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vered, thus confirmed, there is a neglect of it supposed, verse 3, " If
we neglect," a/iiX'/iaa\'rsg. The conditional is included
^s .>5<ravT£s. .^ ^-j^^ manner of the expression, " If we neglect," " if
we regard not," " if we do not take due care about it." The word
intimateth an omission of all those duties which are necessary for
our retaining the word preached unto our profit, and that to such a
degree as utterly to reject it ; for it answers unto those transgressions
of and that stubborn disobedience unto the law, which disannulled
it as a covenant, and were punished with excision or cutting off.
" If we neglect," — that is, if we continue not in a diligent observa-
tion of all those duties which are indispensably necessary unto a
holy, useful, profitable profession of the gospel.

4. There is a punishment intimated upon this sinful neglect
of the gospel: " How shall we escape," — "flee from,"
as iK(pivi,o- ^^ (4 avoid 1" wherein both the punishment itself and
the manner of its expression are to be considered.
For the punishment itself, the apostle doth' not expressly mention
it; it must therefore be taken from the words going beiore. "How
shall we escape;" that is hhixov fLicSa-odoatav, "a just retribution,"
"a meet recompence of reward?" The breach of the law had so;
a punishment suitable unto the demerit of the crime was by God
assigned unto it, and inflicted on them that were guilty. So is
there unto the neglect of the gospel, even a punishment justly de-
served by so great a crime ; so much greater and more sore than
that designed unto the contempt of the law, by how much tlie
gospel, upon the account of its nature, effects, author, and confirma-
tion, was more excellent than the law: ysip^jv n/jjup/a,
a sorer punishment, as our apostle calls it, chap. x. 29 ;
as much exceeding it as eternal destruction under the curse and
wrath of God exceeds all temporal punishments whatever. What
this punishment is, see Matt. xvi. 26, xxv, 46; 2 Thess. i. 9. The
manner of ascertaining the punishment intimated is by an interro-
gation, " How shall we escape ?" wherein three things are intended:
— (1 .) Adenial of any ways or means for escape or deliverance. There
is none that can deliver us, no way whereby we may escape. See
1 Pet. iv. 17, 18. And, (2.) The certainty of the punishment itself.
It will as to the event assuredly befall us. And, (3.) The inexpress-
ible greatness of this unavoidable evil: "How shall we escape?"
We shall not, there is no Avay for it, nor ability to bear what we are
liable unto. Matt, xxiii. 33; 1 Pet. iv. 18.

This is the scope of the apostle in these verses, this the import-


ance of the several things contained in them. His main design and
intendment is, to prevail with the Hebrews unto a diligent attend-
ance unto the gospel that was preached unto them ; which he urgeth
by an argument taken from the danger, yea certain ruin, that will
undoubtedly ensue on the neglect of it; whose certainty, unavoid-
ableness, greatness, and righteousness, he manifests by the considera-
tion of the punishment assigned unto the transgression of the law,
which the gospel on many accounts doth excel.

The observations for our own instruction which these verses offer
unto us are these that follow: —

I. Motives unto a due valuation of the gospel and perseverance
in the profession of it, taken from the penalties annexed unto the
neglect of it, are evangelical, and of singular use in the preaching
of the word: "How shall we escape, if we neglect?"

This consideration is here managed by the apostle, and that when
he had newly set forth the glory of Christ, and the greatness of the
salvation tendered in the gospel, in the most persuading and attrac-
tive manner. Some would fancy that all comminations and threat-
enings do belong unto the law, as though Jesus Christ had left
himself and his gospel to be securely despised by profane and im-
penitent sinners; but as they will find the contrary to their eternal
ruin, so it is the will of Christ that we should let them know it, and
thereby warn others to take heed of their sins and their plagues.

