Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Owen, John (1616-1683)
OWEN, JOHN, D.D. (1616–1683), theologian, of an old Welsh family, was second son of the Rev. Henry Owen, vicar of Stadhampton, Oxfordshire, where he was born in 1616. He matriculated at Queen's College, Oxford (having been previously at a school in the town kept by Edward Sylvester), on 4 Nov. 1631, graduated B.A. on 11 June 1632, proceeded M.A. on 27 April 1635, and was created D.D. on 23 Dec. 1653. As an undergraduate he read prodigiously, and relaxed his mind with flute-playing and athletics. Dr. Thomas Wilson [q. v.] was his music-master, and his tutor Dr. Thomas Barlow [q. v.], whose friendship he retained throughout life. He studied with equal zest classics, mathematics, philosophy, theology, Hebrew, and rabbinical lore. In 1637 he left the university rather than submit to Laud's new statutes, and, being already in holy orders, became chaplain to Sir Robert Dormer of Ascott, Oxfordshire. He was afterwards chaplain to John, lord Lovelace at Hurley, Berkshire. On the outbreak of the civil war he removed to Charterhouse Yard, London, where he obtained relief from severe spiritual distress, from which he had long suffered, and published two tracts: ‘Θεομαχία ἀυτεξουσιαστικὴ, or a Display of Arminianism, being a Discovery of the old Pelagian Idol, Freewill, with the new Goddess Contingency,’ 1643, 4to; and ‘The Duty of Pastors and People Distinguished, or a Brief Discourse touching the Administration of Things commanded in Religion,’ 1643, 4to. The former, a trenchant polemic against Arminianism, got him preferment to the sequestered rectory of Fordham, Essex; from the latter it appears that he then held the presbyterian theory of church government, which, however, he changed for independency upon a more thorough investigation of the history of the primitive church. The transition was already effected in 1646 (cf. his first sermon preached before parliament, ‘A Vision of unchangeable free Mercy, &c., whereunto is annexed a short Defensative about Church Government,’ &c. London, 1646, 4to).
About this time, on the death of the true incumbent, Owen was ejected from the Fordham living by the patron; but, having taken the covenant, was instituted by order of the House of Lords, on the recommendation of the Earl of Warwick, to the neighbouring vicarage of Coggeshall (Lords' Journals, viii. 467). Here he modelled his church entirely on congregational principles, of which he published an exposition, entitled ‘Eshcol; or Rules of Direction for the Walking of the Saints in Fellowship,’ London, 1648, 12mo. The same year he resumed his polemic against Arminianism by the publication of ‘Salus Electorum Sanguis Jesu; or the Death of Death in the Death of Christ’ (London, 4to). The antinomian tendency of this work elicited protests from both Richard Baxter and John Horne [q. v.] (cf. Baxter. Aphorisms of Justification, Appendix; and Owen's rejoinder Of the Death of Christ, the Price He paid, and the Purchase He made, &c., London, 1650).
On the surrender of Colchester to Sir Thomas Fairfax, 27 Aug. 1648, Owen, at his request, preached two thanksgiving sermons—one at Colchester, the other at Romford. Both were printed under the title ‘Ebenezer: a Memorial of the Deliverance of Essex, County and Committee,’ &c., London, 1648, 4to. He preached before parliament on the day following the execution of the king, but made only the most distant allusion to that event. The sermon was printed shortly after its delivery, together with a brief defence of the right of private judgment, entitled ‘A Discourse about Toleration and the Duty of the Civill Magistrate’ (London, 1649, 4to). ‘Oὐρανῶv Oὐράνια,’ another of his sermons before parliament, preached on 19 April following, and published the same year (London, 4to), led to his acquaintance being sought by Cromwell, whom he attended as chaplain in Ireland. His sermon on the spiritual state of that country, preached before parliament on 28 Feb. 1649–50, occasioned the passing of an ordinance for the re-endowment of Trinity College, Dublin, and the establishment there of six salaried parliamentary preachers. On 8 March 1649–50 Owen was appointed preacher to the council of state. In the autumn he attended Cromwell in Scotland, and, having taken the engagement, was intruded into the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford, on 18 March 1650–1, in the room of Edward Reynolds [q. v.], being about the same time appointed preacher at St. Mary's. On 24 Oct. 1651 he preached before parliament the thanksgiving sermon for the victory of Worcester; on 6 Feb. 1651–2 Ireton's funeral sermon. At Oxford offices were accumulated upon him. On 15 June 1652 Cromwell, then chancellor of the university, placed him on the board of visitors, on 9 Sept. following nominated him vice-chancellor, and on 16 Oct. put the chancellorship in commission and made him first commissioner. About the same time he was placed on the commission for licensing translations of the Bible, and on 20 March 1653–4 on that for approving public preachers. On 27 June following he was returned to parliament for the university, but was unseated on account of his orders. He served, however, as chairman of a committee of referees appointed by the Protector's council (14 July 1654) to devise means for the Christian composing of differences in the kirk of Scotland, and as one of the associates of the committees of toleration, and for the consideration of the proposals of Manasseh ben Israel (1654–5).
