Owen, John (1616-1683). Apostasy from the Gospel. Abridged and Made Easy to Read by R.J.K. Law. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992. 178 pp. $9.00. Purchase as WTS Books for less.
John Owen was known as a leading pastor of the Puritans and one of their greatest minds. He served Oliver Cromwell as chaplain and later was appointed as Dean of Christ Church in the University of Oxford. He is most known today for his work on waging war with sin. Regardless, his books remain influential. This particular book, Apostasy from the Gospel is just as much needed today as it was when he wrote it some 400 years ago.
R.J.K. Law was a medical doctor at St. Thomas’ Hospital but later accepted a calling to the ministry and served the Anglican church in four parishes in Devon, England. He has edited a number of Owen’s works.
R.J.K. Law divided this work into 13 chapters over 166 pages of text. Owen began with a look at the nature and cause of apostasy from the gospel before moving into the particulars of apostasy. The book can further be divided into 4 sections. The first section discusses the two different forms of apostasy: partial (ch. 2) and apostasy from the truth of the gospel (ch. 3).
Chapters four through ten detail the reasons and causes of apostasy (ch. 4) from darkness and ignorance (ch. 5) and pride, neglect, and worldliness (ch. 6) to apostasy from the doctrines (ch. 7), and the commands (ch. 8) of the gospel. Chapter nine deals with the apostasy of those in the ministry while chapter ten offers a small treatise on further causes of apostasy.
Chapters eleven and twelve wrestle with apostasy from true worship (ch. 11) and the danger of widespread apostasy (ch. 12). Owen concludes the work with how we, as believers, can defend against apostasy (ch. 13).
Again, it must be noted that this particular edition has been both abridged and made easier to read by R.J.K. Law. I state this because many believe John Owen to be too difficult to read given the use of Elizabethan English from the 17th century. That being said, Law has definitely done a service to modern day Christians with his work in updating the language of John Owen as well as abridging his larger works for the modern reader to be able to read and, consequently, understand.
Ultimately, however, the review is not about the editor’s ability. Instead, we must focus on what Owen wrote. In this particular work, Owen deals with the idea of apostasy. This is a conversation that is rarely discussed in the church today. For many believe in the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” and while this perseverance of the saints is a true doctrine of Scripture, many are left scratching their head as they watch numerous teens and adults leaving the church in droves. Countless books have been written recently to understand why this is the case, but John Owen dealt with this very problem in the 1600’s.
Owen places the reality of apostasy on the truth of regeneration. If one is truly regenerated and born again in Christ, then they will not apostasize. If, however, there is merely a spoken faith, that is, a faith in word only and not backed up by deed, then apostasy is going to be the norm. Owen offers many reasons why people turn their backs on Christ and His bride, the church. Specifically, and while he does not say this explicitly, it is the idea of an easy believism. For Owen, this is what enabled the Roman Catholic Church to grow so large — members were able to live any way they wanted to and yet confess sins and give an offering that would satisfy a holy God. This is wrong and heretical, Owen argues.
As I read this book here in the 21st century, I realized we no longer consider the Roman Catholic Church the great apostasy. For many of us today, we view the same-sex marriage issue and pro-life challenges as the great apostasy. In the end, the reality is that anything that is against Christ is apostasy and until Christ returns, we will deal with the issue of apostasy. Though Owen harps on the Roman Catholic Church, his words are invaluable for us today here in the 21st century as we deal with storm after storm of challenges to the Biblical, Christian faith.
Not everyone will want to read John Owen and that is to their detriment. Owen wrote in as timeless a manner as any of the great theologians before and after his time. Men like Ausgustine and Spurgeon. Owen deserves to be read by all believers and this work deserves to be read by any who are working “out their salvation with fear and trembling.” I highly recommend this book to all Christians.