I recently spent five grueling hours (grueling for a hopelessly out of shape bookworm) climbing a steep, winding mountain trail. Why? That was the only way I could see the view from the top of Mount LeConte. There were no shortcuts; I just had to put in a lot of hard work. But once I completed my quest and saw the view, I would have spent double the effort if necessary: what I saw was THAT spectacular.
The same can be said of reading the great Puritan theologian John Owen. It is HARD work, and a lot of it. So facing a 466 page anthology containing his 3 books on sin seemed more daunting than climbing LeConte, but I am pleased to report that the view is even more spectacular: it is life-changing.
This anthology, put together by Justin Taylor & Kelly Kapic, is not an abridgement: aside from some spelling updates and a few footnotes you’ve got the original manuscripts. There is an excellent introduction to Owen and his thought, as well as overviews of each of the three books. In the back are extremely detailed outlines of each book, as well as several indexes and a glossary of antiquated words (there are plenty of words Owen uses that will make you scratch your head so you will find yourself frequently consulting it!).
As stated before, this is an anthology of three different works by Owen. The first is his famous Mortification of Sin. I had read and reviewed an abridged version earlier this year, so I was interested in seeing how I would fare reading the original. Strangely, I actually like the original language better, it seemed more piercing and powerful.
The second book, Of Temptation, concerns itself on the nature and danger of temptation, and our duty against temptation and how to accomplish it. Owen simply amazes me: whereas most of us would exhaust our intelligent explanation of “temptation” in a few sentences, he spends eighty pages poring over the Scriptures, mining deep to bring insight that is both wise and cutting.
The last book, Indwelling Sin, is the longest and most thorough. Seventeen chapters that bring insight after insight on every page on the nature of the enemy within us, concerning its nature, power, and effect in our lives.
It has been said that once you finish reading what Owen says about a subject, you are convinced that he has covered it all. You may wonder, is it really worth reading over 400 pages on sin? And I will tell you, yes, it is hard work, but it is well worth the view. And just as I am planning on climbing LeConte again next year, I am going to reread this book next year as well, for I am sure that God has much more to teach me from its pages.
More information about the book from the publisher’s site is here.
More information about the book from Amazon is here.
—>cross posted at soapadoo!
Today’s Monday Media Meltdown is this month’s installment of the “great book by a dead guy of the month club”— by John Owen. Owen was considered one of the greatest minds of the seventeeth century, serving as vice-chancellor at Oxford and publishing extensively. He also was very politically active during much political turbulence in England at the time. Owen was a contemporary of John Bunyan’s and once was able through his political connections to arrange to have Bunyan released from prison. Owen is also widely considered to be the most difficult of all the major Puritan theologians to read, because of his highly intricate and frankly not very readable prose.
Most people (including me!) find a modern re-written edition much more palatable than his originals, and many editions of (including the one I read this month) are a modern abridgement.Mortification is a word meaning to put to death, and this book explains how we both have a duty and a necessity to actively fight against every outbreak of sin in our lives daily. His most quoted advice from the book sums up his position, “always be killing sin or it will be killing you.” He urges us to “always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work.”
There are chapters on the importance of putting sin to death, the work of the Holy Spirit in mortification, how our spiritual health depends on it, what mortification is and is not, seeing sin for what it is, keeping a tender conscience and a watchful heart, waiting for God, and the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit.
No cute word pictures, no self-affirmations—just a blunt and comprehensive examination of what every Christian must do to become more holy. As Owen says, “Live in the light of Christ’s great work, and you will die a conqueror.” Read this book.
More information about this book from Amazon is available here.
I’m starting out a program for this year that I am calling the “great book by a dead guy of the month club.” Every month this year I will pick a different dead guy and read and review one of his books. Upcoming classics may include The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, Holiness by J. C. Ryle, The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, The Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer, possibly something by Edwards, maybe Fenelon as well. I’m also open to nominations and suggestions!
To start the year, what better book than what is widely considered the single most significant Christian book in the English language, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. To recap the backstory, John Bunyan was a seventeenth century English pastor who was jailed for twelve years for preaching without an official license from the state at that time. While in jail he wrote this book, which has probably been translated into more languages than any other work except the Bible.
I hadn’t read this book in a long time, and when I first started it I thought, “Gee, I’m going to have to like it—how can I publish a negative review of the most famous book in history?” Fortunately, my fears were indeed unfounded. Pilgrim’s Progress, despite its age, remains a book that makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you love God more.
The book is an allegory: it tells the imaginary story of a man named Pilgrim, from the time he realizes he is in the city of Destruction, and follows his and his companions’ journeys through good times and bad to the Celestial City which he seeks. In it are many insights about life as a Christian and life outside of Christ. One of the beauties of the book is that Bunyan draws on so many different themes—fear, dark times, temptation, despair, hope, friendship, slander, greed, mercy, just to name a few—and then shows us the right & wrong way to respond to each of these through the characters and events of the book. Therefore everyone will appreciate the lessons of the book in a unique way, according to what he is experiencing in his own walk with God.
I was most impressed with the passion and singlemindedness of Christian–in the first few pages of the book, once he is convicted of his sin, he starts to run away from the city of Destruction, “but his Wife and Children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the Man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, “Life! Life! Eternal Life!”" How often I lack the passion to just get up early for prayer, and this man runs, desperately blocking out all else but the one great prize that he knows he must win.
The other theme that most spoke to me was that of the pilgrims’ constant focus on their destination, their hope of heaven, which provided them the strength and courage to face any trial. More on the preciousness of our hope tomorrow.