Wednesday, March 18, 2015
John Owen: Adversus Fanaticos
I just finished reading John Owen’s “A Defense of Sacred Scripture Against Modern Fanaticism” (published as an appendix in John Owen, Biblical Theology: The History of Theology from Adam to Christ [Soli Deo Gloria, 1994]: pp. 769-854). This is Stephen P. Westcott’s English translation/interpretation of Owen’s original Latin work which appeared under the title, “Pro Sacris Scripturis Adversus Huius Temporis Fanaticos Exercitationes Apologeticae Quattuor.”
Owen published this work in 1659 along with two others which addressed the nature of Scripture: “Of the Divine Original, Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures” and “A Vindication of the Purity and Integrity of the Hebrew and Greek Texts of the Old and New Testaments.”
In this work, Owen’s primary opponents are those “commonly called ‘quiverers’ or ‘Quakers’” (p. 777), though he also takes exception with others, whether they be “Jews, Romanists, Enthusiasts, pseudo-friends or open enemies of the Christian religion” (p. 817) who, in his view, deny the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.
Owen’s rebuttal of Quakers (the “charismatics” of his day) necessarily involved his affirmation of cessationism in light of the sufficiency of Scripture:
We believe and confess that the Bible is the complete and perfect rule, delivered to us by God that we might achieve our salvation and His greater glory, and thus, since the completion of the canon of Scripture (as scholars call it), there have been no new revelations concerning the common faith of the saints or the due worship of God, and so none are to be expected or admitted (p. 826).
For Owen, the Quaker appeal to the “inner light” or to experience challenged both the authority and sufficiency of Scripture as the final arbiter of questions of doctrine and practice:
By what rule? Shall men be allowed to make their own spirits the touchstone, and judge the spirits by their own spirits? Who then would find any limit to the heap of interpretations that would arise? No, there must be some common rule for the testing of spirits and settling of controversies, or the former will be unrestricted and the latter unending. And I have already shown that the Bible is just such a rule…. It is a necessity to have our faculties trained by practice to “discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14), and in what other school or gymnasium may spiritual discernment be nurtured? Where else can we go but to the Word of God? (p. 813).
You get the sense that Owen would not suffer long with evangelical new Calvinists who want to be “open yet cautious” towards continuationism. Westcott is on target when he says that Owen was “supremely the theologian of the infallible Bible” (p. 772).