Friday, April 19, 2013

Ought We to Pray to the Person of the Holy Spirit? part 2

This is the second (and last) part of my discussion of whether or not it is appropriate to pray to the Person of the Holy Spirit.  Part 1 is here. Owen, in his classic Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, argues that it is indeed appropriate.  Briefly, what Owen affirms is that Biblical benedictions are originally a form of invocation or prayer, so that the Divine benedictions that mention all three Persons of the Trinity demonstrate that prayer to each of the Persons is appropriate.  Thus, consider the following texts:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. (Revelation 1:4-5)

Owen argues that these benedictions involve invocation of the three Persons mentioned.  Therefore, Scripture provides warrant for prayer to the Holy Spirit, as well as to the Father and the Son.

While sympathetic to Owen and recognizing his tremendous theological prowess, my initial reaction to this argument was negative.  Owen is not infallible, of course—his arguments for, say, paedobaptism or limited atonement are erroneous.  Consider the following sentence:  “May you receive grace in the eyes of the judge, and peace with your boss at work.”  Why would 2 Corinthians 13:14 or Revelation 1:4-5 actually involve prayer to the Father, Son, and Spirit, but a statement like my preceding example not require prayer to one’s boss or a human judge?  Are they not identical?  Thus, I found Owen’s argument unconvincing.

However, things are not quite so simple.  Maybe the two statements are not really identical.  Consider the explanation of Owen’s argument for prayer or invocation undergirding Divine benedictions below, from Commentary on Hebrews 7:7 (“And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.”)  I have put my comments in below in brackets [like this].  I would highly advise looking up the passages Owen references, as they definitely contribute to his argument:

But what if Abraham was thus blessed by Melchisedec, doth this prove that he was less than he by whom he was blessed? It doth so, saith the apostle, and that by virtue of an unquestionable general rule: [“And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.” . . . The words prevent an objection, which is supposed, not expressed; and therefore are they continued with those foregoing by the conjunction de, as carrying on what was before asserted by a further illustration and confirmation of it. And there is in them,

1. The manner of the assertion; and,
2. The proposition itself: —

1. The manner of it is in these words . . . “Without,” beyond, above, “all reasonable contradiction.” A truth this is
that cannot, that will not be gainsaid, which none will deny or oppose; as that which is evident in the light of nature, and which the order of the things spoken of doth require. . . .

2. The proposition thus modified, is, That “the less is blessed of the greater;” that is, wherein one is orderly blessed by another, he that is blessed is therein less than, or beneath in dignity unto, him by whom he is blessed, as it is expressed in the Syriac translation. Expositors generally on this place distinguish the several sorts of benedictions that are in use and warrantable among men, that so they may fix on that concerning which the rule here mentioned by the apostle will hold unquestionably. But as unto the especial design of the apostle, this labor may be spared: for he treats only of sacerdotal benedictions; and with respect to them, the rule is not only certainly true, but openly evident. But to illustrate the whole, and to show how far the rule mentioned may be extended, we may reduce all sorts of blessings unto four heads: —

(1.) There is benedictio potestativa; that is, such a blessing as consists in an actual efficacious collation on [conference on], or communication of the matter of the blessing unto, the person blessed. Thus God alone can bless absolutely. He is the only fountain of all goodness, spiritual, temporal, eternal, and so of the whole entire matter of blessing, containing it all eminently and virtually in himself. And he alone can efficiently communicate it unto, or collate [confer] it on any others; which he doth as seemeth good unto him, “according to the counsel of his own will.” All will grant, that with respect hereunto the apostle’s maxim is unquestionable; — God is greater than man. Yea, this kind of blessing ariseth from, or dependeth solely on, that infinite distance that is between the being or nature of God and the being of all creatures. This is God’s blessing . . . an “addition of good,” as the Jews call it; a real communication of grace, mercy, privileges, or whatever the matter of the blessing be.

(2.) There is benedictio authoritativa. This is when men, in the name, that is, by the appointment and warranty, of God, do declare any to be blessed, pronouncing the blessings unto them whereof they shall be made partakers.

And this kind of blessing was of old of two sorts:

[1.] Extraordinary, by virtue of especial immediate inspiration, or a spirit of prophecy.

[2.] Ordinary, by virtue of office and institution. In the first way Jacob blessed his sons; which he calls a declaration of “what should befall them in the last days,” Genesis 49:1. And such were all the solemn patriarchal benedictions; as that of Isaac, when he had infallible direction as to the blessing, but not in his own mind as to the person to be blessed, Genesis 27:27-29. So Moses blessed the children of Israel in their respective tribes, Deuteronomy 33:1. In the latter, the priests, by virtue of God’s ordinance, were to bless the people with this authoritative blessing:

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The LORD bless thee, and keep thee; the LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them,” Numbers 6:22-27.

