Broken Relationships

fellowship in sufferings; he learned obedience by what he suffered, and every son is to be scourged that is received

John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Part 2, Chapter 101

How do you process the death of a relationship? How do you deal with the moment when the other person says he or she wants nothing more to do with you? How do you work through the hurt, grief, confusion, bitterness, disappointment, fear, self-justification, anger2, and rejection?

There is quite a bit we could say about these questions, but Owen provides a helpful reminder that suffering is one type of fellowship we have with Jesus. Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered. Should we, then, expect to avoid suffering? God will bring suffering into our lives. He disciplines us as sons if we are in Christ. Why? It is “for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10)3. Sometimes, he does this through the breakup of a relationship.

1 Owen, John. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Public domain. Republished by CCEL. Accessed September 25, 2021.

2 I started reading Good & Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness by David Powlison recently. I’d highly recommend it. I’m not very far into the book, but it’s already been a helpful look at the good and bad sides of anger. It’s been thought-provoking.

3 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Reading Schedule: Summer 2021

I’ve been reading John Owen’s Communion with the Triune God, an edited and annotated version of Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, intermittently for way too long! It’s time for me to wrap this book up. I’m setting a reading schedule for myself. It assumes a pace of around 20 pages per week.

  1. September 5: page 344 (halfway through Part 2, Chapter 10)
  2. September 12: page 367 (the rest of Part 2, Chapter 10; and Part 3, Chapter 1)
  3. September 19: page 389 Part 3, Chapters 2–3)
  4. September 26: page 411 (Part 3, Chapters 4–6)
  5. October 3: page 426 (Part 3, Chapters 7–8)

If I read around four pages per day, five days per week, I should be able to meet my goal. Feel free to join me!

The Benefits of Holiness

It is by holiness that we are made like unto God, and his image is renewed again in us.

John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Part 2, Chapter 81

Owen lists three benefits of holiness in chapter 8:

  1. Honor
  2. Peace
  3. Usefulness


As quoted above, holiness makes us like God, with respect to our character. Of course, there are some of God’s attributes we cannot, and will not, ever attain: transcendence, omnipotence, etc. However, God is holy, and he wants us to be holy, too (1 Peter 1:16).


People who live in rebellion against God often have no peace. Living a holy life, however, can bring peace. We can enjoy fellowship with God (cf. 1 John 1).


Owen seems to distinguish between people’s usefulness when serving God’s providence, and another kind of usefulness. Political, military leaders, or even pastors may be examples of the first type. I’m not positive what Owen was getting at when he describes a second kind of usefulness. He mentions that people who are useful in a second sense serve the common good. Owen says that people can provide some benefit to others in God’s providence, while being good for nothing in themselves. Perhaps he has something like Jesus’s words in mind: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13). People can do seemingly great things, while at the same time bearing little to no spiritual fruit.

1 Owen, John. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Public domain. Republished by CCEL. Accessed August 8, 2021.

Christ’s Obedience

By the obedience of the life of Christ, I intend the universal conformity of the Lord Jesus Christ, as he was or is, in his being mediator, to the whole will of God; and his complete actual fulfilling of the whole of every law of God, or doing of all that God in them required.

John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Part 2, Chapter 61

John Owen distinguishes between the actual obedience of Christ, and the root of this obedience.

Habitual Righteousness of Christ

Owen calls the root the habitual righteousness of Christ. By this, he means “the absolute, complete, exact conformity of the soul of Christ to the will, mind, or law of God; or his perfect habitually inherent righteousness.”2 This righteousness describes who Jesus is, rather than what he does.

I wish I knew better firsthand what this is like! I have fleeting glimpses of this in my own life. However, I’m often halfhearted. I want to obey the Lord, but I also want other things. I sometimes begrudge the sovereign plan God has for me. I grumble and complain—inwardly, if not outwardly. Jesus, however, did none of these things. He wants exactly what his Father wants. He loves what God the Father loves. He hates what God hates. I’m so impressed by Jesus’s character.

Actual Obedience of Christ

From that perfect character flows the obedience Jesus actually rendered unto God. Owen defines it this way:

his willing, cheerful, obediential performance of every thing, duty, or command, that God, by virtue of any law whereto we were subject and obnoxious3, did require; and [his obedience], moreover, to the peculiar law of the mediator.4

Jesus obeyed both the laws of nature that were applicable before humanity’s fall into ruin, and laws that God added later.

I appreciate how careful John Owen is in how he thinks about various categories of righteousness and obedience.

1 Owen, John. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Public domain. Republished by CCEL. Accessed April 10, 2021.

2 Ibid.

3 This used in an archaic sense. I’m not positive what Owen means by the word. He may mean that we, being subject to the law, are harmed by it because we don’t keep it. Or perhaps he just means that the law carried with it the threat of punishment for disobedience.

