John Owen on Apostasy – Part Twelve and Thirteen


XI. Apostasy from evangelical worship


“That which was proposed to be considered in the last place is that apostasy which is in the world from the purity of the worship of the gospel as appointed by Jesus Christ; and herein principally did consist that great defection foretold by our apostle, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12, which is also prophesied of in the Revelation, and did accordingly come to pass.”[1]


Although the shortest chapter in length in John Owen’s work on apostasy, chapter eleven is by no means lacking in thought-provoking content. This chapter deals with an area that does not first come to mind when mentioning apostasy. Owen works here in dealing with apostasy from the point of view of evangelical worship – going over the doctrines of the sacraments (the doctrine of baptism and much focus on the Lord’s Supper).  He brings forth the issue of mystical beliefs  in the practice of worship and how often apostates tend to misuse them. In this small section discussing worship, Owen focuses on two areas in particular: first, the worship that takes place in the sacraments, and secondly, how worship is corrupted in the sacraments.


I. Apostasy from Worship

A.   Call for the Worship of God

1.     Worship in the Sacraments

2.     Worship Corrupted in the Sacraments


XII. Inference from the forgoing discourses- The present danger of all sorts of persons, in the prevalency of apostasy form the truth and decays in the practice of evangelical


“The last part of this discourse is designed for cautions unto those who yet stand, or think they stand, with respect unto that general defection from the gospel whose causes and occasions we have thus far inquired into.”[2]


Apostasy is easily spread from one to another like a disease that carries tremendous judgment. In chapter twelve John Owen deals with the dangers of how apostasy can easily spread among those who are working and living in the gospel.  Owen begins with a biblical reminder of what exactly apostasy is. In the first half of this chapter, he discusses and sets forth what he describes as the six warnings of dangers that harm the church. These are: 

1. Apostasy is a worldly-mindedness
2. Apostasy is a great danger
3. Apostasy consumes man
4. Apostasy is deceitful
5. Apostasy consumes the soul
6. Apostasy will have no Savior[3]

            In the second portion of this chapter, Owen then moves on to detail exactly what the danger signs can be that tell what apostasy is.[4] In the process of going over these, he gives seven dangers of apostasy and then shows how they affect the person’s view of Christ. After this, Owen completes this section by looking at the power of sin; specifically its power over man as it creates what we call apostasy. Similar to other chapters, Owen gives the negative and then the positive – here giving the three powers that sin has over man, then the victory that man has over sin.[5] Owen ends this section by once again proclaiming the hope of the gospel – Jesus Christ – and how in Him alone man has power over sin. 


II. Apostasy Widespread

A.   A Biblical Reminder Apostasy

B.    Apostasy is a Worldliness mindset

C.    Apostasy is a Great Danger

D.   Apostasy Consumes Man

E.    Apostasy is Deceitful

F.    Apostasy Consumes the Soul

G.   Apostasy Will Have No Savior

H.   The Seven Dangers Signs of Apostasy

I.      The Powers of Sin

1.     The Three Powers

2.     The Power Over Sin


XIII. Directions to avoid the power of a prevailing apostasy


“UNTO the warnings given in the precedent chapter some directions may be added, perhaps not unuseful unto them who would be preserved from the occasions, causes, and danger, of the apostasy thus far inquired into; for although, as hath been declared, a watchful attendance unto all gospel duties, and a vigorous exercise of all gospel graces in general, are required unto our preservation, yet there are some things which have an especial respect unto the present state of the causes and circumstances of the evil insisted on, which ought in an especial manner to be remembered.”[6]


            Chapter thirteen is the last in John Owen’s great work (quite possibly being the greatest work on apostasy in existence). In his closing arguments on apostasy, Owen ends with quite a lengthy section in dealing with how to avoid apostasy. He doesn’t have several major points in this chapter, but rather focuses on one major point: Defending the believer of the gospel against apostasy. In this he gives a number of sub-points that look at how one who confesses the belief of the gospel is to continue living a life that honors and lives out the gospel in obedience. Below is listed the areas that John Owen discusses in this chapter:

1. Defend from the temptations of apostasy by using prayer
2. Defend from the temptations of apostasy by the believer’s faith
3. Defend from the temptations of apostasy by having a heart for the gospel
4. Defend from the temptations of apostasy by being aware of those who may be in the church to deceive it
5. Defend from the temptations of apostasy of certain types of worship
6. Defend from the temptations of apostasy for the sake of the gospel
7. Defend from the temptations of apostasy against national sins
8. Defend from the temptations of apostasy by having a mindset against sin[7]


