Dr. John Owen 1615-1683: 3. John Owen and The Death of Death 
In this final of three articles on John Owen,1 Jeremy Walker looks at Owen’s classic work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.2
Reader, if thou intendest to go any farther, I would entreat thee to stay here a little. If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again, – thou hast had thy entertainment; farewell! With him that resolves a serious view of the following discourse, and really desireth satisfaction from the word and Christian reason, about the great things contained herein, I desire a few words in the portal.3
These – Owen’s opening words to the reader in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ – are hardly guaranteed to suck in the careless or casual reader, neither are they intended to do so. Owen is conscious of the fact that his topic is a profound one not lightly handled or casually approached, and he therefore sets out his stall immediately: he intends to do business, and expects us to come with the same determination. This book will require but richly repay only diligent and careful attention.
The specific occasion of the writing of The Death of Death was the publication in 1643 of a book called The Universality of God’s Free Grace in Christ to Mankind by a man called Thomas More. J. I. Packer suggests that – while More’s work had little intrinsic value – Owen selected it as the primary target of his response because it was the fullest statement of its case in English at that time. At the same time, Owen himself makes clear that the work as a whole is the product of ‘a more than seven-years’ serious inquiry’4 into both the mind of God and the wit of man as it bears upon the issue.
The title of More’s work suggests its content: it is a defence of universal redemption (in essence, the teaching that all men everywhere will be saved). In addressing More, Owen also embraced others who taught along these lines, embracing both the Arminian and Amyraldian positions.5 Owen’s treatment is not, though, a bald assault on this position in the name of particular redemption (or, as it is sometimes also known, limited atonement). Owen sees the issue much more clearly and completely than as a mere stand-off between the labels of Calvinism and Arminianism or Amyraldism. Owen – like Charles Spurgeon in a later century – appreciates that the gospel itself is at stake:
I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.6
To Owen, the key question is this: does God’s design in the death of Christ accomplish its purpose, or fail in it? Immediately we appreciate that Owen sees the matter in its biblical and salvific context. The answer to this question has to do with the essence of the gospel, and with the essential being and doing of the Triune God of our salvation. Owen’s answer to the question of whether or not our Lord God failed in his saving purpose is this:
Jesus Christ, according to the counsel and will of his Father, did offer himself upon the cross to the procurement of those things before recounted; and maketh continual intercession with this intent and purpose, that all the good things so procured by his death might be actually and infallibly bestowed on and applied to all and every one for whom he died according to the will and counsel of God.7
A little later in his treatment, Owen again attempts a summary of the Scriptural doctrine:
God, out of his infinite love to his elect, sent his dear Son in the fulness of time, whom he had promised in the beginning of the world, and made effectual by that promise, to die, pay a ransom of infinite value and dignity, for the purchasing of eternal redemption, and bringing unto himself all and every one of those whom he had before ordained to eternal life, for the praise of his own glory.8
In other words, God the Father had a definite purpose in sending his Son; God the Son had a definite purpose in dying, and has a definite purpose in interceding; God the Spirit has a definite purpose in applying the blood of the now-risen Son of God to sinners; and, this definite, divine purpose does not and cannot fail: the Saviour achieved all that he set out to achieve.
It is important to recognize that Owen accomplishes a demonstration of truth and not merely a destruction of error. He is concerned to manifest the glory of God in salvation, not just to expose the folly of proud men who presume to be wiser and more powerful and more loving than the Triune God. Owen demonstrates and defends the Scriptural position in four major divisions (what he calls books) of The Death of Death.
In Books I and II he shows that it is the clear and plain teaching of the Bible that the death of the Redeemer does indeed actually save all and every one of his chosen people.
Book I introduces the work, and then plunges into a fairly dense treatment of the difference between ‘ends’ and ‘means.’ Soon we are through this difficult-to-negotiate forest of thought, and Owen demonstrates (as we would expect) that the Triune God is the agent who accomplishes the intended end of saving his chosen people, showing how Father, Son and Spirit agree and engage in the work of redemption. The means of this accomplishment are the oblation9 and intercession of the one Mediator between God and man, the Lord Christ. More’s arguments against this position are listed and answered.
