Life of Dr. John Owen. Part Six
Owen's church-book presents the names of some of the chiefs
of Nonconformity as members of his flock, and "honourable women not a few."
Among others, there have been found the names of more than one of the heroes of
the army of the Commonwealth,- such as Lord Charles Fleetwood and Colonel
Desborough; certain members of the Abney family, in whose hospitable mansion
the saintly Isaac Watts in after times found shelter for more than thirty
years; the Countess of Anglesea; and Mrs Bendish, the granddaughter of
Cromwell, in whom, it is said, may of the bodily and mental features of the
Protector remarkably reappeared.
Some of these might be able at times to throw their shield over the head of Owen in those changeful and stormy years. And there were other persons more powerful still,-such as the Earl of Ornery, the Earl of Anglesea, Lord Berkeley, Lord Willoughby, Lord Wharton, and Sir John Tremor, one of the principal secretaries of state; who, though not members of Owen's church, were religiously disposed, and Owen's friends, and inclined, as far as their influence went, to mitigate the severities against the Nonconformists generally.
Owen's intimacy with these noblemen probable accounts for that interview to which he was invited by the King and the Duke of York, and which has been faithfully chronicled by all his biographers. Happening to be at Tunbridge Wells when his majesty and the duke were also there, he was introduced to the royal tent. The king freely conversed with him on the subject of religious liberty, and expressed his wish to see the Dissenters relieved of their disabilities. On his return to London, he invited Owen to repeated interviews, uttering the same sentiments as he had done during the first conversation, and at length intrusted him with a thousand guineas, to be employed by him in mitigating the sufferings of his poorer brethren. The general policy of Charles sufficiently accounts for these gleams of royal sunshine.
But the importance of those friendships is not seen by us until we have marked the use which Owen made of them in the cause of his suffering brethren. It is well known that when the Parliament again assembled, it expressed its strong displeasure at the king's indulgence, and never ceased its remonstrances until the licenses to places of worship had been withdrawn. A disposition, it is true, began to show itself to distinguish between the Protestant Nonconformists and the Romanists, and to point restriction more particularly against the latter; but the act, which was professedly intended to bear against them was so clumsily constructed as to be capable of reaching all who did not conform, and Churchmen were not slow in giving it this direction. The Nonconformists were exposed anew to the persecuting storm; informers were goaded by increased rewards; and among thousands of less illustrious sufferers, Richard Baxter suffered joyfully the spoiling of his goods, and was condemned to what his ardent spirit did indeed feel bitterly,- a year of almost unbroken silence. Owen, however, appears to have been left comparatively unmolested,- probably owing to the influences we have specified; and it is interesting to learn from an adversary with what zeal and constancy he employed his advantages to warn and succour the oppressed. "Witness his fishing out the king's counsels, and inquiring whether things went well to his great Diana, liberty of conscience?-how his majesty stood affected to it?.- whether he would connive at it and the execution of the laws against it? who were or could be made his friends at court?- what bills were like to be put up in Parliament?.--how that assembly was united or divided? And according to the disposition of affairs he did acquaint his under officers; and they, by their letters each post, were to inform their fraternity in each corner of the kingdom how things were likely to go with them, how they should order their business, and either for a time omit or continue their conventicles." Surely this was being able to find nothing against him, except as concerning the law of his God.
There was no sufferer in whose behalf Owen exerted his influence more earnestly than John Bunyan. It is well known that, as a preacher, Bunyan excited, wherever he went, an interest not surpassed even by the ministry of Baxter. When he preached in barns or on commons, he gathered eager thousands around him; and when he came to London, twelve hundred people would be found gathered together at seven on the dark morning of a winter working-day, to hear him expound the Word of God. Among these admiring multitudes Owen had often been discovered;--the most learned of the Puritans hung for hours, that seemed like moments, upon the lips of this untutored genius. The king is reported to have asked Owen, on one occasion, how a learned man like him could go "to hear a tinker prate;" to which the great theologian answered "May it please your majesty, could I possess the tinker's abilities for preaching, I would willingly relinquish all my learning." For some years Bunyan's confinement in the prison of Bedford had, through the kindness of his good jailer, been attended with many mitigations; but towards the latter part of it, its severities had been greatly increased, and Owen used every effort to engage the interest of his old friend and tutor, Dr Barlow, for his release. Some of the details of this matter have been questioned by Southey, and its date is uncertain; but the leading facts seem above reasonable suspicion, and it is pleasing to know, that after some perplexing delay, Owen's interposition was successful in obtaining Bunyan's enlargement.
