John Owen: Justification and Imputation

By Evan Knies

Justification and Personal Righteousness

Speaking of justification, John Owen wrote “If we are justified before God on our own personal righteousness, and pronounced righteous by him on the account thereof, then God enters into judgment with us on something in ourselves, and acquits us thereon; for justification is a juridical act, in and of that judgment of God which is according unto truth. But that God should enter into judgment with us, and justify us with respect unto what he judgeth on, or our personal righteousness.” Jesus Christ was judged for us. He was condemned in our place. The judge stood in place of the guilty. Thus, Jesus Christ is both the just and justifier. Until men know themselves better, they will care very little to know Christ at all. Mankind is full of great sinners, but if they believe in the Son’s work, they have a great savior.


The foundation of imputation is the union between Christ and his church. For Owen, this means that Christ and His church coalesce into one mystical person through the uniting efficacy of the Holy Spirit. Jesus blood was imputed to us. Jesus Christ alone is our righteousness. John Owen stated, “To say the righteousness of Christ is not imputed unto us, only its effects are so, is really to overthrow all imputation; for the effects of the righteousness of Christ cannot be said properly to be imputed unto us; and if his righteousness itself be not so, imputation hath no place herein, nor can it be understood why the apostle should so frequently assert it as he does.” Owen understands the doctrine of imputation to be essential to the Christian faith. If one gets this wrong, they get it all wrong. If one states/believes that only its effects are imputed to us, then that is to say that there is no imputation at all.

Evan and his wife Lauren are originally from Louisiana. He is a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Knies.


John Owen on Christ’s Obedience

By Evan Knies

Owen understands that the Lord Jesus was obedient til death upon the cross. He was obedient for our sake, because of his obedience until death; Jesus has fulfilled the law for the saints.

Owen said, “The law which our Lord Jesus Christ came “not to destroy, but to fulfill,” that he might be the end of it for righteousness unto them that do believe”.

Owen states that, “He had by his death obtained a right and liberty of pardoning sin upon what condition he pleased: so that, after the satisfaction of Christ yielded and considered, “as his words are”, it was wholly in God’s free disposal whether he would save any or no; and upon what condition he would, whether of faith or of works”.

Jesus took the Father’s wrath upon the cross. The Son was our Spotless Lamb (Luke 23:44-47). It is important to know that justification is the forgiveness of sins, however, we cannot limit justification merely to forgiveness. It is not enough to have our debt forgiven and removed. We need a positive righteousness to speak for us before a holy God and our positive righteousness is the Lamb. Jesus is our positive righteousness. Our Passover lamb was without spot or blemish.

Owen states that, “His offering for us is only the presentation of himself in the presence of God in heaven; now he hath no more to do for himself in a way of duty. And the truth is, if the obedience of Christ had respect unto himself only, that is, if he yielded it unto God on the necessity of his condition, and did not do it for us, I see no foundation left to assert his merit upon, no more than I do for the imputation of it unto them that believe”.

Evan Knies is married to Lauren and a student at SBTS. You can follow him on Twitter @Evan_Knies.


John Owen on the Glory of Christ in the Old Testament

By Colton Corter

Jesus never rebuked the Pharisees for reading their Bibles too much. His problem was with their interpretive method; how they were reading their Bibles. The self-righteousness of these men came about because they did not understand the nature of God’s revelation and redemption. They searched the Scriptures because they thought that in them they would have life (John 5:39). And yet, it was these very Scriptures that were supposed to point them to the One to come, the One who would be their ransom and righteousness, the One who was staring into their faces.

B.B. Warfield likened the Old Testament to a fully furnished room with all of the lights off. All of the pieces are there but we can’t see them yet. At the coming of Christ, the lights came on. Things that were there all along become visible. The Holy Spirit begins to show in our hearts the truth about the gospel of God that, though veiled, was the chosen portion of Old Testament saints as well. The apostle Paul viewed the Old Testament in the same way. In 2 Corinthians 3 he says that the Jews read the Hebrew Bible with veils over their faces, unable to see the glory of God in the face of Christ. In salvation, God removed the veil that we might see and believe, trusting in the glories of Christ for our highest good and only salvation from the wrath to come. With the same creative power that birthed the cosmos, He made us alive. The veil is removed and we see what God has planned before the foundation of the world.