Book II addresses the end (i.e. the intended purpose) of this deliverance of God’s elect, which Owen demonstrates to be – supremely and ultimately – to bring glory to the God of our salvation; the immediate and subordinate end was to bring us to God. Again, it is vital to grasp at this point that Owen – following Scripture – shows that this purchase encompasses absolutely everything that falls within the orbit of redemption: ‘grace or glory, holiness or blessedness, faith or salvation … faith being the means … the condition, salvation the promised inheritance.’10 Faith is not something that man brings as his contribution to salvation, it is the purchased gift of the Lamb of God. Opposing views are addressed. In one powerful piece of scriptural reasoning, Owen shows the offensiveness of the idea that our sovereign God is somehow chained until Christ’s death releases him, rather than acting in power that Christ by his death might redeem us.
Owen proves his assertions from three groups of Scripture texts: first, those which show that God’s ‘intention and counsel’ in Christ’s death was actually to save certain people; second, those which state the actual accomplishment or effect of his sacrifice as being the salvation of certain people; third, those which identify the people for whom Christ died as his elect. He shows that there is a difference between the impetration (i.e. the obtaining) of these saving benefits by Christ, and the application of them to his elect, and demonstrates how that distinction should be handled, and how it is often abused by Arminians (who would claim that the objects of the impetration and the application are different, whereas Owen shows them to be the same, although the impetration precedes in time the application).
In Book III Owen moves on to address sixteen separate arguments against universal redemption from the Word of God. Packer points out that
all except the third have a directly exegetical basis, and aim to show that this idea is inconsistent with the biblical witness to Christ’s work. Between them, they deal with every significant category and concept which the Bible employs to define that work.11
Owen ranges through the Scriptures, laying down biblical fact after biblical fact, searching out the meaning of the words and phrases that describe the saving work of Christ and its purpose. Of this section in particular, Packer’s assessment deserves its place:
Owen’s work is a constructive, broad-based biblical analysis of the heart of the gospel, and must be taken seriously as such. It may not be written off as a piece of special pleading for a traditional shibboleth, for nobody has a right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness of the atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen’s proof that it is part of the uniform biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text. And nobody has done that yet.12
These arguments of Owen’s demand two conclusions: first, that Christ’s work was effective and accomplished its end, in which case it cannot have been intended to save any who will finally perish, and, second, that if God had intended to save all men then either God must have failed in his purpose (which would be blasphemous to assert) or all men must be saved (because God cannot fail in his purpose). Here the glory of Christ’s finished work is made scripturally to shine forth.
Book IV then turns to the proponents of universal redemption. Owen marshals all the arguments for this position, all the exegetical wrestlings and theological reasonings, with every text alleged to support the doctrine. The Christian – and, perhaps particularly, the preacher – who has wrestled with some of the more difficult and apparently contrasting demands of Scripture would do well to soak in Owen’s profound consideration of the issues. While there are texts on which subsequent thinkers have shed additional light on certain fine points, Owen’s magisterial treatment carries all before it.
There can be few more powerful practical demonstrations of the importance of interpreting Scripture in its context, and by its own standard, and in its own light, than Owen’s masterful assault on this error, as he engages with the massed ranks of false reasons (including a detailed reply to a particular chapter in More’s book in which he summarizes his arguments).
The final section refutes the theological arguments for universal redemption, proving that particular redemption does not remove from man his responsibility to believe, sets up no obstacle to faith, truly exalts God’s free grace and Christ’s merit, and is the ground of all genuine gospel consolation and assurance, while the doctrine of universal redemption misunderstands man’s duty to believe, cheapens faith and confuses it with assurance, cheapens free grace and depreciates Christ’s merit, and offers a variable and unsure consolation and assurance of salvation.
In truth, all the good things procured by Christ’s death are actually and infallibly bestowed on and applied to all and every one for whom he died according to the will and counsel of God.13 This is good news indeed: the good news of a sovereign God who plans, executes and applies salvation surely and infallibly to all upon whom he has set his love from before the foundation of the world. This is salvation full and free.
For of Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God – the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves – does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners – men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, blind, unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners – and the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man’s own, or by soft-pedalling the sinner’s inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Saviour. This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the ‘five points’ are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory for ever; amen.14
But now we face a dilemma. We face this dilemma as evangelical Christians, and particularly as evangelical preachers of the good news. Is this the gospel that we believe and proclaim? There are two questions we must answer. The first is this: these things being true, have I been preaching the gospel? The second question is this: these things being true, how do I preach the gospel?
