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“The Furnace of Divine Wrath”: Providence in John Owen’s Preaching on the Plague and Fire of London.

Chris Northcott —

Should we see God’s hand of judgement in Covid-19?

A Hidden Hand in Earthly Events?

As Covid-19 reached New Zealand’s shores in early 2020 and the nation scrambled to prepare for the impending lockdown, the text of Isaiah 26:20 was shared on social media. It reads, “Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by” (NIV). While the explicit idea that Covid-19 was a punitive act of God was not one I saw circulating,[1] it did seem oddly appropriate. It was an eerie text in the circumstances. Seclusion at home for safety (as suggested by Isaiah 26:20) was a new experience for us, and at that moment we had no idea of the extent of the invisible virus amongst us. Should we view the Covid-19 pandemic as an act of divine warning? The experience of John Owen in the later 1660s suggests we should be cautious about doing so.

Providentialist readings of current events have a long history in any society that believes in a higher power that can and will interact with the world. Whether tragedy or triumph; whether at an individual, national, or global level; there is an inclination to expect that God, the gods, fate, or karma are behind events and to wonder at their purpose. Christians are no exception to this way of thinking, and biblical narratives give plenty of reasons to justify such wondering, even if we have arrived at a variety of different ways of understanding how providence might work.

In the mid1660’s, after London had been rocked by a series of portentous events, John Owen (1616–1683) had occasion to consider what God might be doing and what they might mean for his church and for England. Owen was a leading figure of non-conformist Christianity in England at this time. His career among the upper echelons of English political and academic life had recently come to an abrupt halt, and he and his non-conformist co-religionists were now marginalised members of society as their vision for religious worship was criminalised.[2]

A Heavy Hand upon England

The first event occurred between December 1664 and January 1665 when a prominent comet appeared in the sky. This was soon followed by a second.[3] Comets were thought to portend disaster and upheaval.[4] Then, in May 1665, the bubonic plague began to creep through London, ultimately leading to an exodus from the city and the death of around 100,000 of its inhabitants over the following eighteen months – not to mention deaths caused by displacements. Next, over several days in September 1666, the Great Fire of London burned down most of the city’s dwellings along with many churches and civic buildings.

These were severe blows for London. If this was God’s hand, it was a heavy and foreboding one. The English could understandably wonder: “Why has God done this? What might he do next? What is his purpose?”

In an early modern society unused to thinking purely in terms of natural causes, wondering at the purposes of God in momentous occurrences was hardly unusual. John Owen had voiced his interpretation of events (with varying degrees of caution) earlier in his career in response to the events of the English civil war while his own political preferences were triumphant.[5] However, by the 1660s, the political tables had well and truly turned. The monarchy had been restored, ending the republic and any hope of a state-sponsored Puritan-style reformation of the nation. From Owen’s point of view, the cause of the gospel was failing, and the persecution of dissenting Christians signalled little hope for a broadly tolerant religious settlement. He saw little that was positive in English society, not even among professing Christians. In his own diagnosis:

the substance of all is, brethren, that there is a woful and a wicked corruption and profaneness of life grownup on the generality of the nation,—that there is such an adherence to the world and the ways of the world among professors, former means have not separated them from the world.[6]

It is in this context that he viewed the comets, the plague, and the fire. His sermon, “The Furnace of Divine Wrath,” two references to these events and is premised on Owen’s providentialist understanding of these events.[7]

A Message for a Day of Darkness, Gloominess, and Anguish

“The Furnace of Divine Wrath” is part of a collection published after Owen’s death and is now found in volume 16 of the 1968 Banner of Truth edition of The Works of John Owen.[8] It is not clear where this sermon was delivered. In the early-mid-1660s, Owen moved between London, Stoke Newington (then separate and just north of London), and Stadhampton (a village some fifty miles away in southern Oxfordshire), where in 1665 he was caught preaching illegally to a congregation of around thirty. By late 1666, nonconformist congregations could apparently meet in London without fear of arrest, and Owen had regathered a congregation of former associates.[9] The presence of the stenographer, John Hartopp, would suggest a venue in or near London – he had connections to Owen’s Leadenhall Street church in London as well as to his church in Stoke Newington.[10]