During these chequered and anxious years, Owen's untiring pen had been as active as ever. In 1669 he had published "A brief Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity; as also, of the Person and Satisfaction of Christ;" a little treatise, containing the condensed substance of his great controversial work against Biddle and the Continental Socinians,- the "Vindiciae Evangelicae."
There was wisdom in thus supplying the church with a less controversial manual on those vital questions. Many of Owen's larger works remind us of some ancient castle, with its embrasures and port holes, admirably fitting it for the purposes of defense, but in the same degree rendering it unsuitable as a peaceful habitation. In little more than forty years after Owen's death, this little work had passed through seven editions. In 1672 he had published "A Discourse concerning Evangelical Love, Church Peace and Unity," etc.; a work combining enlarged and generous sentiment with wise discrimination, and in which Owen enters at great length into the question respecting the occasional attendance of Nonconformists on the parish churches,- a question which found him and Baxter once more ranged on opposite sides.
And there were other works whose origin dated from this period, in which we can trace the faithful watchman, piously descrying the coming danger, or seeking to rear bulwarks against the already swelling tide. Two of these were precious fragments been off from his great work on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and enlarged to meet present exigencies. The first was his "Treatise on the Sabbath;" in which he joined with Baxter, and all the other great writers among the Puritans, in seeking to preserve this precious fence, which the goodness of God has drawn around the vineyard of his church, and which he found assailed on the one hand by fanatics, who denounced it as a mere ceremonial and carnal observance, and by the more numerous and noisy disciples of the "Book of Sports," who hated it for its spirituality. The reader will be struck with the contrast between the Puritan Sabbath, as it is depicted in its staid and solemn cheerfulness by a Puritan divine, and as he often beholds it caricatured by the modern popular writer; and as he finds Owen arguing with the same classes of antagonists, and answering the same argument and objections as are rife at the present day, he will be disposed to subscribe to the theory, that errors have their orbits in which they move, and that their return may be calculated at a given juncture. The other work of this class to which we refer was, "The Nature and Punishment of Apostasy Declared, in an Exposition of Hebrews 6:4-6." It was emphatically a book for the times; when the multitudes who had merely played a part in religion in Cromwell's days had long since thrown off the mask, and taken amends for their restraints in the most shameless excesses; when to be sternly moral was almost to incur the suspicion of disloyalty; when to be called a Puritan was, with many, more discreditable than to be called a debauchee; and when the noon day licentiousness of Charles' court, descending through the inferior ranks of life, carried every thing before it but what was rooted and grounded in a living piety.
But the greatest work of Owen at this period was one which we leave its elaborate title to describe,--"A Discourse concerning the Holy Spirit; in which an account is given of his name, nature, personality, dispensation, operations, and effects. His whole work in the Old and New Creation is explained; the doctrine concerning it vindicated from opposition and reproaches. The nature and necessity also of Gospel holiness, the difference between grace and morality, or a spiritual life to God in evangelical obedience and a course of moral virtues, is stated and explained." The better part of two centuries have elapsed since this work of Owen's was given to the world, and yet no English work on the same vital subject has approached it in exhaustive fulness. Wilberforce owns his obligations to it as one of his great theological textbooks; and Cecil declares that it had been to him "a treasure-house" of divinity. It was not merely the two common extremes of error that Owen grappled with in this masterly treatise,--that of the enthusiasts who talked of the inward light and of secret revelations, and that of the Socinians who did not believe that there was any Holy Ghost, and of whose scanty creed it has been severely said, that it is not likely often to become the faith of men of genius. There was a third class of waters at that time, from whom Owen apprehended more danger than either,--men who, in their preaching, dwelt much upon the credentials of the Bible, but little upon its truths,--who would have defended even the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as an article of their creed, and at the same time would have derided all reference to the actual work of divine grace upon a human heart as the "weak imagination of distempered minds." Much of Owen's treatise has reference to these accommodating and courtly divines, and is, in fact, a vindication of the reality of the spiritual life. He is not always able to repress his satire against these writers. Some of them had complained that they were reproached as "rational divines;" to which he replied, that if they were so reproached, it was, so far as he could discern, as Jerome was beaten by an angel for being a Ciceronian (in the judgment of some), very undeservedly.
