John Owen on the self-evidencing efficacy of the Bible

Following on from my review of A Peculiar Glory by John Piper, here are some quotes from John Owen ‘the self-evidencing efficacy’ of the Bible

John Owen, The Divine Origins of the Scriptures (1659)

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament do abundantly and uncontrollably manifest themselves to be the word of the living God, so that, merely on the account of their own proposal of themselves unto us in the name and majesty of God, as such – without the contribution of help or assistance from tradition, church, or any thing else – we are obliged, upon the penalty of eternal damnation, (as are all to whom by any means they come, or are brought,) to receive them, with that subjection of soul which is due to the word of God. The authority of God shining in them, they afford unto us all the divine evidence of themselves which God is willing to grant unto us.

The Scripture hath all its authority from its Author … We do so receive, embrace, believe, and submit unto it, because of the authority of God who speaks it, or gave it forth as his mind and will, evidencing itself by the Spirit in and with that Word, unto our minds and consciences: or, because that the Scriptures, being brought unto us by the good providence of God, in ways of his appointment and preservation, it doth evidence itself infallibly unto our consciences to be the word of the living God.

Light manifest light … Let the least child bring a candle into a room that before was dark, and it would be madness to go about to prove by substantial witnesses – men of gravity and authority – that light is brought in … Now, the Scripture, the Word of God, is light … It is a light so shining with the majesty of its Author, as that it manifests itself to be his, ‘a light shining in a dark place.’ (2 Pet. 1.19) … Light, I confess, of itself, will not remove the defect of the visive faculty. It is not given for that end. Light is not eyes. It suffices that there is nothing wanting on its own part for its discover and revelation … I do not assert from hence, that wherever the Scripture is brought … all that read it, or to whom it is read, must instantly of necessity assent unto its divine original. Many men who are not stark blind may have yet so abused their eyes, that when light is brought into a dark place they may not be able to discern it.

Now, this light in the Scripture, for which we contend, is nothing but the beaming of the majesty, truth, holiness, and authority of God, given unto it and left upon it by its authority, the Holy Ghost – an impress it hath of God’s excellency upon it, distinguishing it by infallible signs from the product of any creature. By this it dives into the consciences of men, into all the secret recesses of their hearts; guides, teaches, directs, determines, and judges in them, upon them, in the name, majesty, and authority of God. If men who are blinded by the god of this world, will yet deny this light because they perceive it not, it shall not prejudice them who do. By this self-evidencing light, I say, doth the Scripture make such a proposition of itself as the word of God, that whoever rejects it, doth it at the peril of his eternal ruin; and thereby a bottom or foundation is tendered for that faith which it requireth to repose itself upon.

How know we that the Scripture is the word of God; how may others comes to be assured thereof? The Scripture, say we, bears testimony to itself that it is the word of God; that testimony is the witness of God himself, which whoso doth not accept and believe, he doth what in him lies to make God a liar. To give us an infallible assurance that, in receiving this testimony, we are not imposed upon by cunning devised fables, the Scriptures have that glory of light and power accompanying them, as wholly distinguisheth them by infallible sign and evidences from all words and writing not divine; conveying their truth and power into the souls and consciences of men with an infallible certainty.

From John Owen, The Divine Origin of the Scriptures, in Works, ed. William Goold, Vol. 16, T&T Clarke, 1862, 307, 309, 318-319, 319-321, 322, 324-325. Available from and

A Peculiar Glory is available from and

John Piper’s Collected Works

In a recent review of John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory I rather foolishly said ‘I believe this may be the first book by John Piper not to have originated from sermons’. I thought I had remembered Piper himself saying something along these lines in an interview. But perhaps he added the words ‘recent’ and ‘major’ to the word ‘first’. Plus I’ve reached the age where I no longer back my memory in these kind of disputes – it’s proved unreliable too often.

Anyway, Justin Taylor has emailed me to say he estimates only about half Piper’s books originated as sermons. And he should know for it turns out he’s recently completed the task of edited Piper’s  Collected Works which are due out on 31 March 2017. They are already available for pre-order from and – all 8464 pages in 13 volumes. Justin cites Love Your Enemies, The Justification of God, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, God’s Passion for His Glory, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, Counted Righteous in Christ, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, When I Don’t Desire God, God Is the Gospel, What Jesus Demands from the World, The Future of Justification, Think, A Godward Life, Taste and See … Well you get the idea!

But how can you have a collected works when John Piper is still alive and well and planning to write more books? Good question. The answer is that at some point Crossway will produce a future set of volumes. Justin writes:

Our basic criterion for selection has been to include everything that John Piper has written for publication in printed books, magazines, and journals. The result is 45 books, 60 articles and reviews, 23 forewords, and 42 chapters—totaling around 3 million words (all of this is in addition to his sermon manuscripts and online articles already available, free of charge, at

Continue reading

Review: A Peculiar Glory

A review of John Piper, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christians Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness, Crossway, 2016.

Available from and

I’ve just finished a manuscript for a book on the doctrine of Scripture – provisionally called Bible Matters: Meeting God in his Word – which is due out next year. So I recently read A Peculiar Glory, John Piper’s latest book.

A Peculiar Glory is a sustained argument of the self-authenticating authority of the Bible.  That is, the belief that the authority of the Bible is not established through a scholarly investigation of historical evidence, nor is it conferred on the Bible by the church. Rather it shines from the pages of Bible as it displays the glory of God. So God is the source of its authority. We recognise this not just because we trace the process by which the Spirit worked through the human authors, but because the content of the Scriptures captures our hearts. A distinctive slant of this argument is Piper’s emphasis on this approach making confidence in the Bible accessible to all people, not just those with the time and ability to explore questions of historicity.

