Spirit Prepares

But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.
~ Romans 10:20

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
~ Romans 10:17

And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were
~ Acts 16:13-14

And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
~ Acts 11:21

Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.
~ Psalm 110:3

The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.
~ Isaiah 50:5

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
~ 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Works of the Holy Spirit Preparatory Unto Regeneration, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from Chapter Two of his work, “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Regeneration”.



Sundry things preparatory to the work of conversion—Material and formal dispositions, with their difference—Things in the power of our natural abilities required of us in a way of duty—Internal, spiritual effects wrought in the souls of men by the word—Illumination— Conviction of sin—Consequents thereof—These things variously taught—Power of the word and energy of the Spirit distinct—Subject of this work; mind, affections, and conscience—Nature of this whole work, and difference from saving conversion farther declared.

FIRST, in reference unto the work of regeneration itself, positively considered, we may observe, that ordinarily there are certain previous and preparatory works, or workings in and upon the souls of men, that are antecedent and dispositive unto it. But yet regeneration doth not consist in them, nor can it be educed out of them. This is, for the substance of it, the position of the divines of the church of England at the synod of Dort, two whereof died bishops, and others of them were dignified in the hierarchy. I mention it, that those by whom these things are despised may a little consider whose ashes they trample on and scorn. Lawful, doubtless, it is for any man, on just grounds, to dissent from their judgments and determinations; but to do it with an imputation of folly, with derision, contempt, scorn, and scoffing, at what they believed and taught, becometh only a generation of new divines amongst us. But to return; I speak in this position only of them that are adult, and not converted until they have made use of the means of grace in and by their own reasons and understandings; and the dispositions I intend are only materially so, not such as contain grace of the same nature as is regeneration itself. A material disposition is that which disposeth and some way maketh a subject fit for the reception of that which shall be communicated, added, or infused into it as its form. So wood by dryness and a due composure is made fit and ready to admit of firing, or continual fire. A formal disposition is where one degree of the same kind disposeth the subject unto farther degrees of it; as the morning light, which is of the same kind, disposeth the air to the reception of the full light of the sun. The former we allow here, not the latter. Thus, in natural generation there are sundry dispositions of the matter before the form is introduced. So the body of Adam was formed before the rational soul was breathed into it; and Ezekiel’s bones came together with a noise and shaking before the breath of life entered into them.

I shall in this place give only a summary account of this preparatory work, because in the close of these discourses I shall handle it practically and more at large. Wherefore what I have here to offer concerning it shall be reduced unto the ensuing observations:—

First, There are some things required of us in a way of duty in order unto our regeneration, which are so in the power of our own natural abilities as that nothing but corrupt prejudices and stubbornness in sinning do keep or hinder men from the performance of them. And these we may reduce unto two heads:—1. An outward attendance unto the dispensation of the word of God, with those other external means of grace which accompany it or are appointed therein. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Rom. 10:17; that is, it is hearing the word of God which is the ordinary means of ingenerating faith in the souls of men. This is required of all to whom the gospel doth come; and this they are able of themselves to do, as well as any other natural or civil action. And where men do it not, where they despise the word at a distance, yea, where they do it not with diligence and choice, it is merely from supine negligence of spiritual things, carnal security, and contempt of God; which they must answer for.

2. A diligent intension of mind, in attendance on the means of grace, to understand and receive the things revealed and declared as the mind and will of God. For this end hath God given men their reasons and understandings, that they may use and exercise them about their duty towards him, according to the revelation of his mind and will. To this purpose he calls upon them to remember that they are men, and to turn unto him. And there is nothing herein but what is in the liberty and power of the rational faculties of our souls, assisted with those common aids which God affords unto all men in general. And great advantages both may be and are daily attained hereby. Persons, I say, who diligently apply their rational abilities in and about spiritual things, as externally revealed in the word and the preaching of it, do usually attain great advantages by it, and excel their equals in other things; as Paul did when he was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. Would men be but as intent and diligent in their endeavours after knowledge in spiritual things, as revealed in a way suited unto our capacities and understandings, as they are to get skill in crafts, sciences, and other mysteries of life, it would be much otherwise with many than it is. A neglect herein also is the fruit of sensuality, spiritual sloth, love of sin, and contempt of God; all which are the voluntary frames and actings of the minds of men.

