Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Memoirs of John Owen Volume One Chapter One



Introduction — Family of Owen — State of the Puritans — Owen’s Education — State of Oxford — Owen’s religious Convictions — Leaves the University — Takes part with the Parliament — The Civil War — Owen’s Conversion — Publishes his Display — Progress of Armenianism — Presentation to the living of Forelham — Marries his first Wife.
THE seventeenth century was the age of illustrious events and illustrious men in Britain. The civil and religious commotions which took place during that eventful period, the causes in which they originated, and the effects with which they were followed, deserve the attention of every British Christian, and are powerfully calculated to excite his religious and patriotic feelings. While he will often have occasion to drop the tear of pity over his bleeding country, he will frequently be called to adore the wondrous operations of that glorious Being, ‘who rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm;’ who piloted the vessel which contained our religion and liberties through the tempest which then threatened its destruction, and finally secured its safety and repose.
In every rank and profession there were then many distinguished individuals, whose independence of mind in the cause of their country, whose laborious researches in various departments of literature, or whose important discoveries in science and philosophy, conferred honours on themselves and on the land of their birth, of which they can never be deprived. The names of Pym, Hampden, Sidney, and Russel, will live while the fabric of the British Constitution continues to be loved and respected; those of Locke and Boyle, of Wallis and Newton, can perish only with the records of science and time. A Churchman cannot think of Hooker, Taylor, Chillingworth, and Barrow, but with emotions of the profoundest delight and veneration: and, while the cause of Non-conformity continues to be dear to those whose ancestors defended and suffered for [[@Page:2]] it, the page which records the virtues of Baxter and Bates, Howe and Owen, will always secure attention and respect.
To Statesmen may be left the commemoration of those who then shone in the cabinet, or distinguished themselves in the field. To Churchmen properly belongs the task of recording the learning, piety, and sufferings of their brethren. On a Dissenter naturally devolves the task of preserving the memory of his forefathers. Should he be indifferent to their reputation and their wrongs, who can be expected to assert them? and if he be zealous in their cause, and anxious to vindicate their honour, the motive is creditable to his feelings, whatever be the degree of success which may attend his attempt.
It is rather surprising that, while the minutest researches have been made into the lives of many obscure individuals, no separate work should have been devoted to the life of John Owen. Mr. Clarkson, who preached his funeral sermon, observed, ‘that the account which is due to the world of this eminent man deserved a volume,’ which he hoped would soon make its appearance. Cotton Mather, in that singular work ‘Magnalia Americana Christi,’ published twenty years afterwards, declared, ‘that the church of God was wronged in that the life of the great John Owen was not written.’ About twenty years after that, appeared, prefixed to the folio edition of his Sermons and Tracts, ‘Memoirs of the Life of John Owen, D.D.’ but which, though they appear to have been drawn up by Mr. A sty, a respectable Independent Minister in London, with the assistance of Sir John Hartopp, who was many years a member of the church of which Owen was pastor, and his particular friend, are both inaccurate and imperfect, and do not contain so many pages as the Doctor had written books. With the exception of these, and the scanty notices of general biography, Owen is only known by means of his writings.
No necessity exists for stating the claims which John Owen has to a distinct account of his life. Every theological scholar, every lover of experimental piety, every reader of our civil and ecclesiastical history, has heard of the name, and known something of the character, of Owen: — a man, ‘admired when living, and adored when lost;’ [[@Page:3]] whose works yet praise him in the gates, and by which he will continue to instruct and comfort the church for ages to Come.
Those who believe that ‘God bath made of one blood all nations of men,’ will never be flattered by the pride of ancestry themselves, nor attach much importance to it in others. No harm, however, can arise from noticing, when it can be done with any degree of certainty, the particular line of the Adamic race to which a respected individual owes his birth. Regardless, therefore, of Bishop Watson’s remark, ‘that German and Welsh pedigrees are subjects of ridicule to most Englishmen,’ we shall proceed to give a short account of the family of Owen.
John Owen was paternally descended from Lhewylin, second son of Gwrgan ap Ithel, Lord or Prince of Glamorgan, a wise and pacific ruler, who died in the year 3 030; and Gwrgan ap Ithel, according to the Welsh genealogies, was descended in the thirty-first generation from the great Caractacus. Jestyn, eldest son of Gwrgan ap Ithel, progenitor of the last of the five royal tribes of Wales, was, in the year 1090, dispossessed of the castle of Cardiff by Sir Robert Fitz Hammon, a Norman adventurer, who,, with his followers, took possession of Jestyn’ dominions.
Humphrey Owen, grandfather of the subject of the history, married Susan, daughter of Griffith, a younger son of Lewis Owen, Esq., of Llwyn, near Dolgelly, a descendant of Ednowain ap Bradwin, Lord of Merioneth, and head of one of the fifteen tribes of North Wales, whose arms [1] Dr. Owen quartered with those of Gwrgan. [2] This Lewis Owen was Vice-Chamberlain of North Wales, and Baron of the Exchequer of North Wales; on his way to the Montgomeryshire assizes in 1555, he was attacked in the woods of Mowddy, at a place now called from the deed, Llidiait y Barwn, by a band of outlaws who had vowed to revenge on him the capture of fourscore of their companions; and being deserted by all his attendants, excepting his son-in-law John Liwyd, of Ceiswyn, he fell a sacrifice to their fury.
[[@Page:4]] Humphrey Owen had fifteen sons, the youngest of whom was Henry, the father of the subject of our history.