Few glimpses are given us of Owen's domestic history; but it appears that, in January 1676, he was bereaved of his first wife. One of his early biographers says that she "was an excellent and comely person, very affectionate towards him, and met with suitable returns." He remained a widower for about eighteen months, when he married a lady of the name of Michael, the daughter of a family of rank in Dorsetshire, and the widow of Thomas D'Oyley, Esq. of Chiselhampton, near Stadham. This lady brought Dr Owen a considerable fortune; which, with his own property, and a legacy that we left him about the same time by his cousin, Martyn Owen, made his condition easy, and even affluent, so that he was able to keep a carriage during his remaining years. On all which Anthony Wood remarks, with monkish spite, that "Owen took all occasions to enjoy the comfortable importances of this life."
Many symptoms were now beginning to make it evident that Owen's public career was drawing to a close. The excitements and anxieties of a most eventful life, and the fatigues of severe study, were making themselves visible in more than one disease. Asthma afflicted him with such severity as often to unfit him for preaching; and stone, the frequent and agonizing disease of studious men in those times, gave no uncertain signs of its presence. In these circumstances it became necessary to obtain assistants, both in the pastorate of the church in Leaderthall street, and also to act as his amanuenses in preparing his remaining works for the press among those who, for brief periods, were thus connected with him, we meet with the names of two persons of rather remarkable history,- -Robert Ferguson, who, beginning his life as a minister, became at length a political intriguer and pamphleteer, and, after undertaking some perilous adventures in the cause of William, ultimately became a Jacobite, and ended his eccentric and agitated course with more of notoriety than of honour; and Alexander Shields, a Scotch man, whose antipathy to Prelacy was surpassed by his piety, and whose name Scottish Presbyterians still venerate as the author of the "Hind let Loose." These two probably laboured with Owen principally in the capacity of amanuenses; but the amiable and excellent David Clarkson shared with him the duties of the pastorate, and rejoiced to divide the anxieties and toils, and soothe the declining years, of the illustrious Puritan. Clarkson evidently won the generous admiration of Baxter; and Dr Bates beautifully spoke of him as "a real saint, in whom the living spring of grace in his heart diffused itself in the veins of his conversation. His life was a silent repetition of his holy discourses."
With the help of his amanuenses, Owen completed and published, in 1677, "The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ, Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated,"--a work in which all the ratiocinative strength and command of resources of his best controversial days appear undiminished. We concur, indeed, to a certain extent, in the censure which has been charged against that part of it which treats of the nature of justifying faith, as tending to perplex a subject whose very simplicity makes explanation equally impossible and unnecessary. The censure, however, ought not to be confined to Owen; for on the subject of faith the Puritan divines, with their scholastic distinctions, were far inferior to the theologians of the Reformation. The great difficulty about faith is not a metaphysical but a moral one; and there is truth in the observation, that elaborate attempts to describe it are like handling a beautiful transparency, whose lustre disappears whensoever it is touched.
This great work was probably the ripened fruit of many years of thought But as we examine the productions of Owen during the few remaining years of his life, it is easy to discover that they belonged principally to three classes, and two of those especially, owed their origin to events that were occurring around him, and to dangerous tendencies which his ever-vigilant eye was quick to discover. First, there were his various writings against Popery, such as his "Church of Rome no Safe Guide;" his "Brief and Impartial Account of the Protestant Religion;" and, in some degree also, his "Humble Testimony to the Goodness of God in his Dealing with Sinful Churches and Nations." In all of these we hear the watchman answering, "What of the night?" He is alive to the sympathies of Charles and his court with Popery,--to the readiness of not a few in the Church of England to move in the direction of Rome,--to the avowed so Romanism of the Duke of York, and his possible succession to the throne,--and to the dangers to religion, to liberty, and to every thing meet dear to man, which these lowering evils portended. The wisdom and foresight of Dr Owen in many parts of these writings, which we now read in the light of subsequent events, strike us with surprise, often with admiration.