These things are required of us in order unto our regeneration, and it is in the power of our own wills to comply with them. And we may observe concerning them that,—

1. The omission of them, the neglect of men in them, is the principal occasion and cause of the eternal ruin of the souls of the generality of them to whom or amongst whom the gospel is preached: “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil,” John 3:19. The generality of men know full well that they do in this matter no more what they are able than what they should. All pleadable pretences of inability and weakness are far from them. They cannot but know here, and they shall be forced to confess hereafter, that it was merely from their own cursed sloth, with love of the world and sin, that they were diverted from a diligent attendance on the means of conversion and the sedulous exercise of their minds about them. Complaints hereof against themselves will make up a great part of their last dreadful cry.

2. In the most diligent use of outward means, men are not able of themselves to attain unto regeneration, or complete conversion to God, without an especial, effectual, internal work of the Holy Spirit of grace on their whole souls. This containing the substance of what is principally proposed unto confirmation in the ensuing discourses, need not here be insisted on.

3. Ordinarily, God, in the effectual dispensation of his grace, meeteth with them who attend with diligence on the outward administration of the means of it. He doth so, I say, ordinarily, in comparison of them who are despisers and neglecters of them. Sometimes, indeed, he goeth, as it were, out of the way to meet with and bring home unto himself a persecuting Saul, taking of him in, and taking him off from, a course of open sin and rebellion; but ordinarily he dispenseth his peculiar especial grace among them who attend unto the common means of it: for he will both glorify his word thereby, and give out pledges of his approbation of our obedience unto his commands and institutions.

Secondly, There are certain internal spiritual effects wrought in and upon the souls of men, whereof the word preached is the immediate instrumental cause, which ordinarily do precede the work of regeneration, or real conversion unto God. And they are reducible unto three heads:—1. Illumination; 2. Conviction; 3. Reformation. The first of these respects the mind only; the second, the mind, conscience, and affections; and the third, the life and conversation:—

1. The first is illumination, of whose nature and causes we must afterward treat distinctly. At present, I shall only consider it as it is ordinarily previous unto regeneration, and materially disposing the mind thereunto. Now, all the light which by any means we attain unto, or knowledge that we have in or about spiritual things, things of supernatural revelation, come under this denomination of illumination. And hereof there are three degrees:—(1.) That which ariseth merely from an industrious application of the rational faculties of our souls to know, perceive, and understand the doctrines of truth as revealed unto us; for hereby much knowledge of divine truth may be obtained, which others, through their negligence, sloth, and pride, are unacquainted with. And this knowledge I refer unto illumination,—that is, a light superadded to the innate conceptions of men’s minds, and beyond what of themselves they can extend unto,—because it is concerning such things as the heart of man could never of itself conceive, but the very knowledge of them is communicated by their revelation, 1 Cor. 2:9, 11. And the reason why so very few do exercise themselves to the attaining of this knowledge, according to their abilities, is because of the enmity which is in the carnal minds of all men by nature unto the things themselves that are revealed. And within the compass of this degree I comprise all knowledge of spiritual things that is merely natural.

(2.) There is an illumination which is an especial effect of the Holy Ghost by the word on the minds of men. With respect hereunto, some who fall totally from God and perish eternally are said to have been “once enlightened,” Heb. 6:4. This light variously affects the mind, and makes a great addition unto what is purely natural, or attainable by the mere exercise of our natural abilities.