Henry Owen, the youngest son of this numerous family, was bred to the Church. After studying at Oxford, he taught a school for some time at Stokenchurch. [3] He was afterwards chosen minister of Stadham, in the county of Oxford, [4] where he remained many years. In the latter part of his life he became rector of Harpsden, in the same county, where he died, on the eighteenth of September, 1649, in the sixty-third year of his age, and was buried in the chancel of the church. [5] ‘My father,’ said his son, ‘was a Non-conformist all his days, and a painful labourer in the vineyard of the Lord?’ [6] He was reckoned a strict Puritan, for his more than ordinary zeal, in those early days of reformation. [7]
The situation of the Puritans had for many years been gradually becoming more unpleasant and intolerable. The haughty spirit of Elizabeth had made their yoke heavy, but the vanity and dogmatism of her successor rendered it almost insupportable. The great body of them had no difference with their opponents about the lawfulness of civil establishments of Christianity. They entertained no doubts as to the propriety of using the sword, under certain modifications, for the purpose of producing unity of sentiment, and uniformity of practice in religion. They objected not so much to the interference of the civil power in the affairs of the church, as to the mode and degree of that interference. ‘They were for one religion, one uniform mode of worship, one form of discipline for the whole nation, with which all must comply outwardly, whatever were their inward sentiments. [8] — The standard of uniformity, according to the Bishops, was the Queen’s authority and the laws of the land; according to the Puritans, the decrees of provincial and national synods allowed and enforced by the civil magistrate: but neither party were for admitting that liberty of conscience and freedom of profession, which is every man’s right as far as is consistent with the peace [[@Page:5]] of the civil government under which he lives. [9] Their objections to the Church of England respected chiefly the King’ supremacy, and the alleged unscripturalness ofsome of its offices, and parts of its liturgy. Had the Crown resigned its authority to church rulers; had the offices of Metropolitan, Archbishop, and some others been abrogated; had the liturgy been reformed, the sign of the cross in Baptism, kneeling at the Supper, and bowing at the name of Jesus been done away; had they been allowed to wear a round instead of a square cap, and a black gown in place of a white surplice, the great mass of the early Puritans and even of the later Non-conformists would have become the warmest friends of the Church. They were not so much Dissenters from its constitution, as Non-conformists to some of its requisitions.
These things are stated, not to insinuate that the points in dispute were of small importance, (nothing being unimportant Which is enforced on the conscience as part of religion,) but to shew what they really were, and to enable the reader to understand the nature and progress of those religious discussions, which for a long period occupied so large a portion of the public attention. It is not wonderful that the sentiments of the Puritans on many subjects were imperfect. It is rather surprising that they saw so much, and that they were able so boldly to contend for what they believed to be the cause of God. It can hardly be doubted that had their object been accomplished, the Church of England would have been much improved; and thus, so far as externals are concerned, it would have been brought nearer to the model of Scripture, and rendered more worthy of the designation which has often been applied to it, ‘The glory and bulwark of the Reformation.’
High expectations were formed by the Puritans from the accession of James I. to the throne of England. But alas! they were all most miserably disappointed. James had been educated a Presbyterian, was a professed Calvinist, and a sworn Covenanter; but after he obtained the British crown he became a high Episcopalian, a determined Arminian, and a secret friend to Popery. His bad principles, injudicious alliances, and arbitrary conduct, [[@Page:6]] laid the foundation of much future misery to his country; which burst like a torrent upon his successor, and finally swept his family from the throne. The Hampton Court conference, held in 1603, discovered the high ideas which be entertained of kingly prerogative, and how much he was disposed to domineer over the consciences of his subjects. ‘No Bishop, no King’ was his favourite maxim. ‘I will have one doctrine, one discipline, one religion in substance and in ceremony,’ said his Majesty, in the plenitude of his wisdom and authority; and concluded this mock discussion, in which the Puritans were browbeat and insulted, by avowing that he would make them conform, root them out of the land, or do worse.
For once, James was as good as his word, and every thing was done which was likely to render his conscientious subjects miserable, or drive them to extremities. The same measures were persevered in, and increased in severity, by the infatuated and unfortunate Charles. In consequence, many left the land of their fathers, and found a refuge or a grave in a distant wilderness; some wandered about in England, subject to many privations and hardships, doing good as they had opportunity; while others endeavoured to reconcile the rights of conscience with submission to the powers that were, and prayed and hoped for better days.
Of this last description was Henry Owen. A full account of his family is no longer to be obtained; it appears, however, that he had at least three sons and a daughter. His eldest son, William, was a clergyman; he is described in the records of the Herald’s College ‘Of Remnam, in the county of Berks, parson of Ewelme in the county of Oxford,’ where he died in 1660, in the forty-eighth year of his age. His third son, Henry, appears to have chosen a military profession. He went over to Ireland with Cromwell, as an ensign, and there seems to have acquired some landed property. He died before his brother, but his son succeeded to the Doctor’ estates in England. [10]
His daughter married Mr. John Hartelitfe, minister of Harding, in Oxfordshire, and afterwards of Windsor. Little is known of him; but his son made some figure. He was [[@Page:7]] educated for the Church, and in 1681 succeeded, after a keen contest, Mr. John Goad, as master of Merchant Tailor’ School. In the contest, he appears to have been assisted by his uncle, who exerted his influence among the London merchants, on behalf of his nephew. His predecessor Goad was ejected on account of his popish sentiments. Mr. Hartcliffe wrote several treatises, became D. D. in 1681, and died in 1702, Canon of Windsor. [11] It is said he once attempted to preach before Charles II. but not being able to utter one word of the sermon, he descended from the pulpit as great an orator as he went up, treating his Majesty with a silent meeting. [12]
John, the second son, was born at Stadham, in the year 1616; and after receiving, probably from his father, the first rudiments of education, was initiated into the principles of classical learning by Edward Sylvester, master of a private academy at Oxford. This respectable tutor, who not only taught Greek and Latin; but made or corrected Latin discourses, and Greek and Latin verses, for members of the University, who found it necessary to exhibit, what they were unable to produce, lived to see a number of his pupils make a distinguished figure in the world. Among these, besides Owen, were Dr. John Wilkins, celebrated for his. philosophical talents; Dr. Henry Wilkinson, Margaret Professor in the University during the Commonwealth, and afterwards a celebrated Non-conformist; and a man better known than either of the preceding, William Chillingworth, the author of ‘The Religion of Protestants,’ a work which confers honour on the age and country that produced it. [13]
At school, Owen appears to have made rapid progress, for by the time he was only twelve years of age, he was fit for the University, and actually admitted a student of Queen’s College, Oxford. We cannot doubt, that his father afforded him all the assistance in his power in the acquisition of learning, as he knew that he had no property to give him, and that his son would have to make his way through the world, by his own exertions. Nothing perhaps is more [[@Page:8]] unfavourable to genius and industry, than being born to a fortune already provided. It frequently destroys that excitement, which is absolutely necessary to counteract natural indolence; while it encourages those feelings of pride and self-importance, which are destructive of application and success. Hence, while the heir to titles and wealth has passed through the world in inglorious obscurity, the younger son has frequently supported and increased the honours of his family.
