John Owen on Apostasy – Part One

Why John Owen, the Puritan?

Puritans – you know, those people with crazy hair, wearing black and white outfits with some type of white ruffle around their neck, perhaps wearing a goofy looking cap, always making large families, and living in villages all by themselves as they tried to reform the Church of England… at least, that’s what may come to mind for some people. However, truthfully it seems that there has never been another group of individuals in history that can quite compare to the Puritans, who, spanning for over 200 years, knew the Scriptures, loved the Scriptures, and lived them out as they did. Their work ethic makes many of those today who are in seminaries, ministries, and even those in the pulpit, look lazy. The lives of the Puritans confirmed them as believers that were sold on a purifying doctrine and worship to the Christ. This they took extremely seriously as they continued to bring about the Reformation that Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin had started so fervently. With the intentions that the Puritans had – that is, for the Scriptures to spread to all of mankind – they did not take apostasy lightly. John Owen explains the problem of apostasy best when he addresses the reader to The Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel. He states:

Religion is the same that it ever was, only it suffers by them that make profession of it. What disadvantage it falls under in the world, they must at length answer for those in whose misbelief and practice it is corrupted. And no man can express greater enmity unto or malice against the gospel, that he that’s should assert or maintain that the faith, profession, lives, ways, and walkings of the generality of Christians are a just representation of its truth and holiness.

If one would want to further study the topic of apostasy, it is always best to look at those who have gone before them and written reliable material on the subject. There are a number of different men such as Samuel Eyles Pierce, A. W. Pink, Horatius Bonar, Gardiner Spring, and today’s Richard Phillips, that have written thorough pieces and dealt with the topic correctly, and are well worth the time to read. As for the Puritans’ writings on the topic, one may easily go in a number of different directions. It would be good to take the time to look at Thomas Brooks, Ebenezer Erskine, Thomas Boston, and Richard Sibbes. However, when delving into the topic of apostasy it is most important to spend some time on the greatest work done on it by the “Master” of it himself: John Owen. In the seventh volume of his works (printed by Banner of Truth Trust), Owen has a massive 259 pages dealing with apostasy.

Today in the 21st century John Owen is known for a number of different topics and areas like, Mortification of Sin, Biblical Theology, Communion with God, The Glory of Christ, The Holy Spirit, his seven-volume work on the book of Hebrews, and his sixteen-volume set of works. Additionally, people may often think of Justin Taylor’s passion for Owens’ works, namely, Communion with the Triune God and Overcoming Sin and Temptation. On top of all that, Own is also known to be the cause of almost every seminarian’s complaint, “I cannot read his lengthy sentences!” No matter how many degrees one has, what seminary one graduated from, or how brilliant one is, it is always hard to grasp the long-winded mind and thought of John Owen brought forth through the ink of his pen. But that is exactly why this chapter is being written – so that you, the reader, will get a review of the often-overlooked writing on apostasy that Owen did, and how then to relate that to any man living today.

john_owen2With that said, there is not much of an introduction needed in describing John Owen. A man of Welsh decent, born in the town of Stadhampton, Oxfordshire, and a student of Queen’s College, he was born and raised a Puritan. John Owen was a husband, father, and, most of all, a man of God who spent his whole life studying the Scriptures. He lost 10 of his 11 children at birth, and later his 11th to drinking herself to death. John Owen knew suffering – that is for certain. The importance of John Owens’ sufferings in this matter (Apostasy) is to see how easily Owen himself could have turned hard-hearted toward the gospel and become an apostate. However, John Owen never lost sight of his victor, Jesus Christ. He took his work, ministry, and study very seriously – living out his faith in Christ.

When one speaks or hears about the Puritans, it is hard to not think or have at least one mention of the most popular one: John Owen. The church, throughout her life, has been given a number of gifted and talented individuals with minds like nothing else, and which are even more powerfully seen when they use it while suffering for the kingdom of Christ – as John Owen did. Owens’ work can still be used today for all who may be dealing with apostasy or an apostate, as many living in this postmodern culture claim the title of “Christian” but show no fruit or sign and are then branded “Apostate!” For that very reason, the Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel should not be overlooked when dealing with Owens’ works. In the world we live in today, Owens’ tremendous work on apostasy brings much aid in helping one see the importance of the power of apostasy and how to deal with those that have become apostates.


