Return to Owen's writings
John Owen was a preeminently princely writer and
of God's word
amongst the princely Puritans.
His principal fame is as a Covenant Theologian, yet he shows some unusual inconsistency in considering the land covenant.
It must be remembered he viewed Israel as, "the whole of it being at this day one of the most contemptible provinces of the Turkish empire". It must also be remembered that the land covenant was very much out of his focus of interest, in his combatting deadly errors of Socianism and the leaven of Arminianism.
Nevertheless this notable inconsistency in such a thorough and thoughtful theologian reveals a remarkable and perhaps foundational weakness in his approach to one of his favourite themes - the covenant of God's grace.
The essential question: What is the present status of the land promises to the patriarchs?
Five views to be found in Owen's writings: (with textual support for each given below)
1 A temporary blessing attached to and conditioned on adherence to the covenant of works, irrevocably annulled with Christ's advent.
2 A typical representation of the covenant of grace, which as part of old dispensation which point to the Covenant of Grace was temporary and is now replaced by a better more substantial fulfilment: like priestly garments, or circumcision or Passover.
3 A sacramental (almost in a Roman sense) token of better things to come, the immediate object for exercise of faith that brings salvation. More than a symbol to be replaced.
4 A place for return after future repentance even after the the Emmanuel's incarnation, which if it were a symbol or even a superceded but efficacious sacrament is similar to reinstitution of circumcision, passover or Levitical garments amongst Gentile believers
5 Return to the land possible prior to salvation. Implying that land possession is not a consequence of New Covenant's execution but may be part of its foundation.
These five propositions form Owen's mutual contradictory, albeit overlapping, positions on the Land Covenant.
1 A temporary blessing attached to and
on adherence to the covenant of works, irrevocably annulled with
17 Ex 16:459
4. When God took the Jews to be his people, he did it by a special and solemn covenant. In this covenant he gave them promises, which were all made good unto them unto the utmost date and expiration of it in the coming of the Messiah.
17 Ex 16:460
Where is now the covenant of the land of Canaan? Was it to be absolutely everlasting? Whence comes it to pass that the great promise of it doth utterly fail? Was it to expire? What period can be assigned unto its duration but only that of the coming of the Messiah,
and the establishment of a new covenant in him? Is not the denial hereof the ready way to make the men of the world turn atheists, and to look upon the scriptures of the Old Testament as a mere fable, when they shall be taught that the promises contained in it were but conjectures, deceitful words, that came to nothing?
17 Ex 16:466
From what hath been discoursed, it doth sufficiently appear that the state and condition of the Jews hath been such in the world for these sixteen hundred years as manifests the end of their special covenant to be long since come
"the grant of this land ... had a season limited unto it"
'Upon the expiration of that term, their right and title unto it were cancelled and disannulled'
Nor have the present Jews any more or better title unto the land of Canaan than unto any other country in the world. Nor shall their title be renewed there unto upon their conversion unto God.
For the limitation of their right was unto that time wherein it was typical of the heavenly inheritance: that now ceasing for ever, there can be no especial title unto it revived. And we see herein,
"The covenant rest of God in Christ was in that promise"
Often contesting Grotius' serious error that mere possession of the land was entire scope of the promise.
As though the birth of Isaac by itself was an entire and sufficient fulfilment of God's promise.
Or Goodwin's view that the return to the land was the entire scope and substance of the promises of perseverance,as opposed to eternal perseverance.
2 A typical representation of the
of grace, which as part of old dispensation which point to the Covenant
of Grace was temporary and is now replaced by a better more substantial
fulfilment: like priestly garments, or circumcision or Passover.
11:292, 20:320, 22.398, 22:400, 23:78-79, 23:121
3 A sacramental (almost in a Roman sense)
of better things to come, the immediate object for exercise of
that brings salvation. More than a symbol about to be replaced.
4 A place for return after future
even after Emmanuel's incarnation, which if it land possession were a
symbol or even a superceded but efficacious sacrament of Heaven would
similar to reinstitution of circumcision, passover or Levitical
amongst Gentile believers.
17 Ex18:573 (Point 5), 17 Ex18:560
Return they shall to their own land, to enjoy it for a quiet and everlasting possession, their adversaries being destroyed; filled they shall be also with the light and knowledge of the will and worship of God, so as to be a guide and blessing unto the residue of the Gentiles who shall seek after the Lord; and, it may be, be intrusted with great empire and rule
in the world. The most of these things are foretold concerning them, not only in their own prophetical writings, but also by the divine writers of sundry books of the New Testament. But all this, we say, must come to pass when the veil shall be taken from before their eyes, and when "they shall look on him whom they have pierced," and joyfully receive him
whom they have sinfully rejected for so many generations.
5 Return to the land possible prior to
Implying that land possession is not a consequence of New Covenant's
but may be part of its foundation.
17 Ex18:560 Jews objections answered
10. Moreover, it is granted that there shall be a time and season, during the continuance of the kingdom of the Messiah in this world, wherein the generality of the nation of the Jews, all the world over, shall be called and effectually brought unto the knowledge of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ; with which mercy they shall also receive deliverance from their captivity, restoration unto their own land, with a blessed, flourishing, and happy condition therein. I shall not here engage into a confirmation of this concession or assertion.
If repentance is a necessary precondition to land possession, is man glorified?
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