As we read Owen, we are often forced to face the fact that our understanding of salvation – whether we realized it or not – may have been lacking in biblical substance. Furthermore, we may further have to reckon with the fact that – though our understanding might have been orthodox – our presentation of the gospel has often strayed into vague unorthodoxy where it has not become positively heterodox. To preach the gospel is not to preach, ‘You must be born again.’ The indispensable necessity of being born again is not good news. Regeneration is not in itself good news: it is the product of the good news, the fruit that grows on the gospel tree. The good news is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). The good news is the objective reality of the finished work of Jesus Christ in accomplishing salvation. Sinclair Ferguson reminds us that ‘the basis for our justification is not Christ indwelling us or our being born again. Rather it is that Christ has died for us. In Martin Luther’s apt statement: “The gospel is entirely outside of us.”‘15 Furthermore,
it needs to be stressed that in our preaching the work of Christ must never be abstracted from the person of Christ. We do not preach ‘the atonement’ as such, or ‘salvation,’ ‘redemption,’ or justification’ as such, but Jesus Christ and him crucified. These blessings were accomplished by Christ and are available only in Christ, never abstracted from him. We must learn to avoid the contemporary plague of preaching the benefits of the gospel without proclaiming Christ himself as the Benefactor in the gospel … we preach and offer Christ crucified and risen, in whom these blessings become ours and not otherwise. We preach the person in the work, never the work and its blessings apart from the Savior himself.16
The gospel – the good news of God’s gracious, saving dealings with fallen men – is a Christ who saves sinners.
But this begs the second question. Ferguson says ‘we preach and offer Christ crucified and risen.’ How? Perhaps our mind passes over recent sermons preached to us or by us, and we recall particular assertions, phrases, or pleas. Is the minister a closet Amyraldian? Is he an Arminian in sheep’s clothing? Am I an Amyraldian? Should I be warning the people against myself? Have I offered someone something I should not have done? How can I offer anyone anything when Christ died to save his people – what if they are not his people? Am I obliged to become a hyper-Calvinist in practice if not in conviction, not offering Christ to anyone in case I in some way undermine God’s free grace? How can I and others, as ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us, implore men on Christ’s behalf: ‘Be reconciled to God!’ (2 Cor. 5:20)? If the redemption of God’s people is not merely potential but actual – accomplished and applied – in Christ, how can I call people to trust in Christ and be saved?
We must remember here that it is the Arminian and his friends who have a truncated gospel and a crippled Christ. They hold out a pot of hope, and bid dead men come and dip into the pot! This is to require the faith of which dead men are actually incapable somehow to fill up Christ’s apparently unfinished work. What sort of salvation is that to offer?
The man of biblical conviction – the Calvinist – stands convinced that Christ died to save all his people, no matter how good or how bad in their own or the world’s eyes, and that Christ does not fail of his purpose. So he preaches accordingly. Particular redemption, accomplished by the glorious Son of God, is the very basis of our freedom in preaching the gospel! Hear Owen himself ‘concerning the dignity, worth, preciousness, and infinite value of the blood and death of Jesus Christ’:17
To the honour, then, of Jesus Christ our Mediator, God and man, our all-sufficient Redeemer, we affirm, such and so great was the dignity and worth of his death and blood-shedding, of so precious a value, of such an infinite fulness and sufficiency was this oblation of himself, that it was every able and perfectly sufficient to redeem, justify, and reconcile and save all the sinners in the world, and to satisfy the justice of God for all the sins of mankind, and to bring them every one to everlasting glory [Owen earlier adds the proviso, ‘if it had pleased the Lord to employ it to that purpose’].18
This infinite excellence of Christ’s sacrifice is, in Owen’s view, the basis on which the gospel is to be published abroad to every creature, ‘because the way of salvation which it declares is wide enough for all to walk in.’19 Furthermore, preachers – who do not know the purpose and secret counsel of God, and who have no business prying into it –
may from hence justifiably call upon every man to believe, knowing and being fully persuaded of this, that there is enough in the death of Christ to save every one that shall so do; leaving the purpose and counsel of God, on whom he will bestow faith, and for whom in particular Christ died (even as they are commanded), to himself.20
We must distinguish accurately between God’s purpose and man’s duty. Our duty is to preach the gospel – to declare Christ the Saviour to sinners – knowing that God will accomplish his glorious purposes by his appointed means:
We have already seen that the preaching of the atonement is the preaching of Christ crucified – this, better he, is the message of the cross. In Calvin’s beautiful expression, we preach ‘Christ … as he is offered by the Father, namely clothed with his gospel.’ We do not offer merely the benefits of Christ’s work to the elect; we offer Christ himself to all, the person himself, the Savior, believing that ‘he is able to save completely those who come to God through him’ (Heb 7:25). When we understand that to preach the gospel is to preach Christ as Savior, not to preach his benefits, then, with the high21 Calvinist Samuel Rutherford, we are set free in our preaching of the gospel, knowing that ‘even reprobates have as fair a warrant to believe in Christ as the elect have.’