III. How to Avoid Apostasy

A.   The Believers Defense Against Apostasy

1.     Defend from Temptations by Prayer

2.     Defend from Temptations by Faith

3.     Defend from Temptations by the Heart

4.     Defend from Temptations that May Linger in the Church

5.     Defend from Temptations of Certain Types of Worship

6.     Defend for the Sake of the Gospel

7.     Defend from Nationalized Sins

8.     Defend the Mind from Sin


            This final chapter fits exactly into John Owen’s goal, which is to make those who are believers of the true gospel aware that there are dangers everywhere – even among believers – that try to take hold of the human soul and cast them into a life which only leads to hell. The point of this chapter is for the reader to see the significance in John Owen’s tremendous work on apostasy and for it to stir up thoughts and attention on the issue today. This work should be read even today in the postmodern world. With movements coming and going, and theology seeming to change endlessly, the true believer of the gospel must know the dangers that are around him. Going to John Owen’s work about today’s issues like this is by no means out-dated. The culture today may look different, however, the same apostasy issues that John Owen dealt with in the 17th century is still dealt with today in the 21st century by the believer – and maybe even more so!

            During his time, John Owen saw that the loss of the gospel had started to seep into the church – the true believing church of God. He shares this when he states in his work:

The doctrine of the gospel (as to its peculiar nature, the causes, motives, and ends of it) was generally lost, partly through the horrible ignorance of some, and partly through the pernicious errors of others, whose duty it was to have preserved it. And how impossible it is to maintain the life and power of obedience when this spring of it is dried up or corrupted, when this root is withered and decayed, is not hard to apprehend. Sometimes truth is lost first in a church, and then holiness, and sometimes the decay or hatred of holiness is the cause of the loss of truth; but where either is rejected, the other win not abide, as we have declared. And so it fell out in that fatal apostasy; these evils promoted and furthered each other.[8]

He saw what needed to be addressed during his time, and it is something that must be constantly address throughout all times of the church; to those that claim to know Christ, love the gospel, say with their lips that they are believers, but show no signs of living accordingly to the Scripture and following the commands of the Word of God.

            In a day where more people tend to say, “I believe in God,” we also see those same people fall into apostasy. More drunkards, more slanderers, more gluttony, more prideful and boastful individuals, more adulterers, more lustful addicts, more coveters of material possessions, and more ear-entertainers of the Bible say today that they “know Christ” and yet have no sign at all of the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ.

If anything at all, two things should be taken from Owen’s works here, and they are as follows: First the believer should live a life that is according to the Word of God so that they are seen as image-bearers of God. And secondly, those that do know the gospel are not to let such filth and such corrupt beings dismantle the church one by one. In the time and culture in which we live today, believers must stand for truth firmly in a society that is decaying rapidly. Owen speaks in great length of these types of people in the church that claim the gospel as this:

The church never lost finally either truth or holiness by the violent persecutions of its avowed enemies. But I speak not of the outrages committed on the flock of Christ by wolves in their own skins, but by such as have got on sheep’s clothing; for these things, in whomsoever they are, proceed from the uncured, wolfish nature in persons on whom the gospel hath not obtained its promised efficacy, Isaiah 11:6-9. It is professing Christians persecuting one another, about some differences among themselves concerning their apprehensions of spiritual things and practice of divine worship, that I intend. And this hath been so great, especially in the latter ages of the church, that it is questionable whether there hath not greater effusion of the blood of Christians, ruin of families, and devastation of nations, been made by them who have professed the same religion in general, than by all the Pagans in the world since the first promulgation of it. He that shall impartially read the Gospel will not be able to discern how it was possible that any such things should ever fall out among those who pretend to avow it as their rule and guide in any measure; for the whole design and all the rules of it are so expressly contradictory unto any such practice, as that no man who had not learned the contrary from the event could possibly conjecture that any persons could ever fall into it without an antecedent renunciation of the gospel itself.[9]

            As believers today, we must be more sound than even those in John Owen’s day. For there is far greater numbers of apostates than ever before working against the church, and even in the church.

There is no greater work to sit down and go through on the area of apostasy than that of John Owen’s The Nature and Causes of Apostasy. It is arguably the greatest work of Owen himself, and unfortunately can often be overlooked. However, breaking it down in the above areas, showing Owen’s theses of each chapter, explaining the points which he was getting across, providing an outline of each chapter to help search and see his main points, and the summaries of each chapter, should aid anyone that wants to look at specific areas of this work with ease. Enjoy!

     [1] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 217.

     [2] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 222. 

     [3] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 224-31.

     [4] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 231-4.

     [5] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 238-9. 

     [6] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 241.

     [7] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 243-58.

     [8] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 199.

     [9] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 7 (Banner of Truth Trust: London, 1965), p. 203. 


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