Learning From John Owens’ work on Apostasy

            Often times, people overlook those who lived before them and have deeply studied the Scriptures. Some think with culture change – times passing away – what one had said hundreds of years ago is not needed or not “good enough” for today’s times. People even say that what may have been true then is not true now. That is exactly why John Owens’ work is a “must read” for our culture, as Christianity continues through the paths of time that tries to consume those who are a part of it.

For the one who is solid in their walk and is living a life that is pleasing to the Lord according to His law, this is particularly important in mainly two ways. First, in times where the world is progressing, it is vital to know the truths of the Word and have proper doctrine that is in obedience to what God has intended for His people through His Word given to them. Secondly, in a culture where people call themselves “believers” by their own standard and own beliefs – and not that of what God has intended – one must be able to discern what is and is not the true mark of a believer who lives out the Scriptures in accordance with them, practicing them in obedience.

John Owen wrote 13 different chapters/sections focusing on the nature and causes of apostasy. To deal with them all here could easily lead to a book in itself; maybe even multiple volumes on each area. However, this short chapter’s aim is to bring out the main points of John Owens’ work on apostasy and show the importance of the truths of it today. In each of John Owens 13 sections I plan to give a thesis, outline and summary, of John Owens work on dealing with apostasy.

Click below on the “Read More” for the footnotes.


     [1] For those of who would like to read John Owen on apostasy, there is a much easier abridged version. Owen, John. Apostasy from the Gospel. The Treasures of John Owen for Today’s Readers. Abridged and made easy to read by R.J.K. Law. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992.)

     [2] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 3.

     [3] For these men’s work done on apostasy Cf. Samuel Eyles Pierce, Sermon XXIV in An Exposition of 1 John, reprinted by Particular Baptist Press,; A. W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews. (Baker: Grand Rapids, 1954), p. 285-97; Horatius Bonar, “Light and Truth: Bible Thoughts and Themes” in The Life and Works of Horatius Bonar CD, Lux Publications,; Gardiner Spring, The Attraction of the Cross. (Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, 1983), p. 216-231; Richard Phillips, Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary, (P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, 2006), p. 185-96.

     [4] For the Puritans’ work done on apostasy Cf. Thomas Brooks, The Works of Thomas Brooks. Vol. 1, ed. Alexander B. Grosart (Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, 1980), p. 1-178; Ebenezer Erskine, The Whole Works of the Late Rev. Ebenezer Erskine. Vol. 1 (Free Presbyterian Publications: Glasgow, 2001), p. 24-38; Thomas Boston, Complete Works of Thomas Boston. (Tentmaker: Staff, 2002), Vol. 9, p. 500-7; Vol. 10, p. 145-77; Richard Sibbes. Works of Richard Sibbes: The Returning Backslider. Vol. 2, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, (Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh, 2001), p. 250-435.

     [5] For John Owens’ overall primary sources: John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William Goold. 24 vols. Edinburgh and London: Johnstone and Hunter, 1850-53; vols. 1-16 reprint ed., (London: Banner of Truth, 1965); John Owen, The Works of John on CD-Rom. (Ages Software.) For the rest of his primary sources Cf. David Clarkson, A Funeral Sermon on Dr. John Owen. In The Works of John Owen, D.D. ed. Thomas Russell. Vol. 1. (London: for Richard Baynes, 1826), p. 411-422; Kelly M. Kapic, and Justin Taylor. Overcoming Sin and Temptation. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006); Millington, Edward, ed. Bibliotheca Oweniana, sive Catalogus librorum… Rev. Doct. Vir. D. Joan. Oweni… (London, 1684); John Owen, Biblical Theology. Transl. Stephen (Wescott. Soli Deo Gloria, 1997); John Owen “Preface.” Patrick Gillespie. The Ark of the Covenant Opened; or a Treatise of the Covenant of Redemption Between God and Christ as the Foundation of the Covenant of Grace. (London, 1677); John Owen, “Preface.” Samuel Petto. The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant Stated and Explained: With an Exposition of the Covenant of Grace in the Principal Concernments of It. (London, 1674); John Owen,  Preface.” Theophilus Gale. The True Idea of Jansenisme: Both Historick and Dogmatick. (London, 1669); John Owen, “Preface.” George Kendall. Fur Pro Tribunali. (London, 1657); John Owen, “Preface.” William Benn. Soul Prosperity, in Several Sermons. (London, 1683); John Owen, “Preface.” William Eyre. Vindiciae Justificationis Gratuitae. (London, 1654); John Owen, The Works of John Owen, D.D. ed. Thomas Russell. 21 vols. (London: for Richard Baynes, 1826); John Owen, The Correspondence of John Owen (1616–1683). With an account of his life and work. Edited by Peter Toon Forward by Rev. Dr. Geoffrey F. Nuttall, M.A.; John Owen, Evangelical Theology: A Translation of the Sixth Book of Dr. Owen’s Latin Work Entitled Theologoumena, Translated by John Craig (Edinburgh, 1837).

