The Holy Spirit—The Comforter (Complete Works of John Owen, Volume 8)


The Holy Spirit—The Comforter. The Complete Works of John Owen, Volume 8 (Crossway, 2023). 

Who is spiritual enough to pray? How can I be sure that I am saved? What does the Spirit do in my life and in the life of the church? 

In The Holy Spirit—The Comforter, Owen gives thoughtful responses to these rather personal but perennially relevant questions. This volume is a companion of sorts to Volume 7 (The Holy Spirit—The Helper). In both volumes, Owen fills out his doctrine of the Holy Spirit with discussion of the works of the Spirit that shape the life of a believer. Perhaps because of how closely linked these works are, editor Andrew Ballitch simply reprints the relevant section from volume 7's more extensive historical introduction. 

The three works included in this volume are The Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer (1682), The Holy Spirit as a Comforter (1693), and A Discourse of Spiritual Gifts (1693). These were written toward the end of Owen's life and ministry. They thus give an interesting window into Owen's mature reflection on the nature of the Christian life. 

For example, in his work on prayer, Owen responds to a specific issue in his ecclesial and social context (the re-established mandate that every parish must use the book of common prayer) by marshaling several disciplines (exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic reflection). Owen clarifies several times that he is not opposed to the use of written prayers per se, but rather he is opposed to the requirement for churches to use them and also the indefensible reasons that were given in defense of this practice. 

One such reason is Owen's direct target throughout his work: The average Christian lacks the spiritual knowledge and theological skills to pray as they should. Owen responds to this position with a simple but profound rebuttal: Every believer is indwelled by God the Spirit, and this same Spirit supplies everything that is needed to have peace and communion with God himself. 

Owen therefore concludes that "God has promised under the NT to give unto believers, in a plentiful manner or measure, the Spirit of grace and of supplications, or his own Holy Spirit, enabling them to pray according to his mind and will." 

He anchors this argument in a close reading of Zech 12:10 (the promised Spirit of grace and supplications), Gal 4:6 (the Spirit of Christ who enables prayer to the Father), and Rom 8:26 (the Spirit who prays when we don't know what to say). By the work of God the Spirit, Owen insists, believers in Christ have everything they need to address God in prayer. 

This gift of prayer is "an evangelical mercy and privilege."

In the contemporary push to "retrieve" the riches of the great tradition, it's also helpful to remember the cautions and qualifications that accompany some of the doctrines and practices from other eras. 

Owen's theological framework for prayer alongside his warnings against a Spirit-less liturgical use of written prayers is worth retrieving as well. 

Some Notes: 

Book Review
February 10, 2024


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