Owen retained the vice-chancellorship until 1658, when (9 Oct.) he was replaced by Dr. John Conant. In his execution of the office he displayed equal vigour and moderation. When the royalist rising was anticipated in the spring of 1654–5, he made himself responsible for the security of the town and county of Oxford, and was frequently to be seen riding at the head of a troop of horse, well mounted, and armed with sword and pistol. In defiance of academical etiquette, he dressed more like a layman than a divine, but was so far from slovenly that Anthony à Wood represents him as a fop; he was a strict disciplinarian, and curbed the license of the terræ filii by arresting one of them with his own hands and sending him to Bocardo (the university gaol). He fostered learning and piety, and discouraged persecution. He connived at the public use of the proscribed liturgy of the church of England in the house of Dr. Thomas Willis [q. v.], in the immediate vicinity of Christ Church; and to his influence it was mainly due that the Laudian professor of Arabic was secured in the possession of his Berkshire rectory [see Pocock, Edward].
Notwithstanding the heavy responsibilities which his various offices entailed, Owen found time to pass through the university press several elaborate theological treatises. In his ‘Diatriba de Divina Justitia seu Justitiæ Vindicatricis Vindiciæ’ (1653, 8vo) he attempted to cut the ground from under the feet of the Socinian by deducing the absolute necessity of satisfaction for sin from the constitution of the divine nature. He also plunged afresh into the Arminian controversy, opposing to John Goodwin's ‘Redemption Redeemed’ his ‘Doctrine of the Saints' Perseverance explained and confirmed,’ published in 1654 (fol.), with ‘Animadversions on Dr. H. Hammond's “Dissertationes Quatuor”’ (on the evidence for episcopacy afforded by the Ignatian epistles) [see Goodwin, John, and Hammond, Henry]. In 1655, at the request of the council of state, he entered the lists against John Biddle [q. v.] with ‘Vindiciæ Evangelicæ; or the Mystery of the Gospel vindicated and Socinianisme examined,’ 4to. This work brought Hammond into the field with a defence of the orthodoxy of Grotius, whom Owen had classed among Socinians. Owen replied in ‘A Review of the Annotations of Hugo Grotius in reference to the Doctrine of the Deity and Satisfaction of Christ; with a Defence of the Charge formerly laid against them’ (1656, 4to). To the same period belong several of his best known minor treatises—viz. ‘Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers,’ 1656, 8vo (2nd edit. 1658); ‘Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, each Person distinctly in Love, Grace, and Consolation,’ 1657, 4to, a piece of wire-drawn mysticism, severely criticised by William Sherlock [q. v.] in 1674 (cf. infra); ‘Of Schism: the true Nature of it discovered and considered with reference to the Present Differences in Religion,’ 1657, 8vo, an ingenious attempt to exonerate nonconformists from the guilt of schism, which provoked an answer from Daniel Cawdry [q. v.], to which Owen rejoined in ‘A Review of the True Nature of Schism,’ &c., 1657, 8vo; ‘Of Temptation: the Nature and Power of it,’ &c., 1658, 8vo; ‘Of the Divine Original, Authority, Self-evidencing Light and Power of the Scriptures,’ 1659, 8vo. Appended to this work were some ill-judged ‘Considerations on the Prolegomena and Appendix to the late Biblia Polyglotta,’ which drew from Brian Walton [q. v.] an animated reply; and ‘Some Exercitations’ (in Latin) against the quaker theory of inspiration, which were answered with unfriendly heat by Samuel Fisher in ‘Rusticus ad Academicos’ [see Fisher, Samuel, 1605–1665]. Owen attended the synod of independent divines held at the Savoy, 29 Sept. to 12 Oct. 1658, when the confession of faith known as the Savoy Declaration was formulated.