No date is given for “The Furnace of Divine Wrath,” but it is placed first in a chronological series of sermons dated between 1669 and 1681. The second and third are from 1669 and 1672 respectively. These sermons survive as a collection preserved and bound by the granddaughter of the stenographer.[11] This placement in the collection likely indicates that the earliest handlers of the sermon manuscripts believed that this sermon was chronologically first in the series – prior to February 27, 1669.

A remark towards the end of the sermon also offers an unclear hint at the circumstances. Owen refers to the day of this sermon as “this day of darkness, of gloominess, this day of anguish,” and a day on which the congregation has come together “to cry to God for mercy.”[12] These words suggest that this occasion was not a regular Lord’s Day gathering.

One possibility is that the occasion was simply a special gathering for self-abasement and prayer – a common enough occurrence for a seventeenth-century Puritan congregation.

Another possibility is that “this day of darkness … gloominess … anguish” could be some other crisis that affected the congregation personally – clear enough not to need identifying, but not so pressing as to need more than a passing allusion.

A third possibility is that it could have been a gathering called together in the aftermath of and in response to the fire of London – although the designation of “day” is not easy to align with a fire that lasted for most of a week. The fire had started in the early hours of a Sunday (2 September) and was under control by Wednesday as it burned itself out within a perimeter made by a fire break. The sermon could have been from the following Sunday. Yet, Owen’s other remark about “former trials in the plague, the fire, and in the wrath of man”[13] seems to indicate that enough time has passed to deem these events as properly part of the past.

Whichever way we identify this “day,” Owen’s comment is clearly significant for the dating of the sermon, but ultimately unclear as to what that significance might be. Nonetheless, given this sermon’s placement in the series, its subject matter, and the references to the fire and the plague, it is probable that the original delivery of the sermon was given not long after the fire and plague of London, and so possibly as early as 9 September 1666, and probably before February 1669.[14]

Drossy Silver: Potentially Precious

For his text, Owen selected Ezekiel 22:17–22. This passage expresses God’s displeasure with sixth-century Israel who remained in Judea after much of the population was deported to Babylon, and what he planned to do to them. They are likened to “drossy silver” – precious metal sufficiently mixed with unwanted impurities to be discarded if it cannot be refined. These people are to be gathered up into Jerusalem to be “melted” beneath the wrath and fury of the Lord – presumably understood in terms of the returning Babylonian army. Their testing by fire will determine their value to the Lord.

Owen extrapolates this metaphor of “drossy silver” in light of smelting practices and biblical uses of the same and similar metaphors. He identifies two kinds of dross.

The first is the waste metal left after it has been through the furnace – this is for discarding and represents the supposed people of God proving themselves to be an apostate people after a trial to test their nature. This is not what he sees in Ezekiel 22 or in English society.

The second kind is the crude ore that exists before it is put into the furnace to be refined so that the base metals can be removed from the precious silver – this represents a people of mixed quality. It is this second kind that he sees in Ezekiel 22:17–22. Owen clearly understands England in this way (as crude ore prior to refining), but he also sees the individual members of his own congregation of dissenting Christians in this metaphor. They too are like unrefined ore. He writes:

When the dross be increased, and the silver will not otherwise be separated from it, both dross and silver must [go] into the same furnace. That is the case here; and you will excuse me if I judge it to be the case with ourselves.[15]

Owen also observes that God has a “furnace” for refinement as well as an “oven” for incineration. The furnace God uses on his church (being, for Owen, the people of God in both Testaments[16]), while the oven is for those God has finally rejected. This is a pattern he sees played out in Malachi, which he sees foretelling the coming of God’s oven at the dissolution of the “wicked, apostate church” at the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, because they would not be refined by Christ while he was with them.[17]