In addition to beholding the Protestants duly inspirited and alarmed on the subject of Popery, Owen longed to see all alienations and divisions among them dispelled, and the various parts of the great Protestant community so united and mutually confiding, as to be prepared to resist their common adversary. Not that he was the less convinced of the necessity and duty of separation from the Episcopal Church; for in a controversy with Stillingfleet, into which an ungenerous assault of that able Churchman drew him, he had produced one of his best defenses of Nonconformity; but he felt a growing desire, both to see the real differences between the venous branches of the Nonconformist family reduced to their true magnitude, and, in spite of the differences that might, after all, remain, to behold them banded together in mutual confidence and united action. His work on "Union among Protestants" was written with this wise and generous design; and this, we are persuaded, was one of the chief ends contemplated by another work,--his "Inquiry into the Origin, Nature, Institution, Power, Order, and Communion of Evangelical Churches" We are quite aware that some have represented this highly valuable treatise as a recantation of Dr Owen's views on church polity, and a return to those Presbyterian sentiments with which he had entered on his public life; but an examination of the treatise, we think, will make it evident that this was not in Owen's thoughts, and that his aim was rather to show how far he could come to meet the moderate Presbyterian, and to lay down a platform on which united action, in those times of trouble and of perils, which all division aggravated, could consistently take place. Accordingly we find him, while admirably describing the true nature of a Gospel church, as a society of professed believers, and refusing to any man or body of men "all power of legislation in or over the church," avowing it as his conviction, that "the order of the officers which was so early in the primitive church,-- viz. of one pastor or bishop in one church, assisted in rule and all holy ministrations with many elders, teaching or ruling only,--does not so overthrow church order as to render its rule or discipline useless." And in reference to the communion of churches, while repudiating every thing like authoritative interference and dictation on the part of any church or assembly of rulers, he holds that "no church is so independent that it can always, and in all cases, observe the duties it owes to the Lord Christ and the church catholic, by all those powers which it is able to act in itself distinctly, without conjunction of others; and the church which conies its duty to the acts of its own assemblies, cuts itself off from the external communion of the church catholic." He holds that "a synod convened in the name of Christ, by the voluntary consent of several churches concerned in mutual communion, may declare and determine of the mind of the Holy Ghost in Scripture, and decree the observation of things true and necessary, because revealed and appointed in the Scripture." And farther, that "if it be reported or known, by credible testimony, that any church has admitted into the exercise of divine worship any thing superstitious or vain, or if the members of it walk, like those described by the apostle, Phil.3:18,19, unto the dishonour of the Gospel and of the ways of Christ, the church itself not endeavouring its own reformation and repentance, other churches walking in communion therewith, by virtue of their common interest in the glory of Christ and honour of the Gospel, after more private ways for its reduction, as opportunity and duty may suggest unto their elders, ought to assemble in a synod for advice, either as to the use of farther means for the recovery of such a church, or to withhold communion from it in case of obstinacy in its evil ways" We do not attempt to measure the distance between these principles and the Presbyterianism of Owen's day, or the diminished distance between them and the modified Presbyterianism of our own; but we state them, with one of Owen's oldest biographers, as an evidence of his "healing temper in this matter;" and we even venture to suggest whether, at some future period of increased spirituality and external danger, they may not form the basis of a stable and honorable union among the two great evangelical sections of modern Nonconformists
But besides the outward dangers to Protestantism, which made Owen so eager for union among his friends, we discover another and more interesting explanation still in the increased occupation of his mind with the great central truths of the Gospel, and his growing delight in them. The minor distinctions among Christians come to be seen by us in their modified proportions, when we have taken our place within the inner circle of those great truths which constitute the peculiar glory and power of Christianity; and this inner and more radiant circle formed more and more the home of Dr Owen's heart. This is evident from the three great doctrinal and devotional works which were produced by him at this period, and which we have yet to name.
