“. . . when Owen unpacks the work of the Spirit, he makes a distinction between the Spirit being received in terms of “sanctification” and the Spirit’s work of “consolation.” 15 When he refers to sanctification in this context he means the work whereby the Spirit sets us apart, uniting us to Christ and making us alive. This is “a mere passive reception, as a vessel receives water.” 16 This is the movement from being outside the kingdom of God to becoming a child of the King.
When Owen speaks of the Spirit’s work of consolation, he has in mind the comforting activity of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Christians need not be passive in the hope that the Spirit will bring comfort; rather, they should (1) seek his comfort by focusing on the promises of God realized in the Spirit, (2) call out to the Spirit of supplication to bring consolation, and (3) attend “to his motions,” which take us to the Father and Son. In all of this we rightly and actively receive him who freely comes to bring comfort and grace. Again, our union with God in Christ is never in jeopardy, but our sense of fellowship with God does necessitate appropriate human agency and response.
Keeping in mind Owen’s distinction between union and communion, one is better able to make sense of his conclusion: “The Spirit as a sanctifier comes with power, to conquer an unbelieving heart; the Spirit as a comforter comes with sweetness, to be received in a believing heart.” 20 Though the Spirit will never abandon a believer, it should not surprise us that neglecting such receptivity to the Spirit’s movement compromises our sense of intimacy. For Owen, grace must be understood as the ground of this relationship, from first to last, from justification to preservation of the saints, from God’s acceptance of us to his glorifying the saints—grace is the bottom of the entire understanding of the saints’ security and privilege before God. 21 This grace, however, demands rather than denies human response”
Communion with The Triune God (page 22-23).
(HT: Adrian Warnock)