John Owen: The Reformed Scholar

In eleventh grade, my English class read certain works concerning the English Puritans. We read a strange play about the Salem Witch Trials, the name of which eludes me now as well as a sermon from one Jonothan Edwards. The name of this sermon was Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. This short excerpt changed the way I viewed these old, dusty preachers entirely. To this point in my life, I had thought of them in just that manner. I thought that they were stuck-up, afraid of fun, and, above all, unnecessary. However, this sermon that Johnathan Edwards preached showed me something entirely different.

We read this to see the way that 17th Century America looked, but what I noticed was the passion with which this man pleaded for the souls in front of him to be reconciled unto the Lord. Having grown up in church and knowing what I was “supposed” to believe, I found myself engrossed in what the man had to say and agreeing with a massive amount of what I read. I had to know if there were more men like this one. 

In the time since then I’ve discovered many Puritans. I’ve read works from Thomas Watson, Edwards, John Bunyan, and many more, but one stands above the rest: John Owen. He is, I believe, the most influential Puritan of the 17th Century and the greatest English-speaking theologian the Lord has seen fit to bless us with. 

This will be less biographical than I would like as I know less than I would like regarding Owen’s life, so we’ll mainly be discussing his works. Even so, there is plenty of material in just his writings. His Works-his collected works over the course of his life published under one title-are a 24-volume set with each volume’s page count right around the 600 mark. This man wrote more than most modern men could ever hope to read. While a large quantity usually means a drop in quality, this was most certainly not the case with Owen. Each thing that he wrote was brilliant and dense with information. 

I want to highlight a few things he wrote in particular and encourage you to take up the challenge to read Owen. A side note, however: Owen is often known as the hardest to understand of the Puritan writers. While he isn’t easy to understand all the time, most of this is overblown. He is really a delight to read even if his sentence structure is a bit dense. 

On the Mortification of Sin in Believers

This was the first work of Owen’s I had the pleasure of reading and it is on a short list for me of books every Christian should read. He dives into the depths of the depravity of the human heart and sheds light on the uncleanness of even the best Christian in this life. If you wish to take sanctification seriously, this is a must read. It will challenge you, expose you, show you God’s grace, and the way of repentance. 

Communion with God

Of all of the Puritan books I’ve read, this is, by far, my favorite. In this title he shows the trinitarian nature of salvation and the fellowship each believer enjoys with each Person of the Trinity upon being saved. This is easily the most encouraging work I’ve read. 

Covenant Theology

The thing for which Owen is most well-known is his understanding of the flow of Scripture in Covenant Theology. I disagree with his views on infant baptism, but his understanding of the covenants changed as he lived. As I see it, he was coming closer to a proper understanding of God’s covenants toward the end of his life. This work illustrates that very thing. He and Nehemiah Coxe, the leading Reformed Baptist theologian, co-author this work on Covenant Theology. It has greatly informed my understanding and been a tremendous blessing itself. 

I don’t want to neglect his life altogether, but I don’t know the details. I do know that he was a military chaplain, the vice chancellor of Oxford University, and a pastor. I also know that for all of those things to be true, he had to be a man of intense discipline, extreme devotion, and unwavering faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Owen’s entire life was informed and influenced by this faith. He was nothing but a blessing to the Church and he worked tirelessly to spread this faith and strengthen it in the Christians who read his work. I cannot recommend highly enough that you get acquainted with the man.

As always…

Soli Deo Gloria. 


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