The whole nature of this kind of blessing is here exemplified. It is founded in God’s express institution and command. And the nature of it consists in “putting the name of God upon the people;” that is, declaring blessings unto them in the name of God, praying blessings for them on his command.  [That is, Owen argues that this type of blessing involves both the declaration of blessing to men and the invocation of God for blessing.  Men declare God’s blessing and invoke Him for it;  the One invoked, or in the case of the Trinitarian Divine Persons, the Three who bless are the Three invoked.] Wherefore the word “bless” is used in a twofold sense in this institution:  Verse 23, “Ye shall bless the children of Israel,” is spoken of the priests; verse 27, “I will bless them,” is spoken of God. The blessing is the same,—declared by the priests, and effected by God. They blessed declaratively, he efficiently. And the blessing of Melchisedec in this place seems to have a mixture in it of both these. For as it is plain that he blessed Abraham by virtue of his sacerdotal office, — which our apostle principally considereth, — so I make no question but he was peculiarly acted by immediate inspiration from God in what he did. And in this sort of blessing the apostolical maxim maintains its evidence in the light of nature.

(3.) There is benedictio charitativa. This is, when one is said to bless another by praying for a blessing on him, or using the means whereby he may obtain a blessing. This may be done by superiors, equals, inferiors, any or all persons mutually towards one another. See 1 Kings 8:14, 55, 56; 2 Chronicles 6:3; Proverbs 30:11. This kind of blessing, it being only improperly so, wherein the act or duty is demonstrated by its object, doth not belong unto this rule of the apostle. [While the benedictio charitativa does not relate to Hebrews 7:7, if one looks at the texts Owen quotes here, it is clear that prayer to the God who gives the blessing is involved in the benedictio on the people.  Thus:

14 And the king turned his face about, and blessed all the congregation of Israel: (and all the congregation of Israel stood;) 15 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which spake with his mouth unto David my father, and hath with his hand fulfilled it, saying, . . .

Here, the benediction upon the people is the invocation of the Blessing One for the blessing.  Note the same thing below:

55 And he stood, and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a loud voice, saying, 56 Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant. 57 The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us: 58 That he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, which he commanded our fathers. 59 And let these my words, wherewith I have made supplication before the LORD, be nigh unto the LORD our God day and night, that he maintain the cause of his servant, and the cause of his people Israel at all times, as the matter shall require: 60 That all the people of the earth may know that the LORD is God, and that there is none else. 61 Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day. (1 Kings 18:55-61)

Solomon’s blessing the people was his prayer to God for God to bless them.  The same holds for 2 Chronicles 6:3, and Proverbs 30:11 appears to be another definite example of this benedictio charitativa.]

(4.) There is benedictio reverentialis. Hereof God is the object. So men are said often to “bless God,” and to “bless his holy name:” which is mentioned in the Scripture as a signal duty of all that fear and love the Lord. Now this blessing of God is a declaration of his praises, with a holy, reverential, thankful admiration of his excellencies. But this belongs not at all unto the design of the apostle, nor is regulated by this general maxim, but is a particular instance of the direct contrary, wherein, without controversy, the greater is blessed of the less. It is the second sort of blessings [the benedictio authoritativa] that is alone here [in Hebrews 7:7] intended; and that is mentioned as an evident demonstration of the dignity of Melchisedec, and his pre-eminence above Abraham.

Obs. 4. It is a great mercy and privilege, when God will make use of any in the blessing of others with spiritual mercies. — It is God alone who originally and efficiently can do so, who can actually and infallibly collate a blessing on any one. Therefore is he said to “bless us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things,” Ephesians 1:3. There is no one blessing but he is the sole author and worker of it. But yet, also, he maketh use of others, severally, in various degrees of usefulness, for their communication. And this he doth, both to fill up that order of all things in dependence on himself, wherein he will be glorified; and also to make some partakers in his especial grace and favor, by using them in the collation of good things, yea, the best things, on others. For what greater privilege can any one be made partaker of, than to be an instrument in the hand of God in the communication of his grace and goodness? And a privilege it is whose exercise and improvement must be accounted for. I speak not, therefore, of them whose benedictions are euctical [“Euctical . . . Expecting a wish; supplicatory.”  Webster’s Dictionary] and charitative only, in their mutual prayers; but of such as are in some sense authoritative. [Yet notice that all these kinds of benediction have prayer undergirding them.] Now, a man blesseth by the way of authority, when he doth it as an especial ordinance, as he is called and appointed of God thereunto. Peculiar institution gives peculiar authority. So parents bless their children and households, and ministers the church: —

