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John Owen’s Lesser-Known Gem of Puritan Theology

John Owen’s Lesser-Known Gem of Puritan Theologyby Brian G. Hedges /

John Owen was born in 1616, the same year that William Shakespeare died. While Shakespeare is justly famous as the greatest playwright in the history of the English language, Owen is arguably our greatest theologian. The son of a minister himself, Owen lived through both the highest and lowest points of the Puritan era. He served as Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain in the 1650s. He opposed the move to make Cromwell king in 1657. And after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he faced persecution for being a nonconformist, which significantly curtailed his influence and changed the course of the rest of his life and ministry.

Though he was raised in a Puritan household, Owen did not come to a settled assurance concerning his own salvation until 1642. He attended a church service at St. Mary Aldermanbury, London, and expected to hear the famous Edmund Calamy preach. But a substitute, whose name Owen never discovered, filled the pulpit instead and preached from the text “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26 KJV) God used this sermon to bring Owen to assurance of his salvation.[1]

Owen published his first book the next year, beginning a writing career that would span four decades. He wrote more than eighty books, some of which were published after his death. Many of these books have endured as spiritual classics and have been republished in recent decades. These include:

  • his well-known trilogy on sin, recently republished as Overcoming Sin and Temptation;
  • his substantial defense of particular redemption (that Christ died to redeem particular individuals, those whom the New Testament calls elect) in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ;
  • his devotional exposition of Trinitarian spirituality in Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;
  • his magnificent Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ; and
  • his magnum opus, Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit.

Gospel Evidences of Saving Faith is one of the lesser-known gems in the vast treasure trove that fills the twenty-four volumes of Owen’s collected Works.[2]

Defining Genuine Faith

Few topics are more vital to vibrant Christian living than faith. The Scriptures teach not only that we are justified by faith (Galatians 2:16) but also that we are sanctified by faith (Acts 26:18), receive the Spirit by hearing with faith (Galatians 3:2, 5, 14), and become children of God by faith (John 1:12–13; Galatians 3:26). The righteous are said to live by faith (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:22). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). And whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). The whole life of the Christian is to be a life of faith.

But sometimes there is great confusion concerning the nature and evidences of genuine faith. We know from Scripture that there is such a thing as dead faith (James 2:14–26). And we have examples in Scripture of some who “believed” but proved, in the end, not to be true disciples of Jesus after all (see, for example, John 2:23–25; 8:31–37). Few things are more important than to understand the essential nature of saving faith, to have the skills by which to discern the evidences of saving faith in our lives, and to know how to exercise our faith so as to thrive spiritually. Rare is the book that accomplishes these pastoral, diagnostic functions while at the same time keeping our eyes steadily fixed on the object of faith—namely, Christ himself. In this short book, originally titled Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God’s Elect, John Owen did both. There are four specific reasons why this book remains valuable to the church today.

  1. Owen highlighted the difference between gospel, or evangelical, Christianity and all other systems of religion.
  2. This naturally leads Owen to demonstrate the true nature of saving faith in a way that avoids the errors of both legalism and antinomianism.
  3. Owen provided practical direction for believers regarding repentance and the pursuit of assurance.
  4. Owen excelled in describing and diagnosing the spiritual experience of a believer.

Next weeek, in the second of this 2-part series, we will unpack each of these points.

This post has been drawn from the Preface to Gospel Evidences of Saving Faith, a new edition of the Owen book, edited by Brian Hedges and published by our friends at Reformation Heritage Books.

Licensed To Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin, by Brian G. Hedges

Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins, by Brian G. HedgesCheck out Brian’s two Cruciform Press titles: Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin, and Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins.


HedgesBrian G. Hedges is the lead pastor for Fulkerson Park Baptist Church in Niles, Michigan. Brian has been married to Holly since 1996 and they have four children. He is the author of several books, including Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change, Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin  and Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins. He is also edited a new edition of John Owen’s book Gospel Evidences of Saving Faith, published by Reformation Heritage Books. You can follow him on Twitter @brianghedges.

[1] For a brief biography of Owen, see the entry in Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 455–63. For a full- length biography, see Peter Toon, God’s Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen (Exeter, England: Paternoster Press, 1971), or Crawford Grib- ben, John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[2] The Works of John Owen, ed. W. H. Goold, 24 vols. (1850–1853; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1966). Subsequent citations of Owen’s Works are from the Banner of Truth edition. The trilogy on sin is comprised of three books: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, Etc., and The Nature, Power, Deceit and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers, all in Works, vol. 6. These volumes have been published together as Overcoming Sin and Temptation, ed. Justin Taylor and Kelly M. Kapic (Wheaton, Ill. Crossway, 2006). The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is found in Works, vol. 10 and has been published separately with an introduction by J. I. Packer by Banner of Truth. Of Communion with God is found in Works, vol. 2 and has been republished as Communion with the Triune God, ed. Justin Taylor and Kelly M. Kapic (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2007). Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ is found in Works, vol. 1 and Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, vols. 3–4. A number of Owen’s books have also been published in paperback abridgements and modernizations. The original title of the present work was Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God’s Elect. It is found in Works, 5:401–57.   


  1. John Owen on Genuine Faith - December 28, 2016

    […] Last week we learned a bit about the life of John Owen, whose 400th birthday we’ve been celebrating in the now-dwindling year of 2016. We also learned about the existence of a little-known gem of a book he wrote that was originally titled Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God’s Elect. In the conclusion of this two-part series, we examine four reasons why the book remains valuable to the church today. […]

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