This brings us to the fourth element:

4. The Ministry Of The Spirit In The Exaltation Of Christ

Here again, the principle of the unity of the work of Father, Son and Spirit is illustrated. The Father raised the Son [Gal. 1:1]; the Son took up his life again, having laid it down [Jn. 2:19; 10:38]. But Owen notes that there is also a strand of teaching in the New Testament which underlines the role of the Spirit in the resurrection: Christ was declared Son of God in power by the resurrection through the Spirit of holiness [Rom. 1:4]; he was justified by the Spirit in the resurrection [1 Tim. 3:16]. Nor was this merely a work of resuscitation. Christ’s resurrection by the Spirit was his transformation. Indeed, it is his glorification [ 1 Cor. 15:43a; 45-9]. Thus, says Owen, ‘he who first made his nature holy, now made it glorious’ [Works III, p. 183]. The Spirit’s ministry in the life of Jesus, therefore, was not merely from womb to tomb: it was from womb to throne.

There is something both profoundly moving and exhilarating about these emphases in Owen’s teaching on the Spirit. But what is the practical and experimental value of his biblical insight?

It should be immediately evident that Owen’s teaching on the Spirit corresponds to the basic law of the Spirit’s ministry given in John 16:13-14. The Spirit can be known only in connection with Christ. He glorifies Christ, not himself. In Reformed exposition of the ministry of the Spirit we are accustomed to this emphasis. But Owen’s teaching challenges us to take this with the seriousness it deserves. For notice what his study of the Spirit in the life of Christ implies:

1. The source of the Spirit’s ministry to us is Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ became the Bearer of the Spirit, in order to be the Bestower of the Spirit (cf. Jn. 14:17: ‘He [the Spirit] dwells with you [i.e. by his presence in Christ who is with them] and will be in you [i.e. when he was sent at Pentecost to indwell them as the Spirit of the ascended Lord]). That is why, in the New Testament, Pentecost is not seen as a separate event from Calvary and the Resurrection. Rather, it is the public manifestation of their significance: Jesus has received and borne the Spirit for his people. Now, the last monumental act takes place-overwhelming and epoch-making in its significance (as the first disciples realised): Jesus gives his own Spirit to his own people (cf. Jn. 14:18)!

2. The pattern of the Spirit’s ministry in us is Jesus Christ. Perhaps the simplest way to expand Owen’s insight is to say: the Spirit was in Christ in order to create the master copy of the life-style he would reproduce in all those who belong to Christ. Nothing is more central to the Reformed understanding of the ministry of the Spirit than this union to Christ which produces conformity to him. It is by the Spirit that we are being changed from one degree of glory to another [2 Cor. 3:18].

3. The means of (one might even say the equipment for) the Spirit’s ministry in us is the work of Christ. He was the life-long companion of our Lord Jesus Christ. As such, he now takes what is Christ’s and brings it to us [Jn. 16:14]. He is truly ‘another Counsellor’ [i.e. another of the same kind as Jesus himself had been to the disciples] [Jn. 14:16]. What he brings to us is nothing less than all that Jesus himself is to us. Owen clearly understood the significance of Jesus’ words that it was to the advantage of the disciples that he should leave them [Jn. 16:7]. The only conceivable logic which can sustain such a statement is this: the Spirit who was in and on our Lord now lives in and on our lives, bringing to us all that Christ was and is for us.

4. The goal of the Spirit’s ministry in us is faith in Christ and glorifying of him. One of the impressive consequences of reading Owen’s study of the Spirit in the ministry of Jesus is that we inevitably begin to rejoice in knowing the Spirit. Yet, even in this, the Spirit does not transgress the principles which he equipped Christ to utter and the apostles to record in Scripture. For our new joy in the Spirit goes hand in hand with a new admiration of the Son, and a new desire to glorify him through the Spirit. The Spirit is Christ’s witness. We likewise are to bear witness to Christ through the Spirit [Jn. 15:26-7]. His desire is that we should love and admire the Incarnate and Ascended Lord, just as he himself does-eternally. This ‘Christ-full’ character of Owen’s teaching on the Spirit seals it with the marks of biblical authenticity.

– Sinclair Ferguson

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