The threat he sees for Jerusalem in Ezekiel 22:17–22 (and in Owen’s view, likewise for England) is not the oven but the furnace. And his congregation would not be exempt from this danger. The point he is moving toward is that his church of non-conformists have become too worldly and too unwilling to part with their worldliness. They too are like silver that clings to the dross. Hence, they must be refined from it – if they will – by trial in the furnace. Ultimately, this sermon is not about berating society at large but indicting and directing the flagging piety of a complacent congregation. Owen makes it clear that he believed that (albeit in the cautious manner of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:12a – he allows the possibility that he is mistaken[18]) “we are all going in to the same furnace with all the brass, and tin, and lead, and iron, in the nation,—going into the same furnace.”[19] They, godly dissenters though they may be, will not be spared:

When all endeavours fail, warnings fail, preaching of the word fails, and the silver is not separated from the dross; when men can scarce, when professors can scarce, bear to be warned; when they think of others’ sins, but will not think of their own; when they will do nothing towards reformation, but say they shall have peace… there is no way but we must all into the same furnace; nothing else will do… prepare yourselves; a trial it will be, a trial that will try all your carnal confidences, and consume them. It will try your profession of what sort it is; and if it be found false, will consume it also. It is to try all your graces to the utmost,—all your faith, all your trust, all your self-resignation, all your readiness to leave the things of the world and to part with them. It will be a trial, friends.[20]

The Fire and the Plague – Providential Warning Signs

It is in connection to such warning that the fire and plague are brought forward within the sermon.[21] The fire and the plague receive two explicit mentions, both times as a linked pair. The first is on the failure of his congregation to godly living:

And [as for] the utter impossibility that appears by any other way to separate the silver from the dross, to separate us from the world, the plague, the fire, have not done it; signs in the heavens above and in the earth beneath have not done it; the sincere preaching of the gospel, though in weakness, hath not done it; entreaties, beggings, exhortations, have not done it; our prayers have not done it: we cleave unto the world still.[22]

Owen believed his congregation had failed to separate themselves from worldliness despite ample warnings to do so. The warnings have been delivered in the form of explicit words from ministers, and implicit warnings from God in the form of the two recent disasters, and “signs” in heaven and on earth – quite probably the comet and the tumultuous political changes of recent years.[23]

The second reference to the fire and plague comes only shortly after and in the same vein of thought – Owen fears that England is destined for God’s furnace, and that professing Christians have not proven worthy of being spared. The specific thought that they are placed within is drawn from Ezekiel 21:9–13, which mentions people thinking lightly of divine judgement. Owen laments that:

It is strange that it should be such stupidity upon us, that when the sword is furbished and made bright for the slaughter, and given into the hands of the slayer, we should not so much as think that it will be a trial, but make mirth. The reason is this, plainly, Because we have escaped former trials and the plague, and fire, and in the wrath of man. But saith the prophet, ‘This shall contemn every rod,’—go beyond all those rods we have undergone, and despise them… you have had no trial; neither your confidence nor your grace has been tried: but this will be a trial. I do not believe these things are a vain divination.[24]

The warning to his audience is clear: these prior trials should have roused their piety, yet they have proved too stupid to regard them with appropriate gravity. Yet these events pale in comparison to what is coming, and then they really will be tried like drossy silver in a furnace. Will they prove themselves to be silver or dross to be incinerated?

Both times the fire and the plague are mentioned to make a point: these disasters should have prompted them to a more serious faith; one that was prepared for worse things to come. The second instance also mentions the persecutions undergone by non-conformists in the 1660s for abstaining from the Established Church. History is here being read providentially and tropologically.[25] The fire did not happen simply because a baker’s fire got out of hand. The plague did not happen simply because a flea-borne disease jumped to a crowded population with poor hygiene. These are merely the “formal” causes of these events. Early modern Christians like Owen readily understood events also in terms of divine agency and purpose. In this way, God was seen to be acting behind the formal causes and did so with the moral purpose of providing warning and spurring piety for those with eyes to see it.