When Owen joined the University, and while he continued at it, few of its leading members were distinguished either for their learning or their talents. The Provost of his College was Dr. Christopher Potter, originally a Puritan, but after Laud’ influence at Court prevailed, he became one of the creatures of that ambitious Prelate, and a supporter of his Arminian sentiments. Wood says he was learned and religious; but he produced nothing which discovers much of either; except a translation from the Italian of Father Paul’ history of the Quarrels of Pope Paul V. with the State of Venice.’ [14] The Vice-Chancellors of the University, during Owen’s residence, were Accepted Frewen, afterwards Archbishop of York; William Smith, Warden of Wadham College; Brian Duppa, Bishop of Winchester, of whose qualifications Wood gives rather a curious account: — ‘He was a man of excellent parts, and every way qualified for his function, especially as to the comeliness of his person, and gracefulness of his deportment, which rendered him worthy of the service of a court, and every way fit to stand before Princes;’ [15] Robert Pink, Warden of New College, a zealous defender of the rights of the University, and who was much esteemed by James I. for his dexterity in disputing, as he was also by Charles I. for his eminent loyalty; [16] and Dr. Richard Baylie, President of St. John’s College, and Dean of Salisbury. The Margaret Professor of Divinity, was Dr. Samuel Fell, who was advanced by Laud to the Deanery of Lichfield. He was ejected from all his preferments by the Parliamentary visitors in 1647. [17] The, Hebrew Professor was John Morris, of whom we know nothing as an oriental scholar; and Henry Stringer was Professor of Greek, of [[@Page:9]] whose classical attainments we know as little. Barlow is almost the only name we are now disposed to associate with learning: all the others. are either forgotten or unknown. How different the state of the University became, in regard to men of eminence and learning, when Owen filled its highest offices, will afterwards appear.
In Queen’s College, Owen studied mathematics and philosophy under Thomas Barlow, then fellow of the College, of which he was afterwards chosen Provost, when Owen was Vice-chancellor. He was made a bishop in 1676, and lived till after the revolution. Barlow was a Calvinist in theology, an Aristotelian in philosophy, and an Episcopalian in church government. He was a man of eminent talents, and as great a master of the learned languages, and of the works of the celebrated authors who have written in them, as any man of his age.
In Owen studied music, for recreation, under Dr. Thomas Wilson, a celebrated performer on the flute, who was in constant attendance for some years on Charles I. who used to Lean on his shoulder during the time he played. He was made Professor of Music in Oxford by Owen, when he was Vice-chancellor of the University. This shews that the men of that period were neither so destitute of taste, nor so morose and unsocial as they have been often represented. [18]
Moderate talents, assisted by diligent application, will frequently do more than genius of a much higher order, whose efforts are irregular and desultory. But when talents and laborious exertion are combined with the fervour of youth and the aids of learning, much may be expected as the result. Our young student pursued the various branches of education with incredible diligence; allowing himself, for several years, not more than four hours sleep in a night. It is impossible not to applaud the ardour which this application discovers. The more time a student can redeem from sleep, and other indulgences, the better. But it is not every constitution that is capable of such an expenditure; and many an individual, in struggling beyond his strength for the prize of literary renown, has succeeded at the expense of his life, or of the [[@Page:10]] irreparable injury of his future comfort. Owen himself declared afterwards, that he would gladly part with all the learning he had acquired in younger life, by sitting up late at study, if he could but recover the health he had lost by it. [19] He who prefers mercy to sacrifice, requires nothing in ordinary circumstances beyond what the human system is fairly capable of bearing.
Owen appears to have been blessed with a sound and vigorous constitution. This, no doubt, enabled him to use greater freedoms than he durst otherwise have done; while to brace and strengthen it, he was not inattentive to those recreations which tend to counteract the pernicious effects of sedentary occupation. He was fond of violent and robust exertion, — such as leaping, throwing the bar, ringing, bells, &c. Such diversions may appear to some ridiculous, and unbecoming; but this arises from inconsideration. That kind and degree of exercise which are necessary for preserving the proper temperament of the human system, are not only lawful, but a part of the duty which we owe to ourselves. Such recreations are not to be compared with those fashionable levities, and amusements, which only tend to vitiate the moral and intellectual powers, and to enervate rather than strengthen, the constitution. It is much more gratifying to see the academic robes waving in the wind, than shining at the midnight dance, or adorning the front ranks of a theatre.
On the 11th of June, 1632, Owen was admitted to the degree of B. A. and on the 27th of April, 1635, at the age of nineteen, be commenced Master of Arts, [20] a designation which, we cannot doubt, his learning and attainments entitled him to enjoy. When literary degrees are spurs to application, and the rewards of merit, they answer a useful purpose. But when they come to be indiscriminately bestowed, they lose their value, are despised by the genuine scholar, and are sought after only by those on whom they can confer no honour or distinction.
During this period of his life, his mind seems to have been scarcely, if at all, influenced by religious principle. His whole ambition was to raise himself to some eminent [[@Page:11]] station in church or state, to either of which he was then indifferent. He used afterwards to acknowledge, that, being naturally of an aspiring mind, and very desirous of honour and preferment, he applied very closely to his studies, in the hope of accomplishing these ends; and that then the honour of God, and the good of his country were objects subservient to the advancement of his own glory or interest. Had he continued in this state of mind, he would probably have succeeded; but it would have been in another cause than that to which he was finally devoted, Instead of a Puritan, he might have been found among their persecutors; and his name have descended to posterity in the roll of state oppressors, or secular churchmen. Many young persons have been devoted by their parents to the ministry, and have cultivated their talents in the hope of rising in it, who would have conferred a blessing on themselves, as well as on the church and the world, had they found another path to earthly glory. Some radical mistake must exist when the church of Christ becomes the theatre of worldly ambition. The merchandise of the ‘souls of men,’ is the most infamous traffic in which man can engage, and constitutes one of the chief of the delinquencies charged on the mystical Babylon.
