Bible Jesus Christ Theology

John Owen on The Holy Spirit


Continuing my series of reviews of Owen’s works, this week we come to volume 3 – which is an absolute delight. After I read it of Owens works this was my footnote:

“a stunning book that fed my soul, challenged me and gave me Christ”

Again this review is the same as those of vol one and two – a general description followed by some of the most helpful quotes.

I now understand why some people call Owen the theologian of the Holy Spirit. I have never read anyone who goes into such depth and with such practical insight as Owen on this subject. Charismatic and Calvinist alike should read this book – if they read only one of Owen’s works. I thought it was beautiful, challenging and incredibly helpful in understanding how the Spirit works in our lives.   These are some of the lessons I learned. I hope they are as helpful to you as they were to me.   I write them here because I realize that not every one will have the time or inclination to read through all of Owen – so I hope these gems will help.

The Work of the Spirit is Essential

“Take away the dispensation of the Spirit, and his effectual operations and all the intercourse that is between God and man; be a shame to avow or profess the work attributed unto him in the gospel, – and Christianity is plucked up by the roots.”(P.8)

“Take away the Spirit from the gospel and you render it a dead letter, and leave the New Testament of no more use unto Christians than the Old Testament is of unto the Jews.” (P.26)

“he who does not pray constantly and diligently for the Spirit of God, that he may be made partaker of him for the ends for which he has promised, is a stranger from Christ and his gospel” (P.155)

“Let no man deceive you, then, with vain words. It is not the doing of a few good works, it is not an outward profession of religion, that will give you an access with boldness and joy unto God. Shame will cover you when it will be too late. Unless you are washed by the Spirit of God from the pollution of your natures, you shall not inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11” (P.449)

The Spirit is Given to us for the Benefit of Others

“And the Spirit of God has no other aim in granting these his enlightening gifts, wherein he manifests his care of the church, and declares the thing of the gospel unto any man, but that they should be used to the profit, advantage, and edification of others. They are not bestowed on men to make their secular gain or advantage by them, in riches, honour, or reputation, – for which end Simon the magician would purchase them with his money, Acts 8: 18 and 19 – no, nor yet merely for the good and benefit of the souls of them that do receive them; but for the edification of the church, and the furtherance of faith and profession in others:” (P.21)

The Son, the Spirit and the Father

“For when God designed the great and glorious work of recovering fallen man in the saving of sinners, to the praise of the glory of his grace, he appointed, in his infinite wisdom, two great means thereof. The one was the giving of his Son for them, and the other was the giving of his Spirit unto them. And hereby was way made for the manifestation of the glory of the whole blessed Trinity; which is the utmost end of all the works of God.” (P.23)

The AntiChrist

“neither is any singular person intended by Antichrist, but a mysterious opposition unto Christ and the gospel, signally headed by a series of men in the latter days.” (P.63)

Who is the Holy Spirit?

“This Spirit of whom we speak is in himself a distinct, living, powerful, intelligent, divine person;” (P.67) (I think this is really important today when so many Christians seem to have fallen into the trap of seeing the Spirit as a force not a person).


“Government, or supreme rule, is of great concern unto the glory of God in the world, and of the highest usefulness unto mankind. Without it the whole world would be filled with violence, and become a stage for all wickedness visibly and openly to act itself upon in disorder and confusion.” (P.147)

Jesus gives us the Great Gift of The Spirit

“Then when his heart was overflowing with love unto his disciples and care for them, when he took a holy prospect of what would be their condition, their work, duty, and temptations in the world, and thereon made provision of all that they could stand in need of, he promises to leave and give unto them his Holy Spirit to abide with them for ever, directing us to look unto him for all our comforts and supplies.” (P.156)

“You are often pressed to direct your love unto the person of Christ, and it is that which is your principal duty in this world; but this you cannot do without a distinct notion and knowledge of him.” (P.187)

The Spirit Enables us to Witness and to Minister

“He would have them look neither for assistance in their work, nor success unto it, but from the promised Spirit alone; and lets them know, also, that by his aid they should be enabled to carry their testimony of him to the uttermost parts of the earth. And herein lay, and herein does lie, the foundation of the ministry of the church, as also its continuance and efficacy. The kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and, in the animating principles of it, invisible. If we fix our minds only on outward order, we lose the rise and power of the whole. It is not an outward visible ordination by men, – though that be necessary, by rule and precept, – the Christ’s communication of that Spirit, the everlasting promise whereof he received of the Father, that gives being, life, usefulness, and success, to the Ministry.” (P.191)