How many of us read our Old Testaments like this? How often are we guilty of failing to see the glory of God in Christ throughout God’s revelation from Genesis to Malachi? 17th century Puritan, John Owen, shows us a better way. Here are seven ways that Owen gives in his book The Glory of Christ to see the King in His beauty, clothed in the gospel:

1. The Glory of Christ under the Old Testament was revealed in the beautiful worship of the law.

Owen is talking specifically about the tabernacle and the temple. These Old Testament structures might see foreign and even irrelevant to us today, but are nonetheless great pointers to the glory of Christ. Why did God give these things? Why were His prescriptions so precise, even perfect? Owen answers, “They were a shadow of the real person and glory of Christ.” He continues, saying “Everything Moses did in erecting the tabernacle and instituting all its services was intended to testify to the person and glory of Christ which would later be revealed (Heb. 3:5).” These things were the shadows of the substance that was to come.

2. The glory of Christ under the Old Testament was represented in the mystical account which is given to us in his communion with his church in love and grace.

Owen has the Song of Solomon in mind. This book, regardless of if you read it literally or allegorically (or both), it so obviously points towards the great love that the true Bridegroom has for us, his unworthy, blood-bought bride. Owen argues that we will be that much more accountable for forsaking such a great communion with God because we have a clearer picture of who God is in Christ.

3. The glory of Christ was represented and made known under the Old Testament in his personal appearances to leaders of the church in their generations.

Owen gives an interesting argument for Christ being foreshadowed by the anthropomorphisms in the Old Testament. All that to mean that Christ did appear with and in the Old Testament saints by appearing in the form of a man, foreshadowing His actual, unique incarnation. Let me let Owen speak for himself: “It would have been absurd to represent God as grieving, repenting, being angry and well-pleased and exhibiting all other human emotions, were it not that the divine person intended to take on him human nature in which emotions dwell.”

4. The glory of Christ under the Old Testament was represented in prophetic visions.

Isaiah 6 is the main focus of this section for Owen. Sure enough, there is New Testament warrant for seeing that Isaiah in fact saw the glory of the pre-incarnate Christ (Jn. 12:41). When we read of God’s transcendent majesty we see the majesty of Christ. Christ is the full radiance of God! In the trauma of God’s utter otherness we see His great grace as He extends pardon by virtue of a coal brought from the altar. Here there are glimpses of the cross, where God’s justice and love met together in perfect harmony.

5. The doctrine of Christ’s incarnation was revealed under the Old Testament although not as clearly as it is revealed in the gospel.

The Bible is a progressive revelation. Owen would not say that there is not discontinuity between the New Testament and the OId. However, God has always dealt with His chosen people in the same general way in the gospel. The incarnation of Christ should have been discerned by the Jews after having read Isaiah 9:6-7. Owen writes, “This one testimony is sufficient to confound all Jews and other enemies of the glory of Christ. I admit that, notwithstanding this revelation, there remained much darkness in the minds of those to whom the revelation was made. Although they did accept the truth of the revelation, yet they could have no idea how it would be accomplished.” The Old Testament authors wrote better than they knew; not just for their sakes, but for our benefit and instruction (1 Pet. 1:12).

6. The glory of Christ under the Old Testament was revealed in promises, prophecies, and predictions about his person, his coming, his offices, his kingdom and his glory.

These are the very things that Jesus taught his disciples from all the Scriptures concerning Himself on that Emmaus road in Luke 24. Quoting Owen at length, “Christ appealed to the Scriptures against his opponents saying, ‘Search the scriptures, for they are they which testify of me.’ If we do not see the glory of Christ in the Scriptures it is because a veil of blindness is over our minds. Nor can we read, study, or become spiritually strong by meditating on the writings of the Old Testament unless we commit ourselves to considering the glory of Christ displayed in them. So to many the Bible is a sealed book.”

7. The glory of Christ under the Old Testament is revealed under many metaphorical expressions.

“So Christ is called the rose, for the sweet perfume of his love, grace and obedience,” writes Owen. In these great metaphors we see glimpses of the Son. He is meek like the Lamb. Conquering as the Lion. He is our pearl of great price!

Even if one does not agree fully with ever proposition of Owen, surely he read his Old Testament more like the apostles as we do. The work of the Spirit in inspiration is to take what is Christ’s and glorify it (Jn. 16:14). The whole point of the Bible is to lead us to infinite joy in the abundant glory of God in Christ. Owen leaves us this benediction: “From all of this let us learn to behold the glory of Christ when we read the Old Testament Scripture.”

Colton Corter is a student at SBTS and member at Third Avenue Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter @coltonMcorter.