Jon Payne on John Owen and the Means of Grace

Word, sacraments and prayer are the means of grace. Owen is needed, because our churches are losing their Reformed moorings because of an over-emphasis on urban culture, and a substitute of our own means of grace for God’s means of grace.

Owen was raised by a non-conformist father. His time at Oxford was long and fulsome. He went to hear Edmund Calamy, but, in God’s providence, Calamy was not there. Yet the Lord used the substitute’s message to work powerfully in Owen’s life. Married Mary Rook. Had 11 children, only 1 of whom lived to adulthood. Owen was an ecclesiastical statesman, as being chaplain to Oliver Cromwell.

Public worship and liturgy was a hugely controversial subject at the time, and figured large in Owen’s work. As Mohler would say, if you want to know what a church is really like, go worship with them and listen to the preaching. You will learn who they are by looking at their worship. Lex credendi, lex orandi: the law of belief is the law of worship. If there is such a thing as acceptable worship, then there is such a thing as unacceptable worship. The persons of the worshipers need to be accepted first. Secondly, worship can only be of God’s own appointment. Evangelical graces need to be exercised in worship. Getting worship outwardly correct is not enough. There needs to be a subjectively active and pious attendance on worship.

God’s means of grace are efficacious: they work! In our modern age where people no longer believe this, we hear from the Word that the means of grace work as efficacious for salvation. Owen didn’t write anything on preaching. The sermons we have are parliament sermons, not his normal week to week sermons. Owen’s sermons on the Lord’s Supper are rich sacramental theology (and are in volume 9).



  1. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 19, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    So … Owen adds”fellowship” to the means of grace.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    April 19, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    No, actually he doesn’t. He only speaks of Word, sacraments, and prayer.

  3. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 19, 2013 at 8:21 pm


    You’re probably correct. I had confused Owen with Marshall, who discusses means of grace in Chap 13 of “The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification”:

    13.2.10. Another great mean is fellowship and communion with the saints (Acts 2:42). First, this mean must be used diligently. Whosoever God saves should be added to some visible church and come into communion of other saints…

    The reason I raised the issue was that I’m finding great variation in opinion on what the means of grace are, and I was hoping to hear some discussion on that point.


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