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On August 22, 1683, at his home in Ealing (a suburb west of London), the great theologian John Owen dictated his last surviving letter to his longtime friend, Charles Fleetwood:

I am going to him whom my soul hath loved, or rather hath love me with an everlasting love; which is the whole ground of all my consolation.

The passage is very irksome and wearisome through strong pain of various sorts which are all issued in an intermitting fever.

All things were provided to carry me to London today attending to the advice of my physician, but we were all disappointed by my utter disability to understand the journey.

I am leaving the ship of the church in a storm, but while the great Pilot is in it the loss of a poore under-rower will be inconsiderable.

Live and pray and hope and waite patiently and doe not despair; the promise stands invincible that he will never leave thee nor forsake thee.

Two days later William Payne, a friend who was overseeing the printing of his latest book, The Glory of Christ, paid him a visit. Payne assured Owen that plans were proceeding well for the publication.

Owen responded:

I am glad to hear it; but O brother Payne! The long wished-for day is come at last, in which I shall see the glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing in the world.

These were Owen’s last recorded words. He died that day, August 24, 1683—St. Bartholomew’s Day—exactly twenty years after the Great Ejection of the Puritans. He was 67 years old.

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14 thoughts on “John Owen’s Final Words”

  1. Damian says:

    Thanks for sharing. And he calls him self “a poore under-rower.” Great example of humility.

  2. Bruce Russell says:

    Damian, I don’t know if Owen was a humble man. I do know he was a tremendously hard working and influential theologian. But how is calling himself is a “a poore under-rower.” a sign of humility? It rather calls attention to his tremendous accomplishments. I suspect he said it tongue in cheek, or in the spirit of his misunderstanding of Romans 7.

    — Bruce

  3. damian says:

    Bruce, I take it as a sign of humility based on the idea of who an under-rower was and did. He was the servant to the church. Also, I’m not sure what you mean by Romans 7, since the Greek word is not mentioned there. Did you mean 1 Cor 4?
    Though I’m not an Owen scholar by any means, I have read a few of his writings and don’t see how this can be tongue-in-cheek. He certainly was a very influential theologian in England, and was used greatly by God for the growth of His church. Yet, he states that God is in control of the church, and his approaching death would not threaten its safety or security.

  4. Bruce Russell says:


    When Paul calls himself “the chief of sinners” he rightly references his own history as a persecutor of the church.

    I don’t know why Owen calls himself “poore”. There is a whole tradition in Puritanism where Paul’s anthropomorphism of Israel in Romans 7, “Oh wretched man that I am!” is applied introspectively in a hyperbolic way. Owen was in fact very wealthy in this world’s goods and the blessings of the next.


  5. Chris says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I feel stirred to hope more fully on the grace that’s coming with the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

  6. damian says:

    Thanks for elaborating on your point. Now I see that we have different interpretations of those key verses, and so we understand Owen differently.

  7. Wesley says:

    Grateful for the life and ministry of this brother. Pray God would raise up many more such men and women of his passionate love and service for their God and King – and may i be one of them.

  8. Lexi J. says:

    Dear Justin or other Puritan lovers,

    Do you know of a book or website or some resource that collects the dying words of the godly Puritans?

  9. This makes me want to give more thought to my final words.

    I don’t want them to be something like: “Could you fluff my pillow?” or “I could use a pair of new slippers.”

  10. Roberto G says:

    I think it’s very safe to say that Owen was not a very tongue in cheek kind of guy. He was indeed a humble servant and saying he was a poor under-rower whose loss would be inconsiderable could not be interpreted otherwise than as a humble confession of his faith in the ship’s (the church’s) Pilot (Jesus) over against his own anything. The storms facing the church are no match for ship’s Pilot!!!

  11. Bruce Russell says:

    The man toiled. He pulled the oars hard for Jesus. He ran a good race and possessed I’m sure equal measures of humility and confidence.


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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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