The Calvin Of England -- By: Michael A. G. Haykin
RBTR 1:2 (Jul 2004) p. 169
The Calvin Of England
Some Aspects of the Life of John Owen (1616–1683) and his Teaching on Biblical Piety
The Puritan John Owen…was one of the greatest of English theologians. In an age of giants, he overtopped them all. C.H. Spurgeon called him the prince of divines. He is hardly known today, and we are the poorer for our ignorance.1
Charles II (r.1660–1685) once asked one of the most learned scholars that he knew why any intelligent person should waste time listening to the sermons of an uneducated tinker and Baptist preacher by the name of John Bunyan (1628–1688). “Could I possess the tinker’s abilities for preaching, please your majesty,” replied the scholar, “I would gladly relinquish all my learning.” The name of the scholar was John Owen, and this small story – apparently true and not apocryphal – says a good deal about the man and his Christian character. His love of and concern for the preaching of the Word reveals a man who was Puritan to the core. And the fragrant humility of his reply to the king was a virtue that permeated all of his writings, in which he sought to glorify the triune God and help God’s people find that maturity that was theirs in Christ.2
In his own day some of Owen’s fellow Puritans called him the “Calvin of England.”3 More recently, Roger Nicole has described Owen as “the greatest divine who ever wrote in English” and J. I. Packer says of him that during his career as a Christian theologian he was “England’s foremost
* Michael A.G. Haykin, Th.D. (University of Toronto), is Principal, The Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College and Senior Fellow, The Jonathan Edwards Centre for Reformed Spirituality.
RBTR 1:2 (Jul 2004) p. 170
bastion and champion of Reformed evangelical orthodoxy.”4 But, as will be seen, Owen’s chief interest was not in producing theological treatises for their own sake, but to advance the personal holiness of God’s people.5
“Bred Up…Under…A Nonconformist”: Owen’s Early Years6
John Owen was born in 1616, the same year that William Shakespeare died. He grew up in a Christian home in a small village now known as Stadhampton, about five miles south-east of Oxford. His father, Henry Owen, was the minister of the parish church there and a Puritan. The names of...
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