Now, these motives from comminations and threatenings I call
evangelical, —

1. Because they are recorded in the gospel. There we are taught
them, and by it commanded to make use of them. Matt. x. !^8, xxiv.
50, 51, XXV. 41, Mark xvi. 16, John iii. 36, 2 Cor. ii. 15, 16, 2 Thess.
i. 8, 9, and in other places innumerable. And to this end are they
recorded, that they may be preached and declared as part of the
gospel. And if the dispensers of the word insist not on them, they
deal deceitfully with the souls of men, and detain from the counsel
of God. And as such persons will find themselves to have a weak
and an enervous ministry here, so also that they will have a sad
account of their partiality in the word to give hereafter. Let not
men think themselves more evangelical than the author of the
gospel, more skilled in the mystery of the conversion and edification
of the souls of men than the apostles; — in a word, more wise than
God himself; which they must do if they neglect this part of his

2. Because they become the gospel. It is meet the gospel should
be armed with threatenings as well as attended with promises; and
that, —

(1.) On the part of Christ himself, the author of it. However
the world persecuted and despised him whilst he was on the earth,


and he " threatened not," 1 Pet. ii. 23, on his own account, — however
they continued to contemn and blaspheme his ways and salvation, —
yet he lets them know that he is armed with power to revenge their
disobedience. And it belongs unto his honour to have it declared
unto them. A sceptre in a kingdom without a sword, a crown with-
out a rod of iron, will quickly be trampled on. Both are therefore
given into the hand of Christ, that the glory and honour of his
dominion may be known, Ps. ii. 9-12.

(2.) They become the gospel on the part of sinners, yea, of all to
whom the gospel is preached. And these are of two sorts: —

[].] Unbelievers, hypocrites, apostates, impenitent neglecters of
the great salvation declared in it. It is meet on this account tliat
the dispensation of the gospel be attended with threatenings and
comniinations of punibhment; and that, —

\st. To keep them here in awe and fear, that they may not boldly
and openly break out in contempt of Christ. These are his arrows
tiiat are sharp in the hearts of his adversaries, whereby he awes
them, galls them, and in the midst of all their pride makes them
to tremble sometimes at their future condition. Christ never suffers
them to be so secure but that his terrors in these threatenings visit
them ever and anon. And hereby also doth he keep them within
some bounds, bridles their rage, and overpowers many of them unto
some usefulness in the world, with many other blessed ends not now
to be insisted on.

2dly. That they may be left inexcusable, and the Lord Christ be
justified in his proceedings against them at the last day. If they
siiould be surprised with " fiery indignation" and " everlasting burn-
ings" at the last day, how might they plead that if they had been
warned of these things they would have endeavoured to flee from "the
wrath to come;" and how apt might they be to repine against his
justice in the amazing greatness of their destruction ! But now, by
taking order to have the penalty of their disobedience in the threat-
enings of the gospel declared unto them, they are left without excuse,
and himself is glorified in taking vengeance. He hath told them
beforehand plainly what they are to look for, Heb. x. 26, 27-

[2.] They are so on the part of believers themselves. Even they
stand in need to be minded of "the terror of the Lord," and what a
fearful thing it is to " fall into the hands of the living God," and that
even " our God is a consuming fire." And this, —

\st. To keep up in their hearts a constant reverence of the ma-
jesty of Jesus Christ, witli whom they have to do. The threatening
sanction of the gospel bespeaks the greatness, holiness, and terror
of its author, and insinuates into the hearts of believers thoughts
becoming them. It lets them know that he will be " sanctified in
all that draw nigh unto him;" and so calls upon them for a due re-


verential preparation for the performance of his worship, and unto
all the duties wherein they walk before him, Heb. xii. 28, 29. This
iutluenceth them also unto a diligent attendance unto every particular
duty incumbent on them, as the apostle declares, 2 Cor. v. 11.

^dly. They tend unto their consolation and supportment under
all tlieir afflictions and sufferings for the gospel. This relieves their
hearts in all their sorrows, when they consider the sore vengeance
that the Lord Jesus Clirist will one day take on all his stubborn
adversaries, who know not God, nor will obey the gospel, 2 Thess.
i. 5-10; for the Lord Jesus is no less faithful in his threatenings
than in his promises, and no less able to inflict the one tlian to
accomplish the other. And he is "glorious" unto them therein, Isa.
Ixiii. 11-13.

