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John Owen on Spiritual Gifts

When we think of spiritual gifts, we may have pre-conceived notions of what that term means based on the  charismatic movement.  That was not the case with the Puritans.  In his book A Quest for Godliness, J.I. Packer points out that the 17th century did not really produce to his knowledge anyone claiming the gift of tongues.  He further adds:

 "... though claimants to prophetic and healing powers were not unknown, particularly in the wild days of the forties and fifties, the signs of enthusiasm (fanatical delusion) and mental unbalance were all too evident." 

Apparently, then, the understanding of what constitutes spiritual gifts may be different from the view of someone like John Owen.

Nonetheless, Owen did have specific ideas about spiritual gifts and their purposes.  In his Discourses, he says that gifts:

are that without which the Church cannot subsist in the world, nor can believers be useful unto one another and the rest of mankind, unto the glory of Christ, as they ought to be.

Packer notes:

Owen's further generalisation, 'a ministry devoid of spiritual gifts is sufficient evidence of a Church under a degenerating apostasy,' suggests thoughts that might well disturb Protestants, too, at the present time.

To Owen, spiritual gifts were abilities divinely given and sustained whose purpose is to help the believer grasp the realities of the siritual world and the knowledge of God in Christ.  Their purpose was also for the edifying of self and others.  Owen saw them as informing the intellect and encouraging thoughts of the divine.  These were not natural abilities which were merely sanctified; they were God-given abilities.

Owen believed in "every member ministry," but he did recognize the reliance that one in ecclesiastical office would have with regard to spiritual gifts:

Spiritual gifts of themselves make no man actually a minister yet no man can be made a minister according to the mind of Christ, who is not partker of them.

Owen saw the need for the minister to rely not the extraordinary gifts, such as healing, miracles, and prophetic powers, but rather the ordinary gifts of wisdom and knowledge.  He needed skill to divide the word rightly, and the gift of utterance.  That sounds like a good combination of gifts to ensure that a man is effective as a minister.

Owen points out in his Discourses that a man may have gifts yet not know the grace of God.  A man may be gifted and not be born again.  That is a truth we can recognize still.  Yet, when there is grace and gifts in combination, things work to the glory of God:

... A soul sanctified by saving grace is the only proper soil for gifts to flourish in.  Grace influenceth gifts unto a due exercise, prevents their abuse, stirs them up unto proper occasions, keeps them from being a matter of pride or contention, and subordinates them in all things unto the glory of God.  When the actings of grace and gifts are inseparable, as when in prayer the Spirit is a spirit of grace and supplication, the grace and gifts of it working together, when utterance in other duties is always accompanied with faith and love, then is God glorified, and our own salvation promoted.  Then have edifying gifts a beauty and lustre upon them, and generally are most successful, when they are clothed and adorned with humility, meekness, a reverence of God and compassion for the souls of men.


In light of recent events ...

In the wake of Rebecca's wonderful post regarding all things rhubarb, I thought many out there would love this recipe at the very wonderful blog Mennonite Girls Can Cook; a blog, quite co-incidentally, that Rebecca first tipped me off to.

Now, to find someone with a rhubarb patch.


The importance of the Word in Worship

This is from Worship in Spirit and Truth, by John Frame, in the chapter entitled "God Speaks to Us:  The Word and the Sacraments."

God's word is inseparable from him.  His word performs divine acts:  creation (Ps. 33:6), providence (Ps. 148), judgment (John 12:48), and salvation (Rom. 1:16; James 1:21).  Everything God does, he does by speaking his word.  His word has divine attributes:  it is eternal (Ps. 119:98), 160), omnipotent (Isa. 55:11), and perfect (Ps. 19:7-8).

We should draw two implications from this for worship:  First, where God's word is, God is.   We should never take God's word for granted.  To hear the word of God is to meet with God himself.  Second, where God is, the word is.  We should not seek to have an experience with God which bypasses or transcends from his word.

Did you catch that last sentence?  We should not seek to have an experience with God which bypasses or transcends from his word.   That, I think, is fairly crucial.


Heart Aflame - May 2, 2010

Psalm 45.

Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear:  Forget your people and your father's house.  the king is entralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.  This passage contains a remarkable prophecy in reference to the future calling of the Gentiles, by which the Son of God formed an alliance with strangers and those who were his enemies.  There was between God and the uncircumcised nations a deadly quarrel of separation which divided them from the seed of Abraham, the chosen people (Eph. 2:14); for the covenant which God has made with Abraham shut out the Gentiles from the kingdom of heaven till the coming of Christ.  Christ, therefore, of his free grace, desires to enter into a holy alliance of marriage with the whole world, in the same way as if a Jew in ancient times had taken to himself a wife from a foreign and heathen land.  But in order to conduct into Christ's presence his bride, chaste and undefiled, the prophet exhorts the Church gathered from the Gentiles, to forget her former manner of living, and to devote herself wholly to her husband.  As this change, by which the children of Adam begin to be the children of God, and are transofmred into new men, is a thing so difficult, the prophet enforces the necessity of it the more earnestly.  In enforcing his exhortation in this way by different terms, hearken, consider, incline your ear, he intimates, that the faithful do not deny themselves, and lay aside their former habits, without intense and painful effort; for such an exhortation would be superfluous, were men naturally and voluntarily disposed to it.  And, indeed, experience shows how dull and slow we are to follow God.

By the word daughter, the prophet gently and sweetly soothes the new Church; and he also sets before her the promise of a bountiful reward, to induce her, for the sake of Christ willingly to despise and forsake whatever she made account of up to now.  It is certainly o small consolation to know that the Son of God will delight in us, when we shall have put off our earthly nature.  In the meantime, let us learn that to deny ourselves, is the beginning of that scacred union which out to exist between us and Christ.  By her father's house and her people is comprehended whatever men have belonging to themselves; for there is no part of our nature sound or free from corruption.


The thing about mothering ... 

It's always a helpful thing to be given advice and assistance from other mothers.  I have found that very helpful at all stages during my almost-21 years of mothering.  Sometimes, though, the advice just doesn't do it, because kids are all different and what works for some may not work for other.  I know from having spoken to teenagers that being lumped in the same category as one's own sibling can be frustrating, never mind being lumped in with kids in general.  Little Johnny may not care to be treated as an individual when he's four, but when he's fourteen, it is an issue.

So, yes, while the advice is good -- and there are mothering books out there galore, and mothers galore who will advise -- I have found one thing to be far more compelling in my own life.

Are you ready?  It's earth shattering ... well, maybe not... I'm just being overly dramatic.

What I learn about who God is and who I am and what is the nature of sinful man has been far more helpful in advising me in the parental role than just about any piece of advice anyone has ever given me.  Mothering books, full of practical tips and helps are good, but there is no substitute for a deep study of who God is and who we are.  One thing about mothering is that it reveals how truly selfish we can be.  That may sound odd, because when we think of mothers, we generally think of them staying up late with illness and the like.  We do indeed do that.  But we are, at heart, selfish, sinful beings, and learning how to deal with my own heart is the first step toward guiding and helping my children and coping with the stress that is involved.

If I was to suggest a book to give a mother for Mother's Day, this is what it would be:    The ESV Study Bible.