Because of the political situation, he was not always able to stay in one place and be with his people but he seemed to carry them on his heart even when he was moving around. Not only that, he actively counseled and made plans for their care in his absence. He counseled them in one letter with words that are amazingly relevant to pastoral care struggles in our churches today:.
I beseech you to hear a word of advice in case the persecution increases, which it is like to do for a season. I could wish that because you have no ruling elders, and your teachers cannot walk about publicly with safety, that you would appoint some among yourselves, who may continually as their occasions will admit, go up and down from house to house and apply themselves peculiarly to the weak, the tempted, the fearful, those who are ready to despond, or to halt, and to encourage them in the Lord.
Choose out those unto this end who are endued with a spirit of courage and fortitude; and let them know that they are happy whom Christ will honor with His blessed work. And I desire the persons may be of this number who are faithful men, and know the state of the church; by this means you will know what is the frame of the members of the church, which will be a great direction to you, even in your prayers. Without this, no man will be able to give a comfortable account of his pastoral office at the last day.
Part of the explanation was how openly they preached. Part of it was that Owen was a national figure with connections in high places. Part of it was that the persecution was not nationally uniform, but some local officials were more rigorous than others. But whatever the explanation it is remarkable the relationship that John Owen had in these years with John Bunyan who spent too many of them in prison. One story says that King Charles II asked Owen one time why he bothered going to hear an uneducated tinker like Bunyan preach.
Repeatedly when Bunyan was in prison Owen worked for his release with all the strings he could pull. But to no avail. The partnership succeeded, and the book that has probably done more good, after the Bible, was released to the world — all because Owen failed in his good attempts to get Bunyan released, and because he succeeded in finding him a publisher.
Owen died on August 24, It was fitting for the two to lie down together, after the Congregational Giant had labored so long in the cause of toleration for lowly Baptists in England and New England. What I would like to try to do now is get close to the heart of what made this man tick and what made him great. I think the Lord wants us to be inspired by this man in some deep personal and spiritual ways. That seems to be the way he has touched people most — like J. Packer and Sinclair Ferguson.
I think the words of his which come closest to giving us the heart and aim of his life are found in the preface to the little book: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers which was based on sermons that he preached to the students and academic community at Oxford:. That was Owen was 40 years old.
Twenty-five years later he was still sounding the same note in his preaching and writing. This was his burden not only for the churches but also for the University when he was there.
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He wanted the graduates of Oxford not only to be proficient in the Arts and Sciences but also to aspire after godliness. Even in his political messages — the sermons to Parliament — the theme was repeatedly holiness. His concern that the gospel spread and be adorned with holiness was not just a burden for his English homeland. When he came back from Ireland in where he had seen the English forces, under Cromwell, decimate the Irish, he preached to Parliament and pleaded for another kind of warfare:. Is this to deal fairly with the Lord Jesus? God hath been faithful in doing great things for you; be faithful in this one — do your utmost for the preaching of the Gospel in Ireland.
From his writings and from the testimony of others it seems fair to say that the aim of personal holiness in all of life, and the mortifying of all known sin really was the labor not only of his teaching but of his own personal life. In it he said,. A great light is fallen; one of eminency for holiness, learning, parts and abilities; a pastor, a scholar, a divine of the first magnitude; holiness gave a divine lustre to his other accomplishments, it shined in his whole course, and was diffused through his whole conversation. The reason this question is so urgent for us today is not only that there is a holiness without which we will not see the Lord Hebrews , but that there seems to be a shortage of political and ecclesiastical leaders today who make the quest for holiness as central as the quest for church growth or political success.
The President of the United States Bill Clinton communicated very clearly that he did not think his personal holiness was a significant factor in his leadership of this nation. The cavalier way many church leaders treat sexual propriety is an echo of the same disease.
John Owen would have been appalled at both the national and the ecclesiastical scene. John Owen is a good counselor and model for us on this matter of holiness because he was not a hermit. We often think some people have the monkish luxury of just staying out of the mess of public life and becoming holy people. And we all know that a life like that is shot through with criticism that can break the spirit and make the quest for personal holiness doubly difficult. When his adversaries could not better him in argument they resorted to character assassination.
And even more painful and disheartening is the criticism of friends. He once got a letter from John Eliot, the missionary to the Indians in America, that wounded him more deeply, he said, than any of his adversaries. That I should now be apprehended to have given a wound unto holiness in the churches, it is one of the saddest frowns in the cloudy brows of Divine Providence. When a man like this, under these circumstances, is remembered and extolled for centuries for his personal holiness, we should listen.
With regard to his immense learning and the tremendous insight he had into the things of God he seems to have a humbler attitude toward his achievements because he had climbed high enough to see over the first ridge of revelation into the endless mysteries of God. They are altogether unsearchable, unto the [limit] of the most enlightened minds, in this life.
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What we shall farther comprehend of them in the other world, God only knows. In other words, Owen recognized that holiness was not merely the goal of all true learning; it is also the means of more true learning. This elevated holiness even higher in his life: It was the aim of his life and, in large measure, the means of getting there.
As we learn all to practice [!!! John ]. And hereby will they be led continually into farther degrees of knowledge. For the mind of man is capable of receiving continual supplies in the increase of light and knowledge. But without this the mind will be quickly stuffed with notions so that no streams can descend into it from the fountain of truth. Thus Owen kept the streams of the fountain of truth open by making personal obedience the effect of all that he learned, and the means of more.
It is incredible that Owen was able to keep writing edifying and weighty books and pamphlets under the pressures of his life. The key was his personal communion with God. Andrew Thomson, one of his biographers wrote,. The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not.
The measure of our unconcern is the little that we say about it. When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology — but rarely of their daily experience of God. But God was seeing to it that Owen and the suffering Puritans of his day lived closer to God and sought after communion with God more earnestly than we. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with Him.
But Owen was also very intentional about his communion with God. And when he went he did not just go with petitions for things or even for deliverance in his many hardships.
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He went to see his glorious friend and to contemplate his greatness. The last book he wrote — he was finishing it as he died — is called Meditations on the Glory of Christ. What better preparation can there be for [our future enjoyment of the glory of Christ] than in a constant previous contemplation of that glory in the revelation that is made in the Gospel. The two are illustrated in his work on Hebrews. One of his greatest achievements was his seven volume commentary on Hebrews.
We get a glimpse from the preface:. By these have my thoughts been freed from many an entanglement. His aim in all he did was to grasp the mind of Christ and reflect it in his behavior.
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This means that the quest for holiness was always bound up with a quest for true knowledge of God. Owen gives us a glimpse into the struggle that we all have in this regard lest anyone think he was above the battle. He wrote to John Eliot in New England,. Which leads us to the fourth way that Owen achieved such holiness in his immensely busy and productive life.
One great hindrance to holiness in the ministry of the word is that we are prone to preach and write without pressing into the things we say and making them real to our own souls. And the result is a terrible hardening of the spiritual life. Words came easy for Owen, but he set himself against this terrible disease of unauthenticity and secured his growth in holiness.
So for example his Exposition of Psalm pages on eight verses is the laying open not only of the Psalm but of his own heart.
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Andrew Thomson says,. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. However, this Catholic peace effort apparently attained no significance, and completely evaporated before the on-rush of the war.