John Owen Pens Puritan Prose

This is the day that … John Owen died in 1683, at the age of 67.

He has been called “the Calvin of England” and “the theologian of the Puritan movement”.

James Packer writes, “In an age of giants, he overtopped them all” (Quest for Godliness, page 191).

His writings, “weighty with learning”, fill some 28 large volumes. Many of these have been reprinted in our day by the Banner of Truth.

Born in Oxfordshire in 1616 (the exact date is unknown) where his father was a Church of England clergyman, young Owen entered Oxford University at the age of 12 and graduated with B.A. and M.A. degrees seven years later, on 27 April, 1635.

Ordained by the Church of England, but not converted, it was some years before he came to know the Saviour. He attended a Presbyterian Church to hear a famous preacher of the day, Edmund Calmany, only to discover a substitute preacher was in the pulpit. Nevertheless, the sermon based on Matthew 8:26 found its mark. Conviction of sin threw him into such turmoil that for three months he could scarcely utter a coherent word on anything; but slowly he learned to trust Christ, and so found peace. He married Mary Rooke – had 11 children – left Anglicanism to join the Congregational Church, and in the 1640’s found himself “reluctantly” a chaplain in Oliver Cromwell’s army (History of Preaching, by E. Dargan, Volume 2, page 178). He buried seven of his children before losing his wife as well.

With the advent of King Charles II to the throne, Owen found himself ejected from his position as Dean of Christ Church (for not being an Anglican!).

One year after his wife died he married a wealthy widow (21 June, 1677), which enabled him “to keep a carriage and a villa” (Puritan Profiles, by W. Barker, page 299).

In the closing six years of his life he devoted himself to writing. His massive commentary on Hebrews is “a work of gigantic strength as well as gigantic size”, wrote Dr Chalmers (quoted by Spurgeon, Commenting on the Commentaries, page 188).

And his The Death of Death in the Death of Christ sets forth the “classic Calvinistic statement of the atonement”, that Christ died only to save the elect (Puritan Profiles, page 297).

John Owen, like many other famous non-conformists, is buried in Bunhill Fields, East London … in “unconsecrated ground”, because he was not a member of the Church of England.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.