First, there appeared his "Christologia, or Declaration of the Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ, God and man, with the infinite wisdom, love, and power of God in the constitution thereof. As also, of the grounds and reasons of his incarnation; the nature of his ministry in heaven; the present state of the church above thereon; and the use of his person in religion," etc. The root from which the whole discourse springs, is the memorable declaration of our Lord to Peter, Matt.16:18, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it:"--a declaration in which Owen finds three great truths, whose illustration forms the substance of the volume;-- that the person of Christ is the foundation of his church; that opposition will be made by the powers of earth and hell to the church, as built on the person of Christ; and that the church built on the person of Christ shall never be separated from it or destroyed. It is easy to see what a rich field of doctrinal statement, learned illustration, and devout reflection, is opened for Owen's mind in these themes; and he expatiates in it with all the delight of a mind accustomed to high and heavenly communion. It is pleasing to mark how he casts off the cumbrous armour of a sometimes too scholastic style, that had kept him down in some of his earlier treatises; and, rising from the simply didactic into the devotional, aims to catch joyful glimpses of the glory that is soon to be revealed.
Then followed his heart-searching, heart-inspiring treatise on "The Grace and Duty of being Spiritually-minded," first preached to his own heart, and then to a private congregation; and which reveals to us the almost untouched and untrodden eminences on which Owen walked in the last years of his pilgrimage,--eminences for reaching which, it has been said by one of the humblest and holiest of men of our own times, "it would almost appear indispensable that the spiritual life should be nourished in solitude; and that, afar from the din, and the broil, and the tumult of ordinary life, the candidate for heaven should give himself up to the discipline of prayer and of constant watchfulness."
The last production of Owen's pen was his "Meditations and Discourses on the glory of Christ" It embodies the holy musings of his latest days, and in many parts of it seems actually to echo the presses of the heavenly worshippers. We may apply to Owen's meditations, as recorded in this book, the words of Bunyan in reference to his pilgrim,--"Drawing near to the city, he had yet a more perfect view thereof." It is a striking circumstance, that each of the three great Puritan divines wrote a treatise on the subject of heaven, and that each had his own distinct aspect in which he delighted to view it. To the mind of Baxter, the most prominent idea of heaven was that of rest; and who can wonder, when it is remembered that his earthly life was little else than one prolonged disease?--to the mind of Howe, ever aspiring after a purer state of being, the favourite conception of heaven was that of holy happiness;-- while to the mind of Owen, heaven's glory was regarded as consisting in the unveiled manifestation of Christ. The conceptions, though varied, are all true; and Christ, fully seen and perfectly enjoyed, will secure all the others. Let us now trace the few remaining steps that conducted Owen into the midst of this exceeding weight of glory.
We have already mentioned Lord Wharton, as one of those noblemen who continued their kindness to the Nonconformists in the midst of all their troubles. His country residence at Woburn, in Buckinghamshire, afforded a frequent asylum to the persecuted ministers; just as we find the castles of Mornay and De Plessis in France opened by their noble owners as a refuge to the Huguenots.
During his growing infirmities, Owen was invited to Woburn, to try the effect of change of air; and also that others of his persecuted brethren, meeting him in this safe retreat, might enjoy the benefit of united counsel and devotion. It appears that while here his infirmities increased upon him, and that he was unable to return to his flock in London at the time that he had hoped; and a letter written to them from this place, gives us so vivid a reflection of the anxieties of a period of persecution, and so interesting a specimen of Owens fidelity and affection to his people, in the present experience of suffering, and in the dread of more, that we have peculiar delight in interweaving it with our narrative:-- [begin of letter]
"Beloved In The Lord,- Mercy, grace, and peace be multiplied to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, by the communication of the Holy Ghost. I thought and hoped that by this time I might have been present with you, according to my desire and resolution; but it has pleased our holy gracious Father otherwise to dispose of me, at least for a season. The continuance of my painful infirmities, and the increase of my weaknesses, will not allow me at present to hope that I should be able to bear the journey. How great an exercise this is to me, considering the season, he knows, to whose will I would in all things cheerfully submit myself. But although I am absent from you in body, I am in mind, affection, and spirit, present with you, and in your assemblies; for I hope you will be found my crown and rejoicing in the day of the Lord; and my prayer for you night and day is, that you may stand fast in the whole will of God, and maintain the beginning of your confidence without wavering, firm unto the end. I know it is needless for me, at this distance, to write to you about what concerns you in point of duty at this season, that work being well supplied by my brother in the ministry; you will give me leave, out of my abundant affections towards you, to bring some few things to your remembrance, as my weakness will permit.
