The Death of John Owen’s Argument: a General Atonement means God failed to achieve His goal (Part 4)

This is part 4 of a series of blog posts examining the arguments John Owen makes for and against a limited/particular atonement in his extensive work on the subject: The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. 

In the last post, we explored Owen’s admission that there is a distinction between Christ obtaining spiritual blessings and the application of these blessings, which are given on the condition that a person believes. Owen’s solution, used to defend limited atonement, was to assert that faith is one of the many spiritual blessings obtained by Christ’s death.

faith itself, which is the condition of them, on whose performance [spiritual blessings] are bestowed, that he hath procured for us absolutely, on no condition at all

Faith, a condition of salvation, is acquired for the elect through the cross.  This faith is then unconditionally given to the elect so that the rest of the spiritual blessings can be given to them as well.

How does Owen understand Faith?

In a separate work, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith (1677), Owen seeks to lay out the case that we are saved by faith alone.

faith alone is on our part the means, instrument, or condition … of our justification, all the prophets and apostles [taught this], and were so taught to be by Jesus Christ BoxerOwen

Owen, here admits, that faith is our part of salvation. A truth that is taught by the apostles, who learned it from Christ.

In this treatise he explores the answer to the question: what is saving faith.

the inquiry is, What is that act or work of faith whereby we may obtain a real interest or propriety in the promises of the gospel, and the things declared in them

This question is worth considering, given the assertions about faith, made by Owen, in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.  Continue reading

The Death of John Owen’s Argument: a General Atonement means God failed to achieve His goal (Part 3)

In part 1, we examined Owen’s contention: Christ’s death does not make salvation possible. It actually and infallibly applies the benefits of the cross to everyone that Christ died for.

the [purpose] of our Saviour’s coming, … [was] namely, to “save sinners;” — not to open a door for them to come in if they will or can; not to make a way passable, that they may be saved; … but actually to save them … (Bk II, chap 3; emphasis added)

This is true, according to Owen, because that is what God, as a wise and powerful agent, wanted to achieve through the cross. God would fail to achieve his goal of saving sinners if anyone for whom Christ died did not have salvation applied. Given these premises, it logically follows that anyone who does not receive salvation was someone that Christ did not die for.

In part 2, we looked at several of Owen’s arguments against a general atonement as presented in Book II. In this post we will examine some of Owen’s ideas on faith as a condition for receiving salvation as presented in Book II and III.

Begrudgingly admitting there is a distinction

The opponents of a limited atonement argue for a distinction between Christ obtaining the spiritual blessings of salvation and the application of these blessings. The discriminating factor, between the obtaining and the application, is an enduring faith.

The sum of all [who reject a limited atonement] comes to this, … Christ obtained redemption and reconciliation for all; [but] it is bestowed only on them who do believe and continue therein.

That there could be a distinction based on faith, in the eyes of Owen, is an idea full of “venom”. It has “no place in the intention and purpose of Christ.”  For Owen, God is not in the business of conditionally applying salvation. Continue reading

The Death of John Owen’s Argument: a General Atonement means God failed to achieve His goal (Part 2)

In part 1 of this series the dilemma that Owen poses to those who reject a limited/particular atonement was explored. According to Dr. Owen the options are:

  • Universalism
  • Accepting that God had no purpose or intention behind the cross
  • Accepting that God had a purpose behind the cross but failed to achieve it

We left off with Owen acknowledging that others interpreted key passages differently than he did. Those who disagree argue that there is a distinction that must be made between Christ procuring spiritual blessings for all and applying them only on those that believe.

Some of them say that Christ, by his death and passion, did absolutely, according to the intention of God, purchase for all and every man, dying for them, remission of sins and reconciliation with God, or a restitution into a state of grace and favour; all which shall be actually beneficial to them, provided that they do believe

Owen vehemently rejects this view citing several reasons in Book II, chapter 4. Several of these seem to be begging the question as they are restating Owen’s conclusions.

  • this distinction (between the procurement of the blessings and the application of them) hath no place in the intention and purpose of Christ.
  • whomsoever Christ obtained any good thing by his death, unto them it shall certainly be applied.
  • [all the spiritual blessings] must be applied to all for whom they are obtained; for otherwise Christ faileth of his end and aim


Continue reading