Owen, however, was unconsciously to himself, preparing for another career. He was now under a higher, though unperceived influence, acquiring the capacity for using those weapons which he was destined to wield with mighty effect against all the adversaries of the gospel. ‘Many purposes are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord that shall stand.’ He probably often exulted in the prospect of wealth and honour, while God was preparing him to suffer many things for his name’ sake, and for important usefulness in his cause.
The limited resources of his father prevented his allowing him any liberal support at the university; but this deficiency was amply made up by an uncle, the proprietor of a considerable estate in Wales; who, having no children of his own, intended to make him his heir. Although this intention was not carried into effect, his nephew must have felt grateful on account of the assistance afforded during his early years.
[[@Page:12]] Previously to leaving the university, which took place in his twenty-first year, he appears to have become the subject of religious convictions. By what means these were produced, it is now impossible to ascertain. He had received a religious education in his father’ house, and early impressions then made, may have been revived and deepened by circumstances which afterwards occurred. The impressions were very powerful, and appear to have deeply affected his mind, and even his health. The course of spiritual conflict through which he passed, undoubtedly fitted him for his work at a future period; and probably communicated that tone of spiritual feeling to his soul which runs through all his writings. The words of the apostle are no less applicable to mental than to bodily sufferings; ‘who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them who are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.’ If the spiritual physician knows nothing, from experience, of the malady of his patient, he is but imperfectly qualified to administer relief.
It was while under these religious convictions that Owen left the university; and as they chiefly led to this event, it is necessary to notice the circumstances which occasioned his secession. For several years a grand crisis between the court and the country had been approaching. The aggressions of the former on the civil and religious liberties of the latter, had become so numerous and so flagrant, as to occasion a very general spirit of discontent. In an evil day, Charles had advanced to the primacy of England, William Laud, a man of undoubted talents and learning; but of high monarchical principles; fond of pomp and ceremony; and, though no friend to the Pope at Rome, having little objection to be Pope in England. His arbitrary conduct in the star-chamber, his passion for ceremony in the church, and his love of Arminianism in the pulpit, hastened his own fate, and paved the way for that of his master. The best of the clergy were either silenced, or obliged to leave the country. High churchmen engrossed almost every civil as well as ecclesiastical office, to the disappointment of many, and to the vexation of all.
The same year, 1637, that produced Hampden’s [[@Page:13]] resistance of illegal taxation, drove Owen from Oxford, in consequence of the ecclesiastical tyranny of Laud. Among the other situations, which that ambitious churchman had monopolized, was that of chancellor of Oxford. In virtue of his office, he caused a new body of statutes to be drawn up for the university; in the preface to which he distinctly intimated that he considered the days of Mary better than those of Edward; and enjoined obedience to certain superstitious rites on the members of the university, on pain of being expelled. Though the mind of Owen was not fully enlightened by the gospel, his conscience was brought so far under its authority, that he could not submit to these human exactions. On the one side, lay all his worldly prospects, on the other, the approbation of Heaven. He had the faith and. courage to embrace the choice of Moses; and relinquished the pleasures of the world, rather than sacrifice the honour of his God.
This change of feeling and sentiment was soon discovered by his former friends; who, as usually happens in such cases, forsook the man whom neither the king nor the primate would delight to honour. The result of refusing to submit, and of the opposition of Laud’ party, was his leaving the university, never to return, until he who disposes equally the lot of nations and of individuals, placed him at the head of that celebrated body.
During this struggle, the mind of Owen appears to have been in great spiritual perplexity; which, combined with his external circumstances, and the discouraging prospects then presented, threw him into a state of profound melancholy. For a quarter of a year he avoided almost all intercourse with men; could scarcely be induced to speak; and when he did say any thing, it was in so disordered a manner as rendered him a wonder to many. Only those who have experienced the bitterness of a wounded spirit can form an idea of the distress he must have suffered. Compared with this anguish of soul, all the afflictions which befal a sinner are but trifles. One drop of that wrath which shall finally fill the cup of the ungodly, poured into the mind, is enough to poison all the comforts of life, and to spread mourning, lamentation, and woe over the countenance. It is not in the least wonderful that cases of [[@Page:14]] this kind sometimes occur; but, considering the character of man, rather surprising that they are not more frequent. Were men disposed to reflect seriously on their present condition, and to contemplate their future prospects; nothing but the gospel could preserve them from the deepest despair. To this severe distress, he perhaps alludes, among other things, when he says, ‘The variety of outward providences and dispensations wherewith I have myself been exercised, together with the inward trials with which they have been attended, have left such a constant sense and impression on my spirit, that I cannot but own a serous call to men to beware.’ [21] Such a conflict of feeling, and of so long continuance, it would have been strange had he ever forgotten; and, ‘knowing the terrors of the Lord,’ stranger still, had he ceased to beseech men to avoid them.
