Protestant Profiles #17: Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon

Selina Hastings (1707-1791)


Born: Leicestershire, England
Role: Patroness of evangelical ministry; founder of eponymous Connexion; Principal of Trevecca College
Emphases: Training of effective gospel ministers; Calvinistic Methodism; renewal of English Church

Due to a combination of illness and endeavouring to spend more time with family during a holiday break, this installment of the series is regrettably both late and concise.  

Selina Shirley (later Hastings) was born in the early 18th century to a noble family and herself married an earl in 1728. Her marriage lasted for the better part of two decades, before her husband’s death in 1746. Following her conversion seven years earlier, the Countess Huntingdon was active in the evangelical scene of the Anglican church – but her significance to Protestant history – and the Methodist movement in particular – largely came about during her four and a half decades of widowhood.

The Countess was part of the very early Methodist movement and a member of the society established by the Wesley brothers and others. But over time, she found that her theological perspective aligned much more comfortably with the emergent Calvinist branch of Methodism, which included figures such as George Whitefield (see next profile).

Taking advantage of a legal provision which allowed the English nobility to establish their own private chapels and appoint chaplains (in reality ‘preachers’) as they saw fit, the Countess financed and facilitated a network of godly, revivalistic preachers across the country. While there were apparently some grumblings within church and society that she was overstretching this provision, the Countess was not prevented from establishing more than 60 chapels that allowed for ministers of her choosing to conduct evangelistic preaching ministries.

The Countess established an evangelical Bible College in Wales in 1768 – effectively the world’s first Methodist seminary – but it did not manage to attract the number of ministry candidates she had hoped for. Eventually her excessive liberality with respect to acquiring personal chapels and chaplains reached a breaking point with the Anglican establishment and in 1783, she found herself and part of her network operating outside of the state church – effectively becoming a dissenting denomination which would come to be known as the “Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion.” While the Connexion had an entirely male ministry, it was at the time perhaps the only English denomination that was in effect headed by a woman.

One of her biographers, H.M. Jones says of the Countess:

“Lady Huntingdon’s significance was remarkable. The roles she exercised (hostess, patroness and private spiritual exhorter) were acceptable for a woman of high rank, but she exercised them on an unparalleled scale, thanks to her combination of rank and wealth with an iron will and charismatic character. She thus acquired a degree of religious authority that was, for a woman, almost unprecedented. By hosting worship and preaching in her own home (a great mansion) she created an alternative space for worship from that of the established church. By giving her patronage to not one or two, but to hordes of preachers and clergy, she became, in one sense of the word, their bishop.”[1]

Measuring the Countess’ true impact as a patron of the Methodist renewal movement is a difficult task. On the one hand, the college and denomination she founded continue to this day in different forms – but they do not appear to be making the same impact on the 21st century religious landscape of the U.K. that their founder had on the 18th. On the other hand, everyone who heard Whitefield and the other preachers that she supported is long gone – and yet in the last 250 years or so, surely thousands upon thousands of people have become Christians in England, Wales and around the world during the harvest of the seeds the Countess of Huntingdon sowed through her financial and spiritual investments in her 50 years of zealous ministry.


[1] D.M. Jones, “Huntingdon, Selina Hastings, Countess of”, Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, p. 320-321.

“Countess of Huntingdon” wikipedia

Protestant Profiles #16: John Wesley

John Wesley (1703 – 1791)


Born: Epworth, Lincolnshire, England
Role: Minister, Preacher, Founder of (Wesleyan Methodism)
Emphases: personal holiness; justification by faith; circuit preaching & lay ministry
Protested against: Catholic sacramentalism; transubstantiation, purgatory; indulgences

John Wesley is an interesting, yet significant figure when it comes to the history of Protestant Christianity. He made an enormous contribution to the emergence of evangelicalism through his pioneering Methodist movement.

Wesley was born to Anglican rector Samuel Wesley and his devout wife Susanna. Both of his parents came from dissenting religious backgrounds, but had migrated to the Church of England earlier in their lives. Though Wesley would not found the religious movement known as “Methodism” for many years, the ‘methodical’ approach to religion and devotion was part of his upbringing – as his mother trained all of the Wesley children rigorously in the knowledge of Scripture and in spiritual exercises.

