Chapter 21 continues to look at the fellowship and communion of believers with the Holy Spirit, and in this chapter Owen turns his attention towards the futile attempts of Satan to undermine this communion. And Owen frames Satan's main attempts to undermine the Spirit within the context of gathered worship. This is a fascinating insight from Owen. He is exactly right to begin here, for no doubt, the Enemy wants nothing more than to pervert God's people in this way. He knows that we were created to glorify and enjoy God, and so it makes sense that the Enemy would create and spread lies among mankind concerning the nature of worship!
The first attack against the Spirit from Satan is by setting up ministers and gathered worship services which are completely independent of the Holy Spirit. They have the right liturgy, the minister guides the congregation through the service effortlessly, and by all outward appearances, these gatherings seem to be gatherings of Christian worship. Yet, apart from the Holy Spirit, they are nothing of the sort.
The second attack against the Spirit is that Satan attempts to do the exact opposite of his first attack by deceiving Christians into thinking that you can have the Holy Spirit apart from a structured, gathered worship service. All you need is the Spirit, and you can him without biblical worship and the ministry of Word and Sacrament that happens in a worship service!
Owen's words here speak into our context today just as strongly as they spoke into his in the 17th century. For Owen, this is not a choice between liturgical worship and the Holy Spirit. For Owen, the believer needs both, and if we would discard either one, then we are proving ourselves susceptible to the attacks of Satan. We need the gathering of God's people in structured, liturgical services where the ministry of Word and Sacrament happen, and we need the Holy Spirit's work, empowerment, and blessing in these services of worship, lest they become mere exercises of the flesh.
Owen says that these attacks do two things. The first attack tries to get us to focus merely on the physical by having all the right outward (physical) things in place, but no Spirit. The second attack tries to get us to focus on merely the spiritual reality of Christ by discarding the importance of the physical things. But Owen reminds us that the true ministry of the Spirit concerns both the physical and spiritual, because Jesus Christ himself is both truly God and truly man. The Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ's words and work on our behalf. The Spirit glorifies Christ, the God-Man. The Spirit pours into our hearts the love of God. The Spirit guides and directs us in prayer. And while Owen doesn't state this conclusion, we can say that this is exactly what the Holy Spirit does when we gather together for worship that is both guided by the Scriptures and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 22 is focused upon the Spirit's work as our comforter. It's a difficult chapter on some level because Owen openly talks about afflictions as being something that the people of God should not despise. He reminds us that troubles and afflictions are part of our Father's chastisement and discipline. And God's discipline of his children is an essential part of our discipleship. So while men apart from God despise affliction and trouble, the children of God remember this is part of our Father's molding and shaping us, and we look to the Holy Spirit as a comforter and help during affliction.
And the Spirit does bring us comfort and help. He brings us comfort when we are burdened with sin. While men apart from God are crushed by guilt, the Spirit reminds those who have union with Christ that we are, indeed, children of God and we have no need to fear God's wrath nor do we fear the accusations of Satan. The Spirit also brings strength and comfort in this life as we eagerly await the consummation of the resurrected life in the new creation. Apart from the Spirit, we would be crushed by the troubles and trials of this current life. But with the Spirit, we patiently await and endure until "the end".
How does the Spirit comfort us? Very simply, he communicates to us the truth that God loves us. He comforts us by reminding us that the Father's love is eternal and unchangeable. He comforts us by communicating to us and making us more and more familiar with the grace of Jesus Christ, and brings to us the fruits that Christ as purchased for us. He comforts us by glorifying Christ in us, revealing his excellencies to us. He comforts us by reminding us that in Christ, we are justified and adopted into the everlasting family of God.
And why? Why does the Spirit do this for us? Because of his infinite love for us, and his willingness to help us in our weakness and helplessness.
He (the Holy Spirit) knew what we were, what we would do and how we would deal with him. He knew we would grieve him and provoke him. He knew we would quench his activities in us and defile his dwelling place, and still he becomes our Comforter. Lack of a due consideration of this great love of the Holy Spirit weakens all the principles of our obedience. Did this knowledge abide in our hearts, how highly we would value his work as Comforter. As we value the love of Christ in laying down his life for our salvation, so we must value the work of the Holy Spirit as our Comforter.