Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Owen: God loves his people while they are sinning
In Communion with God, John Owen discusses our perceptions that God’s love is changeable. He notes that even when we perceive his chiding and do not see his smile, this does not mean that his love has changed: “But still his love is always the same” (Banner Puritan paperback ed., p. 24).
Owen quickly anticipates objections: “But you will say, ‘This comes near to blasphemy! You are saying God loves his people in their sinning as well as in their strictest obedience. If this is so, who will bothers to serve him or seek to please him?’”
Owen responds: “But God’s love does not change and therefore we are not consumed in his wrath. Does God then love his people while they are sinning? Yes! he loves his people but he does not love their sinning. Doesn’t God’s love change towards them? Not the purpose of his will to love them, but the working out of his gracious acts and disciplines towards them is changed.”
He adds: “The doctrine of grace may be turned into an excuse for doing evil but the principle cannot. And we may further affirm that God’s detesting and loathing sin in his people is not inconsistent with the acceptance of their persons and their being chosen for eternal life” (p. 25).
Later, when discussing the “purchased righteousness” of the saints, including the imputation of Christ’s obedience, Owen reflects: “Are we, then, freed from obedience? Yes. We are freed from obeying the law in our own strength, and we are freed from obeying it in order to obtain everlasting life” (p. 122). He adds this qualification, however: “We are not freed from obedience as a way of walking with God, but we are freed from obedience as a means of making ourselves good enough to come to God” (pp. 122-123).
Reflections: In stressing the immutability of God’s love for his saints, part and parcel of the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace in salvation, including the doctrine of perseverance, it seems one will always (as Owen does) run the risk of being accused of “antinomianism.”