In fact, it is this view of the atonement – Pauline, apostolic, reformed, confessional – that creates confidence in the preaching of the gospel. It is the means by which God brings into his kingdom those whom he gave to his Son before the foundation of the world and for whom his Son shed his precious and effectual blood.22
John Murray agrees:
It is not the possibility of salvation that is offered to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect. There is no imperfection in the salvation offered and there is no restriction to its overture – it is full, free, and unrestricted. And this is the warrant of faith … It is not as persons convinced of our election nor as persons convinced that we are the special objects of God’s love that we commit ourselves to him but as lost sinners.23
So we hear Owen himself pleading, without any restraint or hindrance, at the end of his wonderful treatment of the glory of Christ, in an ‘Exhortation to such as are strangers to Christ’:
Hereon consider the infinite condescension and love of Christ, in his invitations and calls of you to come unto him for life, deliverance, mercy, grace, peace, and eternal salvation. Multitudes of these invitations and calls are recorded in the Scripture, and they are all of them filled up with those blessed encouragements which divine wisdom knows to be suited unto lost, convinced sinners, in their present state and condition. It were a blessed contemplation, to dwell on the consideration of the infinite condescension, grace, and love of Christ, in his invitations to sinners to come unto him that they may be saved, – of that mixture of wisdom and persuasive grace that is in them, – of the force and efficacy of the pleading and argument that they are accompanied withal, as they are recorded in the Scripture; but that belongs not to my present design. This I shall only say, that in the declaration and preaching of them, Jesus Christ yet stands before sinners, calling, inviting, encouraging them to come unto him.
This is somewhat of the word which he now speaks unto you: Why will ye die? why will ye perish? why will you not have compassion on your own souls? Can your hearts endure, or can your hands be strong, in the day of wrath that is approaching? It is but a little while before all your hopes, your reliefs, and presumptions will forsake you, and leave you eternally miserable. Look unto me, and be saved; – come unto me, and I will ease you of all sins, sorrows, fears, burdens, and give rest unto your souls. Come, I entreat you; – lay aside all procrastinations, all delays; – put me off no more; – eternity lies at the door. Cast out all cursed, self-deceiving reserves; – do not so hate me as that you will rather perish than accept of deliverance by me.
These and the like things does the Lord Christ continually declare, proclaim, plead, and urge on the souls of sinners; as it is fully declared, Prov. 1: 20-33. He does it in the preaching of the word, as if he were present with you, stood amongst you, and spake personally to every one of you. And because this would not suit his present state of glory, he has appointed the ministers of the gospel to appear before you, and to deal with you in his stead, avowing as his own the invitations that are given you in his name, 2 Cor. 5:19,20.
Consider therefore, his infinite condescension, grace, and love herein. Why all this towards you? Does he stand in need of you? Have you deserved it at his hands? Did you love him first? Cannot he be happy and blessed without you? Has he any design upon you, that he is so earnest in calling you unto him? Alas! it is nothing but the overflowing of mercy, compassion, and grace, that moves and acts him herein. Here lies the entrance of innumerable souls into a death and condemnation far more severe than those contained in the curse of the law, 2 Cor.2:15,16. In the contempt of this infinite condescension of Christ in his holy invitation of sinners to himself, lies the sting and poison of unbelief, which unavoidably gives over the souls of men unto eternal ruin. And who shall once pity them to eternity who are guilty of it?24
Here is real pleading: genuine, earnest, passionate entreaties to sinners to come to Christ and be saved. Again, consider the following appeal from another faithful ambassador of Christ, Charles Spurgeon, preaching on the doctrine of substitution from 2 Corinthians 5:21:
I cannot plead as I could wish. Oh! if I could I would plead with my heart, with my eyes, and my lips, that I might lead you to the Saviour. You need not rail at me and call this an Arminian style of preaching; I care not for your opinion, this style is Scriptural. ‘As though God did beseech you by us, we pray you, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.’ Poor broken-hearted sinner, God is as much preaching to you this morning, and bidding you be reconciled, as if he stood here himself in his own person; and though I be a mean and puny man by whom he speaketh, he speaketh now as much as if it were by the voice of angels, ‘Be reconciled to God.’ Come, friend, turn not thine eye and head away from me; but give me thine hand and lend me thine heart whilst I weep over thine hand and cry over thine heart, and beseech thee not to despise thine own mercy, not to be a suicide to thine own soul, not to damn thyself. Now that God has awakened thee to feel that thou art an enemy, I beseech thee now to be his friend. Remember, if thou art now convinced of sin, there is no punishment for thee. He was punished in thy stead. Wilt thou believe this? Wilt thou trust in it, and so be at peace with God? If thou sayest, ‘No!’ then I would have thee know that thou hast put away thine own mercy. If thou sayest, ‘I need no reconciliation,’ thou hast thrust away the only hope thou canst ever have. Do it at thine own hazard; I wash my hands of thy blood. But, but, but, if thou knowest thyself to need a Saviour, if thou wouldst escape the hellish pit, if thou wouldst walk among them that are sanctified, I again, in the name of him that will condemn thee at the last day, if thou rejectest this invitation, implore and beseech thee to be reconciled to God. I am his ambassador. When I have done this sermon, I shall go back to court. Sinner, what shall I say of thee? Shall I go back and tell my Master that thou intendest to be his enemy for ever? Shall I go back and tell him, ‘They heard me, but they regarded not?’ they said in their hearts, ‘we will go away to our sins and our follies, and we will not serve your God, neither fear him!’ Shall I tell him such a message as that? Must I be driven to go back to his palace with such a fearful story? I beseech thee, send me not back so, lest my Master’s wrath wax hot, and he say,
‘They that despised my promised rest,
Shall have no portion there.’
But oh! may I not go back to court to-day, and tell the Monarch on my knees, ‘There be some my Lord, that have been great rebels, but when they saw themselves rebels, they threw themselves at the foot of the cross, and asked for pardon. They had strangely revolted, but I heard them say, “If he will forgive me I will turn from my evil ways, if he will enable me!” They were gross transgressors, and they confessed it; but I heard them say, “Jesus, thy blood and righteousness are my only trust.”‘ Happy ambassador, I will go back to my Master with a gladsome countenance, and tell him that peace is made between many a soul and the great God. But miserable ambassador who has to go back and say, ‘There is no peace made.’ How shall it be? The Lord decide it! May many hearts give way to Omnipotent grace now, and may enemies of grace be changed into friends, that God’s elect may be gathered in, and his eternal purpose accomplished.25
See how the strongest confidence in the saving purposes of a sovereign God is joined with the most passionate cries to the unconverted to come to Christ and be saved! How could Owen and Spurgeon preach thus? Because they knew that Christ died for his people, and that Christ will therefore save his people from their sins by the application of his blood, bringing them to himself through the preaching of the Word.
Have we grasped this gospel, and do we – will we – preach this gospel? There is no greater warrant for faith than the finished work of Christ. There is no greater demonstration of God’s free grace than his sending his Son to die for sinners. There is no greater manifestation of God’s glory than that, through his Son, he has redeemed all those upon whom he set his love from before the foundation of the world. There is no greater joy than to know that our sins are forgiven through this so-great Saviour, the executor of our so-great salvation. True assurance grows best in those men who turn to a Christ whom they have been convinced by the Word and the Holy Spirit is sufficient to save them from their sins:
If there be any comfort, any consolation, any assurance, any rest, any peace, any joy, any refreshment, any exultation of spirit, to be obtained here below, it is all to be had in the blood of Jesus long since shed, and his intercession still continued; as both are united and appropriated to the elect of God, by the precious effects and fruits of them both drawn to believe and preserved in believing, to the obtaining of an immortal crown of glory, that shall not fade away.26
It does not lie in our power to make men come to Christ, but we must bring Christ to men. We do not bid men to ‘open your heart to Jesus,’ ‘let Jesus into your heart,’ or ‘ask him into your life.’ To do such is to turn the gospel on its head. Rather, pleading with and praying to the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth to work by his Spirit in applying the Word and the blood to the hearts of his people, with confidence in the finished work of the Lord Christ we present Jesus, the Saviour, in all his redeeming glory to sinners in all their wretched need, and bid those men believe in a sufficient Saviour, as a gospel command and a divine entreaty, and in believing to find life in his name.
Christ did not die to make salvation possible for all men. He did not die even to make salvation possible for his elect. He died to save his people from their sins, and he accomplished his purpose. Glory be to his name! Amen.
- This is the third part of the full English language version of an article edited to appear in the Tamil language in The Bible Lamp magazine. The substance of the biographical material was originally delivered in adult Sunday School classes at Maidenbower Baptist Church, and revised for this piece. Part 1 dealt with the life of John Owen; Part 2 with John Owen as man and minister.
