Why I Read John Owen (and Why You Should, Too)

Men like John Piper, J. I. Packer, and Sinclair Ferguson have all written or spoken about John Owen, and I’m sure they can give you a multitude of reasons to read him. Here is my list.

John Owen Is Insightful

It’s not rare to encounter an idea in John Owen’s books that I never would have thought of. He has a keen mind, and he knows his theology well. Reading Owen expands my view of God.

John Owen Is Encouraging

John Owen’s writings are like food for my soul.

John Owen Is from a Different Era

Sometimes we are too immersed in a problem to gain a correct perspective about it. We swim in the ideas, values, and expectations of our culture. We don’t even notice sometimes. It is helpful to interact with someone from a different culture, or a different time, in order to gain some better perspective. John Owen sometimes provides a different, and helpful, way of looking at things.1

John Owen Gives Meat, Not Milk

John Owen is not for the faint of heart. He is deep, and he discusses theology quite a bit. His writings are not filled with so much of the fluff you find in much of contemporary Christian literature, however. The effort to understand him is well worth it!

John Owen Is Practical

Far from being a dry academic in an ivory tower with only intellectual concerns, John Owen wanted to encourage believers in Christlikeness. His books give practical advice on how to grow.

John Owen Is Expressive

I enjoy Owen’s vivid illustrations. Consider this example:

Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who doth not kill sin in this way takes no steps towards his journey’s end.

John Owen, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 22

The picture is of a Christian in mortal combat with sinful passions that seek to oppose him. The Christian kills these sins, and steps over their dead bodies. That’s quite an illustration!

Owen speaks to me in a way that others don’t

This may be the most subjective point. John Owen’s writings hit me in a way that many other books don’t. This is not to disparage other authors. However, different authors appeal to different people in different ways. That may be due to writing style, life experiences, or a host of other reasons. Regardless, John Owen’s books just…speak to me.

I’d highly recommend reading John Owen. If you’re looking for a place to start, try this edition of The Glory of Christ, or Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers found in Overcoming Sin and Temptation. Both of those have reading aids like footnotes that define archaic words.

1 I may have first heard the recommendation to read old books from C. S. Lewis. Check out his “On The Reading of Old Books” essay.

2 Owen, John. Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. Public Domain. Republished by CCEL. https://ccel.org/ccel/owen/mort/mort.i.v.html. Accessed April 17. 2021.