     [6] Justin Taylor’s site, done along with Joshua Sowin, on John Owen is

     [7] For the best biographies that I believe to be done on John Owen see: Anthony Wood, Life of John Owen. In Athenae Oxonienses, ed. Philip Bliss. (London, 1820.); William Orme, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Dr John Owen, in The Works of John Owen, ed. T. Russell, vol. 1, (1826.) For other biographies on John Owen Cf. Anonymous Life. The Life of the Late Reverend and Learned John Owen, D.D. In Seventeen Sermons Preach’d by the Reverend Dr. John Owen: with the Dedications at Large. (Together with the Doctors Life, 2 vols. London, 1720.); John Asty, Memoirs of the Life of John Owen, in A Complete Collection of the Sermons of the Reverend and Learned John Owen D.D. (London: John Clark, 1721.); Richard L Greaves. Owen, John (1616-1683), in H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), vol. 42, p. 221-231; Kapic, Kelly M, John Owen (1616-1683). In Historical Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, edited by Donald K. McKim. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, forthcoming; James Mofatt, Introductory Sketch: The Life of Owen, in The Golden Book of John Owen, 1904; J.M. Rigg, Owen, John. Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen. Vol. XLII. (London, 1896.) p. 424-428; Thomas Russell, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of John Owen, D.D. (London: for Richard Baynes, 1826.); Alan Spence. John Owen (1616-1683). In The Dictionary of Historical Theology. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), p. 412-414; Andrew Thomson, Life of Dr Owen. In The Works of John Owen, ed. Goold., vol. 1; Peter Toon, God’s Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen, Pastor, Educator, Theologian. (Paternoster, 1971.); Carl R. Trueman, Owen, John. Pages 494-98 in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Edited by Timothy Larsen, David William Bebbington, and Mark Allan Noll. Downers Grove: (InterVarsity, 2003.)

     [8] For deeper study on John Owens’ theology, ministry and his work, I recommend at the top of the list: Sinclair B. Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987.); Carl R. Trueman, The Claims of Truth: John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology. (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1998.); Kelly M. Kapic, Communion with God: Relations Between the Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007); Robert W. Oliver. John Owen: The Man and His Theology. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R / Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2002.); Peter Barraclough, John Owen, 1616-1683. (London: Independent Press, 1961.) For further in-depth study on particular areas within John Owens’ work Cf. A. C. Clifford, Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640-1790, An Evaluation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990.); Richard Daniels, The Christology of John Owen. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Reformed Heritage Books, 2004.); Randall C. Gleason. John Calvin and John Owen on Mortification. (New York: Peter Lang, 1995.); Francis Lee, John Owen Represbyterianized (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 2000.); Glynne Lloyd. John Owen: Commonwealth Puritan. (Pontypridd: Modern Welsh Publications Ltd., 1972.); Kapic, Kelly and Justin Taylor, ed. Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006.); Jon D. Payne, John Owen on the Lord’s Supper. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004.); Sebastian Rehnman, Divine Discourse: The Theological Methodology of John Owen. Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s