It is the opprobrium of Oxford that Locke was expelled from its bowers; it is little less to its disgrace that such a man as Owen was compelled to withdraw from them. The treatment which both these learned men experienced in this celebrated seat of loyalty and learning, probably contributed, in no small degree, to produce that deep-rooted dislike to civil and ecclesiastical domination, which appears so conspicuously in their writings. That which men intended for evil, however, God overruled for good. The influence of Owen’s early secession from that body which holds the right of the church, or rather of the king, to decree ‘rites and ceremonies,’ was felt by him during the whole course of his future life. There is a comfort connected with following the dictates of conscience in obeying the word of the Lord, which imparts a vigour and independence to the human character, that can never be felt by the time-serving votaries of church or state; and which is infinitely more valuable than all the honours of the one, or the emoluments of the other. It is common to treat the conduct of such persons as Owen, who left the church for refusing to submit to the interference of human authority, as unnecessarily punctilious, and as resulting from a narrow conformation of mind. But let it be remembered, that it was not a particular rite or ceremony to which they refused submission, so much as to the principle which they [[@Page:15]] were required to recognize. The greatness of their minds appeared in their accurate investigations of religious truth, and in their willingly exposing themselves to severe suffering for its sake. The strong view which Owen took of the matter, is well expressed in the following passage: —
‘I shall take leave to say what is upon my heart, and what, the Lord assisting, I shall willingly endeavour to make good against all the world, that that principle, that the church bath power to institute any thing or ceremony belonging to the worship of God, either as to matter or manner, beyond the orderly observance of such circumstances as necessarily attend such ordinances as Christ himself bath instituted, lies at the bottom of all the horrible superstition and idolatry, of all the confusion, blood, persecution, and wars, that have for so long a season spread themselves over the face of the Christian world; and that it is the design of a great part of Revelation to discover this truth. And I doubt not but that the great controversy which God hath had with this nation, for so many years, was upon this account, that, contrary to that glorious light of the gospel which shone among us, the wills and fancies of men, under the name of order, decency, and the authority of the church (a chimera that none knew what it was, nor wherein the power of it did consist, nor in whom it resided), were imposed on men in the worship of God. Hence was the Spirit of God in prayer derided, hence was the powerful preaching of the gospel despised, hence was the sabbath decried, hence was holiness stigmatized and persecuted. And for what? That Jesus Christ might be deposed from the sole privilege and power of making laws in his church, that the true husband might be thrust aside, and adulterers of his spouse embraced ! that task-masters might be appointed over his house which “he never gave to his church,” Eph. iv. 12. That a ceremonious, pompous worship, drawn from Pagan, Jewish, and Antichristian observances, might be introduced; of all which there is not one word or iota in the whole book of God. This then, they who hold communion with Christ are careful of; they will admit nothing, practise nothing, in the worship of God, private or public, but what they have his warrant for. [[@Page:16]] Unless it comes in his name, with Thus saith the Lord Jesus, they will not hear an angel from heaven.’ [22]
The circumstance of Owen’s leaving Oxford, affords Anthony Wood, who rejoices to slander Puritans and Round-Heads, an opportunity of accusing him of perjury. [23] When Owen joined the university, he very probably took the oaths, and made the usual subscription. When he saw them to be unlawful, or felt that they involved consequences of which he had not been aware, he renounced them. If this be perjury, it remains to be considered, whether the guilt lies with those who impose oaths and subscriptions on boys, which they cannot understand, and which, when they come to be men, they repent they ever should have taken; or with those who are thus innocently insnared. Before such conduct can be charged with perjury, the lawfulness of the oath must be shewn; as unlawful vows require repentance, and not fulfilment. All such subscriptions are the result of unrighteous impositions, impede the progress of truth, insnare the minds of the subscribers, and operate as a bounty on hypocrisy. They secure a monopoly of privileges to the chartered corporation; and exclude from the enjoyment of advantages that ought to be common, a large portion of the principle and talent of the country.
Before he left college, he received orders from Bishop John Bancroft, nephew to the celebrated Archbishop of the same name, who occupied the diocese of Oxford from 1632 to 1640. After leaving it, he lived for some time as chaplain to Sir Robert Dormer, of Ascot in Oxfordshire, and as tutor to his eldest son. When he left him, he became chaplain to Lord Lovelace, of Hurly in Berkshire. [24] In this situation he continued till the civil war broke out, when, Lord Lovelace espousing the cause of the king, and Owen that of the parliament, a separation naturally took place. This step was attended with very important consequences to Owen. His uncle, being a determined Royalist, was so enraged at his nephew for attaching himself to the parliament, that he turned him at once out of favour, settled his estate on another, and died without leaving him [[@Page:17]] any thing. A step, which was attended with such consequences was not likely to be rashly taken. They shew that he must have been influenced by some very powerful considerations, and that, having taken his ground, he was not to be driven from it, by regard to the favour of friends, or the sordid interests of this world. [25]
The civil war has been often rashly and unjustly charged upon the Puritans or Non-conformists; and, notwithstanding the force of evidence with which the accusation has been repelled, the charge still continues to be repeated. The enemies, and even the mistaken friends of religion, endeavour to fix the crime of rebellion on men, who deserve to be held in everlasting remembrance, instead of being execrated, for what they did. Religious dissatisfaction was only one of the many causes of that tremendous convulsion, and religious persons composed but one of the classes which produced it. The continual breaches made on the constitution by Charles I. from the period of his accession to the throne, till he was forced to leave it; — his arbitrary treatment of his parliaments; his persevering attempts to render himself independent of their authority; his illegal modes of raising money; the oppression and cruelty with which those who asserted their civil or religious rights were treated, were the real causes of the war. And that these measures were prompted chiefly by a high church and ultra monarchical party, which had the management of the king, and which goaded him onto the last, is evident to all who have paid the least attention to the history of the period.
So far from the Non-conformists being the authors of the rebellion, as it is called, Clarendon himself acknowledges that ‘the major part of the long parliament consisted of men who had no mind to break the peace of the kingdom, or to make any considerable alteration in the government of church or state.’ [26] As an evidence of their attachment to the church, seventeen days after their first meeting, they made an order that none should sit in the house, but such as would receive the communion according to the church of England. [27] The Earl of Essex, the Parliamentary General, was an Episcopalian; the Admiral [[@Page:18]] who seized the king’ ships, and employed them against him, was the same; Sir John Hotham, who shut the gates of Hull against him, was a churchman; the same may be affirmed of Sir Henry Vane, Sen.; of Lenthal, the speaker; of the celebrated Pym, and of most of the other leading persons in parliament, and in the army: so that it is clear as noon day, that whatever fault attaches to the civil war must be imputed not to the Non-conformists exclusively, but to the church of England, whose members were first and deepest in the quarrel. [28]
The object, for a considerable time, of that momentous contest on the part of the community, was a change of men and measures, and not a subversion of the constitution of either church or state. Had Charles driven off his popish and unconstitutional counsellors; consented to govern by regular parliaments; been sincere in fulfilling his promises; granted even a limited toleration to his persecuted subjects, and changed some of his most unadvised and unpopular measures: he might have retrieved his affairs, established his throne, saved the lives of many thousands of his subjects, and of more than fifty millions of money to his country, — besides preventing that dreadful catastrophe which men of all parties must deplore.