4 Owen, John. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

How to Grieve the Holy Spirit

When we make creatures or creature comforts — any thing whatever but what we receive by the Spirit of Christ — to be our joy and our delight, we are false with Christ.

John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Part 2, Chapter 51

John Owen says this is one the ways we can grieve the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ gave us the Spirit for our sanctification and consolation2. Finding our consolation in other things goes against one of the very purposes for which God sent his Spirit to us.

Scripture condemns Demas, who was “in love with this present world” (1 Tim 4:10).3 God also instructs us:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

1 John 2:15–16

Indulging sinful cravings, or taking a self-righteous pride in the things we have or do, are sins that grieve God. They involve acting in unbelief. They can even elevate created things to a status only God should have in our lives. This is a violation of the First Commandment, which says we’re not to have any gods before God.

Not only so, but loving “this present world” is foolish. 1 John 2:17 says, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Finding our joy in perishable things is a poor investment of our affections. Owen comments that the daily work of Christians “is to get their hearts crucified to the world and the things of it, and the world to their hearts; that they may not have living affections to dying things….”.4 Let us stir up our affections for God, who lives forever!

How can we reconcile some of these truths with other Bible verses that encourage an enjoyment in created things? Ecclesiastes commends finding joy in our work or our possessions (5:18–19). God speaks approvingly of the ability to enjoy the work of our hands (Isaiah 65:22).

First, we should not interpret 1 John 2 to mean that physical matter is evil. God created it and called it good.

1 Timothy 4 can help us here. Some people were forbidding marriage and eating certain foods. God says this was wrong. Why? “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (v. 4–5). We can enjoy the things God made without being guilty of idolatry when we thank him. It pleases God when we recognize that he is the source of every good thing (James 1:17), and when we express our affections to the Lord through thanksgiving, and we pray. Failing to recognize God when we enjoy his gifts is unbelief, and Scripture says “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

1 Owen, John. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Public domain. Republished by CCEL. Accessed April 3, 2021.

2 Ibid.

3 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

4 Owen. Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Part 2, Chapter 5.

Jesus Loves You

All that ever [Christ] did or does, all that ever he underwent or suffered as mediator, was for their sakes.

John Owen, Communion with the Triune God1

When we think of God’s love, we can go wrong in two ways.

First, we can emphasize God’s love to the point where God’s glory becomes subservient to our personal worth. We become the center of the universe, pushing God to the periphery. We can wrongly believe that God’s greatest goals are to promote our happiness and well-being.

Second, we can emphasize God’s glory to the point where we think his love doesn’t even qualify as real. After all, the reasoning goes, if God does everything for his own glory, how could he have any other motives for what he does? We may find ourselves not taking what God says about his love at face value.

For the sake of this post, I’m going to take it for granted that God’s ultimate end in creating everything is his own glory.2 This article will therefore attempt to address the second problem: devaluing God’s love. Specifically, I’ll show that the Jesus—God the Son—really loves us, and that his love is amazing.

What does the Scripture say?

  • And for their sake I [Jesus] consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:19)3
  • and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15)
  • For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
  • As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:9)
  • Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

That is just a sampling. You can also look at John 13:34; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:35, 37; 1 Peter 1:20–21.

Jesus’s love is real. It is self-sacrificial. It is abundant. The fact that Jesus’s ultimate aim is God’s glory does not diminish the reality or the strength of his love for us.

After referencing Hebrews 2:14–15, John Owen speaks of how Jesus loves people who trust in him: “He valued them above his life.”4 Jesus would rather have died than that we should have died in our sins! Owen goes on to say of believers, “they are the apple of his eye, his jewel, his diadem, his crown.”5

Does your view of Jesus’s love align with Owen’s? Does it align with the Bible’s? I’ll confess that I do not normally think of Jesus’s love this way. It is to my detriment that I don’t think more of his love, and that I do not think of his love more. Owen recognizes that reflecting much on Jesus’s love would benefit us: “Were our hearts filled much with thoughts hereof, it would tend much to our consolation.”6

1 Owen, John. Communion with the Triune God, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2007), 247. This is an edited version of Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost by John Owen. The latter book was republished by CCEL, and you can find the original source for this quote at, albeit with older language.

2 You can find a compelling defense of this in Jonathan Edwards’s A Dissertation Concerning The End For Which God Created The World. You can find a footnoted edition in the second half of John Piper’s God’s Passion for His Glory.

3 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

4 Owen, John. Communion with the Triune God, 249.

5 Ibid., 250.

6 Ibid, 251.

The Purpose of Learning

The particular end of literature (though not observed by many, men’s eyes being fixed on false ends…) is none other but to remove some part of that curse which is come upon us by sin.

John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Part II, Digression 21

Why do you read? Why do you learn?

