The Puritan Odd Couple
In the 1600’s a special relationship developed between John Owen (1616-1683), and John Bunyan (1628-1688). Although they were both English Puritans, there were some striking differences between the two men. And yet they were good friends. You might call them the Puritan odd couple.
Bunyan had little education. He spent time in the army, and then worked as a tinker. A tinker was a person who mended household utensils. He learned his trade from his father. Bunyan was also known for simplicity in his preaching.
John Owen was highly educated. He became Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain. He was Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, and Dean of Christ Church. He wrote a number of theological works.1 You probably know his books are always original and profound.2
Bunyan spent twelve years in prison. He was released, and then spent another short period of time in jail. His time in prison was not easy. The prison conditions were not good. Besides he was separated from his wife and the people he loved.
Owen never spent time in prison. Owen was for the most part free to preach his convictions. This was probably due to Owen’s political connections. He had friends in high places. His political connections kept him safe.
Owen tried his best to win Bunyan’s release from prison. He used all his political connections to help Bunyan. But none of his political connections made a difference. Bunyan remained in prison for a long time.
I would imagine Satan and his company of demons rejoiced when they succeeded in placing Bunyan in prison. They finally silenced this simple, but effective preacher. Even the well-educated Owen loved the simplicity of Bunyan’s preaching.
But Bunyan could not, in the end, be silenced. It was during his imprisonment that Bunyan wrote his famous book The Pilgrim’s Progress.3 Today many scholars agree that Pilgrim’s Progress is the second most influential book in the English world. It is second only to the King James Bible.
It is not always easy for us to see what God is doing in our lives. We do not always understand God’s providence. But this has always been the course of church history. When it appears that Satan has won, God turns the tables on our enemies. He takes what appears to be defeat, and turns it into victory.
This of course is the story of the cross. On the day Jesus was crucified all of hell rejoiced. In their minds Satan and the demons succeeded in destroying the King of Glory. But the cross became our sign of victory. For it was on the cross Jesus won salvation for his people. And after making payment for our sins Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later.
Right now, you may not understand what God is doing in your life. But right now, you can trust God’s providential care. You can rejoice and affirm that God will use your situation to sanctify your life, and to proclaim the gospel to the people around you. And at the right time you will be able to agree with the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:12. ‘What has happen to me, brothers, has really served to advance the gospel’ (ESV).
Thus, in the midst of our pain and hurt we sing with confidence Edward Mote’s hymn ‘On Christ the solid Rock I stand’:
1. My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
2. When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
3. His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
4. When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
16 Volume Set
In the 1600’s a special relationship developed between John Owen (1616-1683), and John Bunyan (1628-1688). Although they were both English Puritans, there were some striking differences between the two men. And yet they were good friends. You might call them the Puritan odd couple. Bunyan had little education. He spent time in the army, and […]
- In addition to Owen’s Works, the Trust publishes several of his treatises in ‘abridged and made easy to read’ editions in the Puritan Paperbacks series.
Dan Korzep is a semi-retired OPC pastor living in New England.
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