The Spirit and the Bible

`’he that would actually separate the Spirit from the word had as good burn his Bible.” (P.192)

“And this turning all Scripture expressions of spiritual things into metaphors is but a way to turn the whole into a fable, or at least to render the gospel the most obscure and improper way of teaching the truth of things that ever was made use of in the world.” (P.221)

“Men never disliked the words of God but when they dislike the things of God.” (P. 577) 

The Spirit and Legalism

“It is sottish ignorance and infidelity to suppose that, under the gospel, there is no communication between God and us but what is, on his part, in laws, commands, and promises; and on ours, by obedience performed in our strength, and upon our convictions unto them. To exclude hence the real internal operations of the Holy Ghost, is to destroy the gospel.” (P.200)

 God Does not Blame Us for What we do not know.

“For it was neither crime nor negligence in him to be ignorant of what God had not revealed.” (P.210)

The Work of the Spirit in Regeneration

“The Work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration does not consist, in enthusiastical raptures, ecstasies, voices, or any thing of the like kind.” (P.224)

“That the will and affections being more corrupted than the understanding, – as is evident from their opposition unto and defeating of its manifold convictions, – no man does actually apply his mind to the receiving of the things of the Spirit of God to the utmost of that ability which he has; for all unregenerate men, are invincibly impeded therein by the corrupt stubbornness and perverseness of their wills and affections.” (P.268)

“The mind by this darkness is filled with prejudices against the mystery of the gospel in a peculiar manner. The hidden spiritual wisdom of God in it, as natural men cannot receive, so they do despise it, and all the parts of its declaration they look upon as empty and unintelligible notions. And this is that prejudice whereby this darkness prevails in the minds of men, otherwise knowing and learned. It has done so in all ages, and in none more effectually that in that which is present. But there is a sacred, mysterious, spiritual wisdom in the gospel and the doctrine of it. This is fanatical, chimerical, and foolish to the wisest in the world, whilst they are under the power of this darkness.” (P.277)

“This is the method of the gospel, which the apostle Paul observes in all his epistles: first, he declares the mysteries of the faith that are peculiar to the gospel, and then descends unto those moral duties which are regulated thereby. But the prejudice we mentioned inverts the order of these things. Those who are under the power of it, when, on various accounts, they give admittance unto the gospel in general, yet fix their minds, firstly and principally, on the things which have their foundation in the law and light of nature. These they know and have some acquaintance with in themselves, and therefore cry them up, although not in their proper place, nor to their proper end.” (P.279)

“It is an evidence of the corruption of nature, that it dis-enables the minds of men to discern their own corruption.” (P.297)

The Spirit Helps us to Pray

“An instability in holy duties, as meditation, prayer, and hearing of the word. How ready is the mind to wander in them, and to give entertainment unto vain and fond imaginations, at least unto thoughts and apprehensions of things unsuited to the duties wherein we are engaged! How difficult it is to keep it up unto an even, fixed, stable frame of acting spiritually in spiritual things! How is it ready at every breath to unbend and let down its intension!” (P.254)

The Importance of Spirit-Filled Preaching

“that the word of God, thus dispensed by the ministry of the church, is the only ordinary outward means which the Holy Ghost makes use of in the regeneration of the adult unto whom it is preached.” (P.303)

“The institution of God. He has appointed the preaching of the word to be a means, the only outward ordinary means, for the conversion of the souls of men, 1st Corinthians 1:17 – 20; Mark 16:15, 16; Romans 1:16. And the power or efficacy of anything that is used unto an end in spiritual matters depends solely on its divine appointment unto that end.” (P.306)

The Spirit and Free Will

“He therefore offers no violence or compulsion unto the will. This that faculty is not naturally capable to give admission unto. If it be compelled, it is destroyed.” (P.319)

 The Spirit and Holiness

“This whole matter of sanctification and holiness is peculiarly joined with and limited unto the doctrine, truth, and grace of the gospel; for holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realising the gospel in our souls.” (P.371)

“Among all the glorious works of God, next unto that of redemption by Jesus Christ, my soul does most admire this of the Spirit in preserving the seed and principle of holiness in us, as a spark of living fire in the midst of the ocean, against all corruption and temptations wherewith it is impugned. Many breaches are made in and upon our course of obedience by the incursions of actual sins; these he cures and makes up, healing our backsliding sand repairing our decays. And he acts the grace we have received by constant fresh supplies. He wants much of the comfort and joy of a spiritual life who does not diligently observe the ways and means whereby it is preserved and promoted; and it is no small part of our sin and folly when we are negligent herein.” (P.397)