Owen makes two assertions:

  1. The real reason to read and learn is to overcome the curse of sin.
  2. Learning does not achieve this end.

The Purpose of Learning Is to Remove Sin’s Curse

John Owen states engaging in language studies, history, the arts, and science—which he groups under the label of “literature”—is an effort to remove the curse of sin. He also claims that overcoming this curse is the only proper reason to learn.

Is he right? Yes, but maybe only partially.

Learning can certainly be part of an endeavor to reverse sin’s curse. Both suffering and death are direct results of Adam’s decision to rebel against God. Let us consider medical writings. An immediate application of this literature is the alleviation of suffering and the postponement of death. Therefore, the utilization of medical knowledge works against the results of the Fall.

Is the reversal of the fall the only end of literature? Owen acknowledges that people read for other purposes, but he asserts that these purposes are not the true end of literature. For instance, if someone read for pleasure, Owen would likely say that is not the real reason we should read.

While Owen is right that much literature rightly aims to counteract the fall, to say that all literature should point to this singular end seems like an overstatement. What I’m about to write is speculative, but it does not seem far-fetched to admit the possibility that Adam, had he not sinned, would still have learned more about God as time went on. Some of that knowledge may have come through the immediate operations of the Holy Spirit. Some may have come through audible communications from God. It’s also possible that science would have flourished in the Garden of Eden eventually. Each new discovery could have been another opportunity to learn about God’s creation, and about the Creator. Writing down discoveries would have been a way to disseminate this learning to others.

I’m not confident this would have happened, but neither am I confident that it would have been impossible. It is conceivable that no written account of God’s character or deeds would have been necessary if Adam had not sinned. Jeremiah prophesied of a time when people would not need to teach others to know God, for everyone would already know him (Jeremiah 31:34). It is certainly possible that many scientific facts would have forever gone undiscovered, but that humanity would still know everything they needed to know in order to glorify and enjoy God fully.

My goal is not to disprove John Owen on this point. I am just trying to show that he may have been wrong when he said the only true goal of learning is to overcome the curse of sin.

Learning Does not Achieve Its End

…[learning and wisdom in civil affairs] are utterly insufficient for the compassing and obtaining of those particular ends whereunto they are designed.

If we agree, for the sake of discussion, that Owen is right that the purpose of learning is to overcome the results of sin’s curse, he is certainly right that it does not achieve this end.

First, part of the curse of sin is that we are no longer able to do what God wants us to do. We no longer have the capacity, in our natural state, to glorify Him or to enjoy him for who he is. No amount of learning can give us an appetite for God. Neither books nor science can, by themselves, cause us to love or obey God. “And without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith may come through the means of learning, but we cannot say learning causes faith. Only God causes faith.

A second part of sin’s curse is death. At its best, learning can only postpone the inevitable demise each of us must face, should Christ tarry. Trying to escape this fate by learning is like building a sandcastle to stop the tide: it may work for a while, but the ocean will eventually win. Learning can only help diminish the effects of sin temporarily. It cannot cure either sin or death.

What about the Bible? Without the Scriptures, we know God exists. We know something of his eternal power and divine nature. These things are plan to us because God has shown us through the things he made (Romans 1:19–20). However, we either suppress some of that knowledge (Romans 1:18), or are ignorant through the hardness of our hearts (Ephesians 4:18). A verbal account of what God is like, and what God has done, is vital if we are to know God.

Jesus says that we can’t get eternal life from the Scriptures. They point us to him, and he is the one who gives life (John 5:39). Even the learning we get from the Scriptures requires the Holy Spirit’s work for this learning to profit our souls eternally. The apostle John says that his purpose in writing his gospel is so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. His goal is that our belief would lead to life in Jesus’s name (John 20:31). We need the Holy Spirit to grant us belief that the words are true, and that the Savior whom they describe is alive and trustworthy and ready to save us from our sin.

1 Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost by John Owen. Public domain. Republished by CCEL. Accessed January 31, 2021.

The Consuming Fire

out of [Christ] God on his part is a consuming fire, — we are as stubble fully dry, yet setting ourselves in battle array against that fire: if we are brought together we are consumed.

John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost1

Word pictures like this are why I love reading John Owen. The idea of God as a consuming fire is biblical (Deuteronomy 4:24; 9:3; Isaiah 33:14; Hebrews 12:29). So is the idea of God’s enemies being stubble (Exodus 15:7; Malachi 4:1). Indeed, God also paints a picture of people taking counsel together to overthrow God’s claims on their lives (Psalm 2). That’s not exactly the same as “setting ourselves in battle array,” but it’s close.

Owen brings these different word pictures together in a vivid way.

Those who rebel against God’s rule are not just pitting themselves against an unconquerable foe. A different example may have illustrated that idea: a tree trying to stop a landslide. It is the nature of one solid object to hinder or stop another. Had the tree been large enough—perhaps a mile wide and ten miles tall—it could have stopped the landslide. The tree only fails to halt the tumbling rocks because it is too weak.

