The Spirituality of John Owen

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John Owen born in Oxfordshire son of a distinguished theologian was. himself a more distinguished one who must be counted among the most. distinguished of this age Furnished with the recognised resources of. humane learning in uncommon measure he put them all as a well ordered. array of handmaids at the service of theology which he served himself. His theology was polemical practical and what is called casuistical and it. cannot be said that any one of these was peculiarly his rather than another. In polemical theology with more than herculean strength he. strangled three poisonous serpents the Arminian the Socinian and the. In practical theology he laid out before others the whole of the. activity of the Holy Spirit which he had first experienced in his own heart. according to the rule of the Word And leaving other things aside he. cultivated and realised in practice the blissful communion with God of. which he wrote a traveller on earth who grasped God like one in heaven. In casuistry he was valued as an oracle to be consulted on every. complex matter, A scribe instructed in every way for the kingdom of God this pure. lamp of gospel truth shone forth on many in private on more from the. pulpit and on all in his printed works pointing everyone to the same goal. And in this shining forth he gradually as he and others recognized. squandered his strength till it was gone His holy soul longing to enjoy. God more left the shattered ruins of his once handsome body full of. permanent weaknesses attacked by frequent diseases worn out most of all. by hard work and no longer a fit instrument for serving God on a day. rendered dreadful for many by earthly powers but now made happy for. him through the power of God August 25 1683 He was 67. This encomium brings before us all the themes and motifs that will occupy us in. the present study, Owen was a theologian of enormous intellectual energy His knowledge and. memory were vast and he had an unusual power of organising his material His thought. was not subtle nor complicated as for instance was Baxter s His ideas like Norman. pillars leave in the mind an impression of massive grandeur precisely by reason of the. solid simplicity of their structure Of their content it is enough to say that for method and. substance Owen reminds one frequently of Calvin frequently too of the Westminster and. Savoy Confessions the Savoy is in fact the Westminster lightly revised mainly by Owen. himself and time and again of all three together he is constantly and consciously near. the centre of seventeenth century Reformed thought throughout His studied unconcern. about style in presenting his views a conscientious protest against the self conscious. literary posturing of the age conceals their uncommon clarity and straightforwardness. from superficial readers but then Owen did not write for superficial readers He wrote. rather for those who once they take up a subject cannot rest till they see to the bottom. of it and who find exhaustiveness not exhausting but satisfying and refreshing His. works have been truly described as a series of theological systems each organised around. a different centre He would never view parts in isolation from the whole. His spiritual stature matched his intellectual gifts Holiness said David Clarkson. in his funeral sermon gave a divine lustre to his other accomplishments it stirred in his. whole course and was diffused throughout his conversation 3 Owen s holiness that is. the habitual Christlikeness that people saw in him had a twofold source First as noted. above he was a humble man There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of. men he wrote due consideration of God and then of ourselves Of God in his. greatness glory holiness power majesty and authority of ourselves in our mean abject. and sinful condition 4 God taught Owen to consider both to let God the Sovereign. Creator be God in his thought and life and to recognise his own guilt and uncleanness. The latter he held was especially important the man that understands the evil of his. own heart how vile it is is the only useful fruitful and solidly believing and obedient. person 5 A man must abhor himself before he can serve God aright Owen proud by. nature had been brought low in and by his conversion and thereafter he kept himself low. by recurring contemplation of his inbred sinfulness. Again Owen knew the power of his gospel Preachers he held must have. experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls. man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul 6. Therefore he made this rule, I hold myself bound in conscience and in honour not even to imagine that. I have attained a proper knowledge of any one article of truth much less. to publish it unless through the Holy Spirit I have had such a taste of it in. its spiritual sense that I may be able from the heart to say with the. psalmist I have believed and therefore have I spoken 7. Hence the authority and skill with which he probes the dark depth of the human. heart Whole passages flash upon the mind of the reader wrote A Thomson of his. Temptation with an influence that makes him feel as if they had been written for himself. alone 8 When Rabbi Duncan told his students to read Owen s Indwelling Sin he added. But prepare for the knife, Owen s style is often stigmatised as cumbersome and tortuous Actually it is a. Latinised spoken style fluent but stately and expansive in the elaborate Ciceronian. manner When Owen s prose is read aloud as didactic rhetoric which is after all what it. is the verbal inversions displacements archaisms and new coinages that bother modern. David Clarkson A Funeral Sermon on the Much Lamented Death of the Late Reverend and Learned. Divine John Owen D D London 1720 cited from Toon op cit p 173. Owen Works VI 200,Ibid VI 201,Ibid XVI 76,Ibid X 488.