2dly. They give them constant matter of praise and thankfulness,
when they see in them, as in a glass that will neitlier flatter nor cause-
lessly terrify, a representation of that wrath which they are delivered
from by Jesus Christ, 1 Thess. i. 10: for in this way every threaten-
ing of the gospel proclaims the grace of Christ unto their souls; and
wlien they hear them explained in all their terror, they can rejoice
in the hope of the glory that shall be revealed. And, —

MJdy. They are needful unto them to ingenerate that fear which
may give check unto the remainder of their lusts and corruptions,
with that security and negligence in attending to the gospel which
by their means is apt to grow upon them. To this purpose is the
punishment of despisers and backsliders here made use of and urged
by our apostle. Tlie hearts of believers are like gardens, wherein
there are not only flowers, but weeds also; and as the former must
be watered and cherished, so the latter must be curbed and nipped.
If nothing but dews and showers of promises should fall upon the
heart, though they seem to tend to the cherishing of their graces,
yet the weeds of corruption will be apt to grow up with them, and
in the end to choke them, unless they are nipped and blasted by tlie
severity of threatenings. And although their persons, in the use of
me;ms, shall be secured from falling under the final execution of
comminations, yet they know there is an infallible connection signi-
fied in them between sin and destruction, 1 Cor. vi. 9, and that they
must avoid the one if they would escape the other.

btldy. Hence they have in a readiness wherewith to balance temp-
tations, especially such as accompany sufferings for Christ and tiie
gospeh Great reasonings are apt to rise in the hearts of believers
themselves in such a season, and they are biassed by their infir-
mities to attend unto them. Liberty would be spared, life would
be spared; it is hard to suffer and to die. How many have been
betrayed by their fears at such a season to forsake the Lord Christ
and the gospel! But now in these gospel threatenings we have that


in a readiness which we may oppose unto all these reasonings and
the efficacy of them. Are we afraid of a man that shall die? have
we not much more reason to be afraid of the living God? Shall we,
to avoid the anger of a worm, cast ourselves into his wrath who is a
consuming fire? Shall we, to avoid a little momentary trouble, to
preserve a perishing life, which a sickness may take away the next
day, run ourselves into eternal ruin? Man threatens me if I for-
sake not the gospel; but God threatens if I do. Man threatens
death temporal, which yet it may be he shall not have power to in-
flict; God threatens death eternal, which no backslider in heart shall
avoid. On these and the like accounts are comminations useful
unto believers themselves.

(o.) These declarations of eternal punishment unto gospel ne-
glecters do become the gospel with respect unto them that are the
preachers and dispensers of it, that their message be not slighted
nor their persons despised. God would have even them to have in
a readiness wherewith to revenge the disobedience of men, 2 Cor.
X. 6; not with carnal weapons, killing and destroying the bodies of
men, but by such a denunciation of the vengeance that will ensue
on their disobedience as shall undoubtedly take hold upon them, and
end in their everlasting ruin. Thus are they armed for the warfare
wherein by the Lord Christ they are engaged, that no man may he
encouraged to despise them or contend with them. They are autho-
rized to denounce the eternal wrath of God against disobedient sin-
ners; and wiiomsoever they bind under the sentence of it on earth,
they are bound in heaven unto the judgment of the great day.

On these grounds it is we say that the threateniugs and denun-
ciations of future punishment unto all sorts of persons are becoming
the gospel; and therefore the using of them as motives unto the ends
for which they are designed is evangelical. And this will further
appear if we shall yet consider, —

1. That threatenings of future penalties on the disobedient are
far more clear and express in the gospel than in the law. The
curse, indeed, was threatened and denounced under the law, and a
pledge and instance of its execution were given in the temporal
punishments that were inflicted on the transgressors of it; but in
the "Tospel the nature of this curse is explained, and what it con-
sisteth in is made manifest. For as eternal life was only obscurely
promised in the Old Testament, though promised, so death eternal
under the curse and wrath of God was only obscurely threatened
therein, though threatened. And therefore as life and inm^ortality
were brought to light by the gospel, so death and hell, the punish-
ment of sin under the wrath of God, are more fully declared therein.
The nature of the judgment to come, the duration of the penalties
to be inflicted on unbelievers, with such intimations of the nature


and ]i\vA of them as our understandings are able to receive, are fully
and frequently insisted on in the NeW' Testament, whereas they are
very obscurely only gathered out of the writings of the Old.

