John Owen: An Attainable Hero

Have you ever read a biography and been so humbled and challenged that you feel that you could never be like that person? I’ve read quite a few biographies and it seems that the amazing men and women that dot the history of Christianity lived such amazing lives that there is nearly no chance you could imitate them. It always seems like they are learning Greek, Latin, and Hebrew by the age of 8, and enrolling in Ivy League schools by 12. Maybe their ability to preach to the hearts of men is so renowned that thousands flock to pack out the building they preach in. People are just enraptured with their powerful voice and their smooth delivery. They have mastered the English language like you cannot. Maybe its a person who made such a gigantic leap of faith and ended up founding a major missions agency. They brilliantly were able to cross cultures and organize the founding of great organizations.

I love these biographies, but they always leave me with a sense of, “There is no way I could do that.” Maybe I’m not the great preacher, the brilliant student, or the gifted administrator. There is always a feeling like they were such great individuals, that they are so unattainable by people today.

As many of you know, my wife and I are expecting our first child, and I have decided to give a tribute to someone who has meant a lot to me in my walk with God. Micah’s middle name will be ‘Owen’ after John Owen. It was Owen’s books that opened me up to older literature and writings. I always thought that I could never understand them or that they may bore me. But it was reading his works “On Temptation” and “On the Mortification of Sin in Believers” that opened me up to the riches of those who have gone before us.

Recently I have begun reading “John Owen: The Man and His Theology” and I have been struck with the sense that I could really imitate him. Here are a few details that have lead me to this conclusion. First, it wasn’t until he was 26 that he came to salvation in Christ. It was oddly similar to Charles Spurgeon’s own conversion. He just heard the text being read and surrendered his life. Knowing that he wasn’t a child prodigy, but really a late bloomer in Christ communicated a lot to me. I know that he had already gone through quite a bit of training prior to this, but it is still comforting to know that he didn’t already have all of his theology in line by the time his voice changed.

He basically had two things that absolutely pervaded his theology. The first was a magnificent theology of Christ. The last book he wrote was the “Glory of Christ”. He was actually visited by the publisher on his death bed and had this to say: “The long wished-for day is come at last, in which I shall see the glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing in this world.” Later that day, he passed away.

He was also a great defender of Trinitarian theology. He thought that all external acts of God involve all three persons of the Godhead, battling Modalism. His thought preserves the consubstantiality of the persons while explaining their economic differences and, in the case of the Son, his functional subordination to the Father.

I’m looking forward to not only finishing this book, but also being able to read “The Glory of Christ” and “The Holy Spirit”. First I plan on re-reading “The Mortification of Sin in Believers” in preparation for our high school winter camp. And if I have time, “On Temptation”. Did you know that “The Mortification of Sin in Believers” was written as a message for students? Sinclair Ferguson says, “These were, essentially, addresses to teenagers! He did not view the materials as the strong meat for well-tried Christians we see it as. Rather it was basic milk, foundational priciples for every Christian believer. It is a sign of the times that we find “The Mortification of Sin” nourishment for serious spiritual athletes!”

John Piper gives the challenge to each believer, and especially those in ministry, to adopt one older writer who has already passed into glory. Obviously Piper’s is Jonathan Edwards. Awhile ago I chose John Owen as mine. It is hard to believe that as of the 1960’s, hardly anyone would have heard of John Owen, and now he is considered the greatest theologian in English history. So if you do not have someone that you have adopted, I challenge you to adopt Mr. John Owen.

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2 comments on “John Owen: An Attainable Hero

  1. Beth'sMomToo says:

    “It always seems like they are learning Greek, Latin, and Hebrew by the age of 8, and enrolling in Ivy League schools by 12.”

    That sounds suspiciously like Jonathan Edwards! ;)Did you ever take that class on him?

    I applaud your seeking out giants of the faith from the past. We don’t even need to go back that far (though we certainly should or we’re missing A LOT!). I love to read Martin Lloyd Jones’ sermons. He was preaching about the sufficiency of Scripture in our daily life looong before Jay Adams started writing.

    I absolutely agree with you that we need to work these older writings into our reading schedule. When I was first saved I really liked Sir Robert Anderson and Arthur Pink (his works vary…so beware). Maybe I should go back and read them again.

    It IS hard at first to readjust our concentration level enough to absorb some of these older writers. With a few notable exceptions, most modern Christian writers are writing at a 5th grade level (well…5th grade level when I was in school!). If that is ALL we ever read, than the older works will seem overwhelming. I have found it useful to read the most difficult works early in the day and to start out reading a little bit at a time. Don’t expect to finish it in the same length of time you would a murder mystery! And always be reading at a variety of reading levels. The more you read difficult works, the better you get at it! I can certainly attest to that!! If all you read is the easy stuff, you’ll never train your mind to concentrate. I always encourage the SS kids to be reading one difficult book along with their other choices. They are amazed what it does for their reading comprehension!

  2. T-Bone says:

    its funny you say that about Martyn Lloyd Jones. When I was making my choice, it was between him and Owen. I guess I chose Owen just because I was probably less likely to read his works had I not. I’m going to read quite a bit of Jones’ writings in preparing for messages, but would have to go out of my way to read Owen. That, and Owen is a little more disconnected from the modern culture.

    but to be sure, Lloyd Jones is one of my heroes as well. When thinking about Micah’s middle name I was mulling Martyn, but that’s Niam’s middle name. And I don’t like Lloyd, and Jones is just a little wierd as a middle name.

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