Learning from a Giant: 3 Reasons to Read John Owen

By Matthew Barrett and Michael A. G. Haykin. They are the coauthors of Owen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ, published by Crossway. Why should we read, get to know, and learn from a Puritan like John Owen? As J. I. Packer has argued, we need to read the Puritans, and John Owen especially, because we are spiritual dwarfs by comparison.  Far too often in the recent past the focus of Christians has shifted away from the glory of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ and has instead made Christianity man-centered and success-oriented. Consequently, Christian spirituality has become sentimental and self-indulgent. In short, we lack spiritual maturity. In contrast, John Owen was a spiritual giant. Many reasons could be listed as to why, but we will focus on just three. 1. He Had a Big View of God First and foremost, Owen had a big view of God and a passion to see this

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How to deal with indwelling sin

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s testimony to overcomining sexual sin. You can read the whole thing here. This is a wonderful model for dealing with any aspect of indwelling sin: What is the sin of sexual transgression? The sex? The identity? How deep was repentance to go? Meeting John Owen In these newfound struggles, a friend recommended that I read an old, seventeenth-century theologian named John Owen, in a trio of his books (now brought together under the title Overcoming Sin and Temptation). At first, I was offended to realize that what I called “who I am,” John Owen called “indwelling sin.” But I hung in there with him. Owen taught me that sin in the life of a believer manifests itself in three ways: distortion by original sin, distractionof actual day-to-day sin, and discouragement by the daily residence of indwelling sin. Eventually, the concept of indwelling sin provided a window to see how God intended to replace my shame with hope.

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John Owen: What Is Sanctification?

  Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing of their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience unto God, according unto the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ. Or more briefly:—It is the universal renovation of our natures by the Holy Spirit into the image of God, through Jesus Christ. The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 3: Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 386. (HT: The Old Guys)

The effective love of Christ

    “A man may love another as his own soul, yet his love may not be able to help him. He may pity him in prison, but not relieve him, bemoan him in misery, but not help him, suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, nor mercy into a friend; we cannot love them into heaven, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. . . . But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is effective and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills for his beloved. He loves life, grace and holiness into us; he loves us into covenant, loves us into heaven.” John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1980), II:63. Style updated, italics added. (HT: Ray Ortlund)

Beholding the glory of Christ

It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace and satisfaction, we must seek them diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith. In this duty I desire to live and to die. On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy. — John Owen The Glory of Christ (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 7

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John Owen on the Four Main Functions of the Holy Spirit

John Owen: The chief and principal ends for which the Holy Spirit is promised and received may be reduced to these four heads:—(1.) Regeneration; (2.) Sanctification; (3.) Consolation; (4.) Edification. There are, indeed, very many distinct operations and distributions of the Spirit, as I have in part already discovered, and shall yet farther go over them in particular instances; but they may be reduced unto these general heads, or at least they will suffice to exemplify the different manner and ends of the receiving of the Spirit. And this is the plain order and method of these things, as the Scripture both plainly and plentifully testifies: — (1.) He is promised and received as to the work of regeneration unto the elect; (2.) As to the work of sanctification unto the regenerate; (3.) As to the work of consolation unto the sanctified; and, (4.) As unto gifts for edification unto professors, according to his sovereign will and pleasure. (HT: The

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In Christ Your Sin Is Publicly and Legally Cancelled, Nailed Up for All to See

John Owen: Sin being removed, and righteousness bestowed, we have peace with God—are continually accepted before him. There is not any thing to charge us with: that which was, is taken out of the way by Christ, and nailed to his cross—made fast there; yea, publicly and legally cancelled, that it can never be admitted again as an evidence. What court among men would admit of evidence that has been publicly cancelled and nailed up for all to see it? So has Christ dealt with that which was against us; and not only so, but also he puts that upon us for which we are received into favor. He makes us comely through his beauty; gives us white raiment to stand before the Lord. This is the first part of purchased grace wherein the saints have communion with Jesus Christ. In remission of sin and imputation of righteousness does it consist; from the death of Christ, as a price, sacrifice,

