John Owen on Salvation from Shame
The 17th-century English Puritans had an intense commitment to biblical teaching on sin, salvation, and genuine conversion. They brought their attention to both the guilt-innocence and honor-shame themes in Scripture. Just as for the guilty sinner in the hands of an angry God pardon at the cross was an immeasurable treasure, so also for the ashamed, filthy wretch under the nostrils of a disgusted God washing at the fountain of Christ’s blood was an ineffable catharsis. An excellent treatment of God’s salvation from shame is found in two chapters of John Owen’s Pneumatologia.
Book IV, Chapter IV is Owen’s treatise on the Holy Spirit. He distinguishes two aspects of the law, from which arise a “twofold pravity” in every sin: “On his law he hath impressed his authority and his holiness. Sin, with respect unto his authority, is attended with guilt; and this, in the conscience of the sinner, produces fear: as it respects the holiness of God, it is attended with filth or uncleanness; and this produces shame.”
Owen proceeds to answer why the filth of sin produces shame: “Holiness and conformity to God is the honour of our souls. It is that alone which makes them truly noble; for all honour consists in an accession unto him who is the only spring and absolute possessor of all that is so […] When men’s eyes are opened to see their nakedness, how vile and base they have made themselves by sin, they will have a sense of this pollution not easily to be expressed. And from hence it is that sin hath the properties and effects of uncleanness in the sight of God and in the conscience of the sinner: — God abhors, loathes it, accounts it an abominable thing, as that which is directly contrary to his holiness, which, as impressed on the law, is the rule of purity, integrity, spiritual beauty, and honour; and in the conscience of the sinner it is attended with shame, as a thing deformed, loathsome, vile, base, and dishonourable.”
Chapter V completes the topic by addressing the solution to the spiritual problem of that shame. There is a twofold aspect to the gospel typified in the Levitical ceremonies: “He is our propitiation through faith in his blood as offered; and he is our sanctification through faith in his blood as sprinkled. […] A renewed conscience is sensible of a pollution in every sin, and is not freed from the shame of it without a particular application unto the blood of Christ.”