Monday, May 23, 2011

Spirit divine, attend our prayers

The other week I spoke to the Westminster Fellowship on Word and Spirit in Preaching.  In the discussion time someone asked if I thought that it was right to pray to the Holy Spirit. In the paper I had argued that we should pray to the Father for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), but I didn't address the issue of whether it is appropriate to pray to the Holy Spirit. However, I gave my interlocutor the benefit of my opinion, saying that as the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity that it is appropriate to pray to him. 

I said something like this: Communion with one person of the Trinity always involves the other two due to the co-inherence of the persons in the godhead. On that basis, prayer to the Spirit is  not to the exclusion of the Father and the Son. However, the usual form of prayer is to address the Father in the name of the Son by the power and presence of the Spirit. 

As a biblical precedent for praying to the Spirit a brother suggested the case of Ezekiel being told to "prophesy to the wind/breath [of God]", Ezekiel 37:9. That settles it, then. Kind of. 

Racking my brains for some reading materials on this issue, I recommended that the friend who raised the question take a look at On Communion with God by John Owen (Works Volume 2 in the Banner set). 

I must have read Owen's wonderful treatise on communion with the triune God some twenty years ago or more, but a smattering of what he said still sticks in my mind. In the light of our discussion at Westminster I thought I'd dust off Volume 2 of Owen's Works and re-read his treatment of communion with the Holy Spirit.  The pertinent material is found in Chapter VIII Particular directions for communion with the Holy Ghost (p. 268-274, see here).   

1. Theological reflection 

Owen sets his treatment of communion with the Holy Spirit in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity. 
The divine nature is the reason and cause of all worship; so that it is impossible to worship any one person, and not worship the whole Trinity....  
The proper and peculiar object of divine worship and invocation is the essence of God, in its infinite excellency, dignity, majesty, and its causality, as the first sovereign cause of all things. Now, this is common to all the three persons, and is proper to each of them; not formally as a person, but as God blessed for ever. All adoration respects that which is common to all; so that in each act of adoration and worship, all are adored and worshipped....  
When we begin our prayers to God the Father, and end them in the name of Jesus Christ, yet the Son is no less invocated and worshipped in the beginning than the Father, though he be peculiarly mentioned as mediator in the close, — not as Son to himself, but as mediator to the whole Trinity, or God in Trinity. But in the invocation of God the Father we invocate every person; because we invocate the Father as God, every person being so. 
 Owen reflects on the Trinitarian pattern of prayer in Ephesians 2:18,
Our access in our worship is said to be “to the Father;” and this “through Christ,” or his mediation; “by the Spirit,” or his assistance. Here is a distinction of the persons, as to their operations, but not at all as to their being the object of our worship. For the Son and the Holy Ghost are no less worshipped in our access to God than the Father himself; only, the grace of the Father, which we obtain by the mediation of the Son and the assistance of the Spirit, is that which we draw nigh to God for. So that when, by the distinct dispensation of the Trinity, and every person, we are led to worship (that is, to act faith on or invocate) any person, we do herein worship the whole Trinity; and every person, by what name soever, of Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, we invocate him. So that this is to be observed in this whole matter, — that when any work of the Holy Ghost (or any other person), which is appropriated to him (we never exclude the concurrence of other persons), draws us to the worship of him, yet he is not worshipped exclusively, but the whole Godhead is worshipped.  
 And so he concludes his rationale for communion with the Holy Spirit 
This is the sum of the first direction:— the grace, actings, love, effects of the Holy Ghost, as he is our comforter, ought to stir us up and provoke us to love, worship, believe in, and invocate him; — though all this, being directed to him as God, is no less directed, on that account, to the other persons than to him. Only by the fruits of his love towards us are we stirred up unto it.
Note the words "and invocate him". Owen is recommending that believers pray to the Holy Spirit. 

2. Practical direction 

This emphasis is also brought out when the Puritan divine gives some practical directions for communion with the Holt Spirit. Owen asks, 
Doth he shed abroad the love of God in our hearts? doth he witness unto our adoption? The soul considers his presence, ponders his love, his condescension, goodness, and kindness; is filled with reverence of him, and cares [takes care] not to grieve him, and labours to preserve his temple, his habitation, pure and holy.
...our communion with him causeth in us returning praise, and thanks, and honour, and glory, and blessing to him, on the account of the mercies and privileges which we receive from him; which are many.
And so directly to the matter of prayer,
Also, in our prayers to him for the carrying on the work of our consolation, which he hath undertaken, lies our communion with him. John prays for grace and peace from the seven Spirits that are before the throne, or the Holy Ghost, whose operations are perfect and complete [Rev 1:4-5].... 

Again: consider him as he condescends to this delegation of the Father and the Son to be our comforter, and ask him daily of the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. This is the daily work of believers. They look upon, and by faith consider, the Holy Ghost as promised to be sent. In this promise, they know, lies all their grace, peace, mercy, joy, and hope. For by him so promised, and him alone, are these things communicated to them. If, therefore, our life to God, or the joy of that life, be considerable, in this we are to abound, — to ask him of the Father, as children do of their parents daily bread. And as, in this asking and receiving of the Holy Ghost, we have communion with the Father in his love, whence he is sent; and with the Son in his grace, whereby he is obtained for us; so with himself, on the account of his voluntary condescension to this dispensation. Every request for the Holy Ghost implies our closing with all these. O the riches of the grace of God!
3. Concluding meditation

And so John Owen provides a good biblical and theological basis for the believer to pray to the Holy Spirit. The usual order of prayer should be to the Father by the Son through the Spirit. But prayerful communion with the Holy Spirit is a privileged part of the Christian's fellowship with the triune God. 

Spirit divine, attend our prayers,
and make this house thy home;
descend with all thy gracious powers,
O come, great Spirit, come!

(Andrew Reed) 

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