1. Parents bless their children in the name of the Lord several ways: . . . By prayer for them. So David blessed his household, 2 Samuel 6:20. For besides the duty of prayer absolutely considered, there is in those prayers, by the appointment of God, an especial plea for and application of the promises of the covenant unto them which we ourselves have received. So it is expressed in the prayer of David, 2 Samuel 7:29. “Therefore now let it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee: for thou, O Lord GOD, hast spoken it: and with thy blessing let the house of thy servant be blessed for ever.” . . .

2. Ministers bless the church. It is part of their ministerial duty, and it belongs unto their office so to do:

(1.) They do it by putting the name of God upon the church. This was the way whereby the priests blessed the people of old, Numbers 6:27. And this putting the name of God upon the church, is by the right and orderly celebration of all the holy ordinances of worship of his appointment. . . .

(4.) How they bless the church by prayer and example, may be understood from what hath been spoken concerning those things with respect unto parents. The authority that is in them depends on God’s especial institution, which exempts them from and exalts them above the common order of mutual charitative benedictions.

(5.) They bless the people declaratively; as a pledge whereof it hath been always of use in the church, at the close of the solemn duties of its assemblies, wherein the name of God is put upon it, to bless the people by express mention of the blessing of God, which they pray for upon them. But yet, because the same thing is done in the administration of all other ordinances, and this benediction is only euctical, or by the way of prayer, I shall not plead for the necessity of it. . . .

Thus, Owen’s argument is that the benedictio authoritativa, charitativa, and reverentialis all involve prayer to God for the benediction invoked upon those that receive it.  His argument from 2 Corinthians 13:14 and Revelation 1:4-5 for the lawfulness of prayer to the Holy Spirit, is, therefore, that the authoritative benediction of blessing upon the church recorded in these passages involves prayer to that God who is invoked in the texts for the specific blessings mentioned.  Thus, 2 Corinthians 13:14 involves a prayer to the Holy Spirit that He will produce communion in the saints, and Revelation 1:4-5 a prayer to the Holy Spirit that He will produce grace and peace in the saints.  What about my counter-example, “May you receive grace in the eyes of the judge, and peace with your boss at work”?  This would be a benedictio charitativa which actually involves an invocation of God;  namely, that God would give the person receiving the benediction favor in the eyes of a human judge and peace with his human boss.  Stated in a Trinitarian fashion like 2 Corinthians 13:14, the statement would be:  “May the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit give you grace in the eyes of the judge, and peace with your boss at work.”  And this, Owen would argue, does indeed presuppose the invocation of or prayer to all three Persons of the Godhead.

What do you think of Owen’s argument?  Is he right?  Why or why not?



KJB1611 said...

Part 1 should be read also; no more parts are coming, I think.

KJB1611 said...

Texts of this sort might also be related to Owen's argument--I ran across this today. In 2 Samuel 16:16, the Hebrew yehi hamelek, "Let live the king," is not directly a prayer, but the KJV renders it as "God save the king" because God is the one who would allow the king to live, so an implicit invocation of God is involved in the statement. Something similar is found in the Greek me genoito and its Hebrew equivalent, the "Let it never be" of Romans 11:1 and other texts; "Let it never be" means "God forbid," for God is the one who will not allow it to be; compare my study of "God forbid" as an accurate translation at .

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Thomas.

All this proves, as I read it, is that we look to the three Persons of the Trinity for the blessing on our lives. Those texts do not read as instructing to address prayer to the Holy Spirit, such as, "Sweet Holy Spirit...." That's taking it too far. Jesus taught to address the prayers to the Father, and we must interpret the benediction texts, passages that don't read like a prayer, neither are called prayer, in light of the actual teaching on prayer. If you had not offered Owen's argument, it would not have occurred to me, because it would clash with what Jesus taught.

The Preacher said...

The work of the Spirit is to make known the truth and character of the Father and Son, through the words of God, by the Holy Ghost which abideth in us. It is the Holy Ghost, Christ in us, that gives us access to the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ while he ministers and upholds the word of his power.