The war increased the number of Presbyterians, and augmented their influence by the calling in of the Scots; it afforded opportunity to the Independents to propagate their sentiments, and to multiply their disciples; it occasioned also the increase of the Baptists, and of some smaller sects: but that any, or all of these religious parties, were the causes of the war, the chief instruments in carrying it on, or justly chargeable with the excesses which took place, is unsupported by evidence, and contrary to clearly established facts.
The situation of religious people during this trying period, must have been very perplexing. Neutrality was scarcely possible, especially on the part of such as held rank or office in the country. Those who joined the king were counted enemies to the liberties of England; those who joined the parliament were reckoned enemies to legitimate authority. Politics, however unfriendly to the [[@Page:19]] growth of religion, required to be studied, that the subject might know his duty. All the Non-conformists naturally took part with the house of commons, as they saw clearly that nothing short of their ruin was determined by the king. Most of those who wished well to true religion, though attached to the church, acted in the same manner; as it was evident, that religion was more at heart with the parliamentary party than with the king’s. The friends of liberty, of every description, of course supported the popular side of the constitution against the encroachments of prerogative. It is exceedingly unfair to charge those who acted in this manner with rebellion. The house of commons forms an essential part of the British Constitution, as well as the monarch. At this lamentable period, the constitution was divided against itself. War was openly maintained between the king and the parliament. Liberty and redress were the professed objects of the one party, power that of the other. If you took part with the king, you were liable to be punished by the parliament; and, if you supported the parliament, you were in danger from the wrath of the king. So long as the constitution was thus divided, no man could be justly chargeable with crime, in following either the one party or the other, as his judgment dictated.
As Owen had no other connexion with party politics, than what arose from necessity, a view of the progress of civil discord, or a defence of the measures pursued by the parliament, cannot be expected here. No doubt can be entertained of his sincerity, and as conscience evidently directed the part which he took, had the cause been even more doubtful than it appears to me to have been, he ought to have the full benefit of this plea. ‘Many, no doubt,’ says the late Rev. Thomas Scott, a respectable minister of the Church of England, who obtained an undue ascendancy among the Puritans, in the turbulent days of Charles the ‘First, and even before that time, were factions, ambitious hypocrites; hut I must think, that the tree of liberty, sober and legitimate liberty, civil and religious, under the shadow of which, we, in the establishment as well as others, repose in peace, and the fruit of which we gather, was planted by the Puritans, and watered, if not by [[@Page:20]] their blood, at least by their tears and sorrows. Yet, it is the modern fashion to feed delightfully on the fruit, and then revile, if not curse, those who planted and watered it.’ [29] Owen’s patron having joined the king’ army, he went up to London, where he was an entire stranger, and took lodgings in Charter House yard. Though the violence of his convictions had subsided after the first severe conflict, they still continued to disturb his peace, and nearly five years elapsed from their commencement till he obtained solid comfort. This was a long time to be harassed with fears and despondency; and may probably have been occasioned by his inquiries taking a direction which increased the evil they were intended to remove. The dawn of light, however, was now at hand. The glory of the gospel speedily dispersed his darkness, and produced feelings of joy, corresponding with his former depression, and of which he never seems to have been altogether again deprived.
During his residence in the Charter House, he accompanied his cousin Mr. Owen, a respectable brewer in the city, to Aldermanbury church to hear Mr. Edmund Calamy, a man of great note for his eloquence as a preacher, and for his boldness as a leader of the Presbyterian party. By some circumstance, unexplained, Mr. Calamy was prevented from preaching that day. In consequence of which, and of not knowing who was to preach, many left the church. Owen’s friend urged him to go and hear Mr. Jackson, the minister of ‘St. Michael’, Wood-street, a man of prodigious application as a scholar, and of considerable celebrity as a preacher. Being seated, however, and unwilling to walk further, he refused to leave the church till he should see who was to preach. At last a country minister, unknown to the congregation, stepped into the pulpit, and after praying very fervently, took for his text, Matt. viii. 26. Why are ye fearful? O ye of little faith The very reading of the text appears to have impressed him, and led him to pray most earnestly that the Lord would bless the discourse to his soul. The prayer was heard; for in that sermon, the minister was directed to answer the very objections, which [[@Page:21]] he had commonly brought against himself; and though the same answers had often occurred to him, they had not before afforded him any relief. But now, Jehovah’ time of mercy had arrived, and the truth was received, not as the word of man, but as the word of the living and true God. The sermon was a very plain one, the preacher was never known; but the effect was mighty through the blessing of God.
All instruments are efficient in the hand of the Great Spirit. It is not by might or by power, that the Lord frequently effects the greatest works; but by means apparently feeble, and even contemptible. Calamy was a more eloquent and polished preacher than this country stranger, and yet Owen had, perhaps, heard him often in vain. Had he left the church, as was proposed, he might have been disappointed elsewhere; but he remained, and enjoyed the blessing. The facts now recorded may afford encouragement and reproof, both to ministers and hearers. It may not always be practicable to hear whom we admire; but if he be a man of God, an eminent blessing may accompany his labours. The country minister may never have known, till he arrived in another world, that he had been instrumental in relieving the mind of John Owen. Many similar occurrences are never known here. How encouraging is this to the faithful labourer! It may appear strange to some, that the same truths should be productive of effect at one time, and not at another. But those who
are at all acquainted with the progress of the gospel among men will not be surprised. The success of Christianity, in every instance, is the effect of Divine, sovereign influence; and that is exerted in a manner exceedingly mysterious to us. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is ‘born of the Spirit.’ The darkness of Owen’s mind was now happily removed; his health, which had been impaired by depression of spirits, was restored, and he was filled with joy and peace in believing.
