Monday, December 8, 2008

Unregenerate Partakers of the Spirit, Beware!

John Owen lists three works of the Spirit in a person that precede regeneration. These works generally precede regeneration, but regeneration does not necessarily follow from them. As his focus is on the work of the Spirit, he does not include those duties that fallen man can perform apart from the Spirit's special ministry, namely, an outward attendance to the word of God and a "diligent intention of the mind, in attendance on the means of grace." He reduces these works of the Spirit to three points: 1) Illumination; 2) Conviction; 3) Reformation.

1) Owen says, "Now, all the light which by any means we attain unto, or knowledge that we have in or about spiritual things, things of supernatural revelation, come under this denomination of illumination." He argues that there are three degrees of illumination. a) The first degree is a subduing, though not eradication, of the natural man's antipathy (negligence, sloth and pride) to divine revelation, which allows him to have a head knowledge of the truth. b) The second degree is a special effect of the Spirit by the word on the minds of men which adds clarity, greater assent, a weak joy, and gifts regarding spiritual truths. c) The third degree, unlike the first two, communicates saving grace to the heart.

2) Conviction, according to Owen, involves a) an unsettling sense of the guilt of sin in light of the law and judgment of God; b) sorrow for sin because it is past and cannot be changed (legal sorrow); and c) humiliation for sin, which is the outward effect of the fear and sorrow in the acts of confession, fasting, praying and similar disciplines.

3) "Oftentimes," says Owen, "a great reformation of life and change in affections doth ensue heron; as Matt. 13:20; 2 Peter 2:20; Matt. 12:44."

He observes that the effects of this work rests in the mind, conscience, affections and conduct. But the will is not renewed, therefore, it is continually inclined to sin. The mind, though enlightened to a degree, has not proceeded as far as to delight in God. The conscience is worked upon, but not purged. The affections, though stirred to fear, sorrow, joy and delight about spiritual things are not fixed on heavenly things. The affections are not fully for God, but abide sin to remain. With regard to conduct, many sins are left unregarded, known sins are left unhindered, and energy for spiritual life gradually decays.

In his typical pastoral manner, Owen calls us to self-examination to ensure that we have not mistaken these motions of the Spirit for regeneration.

Now, because it oftentimes maketh a great appearance and resemblance of regeneration itself, or of real conversion to God, so that neither the world nor the church is able to distinguish between them, it is of great concernment unto all professors of the gospel to inquire diligently whether they have in their own souls been made partakers of any other work of the Spirit of God or no; or although this be a good work, and doth lie in a good subserviency unto regeneration, yet if men attain no more, if they proceed no farther, they will perish, and that eternally. And multitudes do herein actually deceive themselves, speaking peace unto their souls on the effects of this work; whereby it is not only insufficient to save them, as it is to all persons at all times, but also becomes a means of their present security and future destruction.

May God keep us from saying "peace, peace" when there is no peace.

John Owen, The Holy Spirit, (Bath, England: Johnstone and Hunter, 1850-53; reprint, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1965), 228-242.


Jamie Fugate said...

Josh I was wondering how we would discern between a pre-regenerate reformation and knowing a tree by its fruit.

Joshua Owen said...

According to the greater Owen, the world and the church are easily deceived in this regard. However, the individual will have to give serious pause when he is confronted with the lack of affection for God. I'd also add that Owen says the spiritual energy of the unregenerate eventually decreases. I'm reminded of Jesus' statement that those who endure to the end will be saved; or of the parable of the sower, the soils and the seed. Some sprang up, giving some evidence of life, but were either scorched or choked out.

In the end, we make a charitable decision to receive people on a credible profession of faith. But I think we should be bold to warn people of the danger of self-deception, as Owen was.