For, (1.) It adds perspicuity unto it, making the things discerned in it more clear and perspicuous to the mind. Hence men endowed with it are said to “know the way of righteousness,” 2 Pet. 2:21,—clearly and distinctly to apprehend the doctrine of the gospel as the way of righteousness. They know it not only or merely as true, but as a way of righteousness,—namely, the way of God’s righteousness, which is therein “revealed from faith to faith,” Rom. 1:17, and the way of righteousness for sinners in the sight of God, chap. 10:3, 4. (2.) It adds a greater assent unto the truth of the things revealed than mere natural reason can rise up unto. Hence those thus illuminated are frequently said to “believe,” their faith being only the naked assent of their minds unto the truth revealed to them. So it is said of Simon the magician, Acts 8:13, and of sundry of the Jews, John 2:23, 12:42. (3.) It adds unto them some kind of evanid joy. These “receive the word with joy,” and yet have “no root in themselves,” Luke 8:13. They “rejoice in the light” of it, at least “for a season,” John 5:35. Persons that are thus enlightened will be variously affected with the word, so as they are not whose natural faculties are not spiritually excited. (4.) It adds ofttimes gifts also, whereof this spiritual light is, as it were, the common matter, which in exercise is formed and fashioned in great variety. I say, this kind of spiritual light, the effect of this illumination, is the subject-matter, and contains in it the substance, of all spiritual gifts. One sort of gift it is when put forth and exercised in one way, or one kind of duty, and another as in another. And where it is improved into gifts, which principally it is by exercise, there it wonderfully affects the mind, and raiseth its apprehensions in and of spiritual things. Now, concerning this degree of illumination, I say, first, That it is not regeneration, nor doth it consist therein, nor doth necessarily or infallibly ensue upon it. A third degree is required thereunto, which we shall afterward explain. Many, therefore, may be thus enlightened, and yet never be converted. Secondly, That in order of nature it is previous unto a full and real conversion to God, and is materially preparatory and dispositive thereunto; for saving grace enters into the soul by light. As it is therefore a gift of God, so it is the duty of all men to labour after a participation of it, however by many it be abused.

2. Conviction of sin is another effect of the preaching of the word antecedaneous unto real conversion to God. This in general the apostle describes, 1 Cor. 14:24, 25, “If all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, he is convinced of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God.” And sundry things are included herein, or do accompany it; as,—(1.) A disquieting sense of the guilt of sin with respect unto the law of God, with his threatenings and future judgment. Things that before were slighted and made a mock of do now become the soul’s burden and constant disquietment. “Fools make a mock of sin;” they traverse their ways, and snuff up the wind like the wild ass; but in their month, when conviction hath burdened them, you may find them. And hereby are the minds of men variously affected with fears and anguish, in various degrees, according as impressions are made upon them by the word. And these degrees are not prescribed as necessary duties unto persons under their convictions, but only described as they usually fall out, to the relief and direction of such as are concerned in them;—as a man going to give directions unto another how to guide his course in a voyage at sea, he tells him that in such a place he will meet with rocks and shelves, storms and cross winds, so that if he steer not very heedfully he will be in danger to miscarry and to be cast away; he doth not prescribe it unto him as his duty to go among such rocks and into such storms, but only directs him how to guide himself in them where he doth meet with them, as assuredly he will, if he miss not his proper course. (2.) Sorrow or grief for sin committed, because past and irrecoverable; which is the formal reason of this condemning sorrow. This the Scripture calls “sorrow of the world,” 2 Cor. 7:10; divines, usually, legal sorrow, as that which, in conjunction with the sense of the guilt of sin mentioned, brings men into bondage under fear, Rom. 8:15. (3.) Humiliation for sin, which is the exercise or working of sorrow and fear in outward acts of confession, fasting, praying, and the like. This is the true nature of legal humiliation, 1 Kings 21:29. (4.) Unless by these things the soul be swallowed up in despair, it cannot be but that it will be filled with thoughts, desires, inquiries, and contrivances about a deliverance out of that state and condition wherein it is; as Acts 2:37, 16:30.