After the abdication of Richard Cromwell Owen was commissioned by the council of state to raise a volunteer corps for the defence of Oxford. During the critical period which ensued he was in London, straining every nerve to secure Monck's adhesion to the independent faction. Ejected from Christ Church on 13 March 1659–60, he returned to an estate which he had bought at Stadhampton, and while there published Θεολογούμενα παντοδαπά, an encyclopædic Latin treatise on the history of religion and theology, natural and revealed, from the creation to the reformation. While the bill for uniformity in the prayers and ceremonies of the church of England was pending, he tendered a temperate protest against it in ‘A Discourse concerning Liturgies and their Imposition,’ London, 1662, 8vo. This tract appeared anonymously, as also did his able ‘Animadversions’ on the ‘Fiat Lux’ of Vincent Canes [q. v.], published the same year (London, 8vo). The latter work was acknowledged by Owen in the ‘Vindication’ of it which he published in 1664. So signal was the service which by these works he was thought to have rendered to the protestant religion that Lord Clarendon offered him high preferment if he would conform to the church of England. He remained true to his principles, however, and in 1664–5 was indicted at Oxford for holding religious assemblies in his house. He escaped without imprisonment, and removed to London. There he pleaded the cause of religious liberty in several anonymous tracts: ‘Indulgence and Toleration considered’ and ‘A Peace Offering or Plea for Indulgence,’ both published in 1667, 4to; and ‘Truth and Innocence vindicated’ (1669, 8vo), a reply to Samuel Parker's ‘Discourse on Ecclesiastical Polity.’ There, too, he published (also anonymously) ‘A Brief Instruction on the Worship of God and Discipline of the Churches of the New Testament’ (1667, 12mo); ‘The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers’ (1668, 8vo); and, with his name, in 1669, ‘A Practical Exposition on Psalm cxxx’ (4to), and a ‘A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity’ (12mo), both of which have been frequently reprinted (see bibliographical note, infra). His elaborate ‘Exercitations on the Epistle to the Hebrews,’ of which the first volume appeared in 1668 (fol.), were completed in four volumes, of which the last was not published until after his death (London, 1684, fol.). In 1670 a minute by Owen on the Conventicle Bill was submitted to the House of Lords. In 1671 he issued an argument on behalf of the strict observance of the Sunday, entitled ‘Exercitations concerning the Name, &c., of a Day of Sacred Rest’ (London, 8vo); and in 1672 a dissuasive against the practice of occasional conformity adopted by some of the less strict dissenters, entitled ‘A Discourse concerning Evangelical Love, Church Peace, and Unity’ (London, 8vo).
Owen had powerful friends at court, among them Sir John Trevor, secretary of state in the Cabal; George, first earl of Berkeley [q. v.]; Roger Boyle, first earl of Orrery [q. v.]; Arthur Annesley, first earl of Anglesey; and Philip, fourth lord Wharton [q. v.], whom he frequently visited at Wooburn, Buckinghamshire. In 1674 the Duke of York whiled away a vacant hour at Tunbridge Wells in discussing with him the rights and wrongs of nonconformity; and Charles II gave him a private audience at London, and a thousand guineas for distribution among the sufferers by the penal laws. Hence, notwithstanding the Conventicle Act and the revocation of the declaration of indulgence, by which its operation had been at first suspended, Owen was suffered to preach; and, after dallying with Baxter's project for a union of the presbyterians and independents, accepted in 1673 the pastorate of an independent congregation in Leadenhall Street. Among his flock were Fleetwood, Desborough, and Sir John Hartopp [q. v.] In 1674 appeared his ‘Vindication of Some Passages in a Discourse concerning Communion with God from the Exceptions of William Sherlock’ (London, 8vo). In his ‘Πνευματολογία; or a Discourse concerning the Holy Spirit,’ published the same year (fol.), his ‘Nature of Apostasie from the Profession of the Gospel, and the Punishment of Apostates declared’ (1676, 8vo), as also in his ‘Reason of Faith’ (1677, 8vo), and ‘Doctrine of Justification by Faith through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ’ (1677, 4to), his ‘Χριστολογία; or a Declaration of the Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ, God and Man,’ &c. (1679, 4to), his ‘Church of Rome no Safe Guide’ (1679, 4to), and his ‘Union among Protestants’ (1680, 4to), he bent his whole strength to the task of arresting the movements towards Rome on the one hand, and rationalism on the other.
In 1680 an attack on dissenters by Stillingfleet, in one of his sermons, drew from Owen an anonymous ‘Brief Vindication of the Nonconformists from the Charge of Schisme’ (4to), to which Stillingfleet replied by a ‘Discourse of the Unreasonableness of Separation.’ Owen rejoined with ‘An Enquiry into the Original Nature, Institution, Power, Order, and Communion of Evangelical Churches’ (1681, 4to), wherein he endeavoured to prove that the ecclesiastical polity of the first two centuries was congregational. This proved to be Owen's last controversy. In 1681 he published at London ‘Φρονήμα τοῦ Πνεύματος; or the Grace and Duty of being Spiritually-Minded’ (4to); and anonymously in the following year ‘A Brief and Impartial Account of the Nature of the Protestant Religion’ (4to, reprinted in 1690); and a tract ‘Of the Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer’ (8vo). He was engaged in passing through the press his ‘Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,’ when a protracted and painful illness—he suffered from both stone and asthma—terminated his life on St. Bartholomew's Day, 24 Aug. 1683. His remains were interred on 4 Sept., with many tokens of public respect, in Bunhill Fields, his funeral sermon being preached by David Clarkson [q. v.] His library was sold by auction on 6 May 1684.