“If grace has not cured that passion, pride, causeless anger, inverterate wrath, intemperance, which men’s constitutions peculiarly incline unto, I know not, for my part, what it has done, Nor were a number of outward duties do signify. The Spirit and grace of Christ cause ‘the wolf to dwell with the lamb, and the leopard to lie down with the kid’, Isaiah 11:6. It will change the most wild and savage nature into meekness, gentleness, and kindness; examples whereof have been multiplied in the world.” (P 422)

“The holiness of God is the infinite, absolute perfection and rectitude of his nature, as the eternal original cause and pattern of truth, uprightness, and rectitude in all.” (P.427)

“That the spiritual beauty and comeliness of the soul consists in its conformity unto God. Grace gives beauty.” (P.429)

“Nothing less than the entire renovation of the image of God in our souls will constitute us evangelically holy” (P.523)

“If we had no other argument to prove the necessity of holiness, and that it is indispensably required of us, but only this, that the God whom we serve and worship is absolutely holy, that his being and nature is such as that he can have no delightful intercourse with any that are unholy, it were abundantly sufficient unto our purpose. He who resolves not to be holy had best seek another god to worship and serve; with our God he will never find acceptance.” (P. 569)

“it is true, our interest in God is not built upon our holiness; but it is as true that we have none without it.” (P.576)

“He that would be holy indeed must always mind the command of God, with that reverence and those affections which become him to whom God speaks immediately.” (P.625)

The Gospel is for Gods Glory

“God’s great and first design, in and by the gospel, is eternally to glorify himself, his wisdom, goodness, love, grace, righteousness, and holiness, by Jesus Christ, Ephesians 1:5, 6. And in order to this his great and supreme end, he has designed the gospel;” (P.377)

The Necessity of the Atonement of Christ

“Mankind generally thought that the principal thing which was required of them in religion was to atone and pacify the wrath of the divine Power, and to make a compensation for what had been done against him.… But quite otherwise; in the gospel there is declared and tendered unto sinners an absolute free pardon of all their sins, without any satisfaction or compensation made or to be made on their part, that is, by themselves, – namely, on the account of the atonement made for them by Jesus Christ.” (P.378)

“It is therefore, the blood of Christ, in the second place, which is the meritorious procuring , and so the effective cause, that immediately purges us from our sins, by an especial application of it unto our souls by the Holy Ghost” (P.438)

“The object of it is Christ himself, in his unsearchable grace, his unspeakable love, his infinite condescension, his patient suffering, and victorious power, in his death or dying for us. It is not his death absolutely, but himself, as all these graces conspicuously shine forth in his death, which is intended” (P.564)

(This is again incredibly important. We don’t celebrate the death of Christ because of the death but because of what it shows us of him, and because it is the means by which we get him.)

The Spirit as the Comforter

“His work and office it is to administer consolation unto believers, as being the only Comforter of the church. Now, he administers comfort no other way but by giving unto the minds and souls of believers a spiritual, sensible experience of the reality and power of the things we do believe. He does not comfort us by words, but by things. Other means of spiritual consolation I know none; and I’m sure this never fails. Give unto an soul an experience, a taste, of the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus, and be its condition what it will, it cannot refuse to be comforted. And hereby does he ‘shed abroad the love of God in our hearts’, Romans 5:5, whereby all graces are cherished and increased.” (P.391)

The Spirit and Speculation

“There is a measure of light issuing from spiritual truths that our minds are capable of: what is beyond this measure belongs to glory, and the gazing after it will rather dazzle than enlighten us; and such is the issue of overstrained speculations when the mind endeavours an excess as to its measure.” (P.509).

Mortification of Sin by the Spirit

“And, moreover, there is no less fatal mistake where we make the object of this duty to only some particular lusts, or the fruits of them in actual sins, as was before observed. This is the way with many. They will make head against some sins, which on one account or other they find themselves most concerned in; but if they will observe their course, they shall find with how little success they do it. For the most part, sin gets ground upon them, and they continually groan under the power of its victories; and the reason, is, because they mistake their business. Contests against particular sins are only to comply with light and convictions. Mortification, with a design for holiness, respects the body of sin, the root and all its branches. The first will miscarry, and the latter will be successful.   And herein consists the difference between that mortification which men are put upon by convictions from the law, which always proves fruitless, and that wherein we are acted by the spirit of the gospel.   The first respects only particular sins, as the guilt of them reflects upon conscience; the latter, the whole interest of sin, as opposed to the renovation of the image of God in us.” (P.547)