"In the first place, I pray God it may be rooted and fixed in our minds, that the shame and loss we may undergo for the sake of Christ and the profession of the Gospel is the greatest honour which in this life we can be made partakers of. So it was esteemed by the apostles,--they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name's sake. It is a privilege superadded to the grace of faith, which all are not made partakers of. Hence it is reckoned to the Philippians in a peculiar manner, that it was given to them, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for him,--that it is far more honorable to suffer with Christ than to reign with the greatest of his enemies. If this be fixed by faith in our minds, it will tend greatly to our encouragement. I mention these things only, as knowing that they are more at large pressed on you.
"The next thing I would recommend to you at this season, is the increase of mutual love among yourselves; for every trial of our faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ is also a trial of our love towards the brethren. This is that which the Lord Christ expects from us, namely, that when the hatred of the world does openly manifest and act itself against us all, we should evidence an active love among ourselves. If there have been any decays, any coldness herein, if they are not recovered and healed in such a season, it can never be expected. I pray God, therefore, that your mutual love may abound more and more in all the effects and fruits of it towards the whole society, and every member thereof. You may justly measure the fruit of your present trial by the increase of this grace among you; in particular, have a due regard to the weak and the tempted, that that which is lame may not be turned out of the way, but rather let it be healed.
"Furthermore, brethren, I beseech you, hear a word of advice in case the persecution increases,--which it is like to do for a season. I could wish that, because you have no ruling elders, and your teachers cannot walk about publicly with safety, that you would appoint some among yourselves, who may continually, as their occasions will admit, go up and down, from house to house, and apply themselves peculiarly to the weak, the tempted, the fearful,--those that are ready to despond or to halt, and to encourage them in the Lord. Choose out those to this end who are endued with a spirit of courage and fortitude; and let them know that they are happy whom Christ will honour with this blessed work. And I desire the persons may be of this number who are faithful men, and know the state of the church; by this means you will know what is the frame of the members of the church, which will be a great direction to you, even in your prayers. Watch, now, brethren, that, if it be the will of God, not one soul may be lost from under your care. Let no one be overlooked or neglected; consider all their conditions, and apply yourselves to all their circumstances
Finally, brethren, that I be not at present farther troublesome to you, examine yourselves as to your spiritual benefit which you have received, or do receive, by your present fears and dangers, which will alone give you the true measure of your condition; for if this tends to the exercise of your faith, and love, and holiness, if this increases your valuation of the privileges of the Gospel, it will be an undoubted token of the blessed issue which the Lord Christ will give unto your troubles. Pray for me, as you do; and do it the rather, that, if it be the will of God, I may be restored to you,--and if not, that a blessed enhance may be given to me into the kingdom of God and glory. Salute all the church in my name. I take the boldness in the Lord to subscribe myself your unworthy pastor, and your servant for Jesus' sake, J. Owen.
"P.S. I humbly desire you would in your prayers remember the family where I am, from whom I have received, and do receive, great Christian kindness. I may say, as the apostle of Onesiphorus, 'The Lord give to them that they may find mercy of the Lord in that day, for they have often refreshed me in my great distress.'" [end of letter]
His infirmities increasing, he soon after removed from London to Kensington, for country air; occasionally, however, he was able still to visit London; and an incident which happened to him on one of these visits presents us with another picture of the times. As he was driving along the Strand, his carriage was stopped by two informers, and his horses seized. Greater violence would immediately have followed, had it not been that Sir Edmund Godfrey, a justice of the peace, was passing at the time, and seeing a mob collected round the carriage, asked what was the matter? On ascertaining the circumstances, he ordered the informers, with Dr Owen, to meet him at the house of another justice of the peace on an appointed day. When the day came, it was found that the informers had acted so irregularly, that they were not only disappointed of their base reward, but severely reprimanded and dismissed. Thus once more did Owen escape as a bird from the snare of the fowler.