This is a really important truth for the church. A strange thing can happen when we’re faced by hostile questions from unbelievers. We forget all about why we believe the truth and suddenly think we need some clever intellectual answer. But the reality is most Christians believe the Bible is reliable because they’ve found it to contains words that bring life, hope and glory.

There is a slightly odd vein to the book. While Piper emphasises the pedigree of his argument with plenty of references to the Westminster Standards and (of course) Jonathan Edwards, he also keeps emphasising the newness of what he’s saying to his hearers. Perhaps this reflects an American context.

What John Owen calls ‘the self-evidencing efficacy’ of the Bible is an important, confidence-building truth and Piper tackles it with his usually clarity and passion. Although I believe this may be the first book by John Piper not to have originated from sermons, all the characteristics of a Piper book are here: a chapter of autobiography, a chapter on Jonathan Edwards, a big central idea involving the glory of God, and every angle explored and every implication pursued.

UPDATE: Justin Taylor tells me he estimates about half of Piper’s books did not begin life as sermons – and he should know because he’s recently finished editing the Collected Works of Piper for publication in March 2017.

In a future post I’ll provide a quote from John Owen.

A Peculiar Glory is available from and

Continue reading

The tragedy of commitment-free sex

There’s a fascinating article in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph by Mary Loxley, written in reponse to the release of the latest Bridget Jones movie. She begins by describing a brief fling she had when she was 27.

It’s a story that, as I turn 46, I feel I could be looking back on – almost fondly – as part of growing up. Except it isn’t. Turns out there wasn’t anything progressive about it, lesser still something to think fondly about, because there was way too much more of the same to come. Not just for me, but for very many now middle-aged women who’ll see real tragedy, hardly comedy, in Bridget.

Ten years later she had an affair with the same man, except that he was now married. In the article she contemplate telling his wife so that he shares the pain he has inflicted on her.

He told me he didn’t want to ‘ruin my life’ with our affair. It’s a bit late for that, I thought. You and your like already have. I’m well over 40; I may never have my own family and my life is dominated by the many harsh personal and practical realities of remaining single.

She comments:

Culturally, the sexual permissiveness of the ‘60s – made possible by the Pill – is a major cause of my situation. Before then, the danger of unwanted pregnancy had ensured a woman withheld sex from a man until she got him to commit. By the time I reached adulthood, men could get sexual intercourse with unprecedented ease and women provided it freely.

The story our culture tells of the sexual revoltuion is one of liberation, especially for women. The reality for most women, however, is very different. Marriage is a God-given mechanism through which men are forced to grow up and take responsibility in life. Commitment-free sex is bad news for women – maybe not all women all the time – but for most women most of the time. ‘In an era of strong women,’ says Foxley, ‘it’s not fashionable to admit that … I am now very vulnerable.’

Continue reading

The Glory of the Story Sample: Day 113 – Joseph the dreamer

Reading: Genesis 37

Here is another extracts from The Glory of the Story, my father’s devotional introduction to biblical theology in the form of 366 daily readings which show how the Old Testament story is fulfilled in Christ. The Glory of the Story is available as a Kindle book for $2.99 from and £1.99 from I’m posting extracts from the chaper on the story of Jacob, usually on the first Monday of the month.

1. Joseph’s dreams (1-11)
Just as there had been jealousy between Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel, now there is hatred from Leah’s sons towards Rachel’s son, Joseph(4-5, 8). This strong feeling is aggravated by Jacob who transfers his special love for Rachel to Joseph and makes no attempt to hide the fact. His gift of a beautiful robe has the effect of elevating Joseph above his brothers. It is Joseph’s dreams, however, that not only inflame the present situation, but set the whole course of future events – the brothers’ malice; Jacob’s grief; his own suffering and elevation; and the migration of the family to Egypt.

The first dream implies that Joseph’s brothers would bow down to him and the second that Jacob and Leah would do so. According to Genesis 41:32 duplicate dreams imply certainty and prompt fulfilment. While Jacob is irritated by the dreams he knows firsthand how amazing God’s ways can be and sensibly keeps an open mind (11). Notice how the dreams have thrown the spotlight on God as the main character in the drama. Neither the indiscretion of Joseph nor the murderous intent of his brothers will thwart God’s purposes.

2. God’s providence (12-36)
The ill-feeling of the brothers comes to a head at Dothan. The sight of Joseph so far from home leads to a murderous plot and a plausible explanation: ‘a ferocious animal devoured him.’ (20) Reuben’s plan only gains a reprieve until Judah proposes the sale of his brother to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites, the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abram and Hagar (25-27). Ishmaelite was an overlapping term with Midianite (28; cf. Judg. 8:22-24).When the news of Joseph’s apparent death reaches Jacob he is totally devastated and refuses to be comforted (34-35). It is surely a poignant irony that it was by the use of a goat (31) that Jacob had earlier deceived his father (Gen. 27:16, 23).

At the last moment in the story our eyes are lifted from a bereft Jacob to Egypt (36). In the sovereignty of God’s providence, Israel’s nomadic cousins become the means of Joseph’s survival. His transfer to Egypt makes possible the ultimate preservation of Jacob’s whole family. Though Joseph is reduced to a slave, God has not abandoned the dreamer or his dream.

Closing thought
Let us renew our trust in a God whose goals are always certain even though his ways are often mysterious.

Continue reading