by William Orme
Formatted, lightly modernized, and annotated (in blue) by William H. Gross www.onthewing.org Feb 2019
The following work embraces the personal history, the theological writings, and the religious connexions of Dr. John Owen. In common with many others, I had long entertained the highest respect for the works of this eminent person; and in the perusal of them, had spent some of the happiest and most profitable hours of my life. The pleasure derived from his writings led me, a few years ago, merely for my own satisfaction, to make some inquiry respecting their author. Not finding such an account as satisfied me, I began to think that a careful examination of his numerous works, and of the contemporaneous productions of his age, might enable me to afford a fuller and more correct view of him, than had yet been given. Thus originated the present volume.
It does not become me to speak of the success which has attended my investigations, as every reader will now form his own opinion. But I may be allowed to state that neither personal labour nor expense has been spared to procure information. And had I been aware, at an early period, of all the difficulties which have been experienced in prosecuting the task, it is more than probable it would never have been undertaken. At a distance from the great depositories of literature — far from the scenes of Owen’s life and labours, and engaged in a service which has a right to the chief part of my time and attention, my inquiries were frequently much retarded and interrupted. I am very far, however, from regretting the labour in which I have been engaged. Whatever may be its effects on others, the personal benefit which I have derived from it myself, is an ample compensation for all the trouble it has cost me.
It is not necessary here to say anything of the sources of information to which I have been chiefly indebted, as they have been in general carefully marked. And I have the satisfaction to assure the reader, that every fact and circumstance in the personal life of Owen, which it was possible to procure and authenticate, has been fully and faithfully given.
Much attention has been paid to the works of Dr. Owen. The difficulty of even obtaining a complete collection of them, may be estimated from a remark made by the author himself, that “some of them he had not seen for nearly twenty years.” As many of them were answers to the books of others, and were replied to, often by more than one opponent, a vast number of works had to be procured and examined, which are now almost entirely unknown. A minute account of all of these will not be expected within the limits of a volume. It would have been much easier, indeed, to have extended the criticism, than it was to confine it within the bounds which it occupies. But it is hoped such an account is in general given, as will gratify the curiosity and in some measure inform the judgment of the reader. Quotations are seldom made except when they contain information respecting the life of the author, or are necessary to illustrate his opinions.
While I have been careful to state what the real sentiments of Owen were, and to rescue them from misrepresentation when necessary, I have not deemed it essential to the faithful discharge of my duty, as his Biographer, to indiscriminately adopt or defend them. Any difference which exists, however, will be found of very small importance, and to more generally respect Owen’s manner of stating his sentiments, than the sentiments themselves. What the Doctor avowed, the writer of his life need not be ashamed to profess: —
In noting the religious connexions of Owen, and the state of parties during his time, I have studied to speak the truth, and to avoid giving unnecessary offence. I am not anxious to lay claim to exemption from partiality for the body with which Owen was chiefly connected, but I trust this has never led me to defend its faults, or to misrepresent its enemies. Convinced that truth is the only thing of importance to myself or others, I have used my best endeavours to discover it, and when discovered, I have fairly told it. It is probable, however, that some mistakes may be detected in the narrative; but these, it is hoped, will not affect any point of moment.
The Appendix contains a number of Notes and Documents which could not be conveniently inserted in the body of the work. As I was uncertain, during the printing of the first part of the volume, what room could be afforded for them, they are not referred to at the bottom of the page. But as they are placed in the regular order in which they illustrate the text, and as each article has its subject and the page of the text to which it belongs marked at the head of it, no serious inconvenience will result from the omission of references.
I have been under various and important obligations to several valuable literary friends, both in Scotland and in England, by whom the work has been rendered more complete than it would otherwise have been. To Dr. Charles Stuart of Dunearn, and Joshua Wilson, Esq. of London, I have been in particular much indebted for the use of many books and tracts which I might in vain have sought for many years. For these and other attentions, they will be pleased to accept my grateful acknowledgments.
“And now,” to adopt the words of Isaac Walton, “I am glad that I have collected these Memoirs, which lay scattered, and contracted them into a narrower compass; and if I have by the pleasant toil of doing so, either pleased or profited any man, I have attained what I designed when I first undertook it. But I seriously wish, both for the reader’s and Dr. Owen’s sake, that posterity had known his great learning and virtue by a better pen — by such a pen, as could have made his life as immortal as his learning and merits ought to be.”
October 15th, 1820.