Christian Duty in the Shadow of an Impending Furnace

Owen believed that he was one such person with eyes to see God’s stern cautionary purposes in the fire and plague, but he feared his congregants were not. If Owen was prepared to acknowledge he might possibly be mistaken that the Lord’s furnace was coming, he was certain beyond doubt as to what duty the Lord required of his people regardless.

So, he echoes in his sermon the warning he sees implied in these disasters and urges them to be prepared for what he dreaded could be coming next. As the sermon drew to a close, he impressed on his hearers what it was they were to do in light of England’s (and their own) ripeness for judgement.

One suggested duty Owen exhorts is that “it is certainly our duty to be building an ark,”[26] alluding to the ark built by Noah and regularly understood by pre-critical Christian interpreters to allegorically represent the church. His suggestion is that the work of building, strengthening, and supporting the church as a place of safety from God’s (ultimate?) judgement is one task that sober-minded listeners should commit themselves to.

His foremost desire was that the church should be praying for the nation.[27] He is chiefly worried about external political threats to England, identified as “workmen” who are unclearly introduced in the reference to Noah building his ark:

Beg of God to divert them, otherwise to employ them; beg of God to take them off,—that fierce, cruel men may not have the execution of God’s judgements upon this poor land,—that God would take us into his own hands … cry mightily unto the Lord, that, if it be his will, the furnace may depart from this nation.[28]

The comment “that God would take us into his own hands” is a striking allusion. In 2 Samuel 24 and its parallel in 1 Chronicles 21, an indicted King David is given a choice of punishments. He opts to avoid suffering divine punishment at the hands of invading enemies, but instead to “fall now into the hand of the LORD” (2 Sam 24:14 (AV); cf. 1 Chron 21:13); which was “three days’ pestilence in thy land.” Owen is not explicit, but this allusion reinforces his comment following Ezekiel 21:9–13 that worse disaster than the fire and plague might be coming. A return to the plague is a mercy compared with what God is otherwise preparing for them. In line with this thinking, an invasion of England (presumably by a Catholic power such as France or Spain) would be understood providentially as a divine punishment on the nation.[29]

John Owen sees hope in the story of Abraham interceding with God for Sodom to be spared, and an example in the bold faith of Abraham’s manner of asking.[30] Abraham’s intercession for Sodom is a model for the church to follow for England, and Owen urges upon his congregation the importance of their duty to plead with God for mercy for their nation so that worse disaster may not happen. God’s character was so holy that some people might despair of hope, but this holiness was not inconsistent with his mercy, and it is in this that Owen directs their faith in their prayers.[31] Owen may have been the age’s foremost defender of Reformed orthodoxy, but his views of divine sovereignty did not exclude the relevance of earnest intercessory prayer. It is worth noting the concern that Owen displayed for England in his urgings to intercession. It is not an aloof and self-preserving faith that he promotes to his dissenting co-religionists, but one that loves an enemy and shows it by serious prayer for the enemy – for England had turned its back on their efforts to religious reform and watched with indifference while the Restoration authorities had hounded them into hiding, exile, prison, or the gallows.

If their intercession for England should fail, he also hopes that they themselves might be spared the furnace along with the rest of England and instead be granted the milder discipline of the “fining pot” (an allusion to Isa 31:9, mentioned earlier in the sermon). This too they should plead and pray for, and to do so in light of the fearful prospect of the complete destruction: “Cry for that! ... tremble to think that there seems to me to dispensation remaining but the oven, but that which shall consume, and leave neither root nor branch.”[32] Owen sees this as something that would come about “by prayer, by the preaching of the word, by continual warnings, before the day comes, before the decree brings forth, before it is too late.”[33] The congregation must heed the ministry that they had lately thought lightly of, despite the providential warnings to be found in the signs God had provided.

