John Owen on Constantinianism, Baptismal Regeneration, And Apostasy

From this influx, it is not surprising that the doctrines of faith and, most especially, that of the new birth became so rapidly corrupted in the churches. With separation from the world spurned, there is no wonder that the sanctity and glory of the gospel was overshadowed, and superstitious practices flooded in along with the unconverted pagans, until, at length, Christian church discipline was remodeled on the fashion of the pagan secular state. Once hypocrites and other unregenerate people began, as it were, to swamp and overwhelm the believers, there soon emerged leaders who were pleased enough to accommodate spiritual doctrines to the prevailing systems of philosophy. And so it came about that faith was neglected, doctrine no longer studied, regeneration equated to the mechanical performance of the rite of baptism, truth and piety no longer defended by any great efforts in the assemblies and councils, the majorities at best indifferent, at worst bitterly hostile, to the total over-shadowing of these essential things. By that time, most of the world had taken up the Christian profession so, at most, everything that had been instituted by Christ had been basely transmuted into another gospel. Strange to tell, it was done without a protest or major split in the Church.

John Owen | Biblical Theology (Soli Deo Gloria 1994), 660 | HT: Gary Johnson.


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    • I am no expert on the hair issue, but if my memory serves me correctly, the (original) Geneva Bible’s notes on long hair for men indicated that at the time of the Puritans the biblical statements about short hair for men and long hair for women were considered to be a cultural practice of Greco-Roman society, not an enduring command.

      Even the Puritans were sometimes wrong about some things.

      I think they seriously misunderstood that passage and failed to apply it to the corrupt practices of the Cavalier courts. But I think we can “give Owen a pass,” as you put it, since he obviously was quite willing to attack the Royalist excesses in many other areas of dress, fashion, and extravagence.

      Today, long hair is not a long-standing tradition of the ruling classes but rather is a clear sign of rebellion, and I think churches can legitimately rebuke Christian men who follow worldly practices in having long hair. I can see no possible good reason for a moden Christian man to have hair the length of Owen’s.

      However, as a practical matter, I almost never deal with this issue in isolation; I just don’t see “good Christian kids” whose only problem is long hair. Anyone under 30 with long hair around here has other much more serious problems in their lives. That probably would not be the case in other parts of the United States, but let’s just say living outside Fort Leonard Wood, Army regulations take care of that problem pretty well. Since most of our civilian community consists of retired or former military personnel, we don’t exactly have a long of “longhairs” around here, except maybe a few guys who decide to rebel after 20 to 30 years in uniform and deliberately grow hair in styles they could not wear as soldiers.

      • In terms of the hair thing simply being a matter of culture, Paul expressly states that his teaching is directly derived from the order of creation itself. He also states that long hair on men is not practiced in “the churches of God.” (v.16).
        Just some observations.

  1. John Owen also is pictured above wearing a wig, which was the custom of the day for men in his position. That is not his actual hair.

    • Entirely correct about the wig. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe powdered wigs continued to be the standard for upper-class British men when sitting in formal roles until the late 1700s and perhaps longer, and continued even beyond that time for certain formal roles such as judges.

      As with many other people on this list, I’m old enough to remember the “longhair” controversies that began in the 1960s and struck the church world with full force as rebellious teenagers and college students demanded to have long hair. Let’s just say for me, with a father who was a former NCO, I would have risked having my head cut off instead of my hair if I had tried something like that.

      Obviously long hair was far from the worst thing to come out of the 1960s rebellion against order and authority, but it was a very potent symbol. Long hair was also wrong for Owen, but it was far more wrong for the sixties radicals and their successors.

  2. In England and Wales barristers, solicitors, and judges still wear wigs and robes. If the advocate has been appointed as Queen’s Council, then he wears a “spaniel wig” that goes down to his shoulders on important occasions (e.g. when receiving the judgments of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary at the bar of the House of Lords). The judges also wear these long wigs on such occasions. Using the term bigwig to refer to noteworthy people is derived from this practice.

    • This really is hijacking the thread so I don’t want to keep talking about long hair, but I do want to add a note that I appreciate your explanation of current practice. I know the history of the use of wigs in the British legal system, but so many things have changed in modern practices throughout the West that I believe it is unsafe to speak about things on which I do not have recent knowledge.

  3. “I am no expert on the hair issue, but if my memory serves me correctly, the (original) Geneva Bible’s notes on long hair for men indicated that at the time of the Puritans the biblical statements about short hair for men and long hair for women were considered to be a cultural practice of Greco-Roman society, not an enduring command.”

    Hahahaha … Puritanism at its best! ;-D

  4. Getting back to Owen’s statement, isn’t there some irony here that Owen, who was closely linked, or tied to , or associated with Cromwell and the Commonwealth, did not see the “constantinianism” occuring in his own day? I can’t recall what details I may have once known about this part of Owen’s life; maybe he did see the same things occurring in England in the 1650’s, etc.

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