In Owen’s illustration, the natures of the two opposing forces are different. It is the nature of fire to consume stubble. It is the nature of stubble to burn when it encounters a flame. Throwing stubble at fire can only end in the incineration of the stubble.2 Resisting God is as foolish as it is futile, and attempting to do so can only end badly. Only in Christ do we find a refuge from the consuming fire.

1 Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost by John Owen. Public domain. Republished by CCEL. Accessed January 3, 2021.

2 Someone may object that dumping several tons of stubble on a candle would extinguish the candle. All of humanity together would not suffice to be a worthy opponent of God, though, so this objection doesn’t invalidate Owen’s illustration.

The All-Sufficiency of God

God’s all-sufficiency in himself is his absolute and universal perfection, whereby nothing is wanting in him, nothing to him….There is also in him an all-sufficiency for others; which is his power to impart and communicate his goodness and himself so to them as to satisfy and fill them, in their utmost capacity, with whatever is good and desirable to them.

John Owen, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost1

God’s All-Sufficiency in Himself

Question: What does God need?
Answer: Nothing.

Nothing can make God any better than He is. He is already perfect. Nothing can supply God’s needs, because he has no needs. A. W. Tozer writes, “Need is a creature-word and cannot be spoken of the Creator.”2

God depends on nothing for his life (John 5:26), knowledge (Isaiah 40:13–14), or strength. All wisdom and blessedness reside in God. All goodness, mercy, and grace find their source in him, as all water from a mountain stream may flow from a spring.

God’s perfections cannot diminish. We grow old and weak. Clothing wears out. Colors fade. Electronic devices break. Nations fall. Stars collapse. Even the heavens will wear out. Not so with God! The passing millennia do not weaken or change him. Wars and conflict cannot ruin him.

Nothing can detract from God’s perfection, for his perfection is categorically different from ours. A bad pitch in the ninth inning of a baseball game can ruin an otherwise perfect game. Someone could ruin a perfect copy of a picture by tearing it or drawing on it. However, God has always been perfect, he is perfect, and he will always will be perfect. He cannot be otherwise. He can never become less than he is.

This should humble us, for the Lord has no need of humans. It is he that establishes the boundaries and allotted times of nations (Acts 17:26). God sets up and deposes rulers. Nations are as dust on the scales and a drop from a bucket (Isaiah 40:15).

God also does not need you or me. He does not need us for the fulfillment of his plans—no plan of his can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Rather, it is our plan that is subject to his will.

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.3

Proverbs 16:1

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Jeremiah 10:23

God does not need our company. He does not need our worship. He does not need our counsel (Isaiah 40:14). He does not need anything from us, or from anything else in all creation.

God’s All-Sufficiency for Us

Nevertheless, God delights to bless us, and his blessing is abundant!

Do you need a friend? You can have no better friend than God.

Do you need comfort? God comforts the afflicted. One day, he will bring his children to heaven, where there will be no more suffering or pain anymore. He will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Revelation 21:4).

Do you need purpose? There is no greater purpose than glorifying, enjoying, and knowing God.

Do you need strength? God gives strength to those who wait on him (Isaiah 40:29–31).

Do you need happiness? God can put more joy in your heart than others have when they prosper abundantly (Psalm 4:7).

Do you need someone you can trust? God always keeps his promises, and he never lies (Titus 1:2).

Do you need someone who will listen to you? God’s ear is open to the prayer of the righteous (1 Peter 3:12).

Do you need freedom from your guilt? God removes our transgressions from us—”as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

Do you need someone who will stick with you through good days and bad, through suffering and sickness and health and prosperity and poverty? God will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5).

None of this means life will be easy, or that God will make you a millionaire. It also doesn’t mean we’ll always feel the nearness of God, or that we’ll be happy all the time. Sometimes, God withholds something from his people for a greater purpose. However, it does mean that God’s children have something better than an easy life or money. They have God himself! God can satisfy our deepest longings.

How does someone receive all these blessings? They’re only found in Jesus. Trust in him, believe he died for you and rose from the dead, commit to him as your lord, and God will save you from your sin. He’ll give these blessings to you, and more besides. He’ll give you eternal life (John 17:3).

God is sufficient to meet all your true needs. Set your hope on him.

1 Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost by John Owen. Public domain. Republished by CCEL. Accessed December 28, 2020. You can also get a wonderful reprint of this book titled Communion with the Triune God (external link). Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor edited the book by updating some language and adding very helpful footnotes.

2 The Knowledge of the Holy by Aiden Wilson Tozer. 1961. HarperOne. p. 32. HarperOne links to various sites where you can buy the book here.

3 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.