Why Pentecostals should love John Owen on the Holy Spirit

Describing the value of reading John Owen (1616-1683) on the Holy Spirit, Sinclair Ferguson gives three emphases in his teaching, showing how they work in harmony and were born from Owen’s awareness of the importance of outlining the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in a ‘multi-dimensional’ way:

1. Experimental focus

The Spirit’s ministry bears fruit in Christian experience. The foundation of Owen’s own ministry and theology were a conviction about the pivotal distinction between the knowledge of truth and the knowledge of the power of the truth (cf. John 5:39-40). For John Owen both knowledge and experience were necessary for actual true godliness. He saw in the Scriptures that it was the work of the Holy Spirit to transform merely intellectual knowledge (‘head-knowledge’) into the experience of the power of the truth (true knowledge).

Owen’s original subject, The Holy Spirit of God, and His Operations, is now accessible in a concise new modern edition (2004) and should be to Pentecostals and the entire charismatic movement a refreshing balance of emphasis on both knowledge and an experimental focus. (Christian Focus Publications’ 2007 edition is titled The Holy Spirit—His Gifts and Power).

2. Theological exposition

Owen’s predecessors had been concerned mainly with the divinity of the Spirit’s identity. Owen carved new ground by also applying himself to how the Spirit works. It is also the work of the Spirit that is the key interest of Pentecostals today and the ongoing question that has been raised by Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement generally. A Pentecostal should read Owen on the Holy Spirit because he is addressing the very subject of central importance to them.

3. Apologetic teaching

Another part of the great value of Owen’s work on the Holy Spirit is that today’s context is scarred by similar errors that Owen faced in his day, and clarifies through his teaching. We evangelicals now also find ourselves dealing with:

a.Ritualism – that has a ‘form of godliness’ but has no experience of its power, being satisfied in the emotion aroused by the mystery of sacramental ceremonies.

b.Rationalism – that denies the reality of the supernatural, being rooted in reason rather than in revelation.

c.Spiritualism – that sidesteps careful study and proper treatment of the biblical evidence, and relies instead on direct experiences as the pathway to revelation from God.

Because of his beautiful balance of these three important dimensions in any treatment on the doctrine of God’s Spirit (experience, exposition and errors), reading John Owen on the Holy Spirit – a work done now over 300 years ago – is likely to help a Pentecostal or charismatic Christian, along with all of us, much more than keeping up with the latest thing on show out the front of Koorong.

J. C. Ryle has summed up my feeling also:

“I assert unhesitatingly that the man who wants to study experimental theology will find no book equal to those of Owen for complete Scriptural and [comprehensive] treatment of the subjects they handle. If you wish to study thoroughly the doctrine of [the Holy Spirit] I make no apology for strongly recommending Owen…”
The language is quite a challenge and don’t let the back blurb put you off. And if a quick preview at is not now on your cards already, stay tuned here because I believe serial summaries and reflections on its 8 sections are in order.

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