Wesley’s desire for holiness of life and true, inner spirituality was a constant theme during his youth, education and early ministry. He treated his daily activities and religious progress with the utmost seriousness and famously formed a group at Oxford University (known derisively as the “Holy Club”) to pursue a live that was more devout than that of the typical university student or academic.

Wesley’s “General Questions” were a series of spiritual diagnostic inquiries to determine the genuineness of one’s religion and motives. They are worth reproducing here as a sample of his flavor of spirituality:

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
  4. Can I be trusted?
  5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  7. Did the Bible live in me today?
  8. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  9. Am I enjoying prayer?
  10. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  11. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  13. Do I disobey God in anything?
  14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  17. How do I spend my spare time?
  18. Am I proud?
  19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
  20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  22. Is Christ real to me?[1]

There can be little doubt that Wesley’s rigourous and methodical outlook enabled him to excel at religious duties and spiritual disciplines where so many others have failed. But his quest for sincerity also led him to doubt the genuineness of his spirituality. He was heavily influenced by Moravian Christians in his early thirties and concluded that there was something pivotal to their Christian experience that was missing in his own. When he was just shy of thirty-five, he had what has come to be known as his “Aldersgate Experience”, where his heart was “strangely warmed” during a reading of Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans and he experienced a deep assurance of his salvation.

In 1739 Wesley began to establish Methodist societies – small parachurch groupings where Christians who were serious about conversion and holiness could gather and be encouraged, while reaching out to people in their local area. These groups were designed to facilitate Wesley’s goal of reformation and revival within the Anglican Church – but as with previous (i.e. Puritan) attempts at such spiritual renewal within the state church, Methodism began as a grassroots movement inside local parishes across the country, but would end as a completely separate religious entity due to the Church’s unwillingness to change.

Wesley earned the ire of Anglican authorities for his willingness to appoint lay preachers who were not authorized – let alone ordained – by the state church. Wesley himself was an indomitable itinerant preacher, constantly travelling to preach and establish the movement in different parts of the country. Methodist preachers followed suit, travelling in circuits from town to town to preach and provide pastoral care to Christians who belonged to the new societies.

Wesley and other notable, early Methodist figures (see our next 2 Profiles) had a widespread impact on Christianity in England and the American colonies. Despite Methodism never growing to become a large demographic percentage in either country, its vitality and dedication to the gospel were catalysts for positive change in other sections of the Christian community.

Wesley’s rejection of Calvinist soteriology in favour of a modified form of evangelical Arminianism sets him apart from many of the other figures featured in this series. Some Reformed Christians would see certain Wesleyan theological emphases as departures from the theology of the Reformation. But for all the deficiencies in his theology, Wesley did faithfully propagate many of the core doctrines and emphases of evangelical Protestantism and bequeathed that legacy to his followers (though many who claim to follow him have long since departed from them!).

His approach to Christian piety was an earnest and affective response to the lacklustre spirituality of the Anglican church in his day – and yet it carries with it a dangerous over-optimism about sanctification in this life. But Wesley possessed a remarkable passion for spreading the gospel and his thought and ministry have made an enormous impact on Protestantism and evangelicalism ever since.

Millions of Christians – not only in the Methodist Church, but offshoots such as Holiness Churches; the Salvation Army; the Church of Nazarene and many branches of Pentecostalism – continue to be impacted by Wesley’s emphasis on holiness and example of dedicated ministry. Even those who hold deep concerns about his understanding of sovereignty, soteriology and sanctification can find things about him to admire and give thanks for.

