This is part 5 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.
John Owen was well aware of the arguments against limited atonement regarding the preaching of the gospel. Particularly that the gospel, preached to the non-elect (or reprobate), was vain and useless. Opponents make this claim, Owen rightly admits, because it asks people to believe something that was not true; specifically that Christ died for them.
our adversaries pretending that if Christ died not for all, then in vain are they exhorted to believe, there being, indeed, no proper object for the faith of innumerable, because Christ did not die for them; (Bk IV chap 1)
Preaching to all is not in vain
Owen will argue that “this offer [of the gospel] is neither vain nor fruitless” when presented to those whom Christ did not die for. Why, you might be asking, should I accept Owen’s premise.
And if any ask, What it is of the mind and will of God that is declared and made known when men are commanded to believe for whom Christ did not die?
Owen provides several reasons in answer to the question (his words in italic).
- every man may conclude his own duty, which is to believe in Christ even if it is not God’s purpose to do, or his decree that it should be done
- every man may know the sufficiency of salvation that is in Jesus Christ to all that believe on him
- every man may know the certain, infallible, inviolable connection that is between faith and salvation (or put more simply that salvation is conditioned on faith)
- every man may know that whosoever performs the one [faith] shall surely enjoy the other [salvation]