to be much more mature than his earlier works.

Most people make the mistake of beginning with his Death of Death, but that was an early work published in 1648. It suffers from being unnecessarily ostentatious and overly difficult to read. As he matured, Owen learned to communicate more clearly and I have found that much of his corpus is a lot easier to read than the Death of Death.

I am asking this question because Owen has said much concerning the Covenant of grace and the Mosaic covenant. I would like to know when his comments were written in regards to other statement made in his works.

Does that make sense?

Owen discusses this subject in the Excercitations somewhere in the opening two volumes of Hebrews (I have three forthcoming blog posts stating his view). Off the top of my head, I am not sure where else he outlined his views concerning republication. It might be worth checking the references to the chapter on this subject in A Puritan Theology (if you have it).

In fact, I decided to publish one of Owen extracts on this subject while we were talking: John Owen on the sanction of the law as a covenant of works and its republication to Israel.

Although I hold to a form of republication, I would not necessarily fully commit myself to Owen's opinions on the issue.
 
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Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
Finished volume 3 of Hebrews a day ahead of schedule (not bad given that I am slowly reading another book for review), which means that I have now read 10 volumes of John Owen since late December. Early last year, I concentrated on reading a lot of Thomas Aquinas and got through the whole of Summa Theologica (I had previously read about 15% of it). This year, I have decided to concentrate on the remainder of Owen's writings that I have not previously read. God-willing, I hope to finish the final four volumes of Hebrews over the next couple of months.

Of course, when I finish all 24 volumes, the next challenge will be to go back and re-read the volumes that I read years ago, especially works such as The Death of Death.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
I read the first c. 100 pages of volume 4 today. Whenever you get the chance, it is worth your time making the effort to read these volumes.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
I finished volume 4 today; with the exception of the references to Hebrew and Latin (and some of the extended discussions on the Greek), the commentary is remarkably easy to read.
 

Regi Addictissimus

Completely sold out to the King
Logos has Owen's Hebrews commentary set on sale for $28 right now. I may go for it. If I didn't stock on commentaries during their March Matchup event there would be no hesitations.
 
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