Wednesday, August 14, 2013

John Owen on Holiness

I was introduced to the Puritans five years ago. As providence would have it, I stumbled upon a blogger who was hosting the 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge - one Puritan Paperback per month. I was spiritually malnourished after a long absence from the local church. I was also in the middle of the worst trial of my life to date, so I was looking for help and encouragement wherever I could find it. Little did I know what was in store for me.

I had never read anything like this before. To the Puritans, the Word of God was a mine filled with priceless treasures, and they dug deep, far deeper than anything I had previously encountered. They didn't pull punches when it came to sin, but their view of sin was a result of a high view of God and His holiness that we seem to have lost today. But far from being cold and academic, they had a deep love for God and His grace. The Puritans rocked my theological world with their understanding of the greatness of God and their practical application of doctrine. A few authors stood out to me, and one of them was John Owen.

Owen (1616-1683) is considered by some to be "a genius with a learning second only to Calvin." He was dean of Christchurch at Oxford and preached before Parliament under Cromwell's rule. He wrote numerous books on subjects such as the perseverance of the saints, the mortification of sin, communion with the Trinity, temptation, the Holy Spirit, and the authority of Scripture. Unfortunately, Owen has the reputation of being a tad difficult to read. J.I. Packer describes his writing as having a "lumbering literary gait" and "a certain clumsy dignity." While there may be stout-hearted souls who are brave enough to tackle the original, I am thankful for the Puritan Paperback versions published by Banner of Truth Trust. They have printed abridged and easier-to-read versions of nine of his major works, which are much more accessible for the rest of us.

Here is an excerpt from The Holy Spirit, which is a treatise on the person and work of the Holy Spirit as seen in the Old and New Testaments, in regeneration, sanctification, and the believer's pursuit of holiness. The original Pneumatologia, is a hefty 650 pages, which is another reason why I am reading the abridged version. I hope Owen's thoughts on holiness will whet your appetite to read more.

What, then, is holiness? Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and living out the gospel in our souls (Eph. 4:24)...
The work of holiness in us is wonderful. It is a supernatural work and is known only by supernatural revelation. We must not be deceived by a false holiness. Holiness is not just a reformed life.
Holiness is not only for this life, but goes on with us into eternity and glory. Death has no power to destroy holiness. The activities of holiness are indeed momentary and transient, but their fruits last for ever in their reward (Rev. 14:14, Heb. 6:10). Holiness lasts for ever and enters into glory with us (1 Cor. 13:8).
Holiness reveals something of the spiritual and heavenly glory in this world (2 Cor. 3:18). The true believer is 'all glorious within' (Ps. 45:13). Holiness, then, is the glorious work of the Holy Spirit...
And what should be our response to the promise that God will make us holy? Firstly, we must remember our utter inability to obey the command to be holy. Then we must see that our sufficiency is in God.
Secondly, we must adore that grace which has promised to do in us what we are unable to do in ourselves.
Thirdly, we must pray in faith, believing God's promise to make us holy, and look to him to supply us with all grace necessary to walk in holiness.
Fourthly, we should pray specially for that grace to keep us holy in times of temptation and when called to carry out special and difficult duties.
Finally, we must never forget that it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies all believers, and who produces all holiness in them. (Ps. 51:1-12; Ezek. 11:19; 36:25-27; Rom. 8:8-14; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Pet. 1:2, Isa. 4:4; 44:3-4, Titus 3:4-5).
The Holy Spirit by John Owen, R.J.K. Law, editor, Banner of Truth Trust, 2006, pp.100-101, 103-104.

For more information:

Why Read the Puritans Today? by Don Kistler
Biographical excerpt from Meet the Puritans by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson 
Biographical talk by John Piper
Resources and articles at
John Owen web site with facts, quotes, and more

No comments:

Post a Comment