Work of the Holy Spirit in Bearing Witness unto Christ

Work of the Holy Spirit in Bearing Witness unto Christ

John Owen
Book 2, ch. 4, pp. 183-188.

The office of the Spirit to bear witness unto Christ, and its discharge.

There is yet another work of the Holy Spirit, not immediately in and upon the person of the Lord Christ, but towards him, and on his behalf, with respect unto his work and office; and it compriseth the head and fountain of the whole office of the Holy Spirit towards the church. This was his witness-bearing unto the Lord Christ—namely, that he was the Son of God, the true Messiah, and that the work which he performed in the world was committed unto him by God the Father to accomplish. And this same work he continueth to attend unto unto this day, and will do so to the consummation of all things.

It is known how the Lord Christ was reproached whilst he was in this world, and how ignominiously he was sent out of it by death. Hereon a great contest ensued amongst mankind, wherein Heaven and Hell were deeply engaged. The greatest part of the world, the princes, rulers, and wise men of it, affirmed that he was an impostor, a seducer, a malefactor, justly punished for his evil deeds. He, on the other side, chose twelve apostles to bear testimony unto the holiness of his life, the truth and purity of his doctrine, the accomplishment of the prophecies of the Old Testament in his birth, life, work, and death; and, in especial, unto his resurrection from the dead, whereby he was justified and acquitted from all the reproaches of hell and the world, and their calumnies refelled.

But what could the testimony of twelve poor men, though never so honest, prevail against the confronting suffrage of the world? Wherefore, this work of bearing witness unto the Lord Christ was committed unto Him who is above and over all, who knoweth how, and is able, to make his testimony prevalent: “When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26). Accordingly, the apostles plead his concurring testimony: “We are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32). And how he thus gave his testimony our apostle declares, “God also bearing witness with them” (that is, the apostles), “both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will” (Heb. 2:4).

The first principal end why God gave the Holy Spirit to work all those miraculous effects in them that believed in Jesus, was, to bear witness unto his person that he was indeed the Son of God, owned and exalted by him; for no man not utterly forsaken of all reason and understanding, not utterly blinded, would once imagine that the Holy Spirit of God would work such marvelous operations in and by them who believed on him, if he designed not to justify his person, work, and doctrine thereby. And this in a short time, together with that effectual power which he put forth in and by the preaching of the word, carried not only his vindication against all the machinations of Satan and his instruments throughout the world, but also subdued the generality of mankind unto faith in him and obedience unto him (2 Cor. 10:4-5). And upon this testimony it is that there is real faith in him yet maintained in the world. This is that which he promised unto his disciples whilst he was yet with them in the world, when their hearts were solicitous how they should bear up against their adversaries upon his absence. “I will,” saith he, “send the Comforter unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:7–11).

The reason why the world believed not on Christ was, because they believed not that he was sent of God (John 9:29). By his testimony the Spirit was to reprove the world of their infidelity, and to convince them of it by evidencing the truth of his mission; for hereon the whole issue of the controversy between him and the world did depend. Whether he were righteous or a deceiver was to be determined by his being sent or not sent of God; and, consequently, God’s acceptance or disapprobation of him. That he was so sent, so approved, the Holy Spirit convinced the world by his testimony, manifesting that he “went to the Father,” and was exalted by him; for it was upon his ascension and exaltation that he received and poured out the promise of the Spirit to this purpose (Acts 2:33). Moreover, whilst he was in the world there was an unrighteous judgment, by the instigation of Satan, passed upon him. On this testimony of the Spirit, that judgment was to be reversed, and a contrary sentence passed on the author of it, the prince of this world; for by the gospel so testified unto was he discovered, convicted, judged, condemned, and cast out of that power and rule in the world which, by the darkness of the minds of men within and idolatry without, he had obtained and exercised. And that the Holy Spirit continueth to do the same work, though not absolutely by the same means, unto this very day, shall be afterward declared.

The true way and means of coming unto the knowledge of Christ, with the necessity thereof.

And by these considerations may we be led into that knowledge of and acquaintance with our Lord Jesus Christ, which is so necessary, so useful, and so much recommended unto us in the Scripture. And the utter neglect of learning the knowledge of Christ, and of the truth as it is in him, is not more pernicious unto the souls of men than is the learning of it by undue means, whereby false and mischievous ideas or representations of him are infused into the minds of men. The Papists would learn and teach him by images, the work of men’s hands, and teachers of lies: for besides that they are forbidden by God himself to be used unto any such purposes, and therefore cursed with barrenness and uselessness, as to any end of faith or holiness, they are in themselves suited only to ingenerate low and carnal thoughts in depraved superstitious minds. For as the worshippers of such images know not what is the proper cause nor the proper object of that reverence and those affections they find in themselves, when they approach unto them and adore before them, so the apprehensions which they can have hereby tend but to the “knowing after the flesh,” which the apostle looked on as no part of his duty (2 Cor. 5:16). But the glory of the human nature, as united unto the person of the Son of God, and engaged in the discharge of his office of Mediator, consists alone in these eminent, peculiar, ineffable communications of the Spirit of God unto him, and his powerful operations in him; this is represented unto us in the glass of the gospel, which we beholding by faith, are changed into the same image by the same Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