“Growing, thriving and improving in universal holiness, is the great way of the mortification of sin. The more vigorous the principle of holiness is in us, the more weak, infirm, and dying will be that of sin. The more frequent and lively are the actings of grace, the feebler and seldomer will be the actings of sin. The more we abound in the ‘fruits of the Spirit’, the less shall we be concerned with ‘the works of the flesh.”(P.552)

Our Duties

“If we are negligent in prayer, meditation, reading, hearing of the word, and other ordinances of divine worship, we have no ground to expect any great supplies to this end.” (P.554)

The Heresy of Hypocrisy

“It is uncomely and unworthy, to hear men contending for holiness as the whole of our religion, and , in the meantime, on all occasions, expressing in themselves a habit and frame of mind utterly inconsistent with what the Scripture so calls and so esteems. There is certainly no readier way, on sundry accounts, to unteach men all the principles of religion, all respect unto God and common honesty.” (P.567)

The Poor

“Much of the glory of heaven may dwell in a simple cottage, and poor persons, even under rags, may be very like unto God.” (P.583)

The Sight of Faith Leads Us to the Beauties of Christ

“The glorious properties of God, as we have shown before, are manifested and revealed in Jesus Christ;: in his face do they shine forth. The only way whereby we behold them, whereby we have an intuition into them, is by faith. In Christ are the glorious excellencies of God represented unto us, and by faith do we behold them. And what is the effect? We are ‘changed into the same image and likeness from glory to glory’ 2Corinthians 3:18. This is the great mystery of growing in holiness and thriving in the image of God, which the world being ignorant of have laboured in vain by other means to satisfy their notions and convictions. But this is the great way and means of it, appointed and blessed of God and to that purpose, – namely, constantly by faith, in a way of believing the revelation made in the gospel, to view, behold, and contemplate on the excellencies of God, his goodness, holiness, righteousness, love, and grace, as manifested in Jesus Christ, and that’s so as to make use of, and applying to ourselves and our condition, the effects and fruits of them, according to the promise of the gospel.” (P.584)

 Loving God

“He that would be like unto God must be sure to love him, overall other endeavours to that purpose will be in vain; and he that loves God sincerely will be like him.” (P.585)

Gods Free Electing Love

`” The doctrine of God’s free electing love and grace is fully declared therein; and withal it is proposed as the fountain of all holiness, and made a great motive thereunto. Is it not safer, now, for us to adhere to the plain testimonies of Scripture, confirmed by the experience of the generality of believers, captivating our understandings to the obedience of faith, than hearken unto such perverse cavils as would possess our minds with a dislike of God and his ways?” (P.594)

“The decree of election, considered absolutely in itself, without respect unto its effects, is no part of God’s revealed will; that is, it is not revealed that this or that man is or is not elected. This therefore, can be made neither argument no objection about anything wherein faith and obedience is concerned: we know it not, we cannot know it, it is not our duty to know it; the knowledge of it is not proposed as of any use unto us, yea, it is our sin to inquire into it.” (P.595)

“Submission to the sovereign will and pleasure of God, in the disposal of all our concerns in this world. That this is an excellent fruit of faith, an eminent part of holiness, or duty of obedience, is acknowledged; and never was it more signally called for that it is this day. He that cannot live in an actual resignation of himself and all his concerns unto the sovereign pleasure of God can neither glorify him in anything nor have one hour’s our solid peace in his own mind.” (P.599)

“We can have no power from Christ unless we live any persuasion that we have none of our own. Our whole spiritual life is a life of faith; and that is a life of dependence on Christ for what we have not of ourselves.” (Page 619) 

A Final Challenge

“Will you be taking ourselves to the kingly office of Christ? And have you expectations on him by virtue thereof? You may do well to examine how he rules in you and over you. Has he subdued your lusts, those enemies of his kingdom which fight against your souls? Has he strengthened, aided, supported, assisted you by his grace, unto all holy obedience? And have you given up yourselves to be ruled by his word and Spirit, to obey him in all things, and to entrust all your temporal and eternal concernments unto his care, faithfulness, and power? If it be so, you have cause to rejoice, as those who have an assured concern in the blessed things of his kingdom. But if your proud, rebellious lusts do yet bear sway in you; if sin have dominion over you; if you continue to fulfil the lusts of the flesh and of the mind; if you walk after the fashions of this world, and not as obedient subjects of that kingdom of his which is not of this world, – deceive not yourselves any longer, Christ will be of no advantage unto you.” (P.640).













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