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How John Owen Might Have Responded to the Modern Charismatic Movement

In an essay on “John Owen on Spiritual Gifts” in A Quest for Godliness, J. I. Packer points that spiritual gifts were not much debated in Puritan theology and that Owen’s Discourse on Spiritual Gifts (published posthumously) is the only full-scale treatment of the subject by a major writer. Some of the questions we are asking today were not even raised at this time. For example, Packer writes, “Seventeenth-century England did not, to my knowledge, produce anyone who claimed the gift of tongues. . . .” So how would the great John Owen have interacted with our contemporary debates? Packer writes: “it may be supposed (though this, in the the nature of the case, can only be a guess) that were Owen confronted with modern Pentecostal phenomena he would judge each case a posteriori, on its own merit, according to these four principles:” 1. Since the presumption against any such renewal is strong, and liability to ‘enthusiasm’ is part of the infirmity of every

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How to fight for truth

“When the heart is cast into the mould of the doctrine which the mind embraces, . . . when not the sense of the words but of the things is in our hearts, when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for, then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men.  Without this, all our contending is of no value to ourselves.  What am I the better, if I can dispute that Christ is God but have no sense that he is a God in covenant with my soul? . . . It is possible to contend for truth in a spirit most opposite to its nature, and most warmly to advocate the rights of a cause from which we ourselves may derive no benefit.  In all cases, it should be remembered, that the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God.” John Owen, in The Works of John Owen,

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For whom did Christ die?

From John Owen’s incredible treatise: The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. “The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either: 1. All the sins of all men 2. All the sins of some men, or 3. Some of the sins of all men. In which case it may be said: a. That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so none are saved. b. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth. c. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins? You answer, ‘Because of unbelief.’ I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He

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Beholding the glory of Christ – its effect and substance

John Owen: The constant contemplation of the glory of Christ will give rest, satisfaction, and complacency unto the souls of them who are exercised therein. Our minds are apt to be filled with a multitude of perplexed thoughts; – fears, cares, dangers, distresses, passions, and lusts, do make various impressions on the minds of men, filling them with disorder, darkness, and confusion. But where the soul is fixed in its thoughts and contemplations on this glorious object, it will be brought into and kept in a holy, serene, spiritual frame. For “to be spiritually-minded is life and peace.” And this it does by taking off our hearts from all undue regard unto all things below, in comparison of the great worth, beauty, and glory of what we are conversant withal. See Phil. 3.7-11. A defect herein makes many of us strangers unto a heavenly life, and to live beneath the spiritual refreshments and satisfactions that the Gospel does tender unto us.

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What Can and Cannot Change in Our Relationship with God

Bryan Chapell, in Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength (Crossway, 2001), 196, has a helpful chart looking at what does and does not change in the relationship between God and his children (lightly adapted below): What Can Change What Cannot Change our fellowship our sonship our experience of God’s blessing God’s desire for our welfare our assurance of God’s love God’s actual affection for us God’s delight in our actions God’s love for us God’s discipline our destiny our sense of guilt our security (HT: Dane Ortlund) These truths were wonderfully explored by the great Puritan theologian John Owen, who distinguished between our unchanging union with God and our changing communion with God. Kelly Kapic summarizes: 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

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The Secret to Delighting in God

John Owen: So much as we see of the love of God, so much shall we delight in him, and no more. Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from him; but if the heart be once much taken up with this the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot choose but be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto him. This, if anything, will work upon us to make our abode with him. If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will? Put, then, this to the venture: exercise your thoughts upon this very thing, the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your hearts be not wrought upon to delight in him. I dare boldly say: believers will find it as thriving a course as ever they pitched on in their lives. Sit down a little at the fountain, and you will quickly

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Communion with God: What, Why, How?