Protestant Profiles #15: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)


Born: East Windsor, Conneticut Colony, North America
Role: Pastor/Preacher; revivalist; theologian; supporter of mission to Native Americans; 3rd President of Princeton University
Emphases: Beauty, Majesty and Sovereignty of God; religious affections; justification by faith
Protested against: Arminianism, false revivalism

Jonathan Edwards looms as a giant of giants among early American Protestants. Dubbed by some “the last of the Puritans,” Edwards was a major figure in the religious revival known as the “(First)  Great Awakening” and delivered perhaps the most famous sermon in the English language. He had an incredible impact: in his native New England; throughout America; and across the Atlantic. His influence would also later inspire many missionaries as they prepared to take the gospel to unreached parts of the world.

Edwards became assistant minister to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, in his mid-20s. A couple of years later his grandfather died, leaving the young Edwards in charge of one of New England’s most prestigious and important churches. Edwards was concerned with the spiritual health of many in his congregation, but in the mid 1730s (a few years into his solo ministry), he began to see some incredible results in response to his faithful, gospel preaching.

In the space of just six months, around 300 people were recorded as experiencing a meaningful spiritual conversion under Edwards’ ministry. Edwards took a great interest in how Christians should understand the nature of true conversion and this concern characterised his ministry and writing for many years to come – as religious revivals occurred across the land. Edwards rejoiced in the ministry of the revival-preachers that saw much fruit in New England during the next decade, such as George Whitfield and Gilbert Tennent, but he grew concerned about some of the emotionalism and unscriptural attitudes that arose as the Great Awakening unfolded.

In addition to his production of several important treatments of the nature and characteristics of true revivals, the 1740s saw Edwards publish three of his most notable works.

In 1741 he preached his most famous sermon – perhaps the most famous ever American sermon – “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards was not theatrical or manipulative in his presentation, unlike some later revival-preachers, but the sheer gravity of his message about the imminence of divine judgement and the real and present danger of sinners falling into hell-fire at any moment, had a profound impact on many of his hearers. While many Protestants and Evangelicals in the 21st century would be embarrassed by the nature of such a message, there is little denying that Edwards’ handling of these themes in a serious manner carried spiritual potency.

In 1746, he produced a work on Religious Affections, showing his indebtedness to earlier Puritans when it came to the effect that religious knowledge should have upon the hearts of those who receive them. The gospel moved the heart to an intense fear of judgement; an intense love of God and an intense hatred of sin and worldliness. This is the kind of resource from Christian history which is invaluable to those concerned about cold, heady Reformed orthodoxy on the one hand and warm, fuzzy spirituality unanchored in doctrine on the other.

1749 saw Edwards publish the Life and Diary of David Brainerd – detailing the ministry and intense personal struggles of a sincere, Christian young man who had gone to live among Native Americans and share the gospel with them. Through making Brainerd’s life known to many Christians around the world, Edwards was used by God to challenge untold numbers of people to missionary service to the unreached ends of the earth.

A couple of years after publishing this work, Edwards became involved in ministry to Native Americans himself, as his family relocated to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a town where relations were tense between white American settlers and local tribes. Edwards enjoyed a productive, but by no means easy ministry during the 1750s, before accepting the presidency of the College of New Jersey (today Princeton University) in 1758. In a strange and unexpected twist to the end of his life and ministry he died in March of that year after volunteering as a test subject for a smallpox vaccine in the name of promoting medical research. He was president of the college for just a few weeks.

Edwards theology and spirituality continue to have a sizeable impact on American Reformed Evangelicalism and he continues to attract the interest of lay Christians, pastors and scholars in many parts of the English speaking world: including the UK, South Africa and Australia. As we celebrate 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, Edwards not only reminds us that religious revivals do have a legitimate place in the life, ministry and history of our movement – but provides us with resources to evaluate the extent to which a “move of God” is occurring.

You can read Edwards’ well known “Resolutions” for living (produced when he was around 20 years old), here.
Or Desiring God has an extensive treatment of his life and ministry by John Piper here.


