The Death of John Owen’s Argument

In the Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647), Dr. John Owen offers a famous argument for a limited atonement. This argument appears at the end of Book I, chapter 3 (link) and seems to force the reader to accept Dr. Owen’s conclusion that Jesus only died to save some.

To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists:—

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either

(1) all the sins of all men, or
(2) all the sins of some men, or
(3) some sins of all men.

If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the Lord should mark iniquities, who should stand?” (Ps. cxxx. 3). We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty,” (Isa. ii. 20, 21).

If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will.

This argument seems to box in the opponent of limited atonement. But only because Dr. Owen presumes that another premise is true.

Jesus does not make salvation possible for all but actually saves those whom He specifically chose to die for.

This is stated clearly in chapter 1 of Book I800px-John_Owen_by_John_Greenhill.jpg

The sum of all is, — The death and blood-shedding of Jesus Christ hath wrought, and doth effectually procure, for all those that are concerned in it, eternal redemption, consisting in grace here and glory hereafter.

Owen goes on to argue that those who hold to a general ransom, in which Christ “died to redeem all and every one”, must deny “that any such thing was immediately procured and purchased by” Jesus death. Opponents of a limited atonement must hold that Continue reading