Ibid I lxxvi, readers cease to obscure and offend Those who think as they read find Owen s. expansiveness suggestive and his fulsomeness fertilising Owen is said to be prolix. wrote Spurgeon but it would be truer to say that he is condensed His style is heavy. because he gives notes of what he might have said and passes on without fully. developing the great thoughts of his capacious mind He requires hard study and none of. us ought to grudge it 9 I shall not dispute Spurgeon s verdict I hope that my readers will. not dispute it either, We now focus attention on John Owen s central teaching about the Christian life For this. I draw material mainly from his sermonic treatises on Indwelling Sin Mortification of. Sin and Temptation and his more highly wrought Discourse concerning the Holy Spirit. The Puritan teachers as a body constantly insisted that realistic self knowledge is. a sine qua non for living the Christian life and Owen is no exception There are four. items of self knowledge of which he never tires of reminding the believer. First the Christian is a man created for rational action and equipped to that end. with a trinity of faculties understanding will and affection 1 The mind or. understanding is the leading faculty of the soul office is to guide direct choose and. lead it is the eye of the soul 10 2 As the mind is a power of apprehension so the will. is a power of action a rational appetite rational as guided by the mind and an appetite. as excited by the affections chooseth nothing but sub ratione boni as it hath an. appearance of good God is its natural and necessary object 11 Owen here builds on. the traditional scholastic doctrine that what is good is also desirable and that objects are. actually desired in virtue of the goodness real or illusory which is attributed to them. One who truly appreciates God s goodness therefore cannot but desire him and desire. Owen holds is the root and heart of love 3 The affections are the various dispositional. drives positive and negative with their emotional overtones love hope hate fear and. so on which elicit choices by drawing man to or repelling him from particular objects. No choice is ever made without some degree of affection Therefore affections are in the. soul as the helm is in the ship if it be laid hold on by a skilful hand it turneth the whole. vessel which way he pleaseth 12 What enlists affection wins the man it is in vain to. contend with anything that hath the power of our affections in its disposal it will prevail. at the last 13, Man was made to know good with his mind to desire it once he has come to. know it with his affections and to cleave to it once he has felt its attraction with his. C H Spurgeon Commenting and Commentaries Banner of Truth London 1969 p 103. Owen Works VI 213 216,Ibid VI 254,Ibid VII 397, will the good in this case being God his truth and his law God accordingly moves us. not by direct action on the affections or will but by addressing our mind with his word. and so bringing to bear on us the force of truth Our first task therefore if we would. serve God is to learn the contents of God s Word written 14 Affection may be the helm. of the ship but the mind must steer and the chart to steer by is God s revealed truth. Consequently it is the preacher s first task to teach his flock the doctrines of the. Bible eschewing emotionalism the attempt to play directly on the affections and. addressing himself constantly to the mind Owen habitually spoke of himself as a. teacher and conducted his own ministry on these principles as his published sermons. and practical treaties show, Second the Christian is a fallen man Sin not only alienated him from God but.
also from himself The fruit of sin is disorder in the soul and disintegration of the. character the faculties move cross and contrary one to another the will chooseth not the. good which the mind discovers the affections the sovereignty and draw the whole. soul captive after them 15 Fallen man is no longer rational but unstable inconstant. distracted by conflicting passions and blind impulses and without strength to obey God. Rom 5 6 For the root of sin is an ingrained disaffection and antipathy towards the. Creator Rom 8 7 an irrational ingrained lust to dodge defy and disobey him Of. indwelling sin Owen wrote its nature and formal design is to oppose God God as a. lawgiver God as holy God as the author of the gospel a way of salvation by grace and. not by works are the direct object of the law of sin 16 Ungodliness unrighteousness. unbelief and heresy are its natural forms of self expression It pervades and pollutes the. whole man it adheres as a depraved principle unto our minds in darkness and vanity. unto our affections in sensuality unto our wills in a loathing of and aversion from that. which is good and continually putting itself upon us in inclinations motions or. suggestions to evil 17 And as we shall see it resists the whole work of grace from first. to last when Christ comes with his spiritual power upon the soul to conquer it to. himself he hath no quiet landing place He can set foot on no ground but what he must. fight for 18, Christian living therefore must be founded upon self abhorrence and self distrust. because of indwelling sin s presence and power Self confidence and self satisfaction. argue self ignorance The only healthy Christian is the humble broken hearted Christian. Constant self abasement condemnation and abhorrency is another duty. that is directly opposed unto the rule of sin in the soul No frame of. mind is a better antidote against the poison of sin It is the soil wherein. all grace will thrive and flourish A constant due sense of sin as sin of our. interest therein by nature and in the course of our lives with a continual. A phrase from Anglican Article XX,Owen Works VI 173. Ibid VI 178,Ibid VI 157,Ibid VI 181, afflictive remembrance of instances of it is the soul s best posture. keep our souls in a constant state of mourning and self abasement is the. most necessary part of our wisdom and it is so far from having any. inconsistency with those consolations and joys which the gospel tenders. unto us in believing as that it is the only way to let them into the soul in a. due manner 19, Third the Christian is a redeemed man He was one of those for whom Christ. became surety in the eternal covenant of redemption to pay his debts to earn him life. and to free him from sin s guilt and who now lives to deliver him from sin s power. Redemption by Christ is the heart of Christian doctrine and faith and love to Christ must. be the heart of Christian devotion With Thomas Goodwin and Samuel Rutherford Owen. saw this as clearly as any man has ever seen it, They know nothing of the life and power of the gospel nothing of the.
reality of the grace of God nor do they believe aright one article of the. Christian faith whose hearts are not sensible of the love of Christ herein. Nor is he sensible of the love of Christ whose affections are not therein. drawn out unto him I say they make a pageant of religion whose. hearts are not really affected with the love of Christ in the susception and. discharge of the work of mediation so as to have real and spiritually. sensible affections for him Men have no real acquaintance with. Christianity who imagine that the placing of the most intense affections of. our souls on the person of Christ the loving him with all our hearts. because of his love our being overcome thereby until we. The Spirituality of John Owen by J I Packer 1 The Puritan John Owen who comes closer than anyone else to being the hero of this book was one of the greatest of English theologians In an age of giants he overtopped them all C H Spurgeon called him the prince of divines He is hardly known today and we are the poorer for our ignorance

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