“Jonathan Edwards” at Wikipedia
R.W. Caldwell & D.A. Sweeney, “EDWARDS, Jonathan” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals
Diane Severance, “The Great Awakening”

Protestant Profiles #14: John Bunyan

John Bunyan (1628-1688)


Born: Bedfordshire, England
Role: Author, baptist preacher and pastor
Emphases: Christian life as pilgrimage/warfare; divine grace; justification by faith
Protested against: Roman Catholicism; legalism; English Religious Conformity; Quakerism

Pressed for time this week, so a disproportionately short sketch of a very significant figure in Church History follows, supplemented by a helpful video about his life and ministry. 

John Bunyan came from humble beginnings, had a colourful, personal spiritual and religious journey and endured a fair share of suffering for his biblical convictions. He became the author of one of the most notable works of English literature – a book which has been called the first English novel and one of the best-selling and most widely read English texts after the KJV Bible.

Bunyan was the son of a tinker and learned his father’s trade, before being swept up in the chaos of the English Civil Wars, in which he served as soldier in the Parliamentary Army that was waging war on forces loyal to King Charles I. He had something of a spiritual awakening as a result of reading devotional works of earlier Puritans, Arthur Dent and  Lewis Bayly. His first wife had gifted him with copies of Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Pietywhich he read with great interest and acknowledged the profound impact they had on his outlook for the rest of his life.

At least as early as his late twenties, Bunyan was associating with Separatist congregations of Independent or Baptist persuasion, which operated outside the structures of the official, national English Church. He was an effective preacher and came to have a significant influence amongst these congregations. It was likely because of this that he was singled out for particularly harsh treatment by the authorities when the monarchy was restored in 1660 and  (what we would now call) Anglicanism was enforced as the state religion. Bunyan spent 12 years in prison from 1660-1672 for rejecting the Book of Common Prayer and preaching without a state-sanctioned licence to do so.

His masterpiece, Pilgrim’s Progress, is believed to have been penned in the mid-late 1670s, while Bunyan was imprisoned for a second, much shorter period. It is a Christian allegory, charting the journey of a pilgrim (named ‘Christian’) from his homeland (“The City of Destruction”) to the Celestial City, after being told the good news by a character called Evangelist. Along the way, Christian is joined and encouraged by other pilgrims and meets characters who bring him spiritual refreshment or enlightenment. But the journey is perhaps even more characterised by Christian’s encounters with characters and places that threaten to prevent him from reaching his destination.

Christian embarks on his journey

Thousands of Christians in the last three centuries have been blessed and encouraged by this work (not to mention Bunyan’s other writings) as they see themselves and their own struggles in the story of the Pilgrim’s journey. Every page drips with the intense, Puritan vision of the spiritual life as a quest to remain faithful to Christ and follow Him to the Heavenly Jerusalem in the midst of perilous temptations, trials and discouragements.

Desiring God has a full and free version of Pilgrim’s Progress, which includes a more substantial biographical account of Bunyan’s life by John Piper. A great opportunity to read this classic if you never have before (or would like to again!). The video below gives a good account of Bunyan’s life and historical context if you prefer something audiovisual.


“John Bunyan” wikipedia

“Pilgrim’s Progress” wikipedia

D.L. Jeffrey “BUNYAN, John” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

Protestant Profiles #13: Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686)


Born: Yorkshire, England
Role: Pastor; author; presbyterian activist; promoter of Puritan piety
Emphases: the Puritan idea of godliness; need for regeneration; Westminster theology
Protested against: hypocrisy and formal religion; Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic doctrine and worship

Watson is one of the most frequently quoted and republished Puritans, but relatively little is known about his origins or personal life. But with his promotion of godliness; ability to apply theology pastorally and practically; and capacity for warm, vivid and often striking preaching and writing – Watson represents some of the best aspects of the Puritan movement on both sides of the Atlantic.

Watson came to prominence in a very unstable time in English history. This is best illustrated by the fact that his first published work was the transcript of a sermon he preached before the nation’s parliament – just after control of it had been seized by partisans aligned with the victors of the first and second English Civil Wars. Not long after this sermon was delivered, this group of politicians and officers executed King Charles I (the loser of the Civil Wars) – an act which shocked Watson and many of his more moderate peers. In this key sermon, Watson criticised many of those in attendance as using religious pretenses to satisfy their greed and ambitions for power and preached sharply against all forms of hypocrisy.

“If there are any here, that when they should have been doing God’s work, have been by stealth hiding the Babylonish garment [see Joshua 7], making themselves rich, feathering their own nests; who, instead of driving in nails into God’s temple to fasten it, have been driving a wedge of gold into their chests – God sees it!”[1]

Many of the winners in the Civil War were religiously affiliated with the Puritan movement in some way, shape or form, but mere outward profession meant very little to Watson. He firmly believed that the theology and principles of the Protestant Reformation necessitated the recovery of a certain kind of spirituality described in the Bible. All outward religious expressions had to be genuine reflections of one’s heart towards God – highlighted by YHWH’s complaint against Israel in the OT that they honoured Him with their lips, but their hearts were far away and Jesus’ contentions with the scribes and Pharisees about their hypocrisy and selective obedience in the NT. Therefore, Watson cared little whether his contemporaries claimed to be “reformed” if their actions betrayed them as insincere.

Much of Watson’s ministry focused on how to live the Christian life appropriately in light of the truths revealed in the Gospel. His work The Godly Man’s Picture was written to present an in-depth picture of what godliness was according to the Puritan understanding of the Bible, at a time when those with Watson’s beliefs were facing persistent religious persecution. The last work he published before his death (Religion our True Interest republished in the 20th Century as The Great Gain of Godliness) returned to this important theme, with a particular focus on how godly Christians should live in the difficult times they found themselves in. His best known work, A Body of Practical Divinity (published by friends a few years after his death) systematically works through the Presbyterian theology formulated by the Westminster Assembly (during the 1640s) and Watson goes to great lengths to apply each doctrine pastorally and practically.

An excellent sample of this comes from his treatment of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s fundamental question, “What is the chief end of man?” “A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever”:

Glorifying God consists in APPRECIATION. To glorify God is to set God highest in our thoughts, and to have a venerable esteem of him. “You, Lord, are most high for evermore!” “You are exalted far above all gods!” There is, in God, all that may draw forth both wonder and delight; there is a constellation of all beauties; he is the original and springhead of being, who sheds a glory upon the creature. We glorify God, when we are God-admirers! Admire his attributes, which are the glistening beams by which the divine nature shines forth! Admire his promises which are the charter of free grace, and the spiritual cabinet where the pearl of price is hid! Admire the noble effects of his power and wisdom in making the world, which is called “the work of his fingers.” To glorify God is to have God-admiring thoughts; to esteem him most excellent, and search for diamonds in this rock alone!

Watson was not afraid to take risks and suffer for his convictions. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London and came close to being executed in 1651 for his involvement in a plot to restore the monarchy with Charles I’s son (also Charles and later Charles II) as the king. He saw this as a way of righting the wrongs done by the parliamentarians who executed the king and hoped the new king would bring about a better religious status quo (Charles II had promised to implement Presbyterian government in the Church of England upon his return, which he later reneged on).

In 1660 the monarchy was eventually re-established, but Watson received no favour from the new king for his earlier support. In 1662, he was ejected from his ministry within the national church for his refusal to subscribe to unbiblical religious regulations being imposed upon the clergy by the bishops who returned to power with the king. He carried out the next decade of his ministry as an effective ‘outlaw’ preacher – unable to hold meetings in the usual places, but still determined to exhort local Christians to live godly lives in the midst of great ungodliness.

Watson’s great gift to the church today is his clear presentation of the Puritan vision of godliness and biblical spirituality. There are things that contemporary evangelicals are right to disagree with the Puritans on, when it comes to how we should approach the Christian life, but there is comparatively much more we could learn – and be corrected on – by clear and notable promoters of Puritan piety like Watson.

Today many professedly Reformed Christians could do with the same wake-up call from Watson that those in the English Parliament received three and a half centuries ago – about whether our hearts are sincerely devoted to God. In a time when many are guilty of a kind of cold, over-rationalised orthodoxy that more resembles the Vulcans of the Star Trek universe than the holistic piety practiced by many earlier generations of faithful Christians – Watson could be the remedy that many Protestant Christians and churches are in need of.

