John Owen's Ten Observations about the Legal Nature of Justification

Since I'm preaching through Romans, I recently decided to bite the bullet and plow through John Owen's treatise on justification in volume 5 of his Works (Full Title: The Doctrine of Justification by Faith Through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed and Vindicated.) It is well worth the work. 

Here is a series of ten observations Owen makes about the legal (his word is "forensic") nature of justification as taught in Scripture. This comes from chapter 4 of his book (Works, Vol. 5, pp. 135-136). The headings are mine, but based on Owen, while the numbering, sentences in italics, and Scriptural references are his. (And I have updated the language and have slightly reworded in a few places to make it more readable.)

1. Judgment

A judgment is supposed in justification, concerning which the psalmist prays that it may not proceed on terms of the law.

Psalm 143:2

2. The Judge

The judge is God himself.

Isaiah 50:7-8; Romans 8:33

3. The Tribunal

The tribunal on which God sits in judgment is the throne of grace.

Hebrews 4:16; Isaiah 30:18

4. A Guilty Person

This is the sinner, who is so guilty of sin as to be exposed to the judgment of God, and whose mouth is stopped by conviction.

Romans 1:32;Romans 3:19

5. The Accusers

Accusers are ready to propose and promote the guilty person; these are the law, the conscience, and Satan.

John 5:45; Romans 2:15; Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10

6. The Charge

The charge is admitted and drawn up in handwriting in the form of the law, and is laid before the tribunal of the Judge, in bar, to the deliverance of the offender.

Colossians 2:14

7. A Plea

A plea is prepared in the gospel for the guilty person; and this is grace, through the blood of Christ, the ransom paid, the atonement made, the eternal righteousness brought in by the surety of the covenant.

Romans 3:23-25; Daniel 9:24; Ephesians 1:7

8. The Defense

The sinner takes himself to God's grace alone, renouncing all other defenses. There is no other plea for a sinner to make before God. He who knows God and himself will not trust any other defense, even if he was certain that all the angels of heaven would plead for him.

Psalm 130:2-3; Psalm 143:2; Job 9:2-3; Job 42:5-7; Luke 18:13; Romans 3:24-25; Romans 5:11, 16-19; ; Romans 8:1-3, 32-33; Isaiah 53:5-6; Hebrews 9:13-15; Hebrews 10:1-13; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 1:7

9. The Advocate

To make this plea effective, we have an Advocate with the Father, and he pleads his own propitiation for us.

1 John 2:1-2

10. The Sentence

The sentence given is not guilty, as the sinner is absolved from all blame, on account of the ransom, blood, sacrifice, and righteousness of Christ. He is also accepted into God's favor as one fully approved by God.

Job 33:24; Psalm 32:1-2; Romans 3:23-25; Romans 8:1, 33-34; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13-14


If we seriously considered how all these things concur and are required for the justification of every person who is ever saved, we wouldn't have such slight thoughts of sin and the way of deliverance from sin as we seem to have.

No comments: