While affections never lead worship, they are still necessary for worship. Owen explains, “Our affections are upon the matter our all…By our affections we can give away what we are and have. Hereby we give our hearts unto God, as he requireth. Wherefore, unto him we give our affections unto whom we give our all—ourselves and all that we have; and to whom we give them not, whatever we give, upon the matter we give nothing at all” (Owen, Works, 7:396).
John Owen on Communing with God in the Ordinances of Corporate Worship
John Owen (1616-1683) earned the title “Prince of Puritans” because of his influence as pastor, prolific author, theologian, academic administrator, biblical exegete, military chaplain, statesman, etc. However, his role as a pastor stands out. He demonstrates a pastoral heart and a desire to lead people into an authentic experiential relationship with God.
This authentic relationship, according to Owen, is initiated by God’s revelation, received through Christ, which then necessitates an affectionate response from believers by the Spirit. This covenantal revelation, redemptive reception, and appropriate response in worship is what Owen understood to actively enjoy communion with the triune God. This communicative relationship between God and His church is to be expressed through the ordinances of corporate worship.
There are at least three implications for the church today in the way Owen articulates how the church has communion with the triune God in and through the ordinances of corporate worship.
What is Communion with God?
Owen defines experiential communion with God as follows: “Our communion, then, with God consisteth in his communication of himself unto us, with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him” (John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed., William Goold, 16 vols. (Carlisle, Pa: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 2:8-9).
This communion with God consists of each person of the Godhead testifying about Himself in a special way without ever compromising the unified and inseparable activity of the Trinity. For example, the Father initiates the work of redemption from love, the Son accomplishes the work of redemption through His grace, and the Spirit applies the work of redemption by bringing comfort.
While the Father, Son, and Spirit distinctly testify about themselves, all three persons are at work in each person’s distinct revelation. The Father testifies about His love through the Son and by the Spirit. The Son testifies about His grace from the Father and by the Spirit. The Spirit testifies about His comfort from the Father and through the Son.
This communication from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit is received as one has union with Christ. In fact, communion with God centers on the person of Christ. Through Christ, the church receives the affectionate love of the Father. As Owen further explains, “The communion begun… between Christ and the soul, is in the next place carried on by suitable consequential affections, – affections suiting such a relation. Christ, having given himself to the soul, loves the soul; and the soul having given itself unto Christ, loveth him also” (Owen, Works, 2:117-18).
The only appropriate response the church can have as they receive the love from God is to then love God—to reciprocate their affections to Him in worship.
Reciprocating affections to God must be done through God. Owen understood this “returnal unto him” to be done according to, what Owen called, the “heavenly directory,” a concept he derived from Ephesians 2:18 (Owen, Works, 2:269). The heavenly directory is to worship by the Spirit, through the Son, and to the Father. It is one directional. It is how the church worships God through God.