“Strive for the reality of godliness. Do not rest in the common workings of God’s Spirit. Do not think that it is enough to be intelligent and discursive. A man may discourse of piety to the admiration of others, yet not feel the sweetness of those things in his own soul.  The lute gives a melodious sound to others, but does not at all feel the sound itself.”[3]

You can read more about Watson’s life, ministry and significance here.

My doctoral research is focused on the significance of Thomas Watson and I can’t recommend highly enough that you read him for yourself! To get a taste for his emphasis on genuine heart piety, start here or here.


[1] God’s Anatomy Upon a Man’s Heart (1649)
[2] A Body of Practical Divinity (1692)
[3] The Godly Man’s Picture (1666)

Protestant Profiles #12: John Owen

John Owen (1616-1683)


Born: Oxfordshire, England
Role: Chaplain; minister; theologian; Puritan/Congregationalist leader, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University
Emphases: regeneration; communion with the Triune God; person and work of Christ; person and work of Holy Spirit; mortification of sin; holiness; limited atonement
Protested Against: Arminianism; unreformed Church of England; Socinianism; Catholic inconsistency of doctrine; mass; purgatory; papacy; Roman Catholic worship

John Owen is one of the most significant figures of all time in English Christianity. He has variously been described as “Prince of Puritans,” the greatest ever English-language theologian,  the “Atlas and Patriarch of Independency” (explained below) and the “Calvin of England.” He came to prominence during a period of major political upheaval in English history – which was also the zenith of the Puritan movement in that country – and would become a notable figure in the religious and political spheres.

Owen was the son of vicar, who went to university at Oxford, with the apparent goal of following his father in the path of clerical ministry. His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the first English Civil War and he appears to have had a religious awakening around this time that established him as a practitioner of Puritan piety.

Writing ministry

Owen’s greatest impact in his own lifetime and beyond is undoubtedly his publication of theological and scholarly works. His earliest publication The Display of Arminianism demonstrated his Reformed convictions clearly and earned him some attention amongst English Calvinists. In his early ministry he published an essay “For the Practice of Church Government” and revisited this topic in his later years in his Treatise on Evangelical Churches. How the church should be organised and run was a major issue facing Protestants during the 17th century – particularly in the English context – and Owen’s contributions were important articulations of congregationalism: the independent governance of each local church.

Among Owen’s most notable works are The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (dealing with the doctrine of Christ’s atonement and again contesting the claims of Arminianism); The Mortification of Sin (a practical work on dealing with sin in the believer’s life); Communion with God (how to live the Christian life in relationship with God as Trinity); The Glory of Christ: His Office and His Grace Pneumatologia (an in-depth book on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit) and his Commentary on the Book of Hebrews.

While many readers have found Owen’s writing style to be rather dense, it is his capacity to think deeply about theological issues and treat them thoroughly that his earned him his reputation as a Puritan luminary.

Preacher, chaplain, scholar & church leader

Owen held pastoral positions in Essex in his late twenties and early thirties and began to shift his ministry context from Presbyterian to Congregationalist during this time. He preached before Parliament the day after King Charles I was executed by leading members of the faction that had seized control of England following two civil wars. He became one of the favourites preachers of the new regime and became a chaplain to Oliver Cromwell and his forces when they went to subdue Ireland to English rule.

Cromwell’s patronage led to Owen becoming the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University (the most prestigious academic post in the country then, as now) from 1651-1657. But in stark contrast to the academic and administrative nature of such a role in today’s universities, Owen not only ran the institution but acted as its spiritual leader – preaching God’s Word to the students in chapel services and seeking to shape the culture of the campus into one of godliness. He also used this position to continue championing the evangelical faith and attack heretical teaching that was gaining ground in the country. He did however display a considerable degree of religious toleration – allowing Anglicans at Oxford to hold their own services, rather than being forced to conform to Puritan worship.