Jonathan Parnell: “Communion” is a good word. What do you think when you hear it? Maybe an ordinance of the church? Perhaps an archaic way saying relationship? Or even some mystical ambiguity connected to transcendence? Communion is one of the few words in the English language that has a general meaning but maintains a sanctified use. “To speak a little of it in general,” John Owen writes, “Communion relates to things and persons. A joint participation in any thing whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions. . . . (Works.II.7). In other words, communion most bascially is what’s happening when we cheer on our favorite team with a group of friends. But that’s not the way we really use the word. We call those parties. And notwithstanding the joy aspect of parties, communion is about God — the one, true, personal God in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit. Communion What? Communion is God’s communication to us

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What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

  John Owen: The Comforter gives a sweet and plentiful evidence and persuasion of the love of God to us, such as the soul is taken, delighted, satiated with. This is his work, and he does it effectually. To give a poor sinful soul a comfortable persuasion, affecting it throughout, in all its faculties and affections, that God in Jesus Christ loves him, delights in him, is well pleased with him, has thoughts of tenderness and kindness towards him; to give, I say, a soul an overflowing sense of this, is an inexpressible mercy. This we have in a peculiar manner by the Holy Ghost; it is his peculiar work. –John Owen, Communion with God (Christian Focus, 2007; repr.), 375-76 (HT: Dane Ortlund)

Owen: How to Strengthen Yourself Against Future Temptation

Store the heart with a sense of the love of God in Christ, with the eternal design of his grace, with a taste of the blood of Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a relish of the privileges we have thereby–our adoption, justification, acceptation with God; fill the heart with thoughts of the beauty of holiness . . . and thou wilt, in an ordinary course of walking with God, have great peace and security as to the disturbance of temptations. –John Owen, quoted in Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life (Banner of Truth, 1987), 144 (HT: Dane Ortlund)

Some thoughts on the mortification of sin: Dynamics

John Owen, 1616-1683, author of On the Mortification of Sin My thanks to Guy Davies for this: Colossians 3:5-7 Those who are still dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) have no hope of mortifying sin. False teaching cannot help us either Col 2:20-23. But those who have been united to Christ crucified and risen are empowered to put sin to death and bring holiness to life. In the concluding post in this series, we take a look  at some of the dynamics of mortification according to the New Testament: i. Remember who you are Paul makes this point in Romans 6:11-14. Never forget that sin is no longer your lord and master. Christ has set you free, John 8:32. Live as a free man or woman in Christ. ii. Expect a life-long struggle It is no easy thing to put sin to death. Sins that we once thought were mortified may return. New situations or stages in life may find new sins raising their ugly heads. Don’t believe anyone who

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The Father’s two greatest gifts

“When God planned the great work of saving sinners, he provided two gifts. He gave his Son and he gave his Spirit. In fact each person of the Trinity was involved in the great work of salvation. The love, grace and wisdom of the Father planned it; the love, grace and humility of the Son purchased it; and the love, grace and power of the Holy Spirit enabled sinners to believe and receive it. “The first great truth in this work of salvation is that God sent his Son to take our nature on him and to suffer for us in it. The second great truth is that God gave his Spirit to bring sinners to faith in Christ and so be saved.” —John Owen, The Holy Spirit, ed. RJK Law (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998), 1 (HT: Of First Importance)

Beholding Christ as Antidote to Worldliness

John Owen on seeing Christ’s glory: It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace and satisfaction, we must seek them by diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith. In this duty I desire to live and to die. On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy. –The Glory of Christ (1684) (HT: The Gospel

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Sin is aversion of God

From Triumph Over Temptation by John Owen as edited by James M. Houston under the subtitle Sin Is Aversion of God: “The actions and operations of sin are twofold: first by aversion and second by opposition.” (57) “Sin is first of all aversion of God. Sin is indisposed to duty whereby communion with God is obtained. All weariness of duty, all carnality, and all formality in duty spring from this root…In other words, God is saying, “Do you have any spiritual duty to perform? Do you propose to seek communion with God? Look then to yourself, to take care of the inclinations of your heart, for they will wander and be deflected by aversion to what you propose.” ” (58) On keeping the soul from sin’s aversion: Have a disposition of heart fixed upon God. “It is utterly impossible to keep the heart in a holy frame in any one duty, unless it is also in all duties before God. If sin

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