Conclusion and Takeaways

In “The Furnace of Divine Wrath” Owen has laid out his diagnosis and prognosis of the times in terms of the biblical metaphor of the drossy silver and the furnace. He also locates his own congregation in relation to the coming trial. Toward the end of the sermon, he shifts his focus to what he believes to be the duty of his church in light of this coming trial. Their responsibility is to make themselves fit to be spared the furnace, strengthen the church, and to plead with God on behalf of the nation for clemency. He finishes his sermon on a note of hope. Although “we seem all to be ready … to be brought into the same furnace … yet there is room left for faith and prayer to plead with God in all the particulars mentioned.”[34] By prayer, faith, and repentance, the terrible things Owen saw approaching may be averted – if not for the nation, at least for themselves.

Although they are only explicitly mentioned twice, the fire and the plague that afflicted London in 1665–1666 are foundational to the major premise of the sermon. This premise is that such events are providentially arranged signs that warn of worse things to come. Their intended moral value is to prompt repentance expressed in renewed piety, which will either avert future temporal judgement or, failing that, allow the godly escape that judgement.

The future judgement upon England that Owen feared never transpired. It could not have been due to a penitent England or the piety of its professing Christians, for Owen was still lamenting the state of England and his church a decade later![35] Evidently, his prognostication was mistaken. But what about his providential interpretation of the recent plague and fire? To a degree, his providentialist thinking can be justified. There are ample biblical texts that do invite this way of interpreting disasters. While the theo-logic does make some sense and texts such as Amos 3:6 justify it, he was still left with the problem of transferring the explicit interpretation of specific events in the Bible to events outside of the biblical history. God has given no means in Scripture to discern his purposes in our own experience of disasters. Further, Owen was not one to claim divine inspiration for his interpretation (as he alluded to in this sermon). Very far from it. He does display caution by focussing his utilization of these disasters toward spurring the piety of his congregation rather than condemning his society’s sins – but then this could be because his primary purpose was not to avert national judgement but to strengthen his church.

The temptation to providentialist readings of disasters and national hardships remains today, although given modern thinking’s overbearing emphasis on natural causes this temptation is regarded by most as quaint and strange, if not dangerous.

In the case of New Zealand’s experience of Covid-19, nearly two years on, we have gotten off relatively lightly thus far – even if the lengthy 2021 lockdown centred around Auckland felt onerous. This apparent acquittal might be hard to square for those with an acute sense of our own nation’s sins.[36] If we are inclined to providentialist readings of current events, we can hazard a guess to their meaning based on what we know of the circumstances and the character of God. But at the end of the day, it remains just that: a guess, albeit a theologically informed one. The gap between what we know of theology and what has happened in our world is one we should be very cautious to fill ourselves. The basic philosophical problems of theodicy should also give reason for us to pause – righteous people sometimes do suffer along with the wicked, or even apart from the wicked, and that is not so simple to interpret with certainty.

Here, Owen’s sermon “The Furnace of Divine Wrath” can give us some pointers. While he certainly entertains the idea that the fire and plague came from God, this is not his focus – these seem rather to be the occasion for the sermon. He is more interested in spurring the personal piety of his congregation and moving them to prayer for the nation. Shifting our focus to our own experience of disasters in the present, I think it is too bold to deny God can be acting in judgement in disasters, but also too bold to affirm that he definitely is acting. It should not be too hard to say that without a word from God we are not permitted to say what God is or is not doing in any given event. We can (and ought) affirm God’s role as Judge over his world. But his loving and gracious role as Redeemer must be affirmed too – and even more so, given that his offered redemption is the message Christians have been commissioned to take to his world. In the meantime, it is perhaps wiser to take cues from Owen – disasters can (at least) be reminders of God’s holy judgement on evil that prompt us to live rightly before him and pray seriously for those who dismiss him. This in keeping with Jesus’ directive to readiness rather than speculation for the onlookers of disaster in Luke 13:1–5. After all, now is the time of God’s patience – he will judge, but that is deferred until the end-of-history (Rom 2:4–5).