2. The punishment threatened in the gospel is, as unto degrees,
greater and more sore than that which was annexed to the mere
transgression of the first covenant. Hence the apostle calls it "death
unto death," 2 Cor. ii. 16, by i^eason of the sore aggravation which
the first sentence of death will receive from the wrath due unto the
contempt of the gospel. Separation from God under eternal. punish-
ment was unquestionably due to the sin of Adam ; and so, conse-
quently, unto evei'y transgression against the first covenant. Gen. ii.
17; Rom. V. 12, 17. But yet this hinders not but that the same
penalty, for the nature and kind of it, may receive many and great
aggravations, upon men's sinning against that great remedy provided
against the first guilt and prevarication; which it also doth, as shall
further afterwards be declared.

And this ought they to be well acquainted withal who are called
unto the dispensation of the gospel. A fond conceit hath befallen
some, that all denunciations of future wrath, even unto unbelievers,
is legal, which therefore it doth not become the preachers of the
gospel to insist upon : so would men make themselves wiser than
Jesus Christ and all his apostles, yea, they would disarm the Lord
Christ, and expose him to the contempt of his vilest enemies. There
is also, we see, a great use in these evangelical threatenings unto
believers themselves. And they have been observed to have had
an effectual ministry, both unto conversion and edification, who have
been made wise and dexterous in managing gospel comminations
towards the consciences of their hearers. And those also that hear
the word may hence learn their duty, when such threatenings are
handled and opened unto them.

II. All punishments annexed unto the transgression either of the
law or gospel are effects of God's vindictive justice, and
consequently iust and equal: " A meet recompence of ^'^'^'^ ^f^'"^"-

What it is the apostle doth not declare ; but he doth that it is just
and equal, which depends on the justice of God appointing and de-
signing of it. Foolish men have always had tumultuating thoughts
about the judgments of God. Some have disputed with him about
the equity and equality of his ways in judgments temporal, Ezek.
xviii., and some about those that shall be eternal. Hence was the
vain imagination of them of old who dreamed that an end should
be put, after some season, unto the punishment of devils and wicked
men; so turning hell into a kind of purgatory. Others have dis-
puted, in our days, that there shall be no hell at all, but a mere
annihilation of ungodly men at the last day. The^e things being

VOL. xii.— 19


SO expressly contrary to the Scripture, can have no other rise but
the corrupt minds and affections of men, not conceiving the reasons
of God's judgments, nor acquiescing in his sovereignty. That which
they seem principally to have stumbled at, is the assignation of a
punishment infinite as to its duration, as well as in its nature ex-
tended unto the utmost capacity of the subject, unto a fault tem-
porary, finite, and transient. Now, that we may justify God herein,
and the more clearly discern that the punishment inflicted finally
on sin is but " a meet recompence of reward," we must consider, —

1. That God's justice constituting, and in the end inflicting, the
reward of sin, is essential unto him. " Is God unjust ?" saith the
apostle, kvKpipcav rrjv opyriv, Rom. iii. 5. 'Opyrj, "anger," or "wrath,"
is not that from whence punishment proceedeth, but punishment
itself God iuflicteth wrath, anger, or vengeance. And therefore
when we read of the anger or wratli of God against sin or sinners,
as Rom. i. 18, the expression is metojuymical, the cause being de-
signed by the effect. The true fountain and cause of the punish-
ment of sin is the justice of God, which is an essential property of
his nature, natural unto him, and inseparable from any of his works.
And this absolutely is the same with his holincvss, or the infinite
purity of his nature. So that God doth not assign the punishment
of sin arbitrarily, as though he might do so or otherwise without any
impeachment of his glory; but his justice and his holiness indispen-
sably require that it should be punished, even as it is indispensably
necessary that God in all things should be just and holy. " The
holy God will do no iniquity;" the Judge of all the earth will do
right, and will by no means acquit the guilty. This is d/Kurjj/j.a rou
Gtou, " the judgment of God," that which his justice requireth, " that
they which commit sin are worthy of death," Rom. i. 32. And God
cannot but do that which it is just that he should do. See 2 Thess.
i. 6. We have no more reason, then, to quarrel with the punish-
ment of sin than we have to repine that God is holy and just, — that
is, that he is God ; for the one naturally and necessarily followeth
upon the other. Now, there is no principle of a more uncontrollable
and sovereign truth written in the hearts of all men than this, that
what the nature of God, or any of his essential properties, require
to he, is holy, meet, equal, just, and good.

