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Lessons from the life of John Owen

Not just learning but doing

My wife and I decided to travel to London and do some site-seeing for my birthday weekend. When asked what I wanted to spend my time doing in London, I probably gave a surprising answer that might have made my wife re-evaluate the trip, if not her vows. 

I said that the one place I would love to go and visit out of the whole of London was Bunhill Fields Cemetery – a typical birthday activity, I am sure. Bunhill is the resting place of many great figures from history, including the poet William Blake and John Bunyan, writer and preacher. But for me, the person I most wanted to see was the 17th-century Puritan writer and preacher John Owen. 

Owen was one of the leading theologians of his day. In my view, he demonstrates the importance of having a firm theology that is deeply rooted in the Bible, but also the need of a practical outworking. 

Owen was born of Welsh decent to Puritan parents in Oxfordshire. Very early on he demonstrated a great intellect and studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. When the English Civil War erupted, Owen chose to side with the Parliamentarians at great cost to himself: by choosing that side, he was forfeiting his prospects of inheriting his Welsh Royalist uncle’s fortune. He had long made the decision that his principles were more important to him than money. 

If you were to ask people who was John Owen, you might have a few replies saying he was a preacher and a writer, which he was. Nevertheless, Owen also served as an MP. It has been said of Owen that during his service as an MP he appears to have behaved with kindness and moderation”. 

Another outworking of Owen’s faith was in his own personal life. Despite such terrible circumstances, Owen remained firm in his faith and continued to preach about the reality and joy that could be found in Christ. He married Mary Rooke in 1644 and together the couple had 11 children, although all but one died during infancy. The one daughter who survived to adulthood married and died shortly after of consumption. 

In many ways it can be easy to be a Christian witness when life is going well, but to stand firmly on the word of God after you have buried 11 of your children is an outworking of the power of God. I can never pretend to understand anything of the ordeal that Owen went through, but I am certain that he would be able to speak and testify about a peace that transcends all understanding”. 

What is the application and relevance of Owen to our lives today? Owen serves as a reminder that Christianity is not to be isolated from the world: he preached for the glory of God, wrote books for the glory of God, and served as an MP for the glory of God. When tough circumstances gripped him, he trusted the Lord through all the pain and misery, and to onlookers, he provided a powerful witness and testimony to the everlasting joy that Christians have in Christ. 

I’m sure that not many of us will become high profile politicians, but whatever context God has placed us in, we can still be a shining example of the work that God has performed in our lives. The life of Owen proves that we are not limited to serving God when we are doing spiritual things such as praying and reading the Bible. As Christians, we can serve God in any position that He has placed us in society, community or family. 

It is a good thing indeed to study and read theology, but it is meaningless unless our understanding of God changes the way we act and serve him outside of church and our quiet times. Our God is so extraordinary that He should impact and change the ordinary’ things in our lives. 

More than that, we can pray and remember the difficult position that some Christian leaders (in all areas of life, not just politics) are facing and pray that God will give them the strength to be good witnesses for Him. God does not call everyone to be a pastor or preacher, but He does call every Christian to serve Him. 

Has God placed you in a position or role in your society, job or community, where you can make a positive impact on the people around you, showing what God has done in your life? 

About the author

Sam joined the Evangelical Alliance in September 2018 as the Public policy officer for Wales, he also serves as a County Councillor in Swansea. Prior to working for the Evangelical Alliance Sam has worked for both a Welsh Member of Parliament and an Assembly Member. He graduated from Cardiff University with a Certificate of Higher Education in Religious and Theological Studies before graduating with a degree in theology from Union School of Theology. Sam is married to Jess and is a deacon at his local church.

See more from Sam Pritchard

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