John Owen may or may not have been correct about his interpretation of the plague and the fire, but he was wise to find their significance most strongly in how they ought to incite a serious and active Christian faith.

Chris Northcott lives in Massey, West Auckland with his wife and three children. He is currently working on a PhD in the history of biblical interpretation through Laidlaw College and AUT. Before that, he served as the youth pastor of his church. Chris is also a self-employed beekeeper and when he can get away from home he enjoys multi-day hiking.

[1] That is, until the day before this article was submitted!

[2] For John Owen in this period, see Crawford Gribben, John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 209–33. For the situation of non-conformists, a helpful introduction is N. H. Keeble, The Literary Culture of Nonconformity in Later Seventeenth-Century England (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1987), 25–67.

[3] John Gadbury, De Cometis: Or, a Discourse of the Natures and Effects of Comets, as They Are Philosophically, Historically & Astrologically Considered. With a Brief (yet Full) Account of the III Late Comets, or Blazing Stars, Visible to All Europe. And What (in a Natural Way of Judicature) They Portend. Together with Some Observations on the Nativity of the Grand Seignior (London: L. Chapman, 1665), 31–38.

[4] See the discussion by Gadbury, De Cometis, 26–30, 38–44. Gadbury gave extensive discussion on the significance of comets depending on what Zodiac they appear in, and an historical assortment of no less than forty comet sightings aligned with various wars, deaths, and disasters, concluding with a statement asserting that comets are intended by both God and nature most often to portend the deaths of kings and other great persons. Whether many people took the specificity of the astrologers’ prognoses seriously is unimportant; what is important is the fact that the appearance of such a sign in the heavens was believed to signal a troubled future.

[5] Owen’s earlier sermons had confidently (albeit at times cautiously) asserted that divine approval promoted the Puritan political cause. See Gribben, John Owen and English Puritanism, 90–123, and for a detailed study of Owen’s earlier preaching see Martyn C. Cowan, John Owen and the Civil War Apocalypse: Preaching, Prophecy, and Politics, Religious Cultures in the Early Modern World (London; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018).

[6] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, 16 vols. (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 16:431.

[7] Crawford Gribben has written that in this period Owen would “preach to his small congregation messages that he could not dare to commit to print, messages that experimented with prognostication and the sometimes politically charged interpretation of providence.” Gribben, John Owen and English Puritanism, 239. He has written about on this topic in his “John Owen, Plague, and the Meanings of Disaster,” in Kathleen Miller (ed.), Medicine and religion in the trans-Atlantic world (forthcoming).

[8] Owen, Works, 16:425-431. In the original edition published by Goold in 1850-1853, this sermon was found in volume 17. The Banner of Truth edition removed the Latin works found in volumes 16-17 and collected the remaining English works into the present vol. 16.

[9] Gribben, John Owen and English Puritanism, 226–28.

[10] Gordon Goodwin, “Hartopp, John,” in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900 (London: Macmillan, 1891), 74.

[11] Prefatory note, Owen, Works, 16:424. Cf. Gribben, John Owen and English Puritanism, 238–39.

[12] Owen, Works, 16:430.

[13] Owen, Works, 16:429.

[14] There is also a note in the prefatory note to the series stating that “the first sermon in the series is evidently identical with Owen’s posthumous treatise ‘On the Mortification of Sin’” (1721, does not appear to be included in the Works. “The Mortification of Sin in Believers” (1656, Works 6:1–86) does not bear resemblance to “The Furnace of Divine Wrath.” Cf. Gribben, John Owen and English Puritanism, 238.

[15] Owen, Works, 16.426.

[16] In Owen’s view OT Israel and the NT church were “not two distinct peoples but are essentially one spiritual community predicated on the same basic covenant.” John W. Tweeddale, John Owen and Hebrews: The Foundation of Biblical Interpretation (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2019), 109–10; cf. Owen, Works, 18:119 –124. It appears that Owen sees a difference between the Roman conquest (which ended the “Jewish Church”), and the Babylonian conquest that is in view in his sermon text (which disciplined and refined it).