3. Oftentimes a great reformation of life and change in affections doth ensue hereon; as Matt. 13:20; 2 Pet. 2:20; Matt. 12:44.

All these things may be wrought in the minds of men by the dispensation of the word, and yet the work of regeneration be never perfected in them. Yea, although they are good in themselves, and fruits of the kindness of God towards us, they may not only be lost as unto any spiritual advantage, but also be abused unto our great disadvantage. And this comes not to pass but by our own sin, whereby we contract a new guilt upon our souls. And it commonly so falls out one of these three ways; for,—1. Some are no way careful or wise to improve this light and conviction unto the end whereunto they tend and are designed. Their message is, to turn the minds of men, and to take them off from their self-confidence, and to direct them unto Christ. Where this is not attended unto, where they are not used and improved unto the pursuit of this end, they insensibly wither, decay, and come to nothing. 2. In some they are overborne by the power and violence of their lusts, the love of sin, and efficacy of temptation. They are sinned away every day, and leave the soul in ten times a worse condition than they found it. 3. Some rest in these things, as though they comprised the whole work of God towards them, and guided them in all the duties required of them. This is the state of many where they extend their power, in the last instance, unto any considerable reformation of life, and attendance unto duties of religious worship. But this, as was said, falls out through the abuse which the carnal minds of men, retaining their enmity against God, do put these things unto. In their own nature they are good, useful, and material preparations unto regeneration, disposing the mind unto the reception of the grace of God.

And the doctrine concerning these things hath been variously handled, distinguished, and applied, by many learned divines and faithful ministers of the gospel. Unto that light which they received into them from the infallible word of truth, they joined those experiences which they had observed in their own hearts and the consciences of others with whom they had to do, which were suitable thereunto; and in the dispensation of this truth, according to the “measure of the gift of the grace of Christ,” which they severally received, they had a useful and fruitful ministry in the world, to the converting of many unto God. But we have lived to see all these things decried and rejected. And the way which some have taken therein is as strange and uncouth as the thing itself; for they go not about once to disprove by Scripture or reason what hath been taught or delivered by any sober persons to this purpose, nor do they endeavour themselves to declare from or by the Scriptures what is the work of regeneration, what are the causes and effects of it, in opposition thereunto. These and such like ways, made use of by all that have treated of spiritual things from the foundation of Christianity, are despised and rejected; but horrible and contemptuous reproaches are cast upon the things themselves, in words heaped together on purpose to expose them unto scorn among persons ignorant of the gospel and themselves. Those that teach them are “ecstatical and illiterate;” and those that receive them are “superstitious, giddy, and fanatical.” All conviction, sense of and sorrow for sin; all fear of the curse and wrath due unto sin; all troubles and distresses of mind by reason of these things,—are “foolish imaginations, the effects of bodily diseases and distempers, enthusiastic notions, arising from the disorders of men’s brains,” and I know not what untoward “humours in their complexions and constitutions.” The same or the like account is also given concerning all spiritual desertions, or joys and refreshments; and the whole doctrine concerning these things is branded with novelty, and hopes expressed of its sudden vanishing out of the world. This contempt and scorn of the gospel have we lived to see, whereof, it may be, other ages and places have not had experience; for as all these things are plentifully taught by some of the ancients in their expositions of the scriptures wherein they are expressed, especially by Austin, who had occasion particularly to inquire into them, so the doctrine concerning them is in a great measure retained in the church of Rome itself. Only some amongst ourselves are weary of them; who, being no way able to oppose the principles and foundations whereon they are built, nor to disprove them by Scripture or reason, betake themselves to these revilings and reproaches; and, as if it were not enough for them to proclaim their own ignorance and personal unacquaintance with those things which inseparably accompany that conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment which our Lord Jesus Christ hath promised to send the Holy Spirit to work in all that should believe, they make the reproaching of it in others a principal effect of that religion which they profess. “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, The Lord knoweth them that are his.”