As the leading figure in Independent or Congregationalist Christianity in England, Owen (in partnership with another notable Congregationalist named Thomas Goodwin) was heavily involved in the drafting of the Savoy Declaration: a declaration of faith based on the Westminster Confession but diverging from it on matters of church organisation. Through the denominationalisation of the Independent movement into the Congregationalism of the late 17th century and beyond, the Declaration became one of Owen’s greatest enduring influences on the faith of Christians in subsequent centuries.

The monarchy was restored in England in 1660 and Charles I’s son became King Charles II. Most of the Puritans who had supported regime change after the Civil Wars suffered greatly under the political and religious policies that occurred after the restoration. Owen was not in favour with the political establishment in these years, but he was still well-connected enough to enjoy some influence and protection from serious harassment. The King and others recognised him as a spiritual leader of the Congregationalists and he was able to act as a representative of Puritans on various occasions.

Political involvement

Owen was actually, for a short time, the Member of Parliament for Oxford University and had some involvement in that capacity in the affairs of the state. He was very closely connected with those who put the king to death in 1649, but it is unclear to what extent he himself favoured such an approach.

He suffered politically for his objections to Cromwell establishing himself as monarch – costing him the support of key members of the regime. He may have subsequently had a degree of involvement in the sequence of events that included the overthrow of Cromwell’s son Richard and the re-establishment of parliament, which eventually led to the restoration of the monarchy.


Owen was clearly a remarkable man with enormous personal capacity not only for engaging with ideas on a deep level, but also for advancing the gospel and biblical truths in a program of reform. He was committed to furthering the Reformation and seeing England reformed more fully by God’s Word. I’m fairly certain that no one reading these words will be the John Owen of our times – but we could all have a greater impact on church and society by learning from both his teaching and example.

Owen said that seeing people put to death their sins and Christians everywhere advancing in their personal holiness was the great goal and desire of his life. Everything he did and wrote was done with that purpose in mind. We need men and women, all over the world, in the 21st century to pursue gospel ministry with such aims “to the glory of God, so that the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things.”

You can read a fuller treatment of Owen’s life and ministry here.



Trueman, “John Owen” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals 

“John Owen” wikipedia

William Orme, Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Religious Connexions of John Owen 

Thoughts on the Arab-Israeli Conflict: on the 50th Anniversary of the Six Day War

Arab-Israeli Conflict


This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, when Israel was attacked by a coalition of Arabic armies, including the national militaries of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. This was a significant event in the Arab-Israeli conflict that has characterised the politics of the Middle East for many decades.

As far as global conflicts and geo-political affairs go, this ongoing struggle (which includes the dispute over Israeli and Palestinian statehood) has been unique in its ability to capture the attention of Christians and generate controversy amongst our community.

Over the years I’ve gone from paying very close attention to this conflict to comparatively little. I’ve also swung between hard-line support for Palestinian statehood, to staunch support of Israel – before eventually landing at what I hope is a more thoughtful and moderate position.

I thought the anniversary of the conflict provides an opportunity to collect some of my thoughts on how we should approach the issues involved in the ongoing tension between Israel and its Arab neighbours (especially the Palestinians). I’ve provided these positions in point form and I have little doubt they’ll be met with a mixture of opposition and support from readers. I welcome disputation or calls for clarification on what are contentious points concerning a very vexed situation.

Israel’s right to exist 

-Israel’s right to exist as a peaceful, stable, democratic sovereign state should be an incontestable reality in international politics.

-Israel’s right to take any and all reasonable steps to protect its people, sovereignty and national institutions from hostile nations and terrorist organisations should likewise be indisputable.

-The refusal of the government of any nation to recognise Israel as a nation is a position so closely akin to anti-Semitism that it is difficult to imagine a scenario where a nation or government could adopt such a stance without possessing a deep antipathy for the Jewish people. Such governments ought to be condemned as irresponsible members of the international community.

-The 1948 Arab-Israeli War, 1967 Six Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War are all unjustified expressions of Arab aggression against the Jewish people and their right to a homeland in the vicinity of their ancestral territory.

