John Owen (1616–1683)

John Owen was born in Stadhampton, Oxfordshire and attended Queen’s College at Oxford. Though he worked hard and had a plan to succeed, he would end up repeatedly turning down opportunities that would have given him financial stability because of his doctrinal convictions. After serving as a chaplain and tutor in the home of Sir Robert Dormer and John, Lord Lovelace, he decided to move to London. Though this was a difficult decision, Owen would later reflect on it as God providentially guiding him because his move to London changed the course of his life, both spiritually and vocationally, since the sermon of a unknown preacher became the vehicle through which God gave him the assurance of faith he had been longing for, and since it was where he would marry Mary Rooke, begin his work as a pastor, and meet Oliver Cromwell.

Owen became a famous preacher, and soon was asked to be a chaplain to Cromwell, the Dean of Christ Church at Oxford, and later its Vice-Chancellor. Though he hated the idea of leaving his congregation, his emphasis on preaching and godliness made him a good spiritual leaders on the battlefield and in school halls.

After his positions at Oxford ended due to the Restoration (when the monarchy was re-instated after the death of Cromwell who served as Lord Protector while England was a Commonwealth, or republic), Owen continued to use his power to spread the gospel through his written works and through assisting nonconformist ministers who were struggling due to the change in political power. Under Charles II, persecution arose with the Clarendon Code. Thus, Owen’s life ended against the backdrop of what seemed to be the destruction of everything him and his fellow ministers had worked for. However, just as Owen saw God’s providence in his personal struggles, so did he see the trials in his home country part of God’s providence. At the end of his life, he said

“I am leaving the ship of the Church in a storm, but while the great Pilot is in it the loss of a poor under-rower will be inconsiderable.”[1]

[1]John Owen, The Correspondence of John Owen (1616-1683), ed. Peter Toon (Cambridge: James Clark, 1970), 174.

Where To Begin

Communion with God by John Owen (a shorter, more accessible version of one of Owen’s most touching treatises)

The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, Introduction by J. I. Packer (one of Owen’s shorter works that has become a favourite, with a famous introduction from Packer, one of the best guides to learn from when reading the Puritans)

John Owen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ by Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin (a summary of Owen’s teachings on the Christian life, a topic that the Puritans are famous for)

The Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen’s Theology edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Mark Jones (a collection of essays about Owen from various perspectives, all scholarly and easy to read)