Steve Nichols: We’re continuing through our summer, and we just spent a month with the Puritans on the beach. Now we’re going to focus on one Puritan in particular, John Owen. We’re going to spend the whole month of July at the beach with John Owen. And joining me once again Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson, it’s good to have you back.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson: Thank you. It’s a great pleasure and privilege to speak to you again.
Steve Nichols: When we were together last time, we talked about the Puritan box set by Banner of Truth. Banner of Truth also put out a beautiful box set of five volumes of John Owen. We’ll get to that in a moment, but first let’s talk about a summertime question. Again, you can give your best Reformed answer. What is your favorite summertime food?
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson: My favorite summertime food, I think, probably from childhood was either raspberries or strawberries, because we only got them for about four weeks in the summer. And if there was ice cream with them, then that was a special treat. Although I have to say American ice cream that you buy over the counter tends to be better than British ice cream that you buy over the counter.
Steve Nichols: Now, let’s talk about the important thing of John Owen. You’ve spent a lot of time with John Owen, bringing what is a true treasure in the life and teachings of Owen for disciples of Christ today. Why should people read John Owen?
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson: That’s a great question, Steve. It’s quite something to think about being with John Owen on the beach. Because he wrote so much, one wonders whether he ever made it to the beach.
Steve Nichols: Seven million words, is that right?
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson: I’ve never counted them, but there are twenty-four volumes of about six hundred pages each.
Steve Nichols: Astonishing.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson: And all with probably a relatively poor quality quill pen and ink. It really is an astonishing achievement. I would say you can read Owen because, of all the Puritans, he is the most prodigious and in some ways the most awesome figure of theologians in the seventeenth century. He had actually been where all of us have been. For example, in his earlier life he struggled to be sure whether he was really a Christian or not. One of my favorite stories about him is that he was brought to assurance under the preaching of a man whose name he never discovered, and in a way we owe these twenty-four volumes to a sermon preached by some totally anonymous preacher. Such a great illustration of the way God works.
I think a tremendous thing about Owen was that he seemed to minister in all different kinds of situations. He ministered in a large church; he ministered in house churches; he planted churches; he was persecuted; he suffered. He struggled on many occasions. And sometimes he became very melancholic about the spiritual situation. And so in the midst of all the great theology he writes, there’s this very strong pastoral concern to build up the people of God. When he died, in his funeral sermon his assistant, David Clarkson, said, “The great burden of his life was to see people grow in holiness.” And so in that particular group of Owen’s works, I think in every single volume a Christian reads, you’ll find something that will stimulate him to love and serve the Lord Jesus better.
Steve Nichols: That’s a very compelling case to take John Owen to the beach with you. Dr. Ferguson also wrote a little booklet to go along with the box set of John Owen. In it, he mentions that Owen was a man of letters, but also a man of action. One of those times of action occurred when he was only thirty-two years of age. His reputation was such that he was appointed parliamentary preacher for January 31, 1649. British readers, at least, will recognize the significance of that date. It was, in fact, the day that King Charles I was beheaded.
That’s Owen, a man of letters and a man of action.