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Why the “Retreat” to History?

Some challenge my use of The Fundamentals in the article “Unanimity vs. Unity.” I respond with John Owen’s words: “In all differences about religion, to drive them to their rise and spring, and to consider them as stated originally, will ease us of much trouble and labour.”


I strongly urge the reading of John Owen, Of Schism, found in the Banner of Truth collection of his writings, Vol. 13. It has been very helpful to me. For an easier read, consider D.M. Lloyd-Jones 1963 lecture addressed at the Puritan and Westminster Conference on this very topic. It can be found in The Puritans, Their Origins and Successors (Banner of Truth). I think Lloyd-Jones leaves out many of the best parts (how could he include it all?), but it will give you an idea of John Owen’s attitude toward the Body. What lacks is Owen’s magnificent defense of separation.

Lloyd-Jones comments on Owen’s words ( “In all differences about religion, to drive them to their rise and spring, and to consider them as stated originally, will ease us of much trouble and labour.”): “Now that is an exhortation we all need. We all suffer from the tendency to defend inherited poistions and our own particular history. We must go back to the very beginning, to the rise and spring of it all in the first century.”

John Owen – Perhaps many of them (i.e. the differences) will not appear so formidable as they are represented. He that sees a great river is not instantly to conclude that all the water in it comes from its first rise and spring; the addition of many brooks, showers, and land-floods have perhaps swelled it to the condition wherein it is. Every difference in religion is not to be thought to be as big at its rise as it appears to be when it hath passed through many generations, and hath received additions and aggravations from the disputings and contendings of men, on the one hand and on the other engaged. . .Go to its rise, and you will find it to be, though bad enough, yet quite another thing than what, by the prejudices accruing by the addition of so many generations, it is now generally represented to be.”

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