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The Spirit of God – John Owen Excerpt

Category Book Excerpts
Date March 21, 2024

The following excerpt is Chapter 2, ‘The Spirit of God’, in The Holy Spirit by John Owen. This Puritan Paperback title is abridged and made easy to read from Owen’s Pneumatologia or A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, which is 650 pages in the third volume of Owen’s Works.

The Holy Spirit has many names and titles. The word Spirit in Hebrew is ruach and in Greek it is pneuma. In both languages the words serve as the term for ‘wind.’ These words were used metaphorically to express many ideas (Eccles. 5:16; Mic. 2:11); any part or quarter of the compass (Jer. 52:23; Ezek. 5:12; 1 Chron. 9:24; Matt. 24:31); anything which is not material (Gen. 7:22; Psa. 135:17; Job 19:17; Luke 23:46); desires of the mind and soul (Gen. 45:27; Ezek. 13:3; Num. 14:24); angels (Psa. 104:4; 1 Kings 22:21, 22; Matt. 10:1). In Scripture, however, a clear distinction is made between these uses and the Spirit of God. While the Jews say he is the influential power of God and the Muslems say that he is an eminent angel, the name ‘Spirit’ refers to his nature or essence which is pure, spiritual, immaterial substance (John 4:24). He is the breath of the Lord (Psa. 33:6; 18:15; John 20:22; Gen. 2:7). He is called the Holy Spirit (Psa. 51:11; Isa. 63:10, 11; Rom. 1:4). He is the Spirit of God (Psa. 143:10; Neh. 9:20; Exod. 31:3; 35:31; 1 Cor. 12:6, 11; 2 Sam. 23:2 with 2 Pet. 1:21).  He is the Spirit of God and the Spirit of the Lord (Gen. 1:2; John 20:17). He is the Spirit of the Son, the Spirit of Christ (Gal. 4:6; 1 Pet. 1:11; Rom. 8:9). He proceeds from the Son and was promised by the Son (Acts 2:33).

The Trinity

The being and nature of God is the foundation of all true religion and holy religious worship in the world (Rom. 1:19- 21). The revelation that he gives us of himself is the standard of all true religious worship and obedience. God has revealed himself as three persons in one God (Matt. 28:19). Each person in the Godhead is distinct from the other two, and each has particular works attributed to him. The Father gives the Son. The Son comes and takes our nature, and both the Father and the Son send the Spirit. So the Holy Spirit is, in himself, a distinct, loving, powerful, intelligent, divine person, for none other could do what he does. He is one with the Father and the Son. Our Lord’s words at the institution of Christian baptism show us that it is our religious duty to own the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in all our worship of God and in all our faith and obedience (cf. Matt. 28:19, 20).

The personal activity of the Holy Spirit

The appearance of the Holy Spirit under a visible sign suggests that he is a person (Matt. 3:16; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). He has personal attributes such as understanding and wisdom (1 Cor. 2:10-12; Isa. 40:28; Psa. 147:5; 2 Pet. 1:21; Rom. 11:33, 34; Isa. 40:13; Psa. 139:23; 1 Cor. 12:8; Isa. 11:2). He acts according to his own will (1 Cor. 12:11). He has power (Job 33:4; Isa. 11:2; Mic. 2:7; 3:8; Eph. 3:16). He teaches (Luke 12:12; John 14:26; 1 John 2:27). He calls to special work (Acts 13:2, 4) – an act of authority, choice and wisdom. He called Barnabas and Saul. He commanded them to be set apart. He sent them out. All this shows his authority and personality. He appointed men to positions of authority in the church (Acts 20:28). He was tempted (Acts 5:9). How can a quality, an accident, a power from God be tempted? Ananias lied to him (Acts 5:3). Peter tells Ananias that he had lied to God (Acts 5:4). The Holy Spirit can be resisted (Acts 7:51). He can be grieved (Eph. 4:30). He can be rebelled against, annoyed and blasphemed (Isa. 63:10; Matt. 12:31, 32). Clearly, the Holy Spirit is not merely a quality to be found in the divine nature. He is not simply an influence or power from God. He is not the working of God’s power in our sanctification. He is a holy, intelligent person.

The deity of the Holy Spirit

He is clearly called God (Acts 5:3, 4; Lev. 26:11, 12 with 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; Deut. 32:12 with Isa. 63:14; Psa. 78:17, 18 with Isa. 63:10, 11). Divine characteristics are attributed to him: eternity (Heb. 9:14); immensity (Psa. 139:7); omnipotence (Mic. 2:7; Isa. 40:28); foreknowledge (Acts 1:16); omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10, 11); sovereign authority over the church (Acts 13:2, 4; 20:28). He is the third person of the Godhead (Matt. 28:19; Rev. 1:4, 5).

Everything God does he does as the triune God. Each person of the Trinity is involved in every action of God. Yet at the same time each person has a special role to fulfil in that work. In this sense, creation is the special work of the Father, salvation is the special work of the Son, and the special work of the Holy Spirit is to bring salvation to sinners, enabling them to receive it. The Father begins, the Son upholds, and the Holy Spirit completes all things (Rom. 11:36; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). Thus the Holy Spirit is active in everything God plans and does. We see this in creation.

The works of nature

God created all things out of nothing (Gen. 1:1). The Spirit of God ‘was hovering over the face of the waters’ (Gen. 1:2), ‘was hovering,’ as birds do over their nests. The Hebrew word ruach means the ‘wind’ of God. ‘Hovering’ signifies an easy, gentle movement like birds hovering over their nests (Deut. 32:11; Jer. 23:9). But there is no information in Genesis 1:1-2 about the creation of this wind. It can only be the Spirit of God and his work that is being described here.

The natural creation of man (Gen. 2:7)

The material used by God to create man was the ‘dust of the earth.’ The life-giving principle which made man a living soul was ‘the breath of God.’ The result of the union of the material with the breath of God, that which was spiritual, was that man became a living soul. Here the ‘breath’ of God is a vivid description of the Spirit. So God is seen in his glorious power and wisdom. He takes such humble material as dust and out of it creates a glorious creature. Man, being reminded that he is merely dust of the earth, is kept humble and dependent on the wisdom and goodness of God.

The moral creation of man (Gen. 1:26, 27; Eccles. 7:29)

It is not for nothing that God tells us that he breathed the spirit of life into man (Gen. 2:7; Job 33:4). It was the work of the Holy Spirit to give life to man by which man became a living soul, for the Holy Spirit is the breath of God. Man was given a mind and a soul in order that he might obey God and enjoy him, and there were three things necessary to fit man for life with God. He must be able to know the mind and will of God so that he may obey and please him. He must have a heart that gladly and freely loves God and his law, and he must be able to carry out perfectly all that God requires of him. All these are the works of the Spirit in man. And all these abilities were lost by sin. They can be restored only by the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration.


Buy The Holy Spirit by John Owen (abridged Puritan Paperback).

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