This edited work of John Owen helps modern-day believers understand the timeless truths of the Trinity.
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About the Author
John Owen(1616–1683) was vice chancellor of Oxford University and served as advisor and chaplain to Oliver Cromwell. Among the most learned and active of the Puritans in seventeenth-century Europe, and known as the "theologian's theologian,"he was accomplished both in doctrine and practical theology.
Kelly M. Kapic (PhD, King's College, University of London) is professor of theological studies at Covenant College, where he has taught for over fifteen years. Kapic has written and edited over ten books, focusing on the areas of systematic, historical, and practical theology. Kapic has also published articles in various journals and books. Kapic and his wife, Tabitha, live on Lookout Mountain with their two children.
Justin Taylor (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher at Crossway. He has edited and contributed to several books, including A God-Entranced Vision of All Things and Reclaiming the Center, and he blogs at Between Two Worldshosted by the Gospel Coalition.
Read an Excerpt
In the First Epistle of John, the apostle assures them to whom he wrote that the fellowship of believers "is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1:3), and this he does with such an unusual kind of expression as bears the force of an asseveration — whence we have rendered it, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."
The outward appearance and condition of the saints in those days being very mean and contemptible — their leaders being accounted as the filth of this world and as the offscouring of all things — the inviting [of] others into fellowship with them and a participation of the precious things which they did enjoy, seem to be exposed to many contrary reasonings and objections: "What benefit is there in communion with them? Is it anything else but to be sharers in troubles, reproaches, scorns, and all manner of evils?" To prevent or remove these and the like exceptions, the apostle gives them to whom he wrote to know (and that with some earnestness of expression), that notwithstanding all the disadvantages their fellowship lay under, unto a carnal view, yet in truth it was, and would be found to be (in reference to some with whom they held it), very honorable, glorious, and desirable. For "truly," says he, "our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."
The Saints Have Communion with God
This being so earnestly and directly asserted by the apostle, we may boldly follow him with our affirmation, namely, "That the saints of God have communion with him." And a holy and spiritual communion it is, as shall be declared. How this is spoken distinctly in reference to the Father and the Son, must afterward be fully opened and carried on.
By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man has any communion with God. He is light, we darkness; and what communion has light with darkness [2 Cor. 6:14]? He is life, we are dead — he is love, and we are enmity; and what agreement can there be between us? Men in such a condition have neither Christ, nor hope, nor God in the world (Eph. 2:12), "being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them" (Eph. 4:18). Now two cannot walk together unless they be agreed (Amos 3:3). While there is this distance between God and man, there is no walking together for them in any fellowship or communion. Our first interest in God was so lost by sin, as that there was left unto us (in ourselves) no possibility of a recovery. As we had deprived ourselves of all power for a return, so God had not revealed any way of access unto himself, or that he could, under any consideration, be approached unto by sinners in peace. Not any work that God had made, not any attribute that he had revealed, could give the least light into such a dispensation.
The manifestation of grace and pardoning mercy, which is the only door of entrance into any such communion, is not committed unto any but unto him alone in whom it is, by whom that grace and mercy was purchased, through whom it is dispensed, who reveals it from the bosom of the Father. Hence this communion and fellowship with God is not in express terms mentioned in the Old Testament. The thing itself is found there; but the clear light of it, and the boldness of faith in it, is discovered in the gospel, and by the Spirit administered therein. By that Spirit we have this liberty (2 Cor. 3:17–18). Abraham was the friend of God (Isa.41:8); David, a man after his own heart [1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22]; Enoch walked with him (Gen. 5:22) — all enjoying this communion and fellowship for the substance of it. But the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was standing (Heb. 9:8). Though they had communion with God, yet they had not parresian — a boldness and confidence in that communion. This follows the entrance of our High Priest into the Most Holy Place (Heb. 4:16; 10:19). The veil also was upon them, that they had not eleutherian — freedom and liberty in their access to God (2 Cor. 3:15–16, etc.). But now in Christ we have boldness and access with confidence to God (Eph. 3:12). This boldness and access with confidence the saints of old were not acquainted with. By Jesus Christ alone, then, on all considerations as to being and full manifestation, is this distance taken away. He has consecrated for us a new and living way (the old being quite shut up), "through the veil, that is to say, his flesh" (Heb. 10:20); and "through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father" ( Eph. 2:18). "You who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ, for he is our peace," etc. (Eph. 2:13–14). Of this foundation of all our communion with God, more afterward, and at large. Upon this new bottom and foundation, by this new and living way, are sinners admitted into communion with God, and have fellowship with him. And truly, for sinners to have fellowship with God, the infinitely holy God, is an astonishing dispensation.
