John Owen (1616 - 1683) was an English theologian and "was without doubt not only the greatest theologian of the English
Puritan movement but also one of the greatest European Reformed theologians of his day, and quite possibly possessed the finest theological mind that England ever produced" ("Owen, John", in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals,
Biographical sketch Lectures by Carl Trueman (MP3s)
Owen entered Queen's College, Oxford, at the age of twelve and received a B.A. in 1632 and an M.A. in 1635 at the age of nineteen. "While at Oxford his tutor was Thomas Barlow, an anti-
Arminian philosopher whose
metaphysics were to prove a formative influence on the thought of the young Owen" (
ibid.). In 1637 Owen became a pastor; in the 1640s he was chaplain to
Oliver Cromwell, and in 1651 he was made Dean of Christ Church, Oxford's largest college. In 1652 he was given the additional post of Vice-Chancellor of the University. After 1660 he led
the Independents through the bitter years of persecution until his death in 1683.
Owen's first publication was A Display of Arminianism (1642), a severe critique of the
Arminian theology becoming prevalent in his day. Later works included
Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656) and
Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It (1658), which reflect Owen's more pastoral nature.
His most influential work,
The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647), when Owen was 31 years old, is an exhaustive treatment and defense of the doctrine of
limited atonement. More specifically, it is an extended reflection on "the inner-trinitarian life of God for the
atonement, and an attempt to draw out the implications of the
Old Testament sacrificial context for understanding the events of Calvary... Owen's concern was to ask the simple question of whether Christ's death made
salvation possible or actual. He affirmed the latter..." (BDE, p. 496). Regarding this work,
J. I. Packer notes, "Nobody has a right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness, or particularity, of atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen's proof that it is part of the uniform
biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text. And nobody has done that yet."
In 1662 the
Act of Uniformity established various rules and requirements which were to be followed in the Church. Owen did not ascribe to this, and thus was known as a nonconformist.
Later works of Owen involved massive works on the
Holy Spirit and
- "To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect." (Works of John Owen: volume 3 pg. 433)
- "To say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages." (The Holy Spirit
- An excerpt from his epitaph: "In polemical theology, with more than herculean strength, he strangled three poisonous serpents, the Arminian, the Socinian, and the Roman." (transl. from the Latin by
J. I. Packer,
A Quest for Godliness, 192)
- "Owen, John", in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, ed. by Timothy Larsen (IVP, 2003)
Tracts & Essays