by Brian G. Hedges /
John Owen, aka the “Prince of Puritans,” was born in 1616, the same year Shakespeare died. Owen has a reputation among Reformed folk for being hard on sin and even harder to read. The nineteenth century Scottish professor John Duncan is famous for assigning one of Owen’s books to his students with the warning, “Prepare for the Knife!” And theologian A.W.Pink said that one was more likely to find vinegar than honey in Owen’s writings.
But, while Owen is most famous for his trilogy on mortification, temptation, and indwelling sin, readers who dig deep actually discover a lot of honey in his writings. His books and sermons are well-seasoned with words such as “pleasant,” “satisfaction,” “sweetness,” and “delight.” For example, in his devotional meditation on communion with the Triune God, Owen says that God the Father’s love “ought to be looked on as the fountain from whence all other sweetnesses flow.” And in The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, an extended meditation on Romans 8:6, Owen says that life and peace “comprise a holy frame of heart and mind, wherein the souls of believers do find rest, quietness, refreshment, and satisfaction in God, in the midst of temptations, afflictions, offences, and sufferings.”
These references, and dozens more, reveal Owen to be as deeply acquainted with the spiritual joys of fellowship with Christ as he was with the spiritual rigor required in killing sin. In fact, Owen did not merely acknowledge the presence and benefit of spiritual joy and delight; he also integrated such joy into his whole understanding of Christian experience. There are good reasons, then, to recognize John Owen (like Jonathan Edwards a century later) as a Puritan proponent of Christian Hedonism.
Here are three insights we can learn from Owen’s treatment of these themes.
One of the principal evidences of saving faith is the believer’s embrace of the gospel for both the glorification of God and the satisfaction of the soul.
In one of his most overlooked books, a slim volume called The Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God’s Elect (now retitled as Gospel Evidences of Saving Faith), Owen discusses four important evidences of true faith. Owen doesn’t start where one might think: for example, with a vigorous call to mortify sin. He eventually gets there, but, for Owen, the first evidence of saving faith is “Choosing, Embracing, and Approving God’s Way of Saving Sinners through the Work of Christ Alone.”
True believers are those who not recognize themselves as sinners, but have embraced the good news of God’s mercy through Christ alone. Owen says that believers must embrace the gospel as that which most glorifies God, most satisfies our souls, and most honors God’s law.