John Owen’s Anthropology and Christology in his Allegorical Interpretation of Canticles

John Owen’s Anthropology and Christology in his Allegorical Interpretation of Canticles
by Allen M. Stanton

John Owen (1616-1683) is commonly denoted the Prince of the Puritans. In so many ways, he is a representative of English puritanism. In his treatise, Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Owen surprisingly has a lot to say about what it means to be a marred creature made in God’s image. This makes sense, because before you can have communion with God until your need to be reconciled with him. He describes the following as being in enmity with God: original sin, the pollution of our nature, being federally unholy in Adam, and the consequences of sin. Christ reconciles us to God by faith and then enables us to walk in that reconciliation thereby enjoying communion with God. Communion with God is described by 1. Agreement with God; 2. Acquaintance with God; 3. The way wherein we must walk with God; 4. The Strength to walk with God; 5. Confidence to Walk with God; and 6. The Same design (pp.106-111). All of which are to be had in Christ Jesus.

In Owen’s treatise, he exposits Canticles (also known as the “Song of Songs” or the “Song of Solomon”) to be an allegory between Christ and his church. This too is representative of the English puritans. With few exceptions, they render the Song of Songs in the same way. Owen says, “In brief, this whole book is taken up in the description of the communion that is between the Lord Jesus Christ and his saints: and therefore, it is very needless to take from thence any more particular instances thereof” (46). He exposits what he means to have true piety in his consideration of the grace of Jesus Christ as taken from Song of Songs.
Of course, he does not base his Christology on the Song of Solomon, “Rather, he saw its poetry as illustrating the believer’s experience of communion with Christ” (Beeke and Jones, 109). Further Sinclair Ferguson comments, “He does not subjectivize Christ to the point of mysticism, but rather tried to describe the subjective experience of the objective Christ to whom the rest of Scripture bears witness” (Ferguson, 78). Bearing these thoughts in mind, Owen gave many examples of his allegorical approach in Canticles 1: 2, 5, 9; 2:1-7; 4:12-14, 16; 5:1, 9, 10-16, etc. After describing his theological anthropology, we will give many examples of the way Owen deals with communion with Christ with these Scripture passages.

We can sum Owen’s views as follows: Man, in his fallen state, is completely marred by sin. Jesus Christ reconciles us to God as described in his allegorical treatment of the Song of Solomon. We will address these areas individually:

I. Man in His Sinful and Fallen Nature
II. Christ as described by the Song of Solomon
III. Conclusions

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