Retiring still farther from the scenes of public life, Owen soon after took up his abode in the quiet village of Ealing, where he had a house of his own and some property. Only once again did persecution hover over him, and threaten to disturb the sacredness of his declining days, by seeking to involve him and some other of the Nonconformists in the Rye House plot; but the charge was too bold to be believed, and God was about, ere long, to remove him from the reach of all these evils, and to hide him in his pavilion, from the pride of man and from the strife of tongues. Anthony Wood has said of Owen that "he did very unwillingly lay down his head and die," but how different was the spectacle of moral sublimity presented to the eyes of those who were actual witnesses of the last days of the magnanimous and heavenly-minded Puritan! In one of his latest writings, when referring to the near approach of the daily expected and earnestly desired hour of his discharge from all farther serve in this world, he had said, "In the continual prospect hereof do I yet live, and rejoice; which, among other advantages unspeakable, has already given me an inconcernment in those oppositions which the passions or interests of men engage them in, of a very near alliance unto, and scarce distinguishable from, that which the grave will afford." And all the exercises of his deathbed were the prolonged and brightening experience of what he here describes. In a letter to his beloved friend Charles Fleetwood, on the day before his death, he thus beautifully expresses his Christian affection, and his good hope through grace:-- [begin of letter]
"Dear Sir,--Although I am not able to write one word myself, yet I am very desirous to speak one word more to you in this world, and do it by the hand of my wife. The continuance of your entire kindness, knowing what it is accompanied withal, is not only greatly valued by me, but will be a refreshment to me, as it is, even in my dying hour. I am going to Him whom my soul has loved, or rather who has loved me with an everlasting love,--which is the whole ground of all my consolation. The passage is very irksome and wearisome, through strong pains of various sorts, which are all issued in an intermitting fever. All things were provided to carry me to London today, according to the advice of my physicians; but we are all disappointed by my utter disability to undertake the journey. I am leaving the ship of the church in a storm; but whilst the great Pilot is in it, the loss of a poor under-rower will be inconsiderable. Live, and pray, and hope, and wait patiently, and do not despond; the promise stands invincible, that He will never leave us, nor forsake us. I am greatly afflicted at the distempers of your dear lady; the good Lord stand by her, and support and deliver her. My affectionate respects to her, and the rest of your relations, who are so dear to me in the Lord. Remember your dying friend with all fervency. I rest upon it that you do so, and am yours entirely, J. Owen."
[end of letter]
The first sheet of his "Meditations on the Glory of Christ" had passed through the press under the superintendence of the Rev. William Payne, a Dissenting minister at Saffron Waldon, in Essex; and on that person calling on him to inform him of the circumstance on the morning of the day he died, he exclaimed, with uplifted hands, and eyes looking upwards, "I am glad to hear it; but, 0 brother Payne! the long wished-for day is come at last, in which I shall see that glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing, in this world." Still it was no easy thing for that robust frame to be broken to pieces, and to let the struggling spirit go free. His physicians, Dr Cox and Sir Edmund King, remarked on the unusual strength of that earthly house which was about to be dissolved; while his more constant attendants on that consecrated hour were awe-struck by the mastery which his mighty and heaven-supported spirit maintained over his physical agonies "In respect of sicknesses, very long, languishing, and often sharp and violent, like the blows of inevitable death, yet was he both calm and submit under all." At length the struggle ceased; and with eyes and hands uplifted, as if his last act was devotion, the spirit of Owen passed in silence into the world of glory. It happened on the 24th of August 1683, the anniversary of St. Bartholomew's Day;--a day memorable in the annals of the Church of Christ, as that in which the two thousand Nonconformist confessors had exposed themselves to poverty and persecution at the call of conscience, and in which heaven's gates had been opened wide to receive the martyred Protestants of France. Eleven days afterwards, a long and mournful procession, composed of more than sixty noblemen, in carriages drawn by six horses each, and of many others in mourning coaches and on horseback, silently followed the mortal remains of Owen along the streets of London, and deposited them in Bunhill-fields,--the Puritan necropolis.
"We have had a light in this candlestick," said the amiable David Clarkson, on the Sabbath following; "we have had a light in this candlestick, which did not only enlighten the room, but gave light to others far and near: but it is put out. We did not sufficiently value it. (continued in part 7...)
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