[17] Owen, Works, 16:426. Owen cites Mal. 4:1 and 3:3 in support of this idea. To identify the destruction of Jerusalem as that by the Romans he alludes to the casualty numbers given by Josephus in Jewish War 4:9:3. He also seems to suggest that the English Republic of the 1660s likewise suffered “the coming of his oven” (Works, 16:426), not in terms of the destruction of the people, but in the dissolution of the religious order established by it.

[18] See Owen’s comments in Works, 16:427-428.

[19] Owen, Works, 16:428. Owen had reason to be cautious after his supportive providentialist preaching about the revolution in the late 1640s and early 1650s. Cf. n. 5 above. Crawford Gribben (“Becoming John Owen: The Making of an Evangelical Reputation,” WTJ 79 (2017): 312) suggests that by 1681 Owen had given up on providentialist analysis. My own reading of the relevant citation (from Owen, Works, 16:492) and surrounding text suspects this may not be the case.

[20] Owen, Works, 16:427, 429. Cf. his other comments in Works, 16:431: “(for this separation from the world and outward worship, if it be all, signifies nothing)”, and his later sermon “The Death of the Righteous” (July 1, 1681), where he paraphrases Amos 3:2 “You have I known of all the congregations in London in a peculiar manner, and therefore I will punish you for all your sins” in Works, 16:492.

[21] Owen also referred or alluded to the fire and plague several times in a popular level work A Practical Exposition upon Psalm 130 (published 1669 and found in Owen, Works, 6.576, 628, 632). Two of the references are in the contexts of practical spirituality in relation to the character of God, while a third is in a discussion on the effects of afflictions on people’s spirituality. He also referred to them in his 1679 sermon “National Sins and National Judgements” (Works, 16:482-483).

[22] Owen, Works, 16:428.

[23] “Signs in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” could be taken in a purely “on earth” manner, since John Owen had used a similar phrase in his 1649 sermon, “Ουρανων ουρανια: The Shaking and Translating of Heaven and Earth” (Owen, Works, 8:243–279), where he refers to “the heavens” as political powers and “the earth” as their supporting populations. However, it is hard to image that the comet would not come to mind in this context.

[24] Owen, Works, 16:429–430.

[25] “Tropological” readings search for the moral significance in a text, or in this case, an event understood providentially to be a divine action.

[26] Owen, Works, 16:429.

[27] He also more briefly mentions two other duties. One is that “it is certainly our duty to be building an ark,” in light of the story of Noah (Works, 16:429). The other is that if the furnace must come, that they would beg of God that they may still have “the light of God’s countenance in Christ,” drawing on the report of the lamp that accompanies the smoking furnace in Abraham’s dream in Gen 15:17 (Works, 16:431).

[28] Works 16:430. These otherwise unidentified “workmen” are introduced on the previous page.

[29] As he seems to suggest in Works, 16:430. Although he may have looked favourably on what was effectively a Dutch (Protestant) invasion at the Glorious Revolution in 1688 to depose the openly Catholic King James II.

[30] , cf. Gen 18:22–33.

[31] The “grace and mercy that will bear a consistency with the essential holiness and righteousness of God may be drawn out by faith and prayer.” Owen, Works, 16:430.

[32] Owen, Works, 16:431. Owen does not seem to retain a consistent use of his earlier distinction between the “furnace” and the “oven” on p. 426.

[33] Owen, Works, 16:431.

[34] Owen, Works, 16:431.

[35] Owen, Works, 16:480-488. We see similar comments in his 1676 “The Nature of Apostasie” (Works, 7:1-259, e.g., 98, 164–165). The sense of impending disaster is diminished in these later sources.

[36] Many will remember especially the non-Covid-19-related legislation rushed through parliament while a distracted New Zealand was descending into an unprecedented lockdown.