The long and heavy depression which Owen had laboured under, by his own account, had greatly subdued his natural vanity and ambition. The circumstances of [[@Page:22]] his conversion convinced him of the utter insufficiency of mere learning to accomplish the salvation of men. His own experience must have simplified his views of the gospel, and of the mode of stating it to others; and contributed to impart that spiritual unction to his preaching and writing, by which they are eminently distinguished. When, or where, he began his labours in the ministry, we cannot discover. It is very probable that he commenced in London, and about the period of this remarkable change; not long, perhaps, before his appearance as an author, in which capacity we shall now proceed to view him.
While living in Charter House yard, he published his ‘Display of Arminianism, &c.’ 4to. [30] A work which deserves attention on its own account, from its being the first performance of our Author, and from having contributed to lay the foundation of his future reputation. The imprimatur is dated March 2d, 1642. It is highly probable, that the unhappy state of his own mind, was occasioned by some misunderstanding of the subjects which the Arminian controversy embraces; and that this led him so fully to investigate them, as this tract discovers he had done. As it appeared soon after he had obtained comfort, a great part of it must have been written before, or at least, so fully digested in his mind, that he could soon put it together after he got possession of the key which unlocks most of the difficulties.
The Arminian discussion involves a variety of important points, some of which are not peculiar to Christianity; and which have been the fruitful sources of fierce contention. Milton represents the fallen angels themselves, as disputing on some of them, and with no better success than men.
‘Others apart sat on a kill retir’d
In thought more elevate; and reason’d high
Of Providence, foreknowledge, will and fate,
Fix’d fate, freewill, foreknowledge absolute;
And found no end in wand’ring mazes lost.’
The discussions of the ancient philosophers about the Origo Mali; the disputes of the Fathers and Schoolmen, and of the Jesuits and Janscnists, about grace and predestination; and the altercations of modern philosophers, [[@Page:23]] respecting liberty and necessity, are all related to the Arminian controversy, and may all be traced to a common cause, — the desire to know what God has not revealed, and to reconcile apparent difficulties in the government of heaven, with the constitution of man. What the dark ages could not conceal, or popery itself subdue, the Reformation was more likely to revive than to extinguish. Accordingly, the work of Erasmus, De Libero Arbitrio,’ and the reply of Luther, De Servo Arbitrio,’ shew how early these subjects occupied the attention of the Reformers, and with what keenness they engaged in their discussion. Calvin took high ground in this controversy; and, both by his talents and learning, was peculiarly fitted to explore the niceties of theological and metaphysical debate. His leading views, which he stated with great perspicuity, and defended with uncommon ability, were both more scriptural, and more philosophical, than those to which they were opposed; but in his minor details and illustrations, he has sometimes expressed himself incautiously, and has afforded too much room for Arminians to dispute, and for Antinomians to abuse his doctrines.
Long before the time of Atminius, some of the principles which he brought forward, had been introduced into the Low Countries; but were prevented from making much progress, by the vigilance of the clergy, and the opposition of the magistrates. When published by him, they experienced both support and opposition. He died after the controversy had raged with considerable fierceness, but before it assumed that formidable aspect which finally involved the States in the most violent civil commotions. After his death the debates continued to spread over Holland. The side of the Arminians was taken by Episcopins, who became their leader, by Grotius and Hoogerbeets. It was opposed by Gomarus for religious, and by Maurice, Prince of Orange, for political, reasons. The far-famed Synod of Dort was called to heal the divisions, and to ‘reconcile the contending parties of the church. As might have been expected, this measure completely failed, though it cost the States ten tons of gold. The Arminians complained that they were brow-beaten, and condemned instead [[@Page:24]] of being heard; and for refusing to submit, were imprisoned and banished. [31]
From Holland, the dispute was imported into Britain. Previous to the Synod of Dort, though individuals might have believed and taught differently, Calvinism was the prevailing theological system of this country. The complexion of the Thirty-nine Articles is evidently Calvinistic. In this sense they were understood by their framers, as the British, as well as the Continental, Reformers, were almost all Predestinarians. This sense was affixed to them by the succeeding Fathers of the English Church, and by the body of the Puritans. It was among the ridiculous inconsistencies of James I. to oppose the Arminians abroad, and to support them at home. He wrote against Arminius; protested against the appointment of Vorstius to succeed him in the divinity chair of Leyden; sent deputies to the Synod of Dort to get the party condemned; and, about the same time, used means for its advancement in England. In 1616, he sent directions to the university of Oxford, respecting the disputed points. In 1622, orders were issued that none under the degree of bishop, or dean, should preach on any of these topics. The Arminian clergy were promoted in the church, and their writings protected. The reasons of this inconsistency in James’ conduct, are to be found in his love of flattery and power. The English Arminians were, in general, high church, fawning courtiers, who were ever ready to burn incense at the altar of the king’ supremacy, and to preach to the multitude his divine right to dispose of their persons and properties as he thought proper. [32]
What the father thus inconsistently supported, the son endeavoured to raise to celebrity. In the reign of Charles I. Arminianism, combined with the doctrine of passive obedience, and respect for Popish ceremonies, became the religion of the court, and the road to royal favour. The whole high church party, with Laud at its head, ranked under its banners, and supported its authority by royal and [[@Page:25]] episcopal patronage, and high commission and star-chamber decisions. ‘Truth is suppressed,’ said Sir Edward Deering, in a speech in the house of commons, ‘and popish pamphlets fly abroad, “cum privilegio;” witness the audacious and libelling pamphlets against true religion by Pock-lington, Heylin, Cosins, Studley, and many more; I name no bishops, I only add, &c.’ [33]
The progress of Arminianism in England, and the causes of that progress, are thus ingeniously noticed by Owen in the preface to this first production of his pen. ‘Never were so many prodigious error’ introduced into a church, with so high a hand, and with so little opposition, since Christians were known in the world. The chief cause I take to be, that which Eneas Sylvius gave, why more maintained the Pope to be above the Council, than the Council above the Pope. Because Popes gave archbishoprics and bishoprics, &c.; but the Councils sued “in forma pauperis;” and, therefore, could scarce get an advocate to plead their cause. The fates of our church having of late devolved the government of it on men tainted with this poison, Arminianism became backed with the powerful arguments of praise and preferment, and quickly beat poor naked truth into a corner.’