Communion in General
To speak a little of it in general: Communion relates to things and persons. A joint participation in any thing whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions, gives this denomination to them so partaking of it. A common interest in the same nature gives all men a fellowship or communion therein. Of the elect it is said, Ta paidia kekoinoneke sarkos kai aimatos, "Those children partook of" (or had fellowship in, with the rest of the world) "flesh and blood" — the same common nature with the rest of mankind; and, therefore, Christ also came into the same fellowship (kai autos parapleios metesche tonauton
There is also a communion as to state and condition, whether it be good or evil; and this, either in things internal and spiritual — such as is the communion of saints among themselves; or in respect of outward things. So was it with Christ and the two thieves, as to one condition, and to one of them in respect of another. They were en to auto krimati — under the same sentence to the cross (Luke 23:40, ejusdem doloris socii). They had communion as to that evil condition whereunto they were adjudged, and one of them requested (which he also obtained) a participation in that blessed condition whereupon our Savior was immediately to enter.
There is also a communion or fellowship in actions, whether good or evil. In good, is that communion and fellowship in the gospel, or in the performance and celebration of that worship of God which in the gospel is instituted, which the saints do enjoy (Phil. 1:5), which, as to the general kind of it, David so rejoices in (Ps. 42:4). In evil, was that wherein Simeon and Levi were brethren (Gen. 49:5). They had communion in that cruel act of revenge and murder. Our communion with God is not comprised in any one of these kinds; of some of them it is exclusive. It cannot be natural; it must be voluntary and by consent. It cannot be of state and conditions; but in actions. It cannot be in the same actions upon a third party; but in a return from one to another. The infinite disparity that is between God and man made the great philosopher conclude that there could be no friendship between them. Some distance in the persons holding friendship he could allow, nor could exactly determine the bounds and extent thereof; but that between God and man, in his apprehension, left no place for it. Another says, indeed, that there is communitas homini cum Deo — a certain fellowship between God and man — but the general intercourse of providence is all he apprehended. Some arose to higher expressions; but they understood nothing whereof they spoke. This knowledge is hid in Christ; as will afterward be made to appear. It is too wonderful for nature, as sinful and corrupted. Terror and apprehensions of death at the presence of God is all that it guides unto. But we have, as was said, a new foundation and a new discovery of this privilege.
Now, communion is the mutual communication of such good things as wherein the persons holding that communion are delighted, bottomed upon some union between them. So it was with Jonathan and David; their souls clave to one another (1 Sam. 20:17) in love. There was the union of love between them; and then they really communicated all issues of love mutually. In spiritual things this is more eminent: those who enjoy this communion have the most excellent union for the foundation of it; and the issues of that union, which they mutually communicate, are the most precious and eminent.
Of the union which is the foundation of all that communion we have with God I have spoken largely elsewhere, and have nothing further to add thereunto.
Communion with God Defined
Our communion, then, with God consists in his communication of himself unto us,
with our return unto him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.
And it is twofold: (1) perfect and complete, in the full fruition of his glory and total giving up of ourselves to him, resting in him as our utmost end; which we shall enjoy when we see him as he is; and (2) initial and incomplete, in the first fruits and dawnings of that perfection which we have here in grace; which [is the] only [aspect] I shall handle.