What Owens wrote is a bunch of intellectual bloating and using "proof-texting" to support a position that is not tenable by the whole of scripture.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Thank you for taking the time to read Owen’s post and commenting. Certainly a benediction is not a direct prayer, but that fact does not prove that benedictions are not indirect prayers. Owen would not argue that the model is prayer to the Spirit—it is to the Father through the Son by the Spirit—but that Matthew 6 is the model does not prove that all deviations from the model are unlawful in every situation. There are many prayers in the Psalter—which are certainly lawful for us to pray—that do not follow the pattern of Matthew 6, and many inspired prayers recorded in the NT that do not follow the pattern of Matthew 6. While prayer to the Person of the Son is not the model in Matthew 6, it is clearly lawful, as Stephen prayed to Christ in Acts 7 without sinning and all the saints are said to pray to Christ in 1 Cor 1:2. If Paul can properly derive doctrine from “seed” versus “seeds” in Galatians, then whatever legitimate implications are present in the benediction texts do actually have doctrinal significance. If there is a legitimate doctrinal implication about the lawfulness of invocation of the Spirit from benediction texts, the model in Matthew 6 is not changed, nor is it by any means contradicted—Owen would entirely agree with the idea that Matthew 6 is the model—it would simply prove that prayer to the Spirit is lawful, while prayer to the Father is still the model.

Owen’s case that benedictions are forms of indirect invocation looks quite strong to me; the example in the post from 1 Kings, for example, seems quite clear—Solomon “blessed” the people by invoking God and praying to Him for a blessing. In addition to the texts referenced by Owen, the category of passages I mentioned in my previous comment, those like 2 Sam 16:16 and Romans 11:1, certainly seem to me to provide further support. I don’t have a good case against Owen’s argument, and I don’t think it is sufficient to invoke the model of Matthew 6 unless we can prove that Matthew 6 is the ONLY lawful way that we can pray at any time, which will be very difficult to prove.


Thanks for taking the time to comment.

It is easier to simply say that Owen is guilty of “intellectual bloating” than to prove that it is so.

I very much hope that you do not really believe that the Holy Ghost is Christ in us, for if you do believe that the Person of the Son is the Person of the Holy Spirit, you would be a modalist idolator and not a Christian, for Christians believe in the Trinity. I trust that what you wrote was simply a slip of the pen, and that you really believe that Christ in us is the second Person in believers, and the Holy Ghost in us is the third Person in believers, just as the Father also is in believers (John 14:21) while remaining the first Person and not being either the second or third Persons.

The Preacher said...

KJV1611 said:

"I very much hope that you do not really believe that the Holy Ghost is Christ in us, for if you do believe that the Person of the Son is the Person of the Holy Spirit, you would be a modalist idolator and not a Christian, for Christians believe in the Trinity"

Of course as a Chrisitan I believe in the triune nature of the Godhead. The PERSON of Jesus Christ (1 of THREE) resides within believers by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is that Spirit (2 of THREE) which is given to all those who come by faith to salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 7:38-39). The Holy Ghost is what gives each INDIVIDUAL Christian access to the Father (3 of THREE) through his Son.

"I trust that what you wrote was simply a slip of the pen, and that you really believe that Christ in us is the second Person in believers, and the Holy Ghost in us is the third Person in believers, just as the Father also is in believers (John 14:21) while remaining the first Person and not being either the second or third Persons."

Your theology is correct, but your understanding is not. The Father, Son and Spirit are not in us as you presume. It is by the Holy Ghost (John 7:37) that is in us (Acts 19:2, Romans 14:17, etc.) that puts us in Christ as "bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh", with the "circumcison made without hands" which is truly the "circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11). It is the power of the Spirit, in the Holy Ghost (it was that image which was lost by Adam and Eve) that imparts unto every true believer eternal life when we repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is by the Spirit of God, imparted to each believer, in the Holy Ghost that gives us access to the Father.

KJB1611 said...


I'm glad to hear it.

Jesus answered and said unto him, 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. John 14:23. All three Persons are in the believer. The Bible is very clear that the entire Trinity (which is, in any case, necessarily undivided in essence) dwells within the believer. In John 14:23 the Son, speaking concerning Himself and the Person of the Father, states, “we will come unto [the believer], and make our abode with him.” There is no reason to change statements such as “Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20) into affirmations about the Holy Spirit living within believers (as He certainly does as well, Romans 8:9). In some texts (e. g., John 17:23, “I in them,” in the context of John 17—Christ alone, not the Father or the Holy Ghost, is the High Priest for the elect) switching the Son’s indwelling to that of the Spirit is impossible.

KJB1611 said...

Having thought about this for a good while, and discussed it with others, I have come to agree with John Owen on this matter, although, if he is in error, I am glad to have someone explain why this is the case and to switch my position back again.