The great object of the work is, to give a view of the sentiments of the Arminians, on the decrees of God; Divine foreknowledge; Providence; the resistibility of Divine grace; original sin; and, in short, all the leading topics of this important and extensive controversy. He extracts from the writings, chiefly of the continental divines, those passages which contain the most explicit declaration of their sentiments; and states what had occurred to him, in the way of answer. Each chapter is concluded by a tabular view of those passages of Scripture, which support the orthodox doctrine, and with quotations from Arminian writers that seem to oppose it. It is, therefore, according to its title, A display of Arminianism, not a full discussion of the controversy.. How far modern Arminians would abide by the views which are here given of their sentiments, I can scarcely tell; but it cannot be doubted that Owen [[@Page:26]] has given a fair account of the opinions of their ancestors; and though some of the passages which be quotes, ought not, perhaps, to be rigidly interpreted, and should he explained in connexion with other parts of their writings; enough still remains to spew that their doctrines were far removed from the simplicity and purity of Scripture. The body of modern Calvinists would not adopt every expression and sentiment of Owen’s Display; not because they are more arininianized than their fathers, but because they express themselves in fewer words, and are not so much attached to the peculiar phraseology of scholastic disputation.
The style of the Display is simpler, and less strongly marked with the peculiarities of the Author, than some of his subsequent performances. He had more time to bestow in correcting and polishing it, than he afterwards could command. It discovers occasionally a considerable degree of sharpness and severity; to which he may have been led, not so much by the asperity of his own temper, as by the licentious freedoms of the writers he opposes, and by his strong convictions of the dangerous tendency of their opinions. It is the duty of all who know the gospel, and especially of those who preach it, to watch the progress of error, and to endeavour to obstruct it; but it is of infinite importance that this should be done with Christian temper, and by the employment only of those weapons which Christianity sanctions.
The Display is dedicated to the Committee of Religion, and is appointed to be printed by the Committee of the house of commons, for regulating the printing, and publishing of books. In the dedication he expresses himself very strongly about the evils, which he apprehended would come upon the state, through the differences in the church, and implores the parliament’ interference. Are there ‘any disturbances of the state?’ says he, they are usually attended with schisms and factions in the church; and the divisions of the church are too often the ‘subversion of the commonwealth.’ Owen was destined soon to acquire more correct sentiments: — to see that no political divisions, or disturbances, in the kingdoms of the earth ought to interrupt the peace and unity of the kingdom of Christ; and that [[@Page:27]] no other remedy ought to be employed for the cure of error, than the application of truth.
The first effect of this publication, was his presentation to the living of Fordham in Essex, by the Committee for purging the church of scandalous ministers, by the hands of a special messenger. The incumbent, who had been sequestered on the petition of the parish, was Richard Pully, who, according to Walker, was ‘a person of great learning, religion, and sobriety; but was turned out to make way for one,’ whom he erroneously calls ‘an Independent of New England.’ [34] The Committee, it would appear, were of a different opinion. The presentation was an honourable mark of their approbation, and did credit both to themselves, and to our Author. His acceptance afforded much satisfaction to the parish, and also to the surrounding country. While here, it is stated, that an eminent blessing attended his labours. Many resorted to hear him from other parishes, and not a few, through the blessing of God, were led to the knowledge of the truth. The faithful minister will never pass unrewarded. In all situations, God will acknowledge that portion of his own truth which is conscientiously brought forward; and seal with success that which has the sanction of his own authority.
Soon after he had taken up his residence in Fordham, he married his first wife, whose name is said to have been Rooke. By this lady he had eleven children, all of whom died young, except one daughter, who married Roger Kennington, a Welsh gentleman. The match proving an unhappy one, she returned to her father’ house, where she died of a consumption. No particulars now remain of this lady; but she is said to have been a person of very excellent character. [35] To her, Mr. Gilbert in his third epitaph on the Doctor, alludes in these lines
Prima Ætatis Wills censors Maria
Rei domestics perite studios,
Rebus Dei dooms se totum addicendi,
Copiam illi fecit Gratissimam.

[1] Gules, three snakes enowed in a triangular knot, argent.
[2] Gules, three cheveronels, argent.
[3] Athen. Ox.
[4] Memoirs, p. 3.
[5] Tree belonging to a branch of the family.
[6] Rev. of the Nat. of Schism.
[7] Memoirs, p. 3.
[8] Neal’s Hist. of the Puritans, vol. i. cap. iv. p. 136.
[9] Neal, i. p. 137.
[10] Dr. Owen’s Will.
[11] Nichol’s Anecdotes, I. p. 64. Birch’s Life of Tillotson, p. 238. Wood’ Athen. Ox. ii. p. 637.
[12] Contrivances of the fanatical conspirators, by W. Smith.
[13] Wood’s Athen. Passim.
[14] Athen. Ox. ii. pp. 44, 45.
[15] Ibid. p. 177.
[16] Ibid. p. 57.
[17] Ibid. p. 63.
[18] Wood’s Life, p. 92.
[19] ‘Gibbon’ Life of Watts, p. 161.
[20] Wood’s Fasti, vol. i. pp. 872-879.
[21] Preface to the work on temptation.
[22] Owen on Communion.
[23] Athen. Ox. ii. 555.
[24] Athen. Ox. ii. p. 556.
[25] Memoirs.
[26] Hist. of the Reb. i. p. 184.
[27] Tied. Con. p. 5.
[28] Clarendon passim, Life of Baxter, Part iii, p. 249.
[29] Quoted in the Eclectic Rev. vol. vii. p.11.
[30] Works, vol. v. p. 11.
[31] Brandes Hist. of the Reform. in the Low Countries, vol. ii. Hale’s Letters from the Synod of Dort.
[32] Brandt, i. pp. 318-321. ‘Lynn’ Quinquarticular Hist. p. 633. Neal. ii. pp. 132, 138.
[33] ‘Deering’ Speeches, p. 13.
[34] Sufferings of the Clergy, p. 320.
[35] Memoirs — Green’s Will.

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