It is, then, I say, of that mutual communication in giving and receiving, after a most holy and spiritual manner, which is between God and the saints while they walk together in a covenant of peace, ratified in the blood of Jesus, whereof we are to treat. And this we shall do, if God permit; in the meantime praying the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ — who has, of the riches of his grace, recovered us from a state of enmity into a condition of communion and fellowship with himself — that both he that writes, and they that read the words of his mercy, may have such a taste of his sweetness and excellencies therein, as to be stirred up to a further longing after the fullness of his salvation and the eternal fruition of him in glory.CHAPTER 2
That the saints have communion with God, and what communion in general is, was declared in the first chapter. The manner how this communion is carried on, and the matter wherein it does consist, comes next under consideration.
The Manner of Communion with God
Distinct Communion with Each Person of the Trinity
For the first, in respect of the distinct persons of the Godhead with whom they have this fellowship, it is either distinct and peculiar, or else obtained and exercised jointly and in common. That the saints have distinct communion with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (that is, distinctly with the Father, and distinctly with the Son, and distinctly with the Holy Spirit), and in what the peculiar appropriation of this distinct communion unto the several persons does consist, must, in the first place, be made manifest.
[In] 1 John 5:7 the apostle tells us, "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost." In heaven they are, and bear witness to us. And what is it that they bear witness unto? Unto the sonship of Christ, and the salvation of believers in his blood. Of the carrying on of that, both by blood and water, justification and sanctification, is he there treating. Now, how do they bear witness hereunto? Even as three, as three distinct witnesses. When God witnesses concerning our salvation, surely it is incumbent on us to receive his testimony. And as he bears witness, so are we to receive it. Now this is done distinctly. The Father bears witness, the Son bears witness, and the Holy Spirit bears witness; for they are three distinct witnesses. So, then, are we to receive their several testimonies: and in doing so we have communion with them severally; for in this giving and receiving of testimony consists no small part of our fellowship with God. Wherein their distinct witnessing consists will be afterward declared.
[In] 1 Corinthians 12:4–6, the apostle, speaking of the distribution of gifts and graces unto the saints, ascribes them distinctly, in respect of the fountain of their communication, unto the distinct persons. "There are diversities of gifts (charismata), but the same Spirit" [v. 4] — "that one and the self-same Spirit," that is, the Holy Ghost (v. 11). "And there are differences of administrations (diakonia), but the same Lord," the same Lord Jesus (v. 5). "And there are diversities of operations (energ but it is the same God," etc., even the Father (Eph. 4:6). So graces and gifts are bestowed, and so are they received.
And not only in the emanation of grace from God, and the illapses of the Spirit on us, but also in all our approaches unto God, is the same distinction observed. "For through Christ we have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Eph. 2:18). Our access unto God (wherein we have communion with him) is dia Christou ("through Christ"), en Pneumati ("in the Spirit"), and pros ton Patera ("unto the Father") — the persons being here considered as engaged distinctly unto the accomplishment of the counsel of the will of God revealed in the gospel.
Sometimes, indeed, there is express mention made only of the Father and the Son: "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). The particle "and" is both distinguishing and uniting. Also John 14:23, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." It is in this communion wherein Father and Son do make their abode with the soul.
Sometimes the Son only is spoken of, as to this purpose. "God is faithful, by whom you were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9). And Revelation 3:20, "If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" — of which place afterward.
Sometimes the Spirit alone is mentioned. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14). This distinct communion, then, of the saints with the Father, Son, and Spirit, is very plain in the Scripture; but yet it may admit of further demonstration. Only this caution I must lay in beforehand: whatever is affirmed in the pursuit of this truth, it is done with relation to the explanation ensuing, in the beginning of the next chapter.
The way and means, then, on the part of the saints, whereby in Christ they enjoy communion with God, are all the spiritual and holy actings and outgoings of their souls in those graces, and by those ways, wherein both the moral and instituted worship of God does consist. Faith, love, trust, joy, etc., are the natural or moral worship of God, whereby those in whom they are have communion with him. Now, these are either immediately acted on God, and not tied to any ways or means outwardly manifesting themselves; or else they are further drawn forth, in solemn prayer and praises, according unto that way which he has appointed. That the Scripture does distinctly assign all these unto the Father, Son, and Spirit — manifesting that the saints do, in all of them, both as they are purely and nakedly moral, and as further clothed with instituted worship, respect each person respectively — is that which, to give light to the assertion in hand, I shall further declare by particular instances.