The problems with Zionism and dispensationalism as Christian positions 

-Despite the above assertions, Zionism is to be rejected insomuch as it promotes Jewish exceptionalism; blind support for the Israeli state, government and/or military irrespective of the morality of their actions; excuses Israeli mistreatment of Arabs under the pretext of defence or security where this is unwarranted; or completely rules out the possibility of a Palestinian State.

-Christian Zionism that has its roots in dispensational theology is an illegitimate and unhelpful stance for believers in Christ to take towards the conflict. The Jews are not God’s people in an unrestricted sense, nor is the Gentile church a parenthetical phase in God’s plan. Jesus is the perfect embodiment of Israel and under the New Covenant, people of every nation, tribe and tongue become God’s people through union with Christ.

-Jews who do not confess Jesus as the Messiah should not be regarded as God’s covenant people in the same way they were before His coming. God is not bound by covenant to fulfill promises concerning the land of Canaan he made to Abraham by granting this territory to his descendants apart from Christ.

-The right of the Jewish people to possess a democratic nation-state in the Palestinian region should instead be grounded in international law and their historic connection to the land, instead of a perceived prophetic necessity.

Towards a two-state solution

-A peaceful, two-state solution which recognises the integrity of Israel’s borders and right to national sovereignty and security, as well as the right of Palestinians to peaceful self-determination and democratic representation within an internationally recognised nation-state – remains a desirable goal, despite the seeming impossibility of its realisation.

-In order for the above to transpire, Israel must be willing to cede sovereignty of some of the territory it captured from Arab aggressors in 1967 to the Palestinian people. The representatives of the Palestinian people must be willing to commit themselves to the national security of Israel by pledging a policy of permanent non-aggression towards the State of Israel, refusing to harbour terrorists or anti-Israeli militia etc;

-Both parties must deal with the realpolitik of the region in coming to a future agreement about territory. There is no innate need for Israel to cede the entirety of its territory captured in 1967 to a Palestinian state, nor should it necessarily cede all of West Bank or Gaza Strip, nor a portion of Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Such details must be worked out in the course of reasonable, good-faith negotiations.

-Israel should permanently cease establishing and expanding any new settlements in contested territory, especially areas that are under de facto Palestinian control or are likely to become part of a future Palestinian state. But again, Israel should not be expected to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians or its other neighbours if there is no guarantee from these parties that they will not use regained territory as strategic positions for military aggression.

-The ultimate fate of the contested Jewish settlements must be decided through mutually agreeable border negotiations between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority.

-Hamas is a terrorist organisation which refuses to recognise Israel’s existence and holds to a radical form of Islam which includes deep hatred of the Jewish people.

-Israel should never be expected to recognise Hamas as a legitimate political organisation and be forced into negotiations with them as though they were the legitimate government of a sovereign state.

-While the Palestinian Authority and its major component (Fatah/PLO) are guilty of inappropriate behaviour and violent acts at various times during the course of their history, they ought to be regarded as legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people and continue to be viewed by Israel as potential partners in the peace process.

Israel’s faults must be acknowledged

-Observers of the conflict must recognise and condemn Jewish terrorism where it has occurred. This includes historical attacks carried out by the Stern Gang in the years leading up to Israeli independence, as well as recent attacks on Palestinians by extremist Jewish settlers.

-Likewise, instances where Israeli forces have committed atrocities should also be condemned. This includes their participation in the Sabra and Shatila massacre under Ariel Sharon, extra-judicial killings and any operations that do not adequately preserve the safety of civilians.

Further considerations for Christians 

-Christian support for Israelis or Palestinians should be tempered by the reality that our brothers and sisters in Christ constitute a small minority in both ethnic/national groups and as a largely innocent party in the conflict they stand to potentially suffer from any callous actions instigated by Islamic terrorists or the IDF.

-Lasting peace in the region is unlikely until the coming of Christ – however it remains vital for Christians to pray for peace and the advance of the gospel amongst Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Muslims.

-Likewise international governments and organisations should continue to urge Israeli and Palestinian representatives to resume good-will peace negotiations – however unachievable this may seem at times.