June 12, 2024

5 Things Everyone Should Know about John Owen

Stephen Nichols & John Tweeddale
5 Things Everyone Should Know about John Owen

In his lifetime, John Owen wrote more than eight million words. Today, special guest John Tweeddale joins Stephen Nichols to discuss the life of this prolific writer and renowned Puritan theologian.


Stephen Nichols: Welcome back to another episode of 5 Minutes in Church History. Last week, we were visiting with Dr. John Tweeddale, and he was sending us off to the beach with five great reads. He’s back this week. He has spent a lot of time with a very important figure in church history, John Owen, and if it were up to Dr. Tweeddale, he’d probably tell us there are many, many things we should know about John Owen, but this is 5 Minutes. So, Dr. Tweeddale, what are five things everyone needs to know about John Owen?

John Tweeddale: Well, thanks, Dr. Nichols. It’s good to be with you again. Number one, it’s important to know that John Owen was a Puritan. He was born in the village of Stadhampton in England in 1616, in the year that William Shakespeare died. Now, when you think of Owen as a Puritan, don’t think of him as a fuddy dud. Owen enjoyed life. As a young man, he liked throwing the javelin, doing the long jump, and even playing the flute. He had books on birds, poetry, geography, and how to brew your own beer. He was even known for wearing a powdered wig, a velvet jacket, and yes, very posh looking Spanish leather boots. Owen was a stylish Puritan.

Number two, Owen was a prolific author. He wrote over 8 million words. About a fourth of those were on the Epistle to the Hebrews alone. His most famous books, though, are Death of Death and The Death of Christ, on the atonement, Mortification of Sin, on how to kill sin before it kills you, and on Communion with God, how to relate to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But if you’ve never read Owen, he has two little catechisms on the personal work of Christ. That’s a good place to start.

SN: So, 8 million words. Just trying to wrap my head around this, and this is before any typewriter or computer. So, these are 8 million handwritten words.

JT: That’s right. No Logos or Accordance.

SN: Alright, well that’s two, three more.

JT: All right. Number three, Owen was a Reformer. Owen was a significant public figure in English politics in the 17th century. So, the day after Charles I is beheaded, Owen preaches before Parliament. He was a chaplain and an advisor to Oliver Cromwell. He was vice chancellor at Oxford University, even serving as a member of Parliament for a brief moment. He was an advocate for religious toleration, and he was something of a revolutionary. When Charles II came back to the throne, a local militia raided his home and collected about a half a dozen pistols. Owen was something of a revolutionary.

Number four, Owen was not friends with Richard Baxter, but he was lifelong friends with John Bunyan. Owen had a near career-long feud with Richard Baxter, and that really is a story for another day. But Owen greatly admired Bunyan. Bunyan was an uneducated tinker, a maker and mender of metal pots, and Owen longed to preach like that tinker. Owen actually helped Bunyan get out of jail in Bedford, and Owen also helped him publish his great work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Owen basically introduced Bunyan to his publisher, Nathaniel Ponder, who became known as Bunyan’s Ponder.

But lastly, Owen died on Black Bartholomew’s Day. This day, cast a long shadow over Puritan psyche. Owen died on August the 24th, 1683. On that day in 1572, several thousand French Calvinists, Huguenots, were massacred in Paris. On that day, August 24th in 1662, approximately 200 or so dissenting puritans were ejected from their pulpits. Many of them were Owen’s friends. And then on that day in 1683, Owen died having just completed his last and perhaps his best book on The Glory of Christ, where he compares beholding Jesus by faith on earth, with beholding Christ by sight in glory. And so, Owen died on Black Bartholomew’s Day, and he lived and died as a Puritan.

SN: Dr. Tweeddale, I’m very impressed that you were able to compress all of that life down to those five things, but that was so helpful as an introduction, and I trust as a gateway for all of you listeners to go off and track down some of these of the 8 million words that Owen left behind. He’s truly one of those Mount Everest of church history. Well, that’s Dr. John Tweeddale on John Owen and his Spanish leather boots. And I’m Steve Nichols and thanks for listening to 5 Minutes in Church History.