COMMUNION WITH THE FATHER
For the Father. Faith, love, obedience, etc., are peculiarly and distinctly yielded by the saints unto him; and he is peculiarly manifested in those ways as acting peculiarly toward them: which should draw them forth and stir them up thereunto. He gives testimony unto, and bears witness of, his Son: "This is the witness of God which he has testified of his Son"(1 John 5:9). In his bearing witness he is an object of belief. When he gives testimony (which he does as the Father, because he does it of the Son) he is to be received in it by faith. And this is affirmed, "He that believes on the Son of God, has the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10). To believe on the Son of God in this place is to receive the Lord Christ as the Son, the Son given unto us, for all the ends of the Father's love, upon the credit of the Father's testimony; and, therefore, therein is faith immediately acted on the Father. So it follows in the next words, "he that believes not God" (that is, the Father, who bears witness to the Son) "has made him a liar" [1 John 5:10]. "You believe in God," says our Savior (John 14:1); that is, the Father as such, for he adds, "Believe also in me"; or, "Believe you in God; believe also in me." God, as the prima Veritas upon whose authority is founded and whereunto all divine faith is ultimately resolved, is not to be considered bupostatikös, as peculiarly expressive of any person, but ousiodos, comprehending the whole Deity; which undividedly is the prime object thereof. But in this particular it is the testimony and authority of the Father (as such) therein, of which we speak, and whereupon faith is distinctly fixed on him — which, if it were not so, the Son could not add, "Believe also in me."
Excerpted from "Communion with the Triune God"
Copyright © 2007 Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations,
Foreword, Kevin J. Vanhoozer,
Introduction: Worshiping the Triune God: The Shape of John Owen's Trinitarian Spirituality, Kelly M. Kapic,
A Note on This Edition, Justin Taylor,
Communion with the Triune God,
Part 1: Of Communion with the Father,
Part 2: Of Communion with the Son Jesus Christ,
Part 3: Of Communion with the Holy Ghost,
What People are Saying About This
"Here is a modern reader's edition of a classic Puritan work by a classic Puritan author. It is a powerful Trinitarian profiling from Scripture of the truth that fellowship with God is and must ever be the inside story of the real Christian's life. John Owen is a profound teacher on all aspects of spiritual life, and it is a joy to welcome this reappearance of one of his finest achievements."
J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
"Among English-speaking theologians and pastors, John Owen and Jonathan Edwards run neck and neck for the first place in profound, faithful, fruitful displays of the glory of God in the salvation of sinners. Not only that, they are both running for first among the ranks of those who show practically how that glory is experienced here and now. Owen may have the edge here. And Communion with the Triune God is his most extraordinary effort. No one else has laid open the paths of personal fellowship with the three persons of the Trinity the way Owen does. What an honor it would be to God if more of his children knew how to enjoy him the way Owen does."
John Piper, Founder and Teacher, desiringGod.org; Chancellor, Bethlehem College & Seminary; author, Desiring God
"For those who want to deepen their understanding of God's greatness and how we walk with him, this book will repay, many times over, the effort its reading requires."
David F. Wells, Distinguished Senior Research Professor, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; author, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers and Emergents in the Postmodern World
"A great work. There is renewed interest in the Trinity these days, and there is also a deep hungering for genuine spirituality. Owen combines the two in a powerful manner, pointing the way to a vital relationship with the triune God."
Richard J. Mouw, President, Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What a tremendous work laying out the work of the Trinity in salvation. Owen plunges the depths of the love of the Godhead in helping us to understand their love.
This version of owens classic book has helped me grow closer to know & commune with God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Cant wait for the authors to publish another of Owens works to help us understand the mind of a great pastor teacher in Christ.