- John Owen, ‘The Death of Death in the Death of Christ’ in The Works of John Owen, Vol. 10, ed. William H. Goold (1850-1853, reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967). As before, further references will be to this edition. The Banner of Truth has also published this work separately as a paperback, with an excellent introduction by J. I. Packer, upon which I have relied heavily.
Volume 10: The Death of Christ
In this final of three articles on John Owen,1 Jeremy Walker looks at Owen’s classic work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.2 Reader, if thou intendest to go any farther, I would entreat thee to stay here a little. If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title […]
In this final of three articles on John Owen,1 Jeremy Walker looks at Owen’s classic work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.2 Reader, if thou intendest to go any farther, I would entreat thee to stay here a little. If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title […]
- Owen, Works, 10:149.
- Arminianism (intimately related to Pelagianism – see Note 8 of Part 1) essentially locates salvation in the will of man rather than the will of God: the decision to be saved belongs to man. Christ died for all, they say, and God foresees who will put their faith in him, rather than the Lord choosing who will be saved of his own free and sovereign will. Amyraldianism (or Amyraldism) is slightly more complex: the atonement is held to be universal in extent, but distributed on the basis or condition of faith, to which God has elected some. It is sometimes called hypothetical universalism. This is not the same as the formula, ‘sufficient for all, efficient for the elect,’ although it can easily be confused with it.
- C. H. Spurgeon, Autobiography: Volume 1 – The Early Years (Banner of Truth, 2005 reprint), p. 168. Emphasis supplied.
Volume 1: The Early Years
- Owen, Works, 10:208. Emphasis supplied.
- Owen, Works, 10:231. Emphasis supplied.
- Oblation is Owen’s preferred term, containing in it the whole idea of the offering up of Christ. We might perhaps replace it with the word ‘sacrifice.’
- Owen, Works, 10:202.
- J. I. Packer, Introduction to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), p. 28.
- Packer, Introduction to The Death of Death, p. 13.
- Owen, Works, 10:208.
- Packer, Introduction to The Death of Death, p. 6.
- Sinclair Ferguson, ‘Preaching the Atonement,’ in The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological & Practical Perspectives, eds. Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James III (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), pp. 431-32.
- Ferguson, ‘Preaching the Atonement’, p. 437.
- Owen, Works, 10:295.
- Owen, Works, 10:297.
- Owen, Works, 10:298.
- I believe that Prof. Ferguson is using the word ‘high’ here to denote a robust Calvinist, as opposed to a hyper-Calvinist who would throw all the emphasis on God’s sovereignty, and ignore or bypass the issue of man’s responsibility.
- Ferguson, ‘Preaching the Atonement,’ p. 440.
- John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009), p. 104. Professor Murray’s excellent treatment of The Free Offer of the Gospel has recently been republished as a booklet by the Banner of Truth Trust, and is worthy of close attention on this matter.
- Owen, Works, 1:422-23.
Volume 1: The Glory of Christ
- C. H. Spurgeon, ‘Substitution,’ in The New Park Street Pulpit (1857; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 3:282-283. One could turn almost at random to some of these early sermons, in which Spurgeon recognised that many before him were unconverted, to find similar entreaties. Note how Spurgeon was fighting a slightly different battle to Owen: Spurgeon had to defend himself from the charge of Arminianism. In his day many who called themselves Calvinists would have claimed that he had no right to plead with sinners to turn to Christ and be saved! In another sermon from The New Park Street Pulpit, ‘Particular Redemption’ (1858, 4:135), Spurgeon speaks thus: ‘I must now return to that controverted point again. We are often told (I mean those of us who are commonly nicknamed by the title of Calvinists – and we are not very much ashamed of that; we think that Calvin, after all, knew more about the gospel than almost any man who has ever lived, uninspired) – we are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question – Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, “No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if” – and then follow certain conditions of salvation. We say, then, we will go back to the old statement – Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did he? You must say “No;” you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace, and perish. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as to infallibly secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.’
- Owen, Works, 10:421. These are the closing words of Owen’s treatise.
Jeremy Walker is one of the pastors of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, West Sussex, UK
See also the Note re Banner of Truth publications by and on Owen, appended to Part 1.
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To help us in the dealings of our lives we should have such a conception of God as not to limit him in our thoughts. When we are in extremity we must not tie him to this thing or to that thing. He can make matter out of nothing. Why should we limit the unlimited […]