The Death of John Owen’s Argument: a General Atonement means God failed to achieve His goal (Part 1)

In the Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647), Dr. John Owen offers a famous argument for a limited atonement. That was explored in another post. In chapter 1 of Book I there is another challenge presented to those who hold to a general atonement, in which Christ “died to redeem all and every one”.

The dilemma for those rejecting a limited atonement

Anyone holding the view that Christ died for “all the sins of all men”, according to Owen, should logically arrive at an unsatisfying conclusion, thus demonstrating that the view is incorrect.

In a nutshell:

if he died for all, all must also be justified, or the Lord failed in his aim and design, both in the death and resurrection of his Son (Book I 7.1)

800px-John_Owen_by_John_GreenhillAt the end of opening chapter, he also argues:

Wherefore, to cast a tolerable colour upon their persuasion, they must and do deny that God or his Son had any such absolute aim or end in the death or blood-shedding of Jesus Christ, … but that God intended nothing

According to Dr. Owen my options, should I hold that Christ died “for all the sins of all people”, 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

Way to box someone into a corner.

BoxingTheology

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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 for the sins of some, rather than all, people.

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

Einstein: Know your History

I finished reading The Trouble with Physics by theoretical physicist Lee Smolin. In this book Smolin tackles the current state of physics and its lack of progress in solving the five fundamental questions.albert-einstein It was an interesting read, though if you are not someone who tackles popular works of science I would recommend Brian Greene’s Elegant Universe first.

Toward the end of the book, Smolin laments the inability of the scientific community to jump start another series of great discoveries, like those of the early twentieth century, to help move science forward toward finding the grand Theory of Everything (TOE). He attributes this to an academic system that rewards master craftsman who don’t challenge the current theories, while also failing to promote an environment for seers to flourish. Continue reading