Our Lord Christ himself did foretell us that there would be great inquiries after him, and that great deceits would be immixed therewithal. “If,” saith he, “they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert, go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers, believe it not” (Mat. 24:26). It is not a wilderness, low, persecuted, inglorious, and invisible condition, as to outward profession, that our Saviour here intendeth: for himself foretold that his church should be driven into the wilderness, and nourished there, and that for a long season (Rev. 12:6); and where his church is, there is Christ, for his promise is, to be with them and among them unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:20). Nor by “secret chambers” doth he intend those private places of meeting for security which all his disciples, for some hundreds of years, were compelled unto and did make use of, after his apostles, who met sometimes in an upper room, sometimes in the night, for fear of the Jews; and such, it is notorious, were all the meetings of the primitive Christians. But our Saviour here foretells the false ways that some would pretend he is taught by and found in; for, first, some would say he was ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, “in the desert” or wilderness, and if men would go forth thither, there they would see him and find him. And there is nothing intended hereby but the ancient superstitious monks, who, under a pretense of religion, retired themselves into deserts and solitary places; for there they pretended great intercourse with Christ, great visions and appearances of him, being variously deluded and imposed on by Satan and their own imaginations. It is ridiculous on the one hand, and deplorable on the other, to consider the woeful follies, delusions, and superstitions this sort of men fell into; yet was in those days nothing more common than to say that Christ was in the desert, conversing with the monks and anchorites. “Go not forth unto them,” saith our Lord Christ; “for in so doing ye will be deceived.” And again saith he, “If they say unto you, He is ἐν τοῖς ταμείοις, in the secret chambers, believe it not.

There is, or I am much deceived, a deep and mysterious instruction in these words. Ταμεῖα signifies those secret places in a house where bread and wine and cates [i.e. delicious foods] of all sorts are laid up and stored. This is the proper signification and use of the word. What pretense, then, could there be for any to say that Christ was in such a place? Why, there ensued so great a pretense hereof, and so horrible a superstition thereon, that it was of divine wisdom to foresee it, and of divine goodness to forewarn us of it; for it is nothing but the popish figment of transubstantiation that is intended. Christ must be in the secret places where their wafer and wine were deposited—that is, ἐν τοῖς ταμείοις. Concerning this, saith our Saviour, “Believe them not.” All crafts, and frauds, and bloody violences, will be used to compel you to believe a Christ in the pix and repository; but, if you would not be seduced, “believe them not.” Such are the false ways whereby some have pretended to teach Christ and to learn him, which have led them from him into hurtful snares and perdition. The consideration that we have insisted on will guide us, if attended to, unto a spiritual and saving knowledge of him. And we are to learn thus to know him:

What it is to love Christ as we ought.

First, that we may love him with a pure unmixed love. It is true, it is the person of Christ as God and man that is the proper and ultimate object of our love towards him; but a clear distinct consideration of his natures and their excellencies is effectual to stir up and draw forth our love towards him. So the spouse in the Canticles, rendering a reason of her intense affections towards him, says that “he is white and ruddy, the chiefest of ten thousand” (Songs 5:10); that is, perfect in the beauty of the graces of the Holy Spirit, which rendered him exceeding amiable. So also Ps. 45:2. Would you, therefore, propose Christ unto your affections, so as that your love unto him may be sincere and without corruption, as it is required to be (Eph. 6:24), that you may not lavish away the actings of your souls upon a false object, and think you love Christ, when you love only the imaginations of your own breasts?

Consider his human nature, as it was rendered beautiful and lovely by the work of the Spirit of God upon it, before described. Do you love him because he was and is so full of grace, so full of holiness, because in him there was an all-fullness of the graces of the Spirit of God? Consider aright what hath been delivered concerning him, and if you can and do, on the account thereof, delight in him and love him, your love is genuine and spiritual; but if your love be merely out of an apprehension of his being now glorious in heaven, and there able to do you good or evil, it differs not much from that of the Papists, whose love is much regulated in its actings by the good or bad painting of the images whereby they represent him. 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. There are, therefore, three things in general that you are to consider to this purpose:

1. The blessed union of his two natures in the same person. Herein he is singular, God having taken that especial state on him, which in no other thing or way had any consideration. This, therefore, is to have a speciality in our divine love to the person of Christ.

2. The uncreated glories of the divine nature, whence our love hath the same object with that which we owe unto God absolutely.

3. That perfection and fullness of grace which dwelt in his human nature, as communicated unto him by the Holy Spirit, whereof we have treated. If we love the person of Christ, it must be on these considerations; which whilst some have neglected, they have doted on their own imaginations, and whilst they have thought themselves even sick of love for Christ, they have only languished in their own fancies.

Secondly, We are to know Christ so as to labour after conformity unto him. And this conformity consists only in a participation of those graces whose fullness dwells in him. We can, therefore, no other way regularly press after it, but by an acquaintance with and due consideration of the work of the Spirit of God upon his human nature; which is therefore worthy of our most diligent inquiry into.


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