At the beginning of his chapter on John Owen in Contending for Our All, Piper notes that 3 of the contemporary pillars of the church all list John Owen as their greatest influence outside of Scripture. J.I. Packer, Dr. Nicole and Sinclair Ferguson have spoon-fed me John Owen in their books, lectures and sermons.
I have been fortunate to struggle through such works of his as The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, The Display of Arminianism, Indwelling Sin, The Mortification of Sin, Communion with God, The Glory of Christ, Meditations on Psalm 130 and sections of his Commentary on Hebrews.
I knew little of the man, and according to Piper this is quite common. It was refreshing to hear more about his life beyond being Cromwell’s chaplain. What we discover is a man that wrote immensely deep theology while he suffered greatly. Life was no picnic for this man. But among most of his contempories, he was known more for his personal holiness than his immense intellect and profuse writing.
And that is where Piper goes. He wants us to grasp the call to personal holiness flowing out of his communion with God. We need more theologians known for their personal holiness- far too many are known for not living out what they preach or teach. In the words of Owen I used not too long ago in a sermon, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
It is vital for us to remember “that John Owen’s holiness was not worked out in the comforts of peace and leisure and safety.” He watched all 11 of his children die. He was a persecuted preacher for over 2 decades after the Act of Uniformity with Charles II. Too often we point to our struggles in this world as an excuse for not striving for holiness. Owen saw that as the very course on which personal holiness is pursued. He understood that the lack of personal holiness often prevents us from understanding the Bible and theology more fully. Though Owen used a strong method of interpretation, he did not separate that ‘academic’ means from his piety as he prayed and meditated over the Scriptures while exegeting them.
I close with one final thought by the good doctor: “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.” John Owen didn’t just believe this, he lived it.