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John Owen on Perfect Preservation of Scripture

February 18, 2007

The Works of John Owen (1616-83):  Vol. 16

But my present considerations being not to be extended beyond the concernment of the truth which in the foregoing discourse I have pleaded for, I shall first propose a brief abstract thereof, as to that part of it which seems to be especially concerned, and then lay down what to me appears in its prejudice in the volumes now under debate, not doubting but a fuller account of the whole will by some or other be speedily tendered unto the learned and impartial readers of them. The sum of what I am pleading for, as to the particular head to be vindicated, is, That as the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were immediately and entirely given out by God himself, his mind being in them represented unto us without the least interveniency of such mediums and ways as were capable of giving change or alteration to the least iota or syllable; so, by his good and merciful providential dispensation, in his love to his word and church, his whole word, as first given out by him, is preserved unto us entire in the original languages; where, shining in its own beauty and lustre (as also in all translations, so far as they faithfully represent the originals), it manifests and evidences unto the consciences of men, without other foreign help or assistance, its divine original and authority.

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It can, then, with no color of probability be asserted (which yet I find some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books.

Let me say without offense, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to border on atheism. Surely the promise of God for the preservation of his word, with his love and care of his church, of whose faith and obedience that word of his is the only rule, requires other thoughts at our hands.

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Men must here deal by instances, not conjectures. All that yet appears impairs not in the least the truth of our assertion, that every letter and tittle of the word of God remains in the copies preserved by his merciful providence for the use of his church.

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It will assuredly be granted that the persuasion of the coming forth of the word immediately from God, in the way pleaded for, is the foundation of all faith, hope, and obedience. But what, I pray, will it advantage us that God did so once deliver his word, if we are not assured also that that word so delivered hath been, by his special care and providence, preserved entire and uncorrupt unto us, or that it doth not evidence and manifest itself to be his word, being so preserved? (Isa 59:21, Matt 5:18, 1 Pet 1:25, 1 Cor 11:23, Matt 28:20).

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  1. February 19, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    It’s amazing the number of five-point Calvinists you have quoted on your site here (e.g., John Owen wrote the definitive work on limited atonement, Bahnsen and Van Til are well-known Calvinists, and Turretin’s Systematic was the standard of Charles Hodge’s Princeton). Are you proponents of the doctrines of grace, then?

  2. February 19, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Pittsley, I’ve studied every time charis is used in the New Testament in their context and preached all of them, so I have taught the doctrines of grace. Since Baptists were running for their lives from state church Protestants and Catholics, we find it difficult to find some of them to quote, although I will be pulling out a Michael Sattler quote here a little bit later. However, we want people to see that this is a historic position. These are quotes before the onset of textual criticism.

    Philip Schaff in his History says more than one time what he does in Vol. II, “The science of textual criticism was not yet born…,” and this during the time of Martin Luther.

    The Scriptural view of preservation is represented in the Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession. It is a view of perfect preservation in the language in which the Bible was written. God sovereignly preserves His saints and He sovereingly preserves His Words. Those with a strong view of sovereignty believe that. Both are based on faith in what God said, not dependent on forensics.

    Thanks for asking.

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