2. That this righteousness or justice of God is in the exer-
cise of it inseparably accompanied with infinite wisdom. Tbese
things are not diverse in God, but are distinguished with respect
unto the various manners ot his actings, and the variety of the
objects which he acteth towards, and so denote a different habitude
of the divine nature, not diverse things in God. They are there-
fore inseparable in all the works of God. Now, from this infinite
wisdom of God, which his righteousness in the constitution of the


punishment of sin is eternally accompanied withal, two things
ensue : —

(1.) That he alone knoweth what is the true desert and demerit
of sin, and but from his declaration of creatures not any. And how
shall we judge of what we know nothing of but from him, but only
by what he doth ? We see amongst men that the guilt of crimes is
aggravated according to the dignity of the persons against whom
they are committed. Now, no creature knowing him perfectly
against whom all sin is committed, none can truly and perfectly
know what is the desert and demerit of sin but by his revelation
who is perfectly known unto himself And what a madness is it to
judge otherwise of what we do no otherwise understand ! Shall we
make ourselves judges of what sin against God doth deserve? — let
us first by searching find out the Almighty unto perfection, and
then we may know of ourselves what it is to sin against him. Be-
sides, we know not what is the opposition that is made by sin unto
the holiness, the nature, the very being of God. As we cannot
knov/ him perfectly against whom we sin, so we know not perfectly
what we do when we sin. It is the least part of the malignity and
poison that is in sin which we are able to discern. We see not the
d(.-23th of that malicious respect which it hath unto God ; and are we
capable to judge aright of what is its demerit? But all these
things are open and naked before that infinite wisdom of God
which accompanieth his righteousness in all his works. He knows
himself, against whom sin is; he knows the condition of the sinner;
he knows what contrariety and opposition there is in sin unto him-
self, — in a word, what it is for a finite, limited, dependent creature,
to subduct itself from under the government and oppose itself unto
the authority and being of the holy Creator, Ruler, and Governor
of all things ; — all [this he knows] absolutely and perfectly, and so
alone knows what sin deserves.

(2.) From this infinite wisdom is the 'proportioning of the several
degrees in the punishment that shall be inflicted ou sin: for al-
though his righteousness requires that the final punishment of all
sin should be an eternal separation of the sinner from the enjoy-
ment of him, and that in a state of wrath and misery, yet by his
Avisdom he hath constituted degrees of that wrath, according luito
the variety of provocations that are found among sinners. And by
nothmg else could this be done. What else is able to look through
the inconceivable variety of aggravating circumstances, which is re-
quired hereunto? For the most part, we know not what is so; an<^
when v/e know any thing of its being, we know nothing almost of
the true nature of its demerit. And this is another thing from
whence we may learn that divine punishment of sin is always " a
meet recompence of reward."


3. In the final punishment of sin, there is no mixture of mercy,
■ — nothing to alleviate or to take off from the uttermost of its
desert. This world is the time and place for mercy. Here God
causeth his sun to shine and his rain to fall on the worst of men,
filling their hearts with food and gladness. Here he endures them
with much patience and forbearance, doing them good in unspeak-
able variety, and to many of them making a daily tender of that
mercy which might make them blessed to eternity. But the season
of these things is past in the day of recompence. Sinners shall
then hear nothing but, " Go, ye cursed." They shall not have the
least effect of mercy showed unto them unto all eternity. They
shall then " have judgment without mercy who showed no mercy."
The grace, goodness, love, and mercy of God, shall be glorified unto
the utmost in his elect, v/ithout the least mixture of allay from his
displeasure; and so shall his wrath, severity, and vindictive justice,
in them that perish, without any temperature of pity or compassion.
He shall rain upon them "snares, fire, and brimstone;" this shall
be their portion for ever. Wonder not, then, at the greatness or
duration of that punishment which shall exhaust the whole wrath
of God, without the least mitigation.

(1.) And this will discover unto us the nature of sin, especially of
unbelief and neglect of the gospel. Men are apt now to have slight

Online LibraryJohn OwenThe works of John Owen (Volume 12) → online text (page 35 of 70)