I wanted to give the full quote of Owen’s differentiation between Union and Communion for those interested. I also think it add some good points regarding the relationship between the two that Drew brought up on the earlier post. Here it is from Kapic’s introduction, all italics his:
Communion with the Triune God (John Owen)
– Highlight Loc. 230-74 | Added on Tuesday, September 01, 2009, 02:14 PM
But to appreciate how this informs his view of spirituality, it is important to note that Owen maintains an essential distinction between union and communion. Believers are united to Christ in God by the Spirit. This union is a unilateral action by God, in which those who were dead are made alive, those who lived in darkness begin to see the light, and those who were enslaved to sin are set free to be loved and to love. When one speaks of “union”, it must be clear that the human person is merely receptive, being the object of God’s gracious action. This is the state and condition of all true saints.
Communion with God, however, is distinct from union. Those who are united to Christ are called to respond to God’s loving embrace. While union with Christ is something that does not ebb and flow, one’s experience of communion with Christ can fluctuate. This is an important theological and experiential distinction, for it protects the biblical truth that we are saved by radical and free divine grace. Furthermore, this distinction also protects the biblical truth that the children of God have a relationship with their Lord, and that there are things they can do that either help or hinder it. When a believer grows comfortable with sin (whether sins of commission or sins of omission) this invariably affects the level of intimacy this person feels with God. It is not that the Father’s love grows and diminishes for his children in accordance with their actions, for his love is unflinching. It is not that God turns from us, but that we run from him. Sin tends to isolate the believer, making him feel distant from God. Then come the accusations “both from Satan and self” which can make the believer worry that he is under God’s wrath. In truth, however, saints stand not under wrath but in the safe shadow of the cross.
While a saint’s consistency in prayer, corporate worship, and biblical meditation are not things that make God love him more or less, such activities tend to foster the beautiful experience of communion with God. Giving in to temptations and neglecting devotion to God threaten the communion but not the union. And it is this union which encourages the believer to turn from sin and to the God who is quick to forgive, abounding in compassion, and faithful in his unending love. Let there be no misunderstanding: for Owen, Christian obedience was of utmost importance, but it was always understood to flow out of this union and never seen as the ground for it. In harmony with Bunyan and other dissenters like him, Owen “insisted upon a very personal and emotional experience of union with Christ and the Holy Spirit,” and out of this union naturally flowed active communion.
Along these lines, 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.” 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.”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. “The Comforter may always abide with us, though not always comfort us; he who is the Comforter may abide, though he do not always that work.” Believers have the Spirit of God in them, without question, but that does not mean they should view their actions as irrelevant. Along these lines, sometimes the Spirit “tenders [i.e., offers] consolation to us” but we do not receive it and thus do not enjoy the full fruit of his activity in us. Christian living, for Owen, neither divides the labor between the divine and human nor neglects the activity of both: we work because God works in us.
Any true relation requires what Owen elsewhere calls mutuality, and we should not shy away from the fact that we are invited, by the Spirit, to actively commune with God. This communion assumes the security of the union. 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.” 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. This grace, however, demands rather than denies human response. But if we are to respond rightly, we must know to whom we are responding.