Why read John Owen? Well for me that is easy. He is the prince of the puritans, a standard bearer of reformed orthodoxy, and one of the most insightful and thoroughly biblical writers I have read. His passion for the glory of the Triune God in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ is rivaled by none except, maybe, just maybe, Paul himself.
Why this book? I am need of a revival in my own soul of true religion and that consists of a steady gaze upon the glory of Christ revealed in the Gospel, a constant mortification of sin and vivification of the heart, plus “gospel obedience.” These are all things I see lacking in my life at this point. I am in need of renewal, as Paul says in Colossians 3:10, “being renewed in the image of our Creator.”
Why do I need revival? I have lost a great sense of the horror of my own sin and there is much apathy in prayer life that needs to be addressed. Kapic describes it better here:
Sin moves by drawing the mind away from God, enticing the affections and twisting desires and paralyzing the will, thus stunting any real Christian growth. One of the most frightening truths that Owen wants the believer to recognize is that “Your enemy is not only upon you…but is in you also.” (27)
Engaging the whole person. According to Kapic, Owen deals or engages with the whole person using the classic faculty-psychology categories of the mind, the will, and the affections. However, as Owen points out, these faculties are marred by the fall and tainted with sin. Even believers who have been redeemed by the blood of the cross still have remnants of the old man that continue to corrupt the mind, will and affections.
The goal of Calvin and of others after him, like Owen, was not the absence of affections, but rightly informed and directed affections. Affections are a gift from God to all humanity. Far too often the faculties have been “gendered” in the church, for example when people lump “rationality” with men and “emotions” with women. In addition to empirical evidence that easily contradicts such hastily drawn stereotypes, one should reject such schemas because all Christians are called to love God with their mind, will, and affections. Healthy affections are crucial to the life of faith, and numbing them cannot be the answer. In Owen’s estimation, because the affections are so import to faithful obedience, for here is “the principal thing which God requires in our walking before him…save all other things and lose the hear, and all is lost — lost unto all eternity. (28)
So what does Kapic conclude?
The goal of the Christian life is…a passionate love for God informed by the mind and embraced by the will. (28)
That is Owen’s goal for me as well. How must I achieved this? Here is what Owen has to say:
Were our affections, filled, taken up, and possessed with these things…what access could sin, with it’s painted pleasures, with its sugared poisions, with its envenomed baits, have unto our souls? (28)
Lord, incline my heart to your testimonies.
Quotes are from John Owen’s three classic works republished as Overcoming Sin and Temptation edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor. (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway), 2006.