John Owen died on August 24, 1683, at the age of sixty-seven.  Throughout his long life, he had been no stranger to the thought of death, having buried his first wife and all of his children.  His constant illnesses had encouraged him to consider his own mortality, even during the period that must, in retrospect, have appeared to be the apex of his career, his time as vice chancellor of Oxford.  “Do not expect learned groans or erudite death-cries,” he had warned his colleagues in an annual address to the university community.  “He who has learnt to rely on a good conscience during his lifetime will have no need of elegance at the point of death.”  If his death was not elegant, it was certainly timely.  Owen died on the twenty-first anniversary of the imposition of the Act of Uniformity.  The Latin inscription on his gravestone linked the two events, stating that Owen “left the world on a day dreadful for the church by the cruelties of men” [Achinstein].  He died believing that the English Reformation was facing greater threats than it ever had before.  He died as he had so regularly lived – in the experience of defeat.

Owen was buried on Thursday, September 9, in Bunhill Fields, London, a graveyard for dissenters.  By the late seventeenth century, Bunhill Fields had become a “powerful rallying point and symbol for high-ranking nonconformists” [Achinstein].  The ground had never been consecrated – in fact, it had been opened for mass burials during the plague outbreak almost twenty years before – and so dissenters could inter the bodies of their friends without any need to use the liturgy of the established church.  But Bunhill Fields was not a place of ignominy.  Owen’s funeral was a public occasion, and it was very well attended.  One observer suggested that the carriages of sixty-seven nobles and gentlemen were present, while an anonymous biographer offered a higher estimate, recording that Owen’s funeral was attended by “near a hundred Noblemens, Gentlemens, and Citizens Coaches with six Horse each, and a great number of Gentlemen in Mourning on Horseback.”  Whatever the grandeur of the mourners, Owen’s interment was marked by the erection of a plain, unadorned gravestone.

From: John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat by Crawford Gribben; Oxford Studies in Historical Theology series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 263-264.

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