Daily Readings—John Owen: A Review

Simonetta Carr
Monday, January 9th 2023

I don’t usually buy devotionals. I find it difficult to stay faithful to one book (apart from the Bible) for a year. But Daily ReadingsJohn Owen, edited by Lee Gatiss, is something entirely different.

First, this is the first devotional made up of excerpts of writings by John Owen. It’s a surprising realization, given the large number of devotionals based on writings by other authors (such as John Calvin or Augustine) and the magnitude of Owen’s thought. For those who have come to appreciate the depth and clarity of Owen’s writings, this is an exciting surprise.

Second, Lee Gatiss has chosen a unique approach. Rather than presenting the readings in thematic order, as many devotionals do, he organized them chronologically. This gives readers a unique perspective, allowing them to walk and grow with Owen throughout the year, starting with his earliest writings and ending with his more mature reflections. As Sinclair Ferguson once said, “To read John Owen is to enter a rare world.” Walking daily through this world is a journey I am eager to pursue.

Readers who have previously been intimidated by Owen’s unfamiliar writing style can be reassured. Gatiss has chosen accessible excerpts and has made some gentle edits that preserve the strength of the original while sounding more familiar to modern ears. He has also chosen devotional writings rather than polemical, although his epitaph (which Gatiss quotes at the end) recognizes how Owen, “with powers more than Herculean, seized and vanquished the envenomed monsters of Arminian, Socinian, and Popish errors.”

The devotional starts with an introduction which includes a short overview of Owen’s life. This is quite sufficient, given that the introduction to each month describes a different period in greater detail, listing Owen’s challenges and writings, as well as the monumental changes his nation was undergoing at that time.

To help you get a taste of this devotional, I am including a few excerpts, starting with a doxology about the atonement, which reflects Owen’s delight in a doctrine he covered in several writings: “With what a glorious, soul-appeasing light does the doctrine of satisfaction and atonement by the blood of Christ, the Son of God, come in upon us! This first astonishes, then conquers, then ravishes and satisfies the soul. This is what we looked for. This we were sick for, and knew it not. … This meets with people in all their wanderings, stops them in their investigations, convinces them of the darkness, folly, uncertainty, falseness, of all their reasonings about these things—and that with such an evidence and light as at once subdues them, captivates their understanding, and quiets their souls.”[1]

Knowing how much Owen suffered throughout his life (one can only imagine his pain at the death of his wife and ten of his eleven children—not to mention his poor health and the hostility of his enemies), this devotional abounds in words of comfort, stemming from a firm trust in God’s sovereign care for his children: “We know that it is only a little while before it will be no grief of heart to us to have done or suffered anything for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Those who feel dismayed by the increasing abrasiveness of our polarized culture will find new courage in the words of a man who lived in another polarized time, when the rapid and largely unexpected proliferation of Protestant denominations left many Christians disconcerted. “There may be many divisions amongst the people of God,” Owen said, “and yet none of them are divided from Christ, the head. The branches of a tree may be entangled by strong winds, and stricken against one another, and yet none of them be broken off from the tree itself; and when the storm is over, every one possesses its own place in quietness, beauty, and fruitfulness. Whilst the strong winds of temptations are upon the followers of Christ, they may be tossed and entangled; but not being broken off from the root, when he shall say to the winds, ‘Peace, be still,’ they will flourish again in peace and beauty.”[2]

The book’s last entry gives us a picture of Owen’s frame of mind as he approached his time of departure from this world: “My present business is only to stir up the minds of believers to a due contemplation of the glory of Christ in the sacred, mysterious constitution of his person, as God and man in one. … The light of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus is that satisfactory good alone which I desire and seek after.”[3]

By then, I believe the reader will say with confidence that Owen has discharged this “business” and that he continues to do so with each new reader.

In the book’s introduction, Gatiss states his hope and prayer for this volume: “Over the course of the year we should … catch an authentic glimpse of Owen, not abstractly but as he developed and grew in his walk with the Lord and understanding of his ways. I pray that you also will develop and grow in your walk with the Lord, as I have, by engaging with the teaching of this fallible but faithful man of God.”

It is a prayer I believe God will richly grant.

Simonetta Carr is the author of numerous books, including Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them: Schizophrenia through a Mother’s Eyes, and the series Christian Biographies for Young Readers (Reformation Heritage Books).

[1] John Owen, Lee Gatiss, Daily Readings – John Owen, May 29

[2] Ibid., May 31

[3] Ibid., December 31

Photo of Simonetta Carr
Simonetta Carr
Simonetta Carr is the author of numerous books, including Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them: Schizophrenia through a Mother’s Eyes, and the series Christian Biographies for Young Readers (Reformation Heritage Books).
Monday, January 9th 2023

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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