Owen married twice. By his first wife (married at Fordham, died 1676) he had eleven children, all of whom died in his lifetime. By his second wife (who survived him), Dorothy, widow of Thomas D'Oyley of Chiselhampton, near Stadhampton, married at London, by license, dated 21 June 1677, he had no children. She brought him a considerable fortune, which enabled him to keep his carriage and a villa, first at Kensington, and afterwards at Ealing.
Owen was a tall and strong man, the dignity of whose appearance was not diminished by a slight scholar's stoop. His somewhat irregular features were animated by a smile of extreme sweetness. Portraits of him, by Ryley, are in the Baptist College, Bristol, and the Lancashire Independent College; another, by an unknown painter, is in the National Portrait Gallery, London: this has been engraved in line for Thane's series of historical portraits. For other engravings see his ‘Sermons,’ ed. 1721, fol., and the collective editions of his works, Palmer's ‘Nonconformists' Memorial,’ and Middleton's ‘Biographia Evangelica’ (cf. Bromley, Cat. of Portraits, p. 137).
Owen ranks with Baxter and Howe among the most eminent of puritan divines. A trenchant controversialist, he distinguished himself no less by temperateness of tone than by vigour of polemic. His learning was vast, various, and profound, and his mastery of calvinistic theology complete. On the other hand, his style is somewhat tortuous and his method unduly discursive, so that his works are often tedious reading. His only essay in elegant scholarship consists of some poor elegiacs in Cromwell's honour, published in the ‘Musarum Oxoniensium Ἐλαιοφόρια’ in 1654.
The ‘Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ,’ which he was revising at the time of his death, appeared at London in two parts; pt. i. in 1684 (fol.), and pt. ii. in 1691 (fol.). Both parts were reprinted in one volume in 1696, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1717, 12mo; later reprints Glasgow, 1790; Sheffield, 1792, 8vo; London, 1830? and 1856? 8vo. A manuscript, ‘Answer unto Two Questions; with Twelve Arguments against any Conformity to Worship not of Divine Institution,’ found among his papers upon his death, fell into Baxter's hands, and occasioned his ‘Catholick Communion defended,’ 1684. The tract thus answered before it was printed was first published in 1720 (London, 8vo). Other posthumous works appeared at London as follows: ‘The Principles of the Doctrine of Christ unfolded in two short Catechismes,’ 1684, 12mo; ‘A Treatise on the Dominion of Sin and Grace,’ 1688 (Edinburgh, 1739, 12mo); ‘The True Nature of a Gospel Church and its Government,’ 1689, 4to; ‘A Guide to Church Fellowship and Order according to the Gospel-Institute,’ 1692, 12mo; ‘Two Discourses concerning the Holy Spirit and His Work—the one of the Spirit as a Comforter, the other as He is the Author of Spiritual Gifts,’ 1693 (Glasgow, 1792), 8vo [see Clagett, William]; ‘The Gospel Grounds and Evidences of the Faith of God's Elect,’ 1709, 8vo; Twenty-five Discourses suitable to the Lord's Supper,’ ed. R. Winter, 1760 (Leeds, 1806), 12mo.
Owen's ‘Works’ (including, however, only the Χριστολογία, the treatises on communion with God, sin, temptation, the death of Christ, and the ‘Display of Arminianism’) and sermons (including tracts, Latin orations during his vice-chancellorship, with his ‘Life’ by Asty) were published at London in 1721, 2 vols. fol. Two collective editions, including sermons, appeared during the nineteenth century: (1) by T. Russell, with ‘Life’ by W. Orme, London, 1826, 28 vols. 8vo (the last seven volumes being the ‘Exercitations on the Epistle to the Hebrews,’ ed. Orme); (2) by W. H. Goold, with ‘Life’ by A. Thomson, London, 1850–5, 24 vols. 8vo.
Particular treatises have appeared, where not otherwise specified, at London, as follows:
- ‘Eshcol,’ 1655? 1700, 1764, 12mo.
- ‘Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers,’ 1668, 1783, 12mo; and in John Wesley's ‘Christian Library,’ vol. x. 1820, 8vo.
