Though you have heard of him, this is the side of Owen you never heard of. The javelin-throwing, trendy young man named John Owen was born the same year Shakespeare died, in 1616. But had it not been for him, we would not know and love the great classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, since John Bunyan was a nobody, and no body would publish his work. But every body was eager to publish Owen’s work; in fact, he published over 80!
John Owen was preeminent of all the Puritans; when he died, the Puritans died with him. A leader at the Savoy Assembly, and a leader of educational reforms in Oxford, Owen was so prominent, that when the English Parliament took over after removing the King’s head, they invited him to preach the opening sermon at their first meeting.
A beer lover and a bird lover, he had books on how to home-brew in his library, amongst his theological works.
Owen certainly was a fun loving guy, thus shattering the “dour Puritan” stereotype. C.S. Lewis’ description of Puritans fits Owen well, for he was indeed a, “young, fierce, progressive intellectual.”
Another common myth about the puritans is that they were obsessively introspective, looking for some kind of sin they might have missed. However, the Puritans, as Owen exhibits, spent more time looking at Christ, than looking at themselves.
Owen suffered much loss in life. Outliving all 11 of his children, losing many friends in wars or incarceration, and kicked out of Oxford, he was no stranger to grief. After his wife of 31 years died, he did not turn to pity parties, but looked to Christ. So much so did he look forward to seeing the glory of Christ, he wrote his final book on the subject.
As Christians, we value tradition, but we do not venerate it. Owen is a key player in our heritage, not to be idolized, but not to be spurned either. For God has given a degree of wisdom to all, including the now dead. Only a fool would despise the wisdom of a dead man because he is dead.
I will let the famous Congregationalist have the last word, with his most famous line, “Be killing sin, or it be killing you.”