- ‘The Nature, &c., of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers,’ 1675, 1792, 1805, 1826, 12mo; Paisley, 1772, 12mo; Glasgow, 1825, 12mo.
- ‘A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity,’ 1676, 1719, 8vo.
- Θεολογούμενα Παντοδαπά, Bremen, 1684, 4to.
- ‘A Brief Instruction in the Worship of God and Discipline of the Churches of the New Testament,’ 1688, 8vo.
- ‘Meditations and Discourses of the Glory of Christ,’ 1717, 1830? 12mo; Glasgow, 1790, 8vo; Sheffield, 1792, 8vo; Edinburgh, 1856? 8vo.
- ‘Salus Electorum Sanguis Jesu,’ Edinburgh, 1755, 1845, 8vo.
- ‘A Dissertation on Divine Justice’ (translation of the ‘Diatriba de Divina Justitia’ by J. Stafford), 1770, 12mo.
- ‘Of Temptation,’ Paisley, 1772, 12mo; London, 1805, 1831, 12mo.
- Πνευματολογία, Glasgow, 1791, 2 vols. 8vo.
- ‘Two Discourses concerning the Holy Spirit and His Work,’ Glasgow, 1792, 8vo.
- ‘Two Treatises: (i.) “The Mortification of Sin in Believers;” (ii.) “Of Temptation,”’ 1809, 8vo.
- ‘A Treatise on the Nature and Beauty of Gospel Worship,’ 1812, 8vo.
- ‘A brief and impartial Account of the Protestant Religion,’ 1822.
- ‘The Grace and Duty of being Spiritually-Minded,’ ed. T. Chalmers, Glasgow, 1826; London, 1834, 12mo.
- ‘A Treatise on the Sabbath’ (being the ‘Exercitations concerning the Day of Sacred Rest’), ed. J. W. Brooks, 1829, 1831, 12mo.
- ‘Of Communion with God,’ Edinburgh, 1849, 32mo; and London, 1859, 12mo.
Several volumes of selections from his more popular works have also appeared, viz.: ‘Oweniana,’ ed. Arthur Young, London, 1817, 8vo; ‘Selections from the Works of John Owen,’ ed. W. Wilson, London, 1826, 12mo; ‘Select British Divines,’ ed. Bradley, London, 1824–27, vols. xiii–xxv.; ‘Christian Library,’ ed. J. Wesley, vols. x. and xi.; a Dutch translation of the ‘Exercitations on the Epistle to the Hebrews,’ by Simon Commenicq, appeared at Amsterdam, 1733–40, 7 vols. 4to; an English abridgment of the original, entitled ‘Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews,’ with ‘Life’ of Owen by E. Williams, was published in London, 1790, 4 vols. 8vo; and a reprint of the entire work, with the treatise on the Sabbath, ed. Wright, Edinburgh, 1812–14, 7 vols. 8vo.
[The principal primary authorities are the lives in Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), Biographia Britannica, the collective edition of Owen's Sermons (1721). To these add Wood's Life and Times (Oxford Hist. Soc.), i. 148, 221, 307, Annals, ed. Gutch, vol. ii. pt. ii. pp. 644–51; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Reg. Univ. Oxford (Camden Soc.); Reliq. Baxter. ed. Sylvester (1696), i. 64, 107, 111, ii. 197, iii. 60, 95, 198, with Calamy's Continuation, ii. 917–22, and Account, pp. 53–4; Ludlow's Mem. ed. 1771, p. 272; Whitelocke's Mem.; Thurloe State Papers, iii. 281; Scobell's Acts, 1654, c. 60; Burton's Diary, ii. 55; Hist. MSS. Comm. 6th Rep. App. p. 469, 7th Rep. App. p. 364; Addit. MS. 15670, ff. 177, 182, 205; Peck's Desiderata Curiosa, ii. 501; Evelyn's Mem. ed. Bray, i. 290; Lysons's Environs of London (Middlesex), p. 229; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs; Morrice's Memoirs of Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery (1743), p. 101; Granger's Biogr. Hist. of Engl.; Life of Owen prefixed to his Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. Williams, 1790; Lives by William Orme (first published in 1820) and Andrew Thomson prefixed to the collective editions of Owen's Works by Russell (1826) and Goold (1850–5) respectively; and in Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial; Middleton's Biographia Evangelica; Bogue and Bennett's Hist. of Dissenters; Wilson's Hist. of Dissenting Churches; Christ. Biogr. (Religious Tract Soc.), 1835; Evang. Succession, 3rd ser. 1884; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. viii. 64; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans.]