This post is an excerpt from the book review of Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
Often Calvinists appeal to John Owen’s the Death of Death in the Death of Christ as the definitive work on the atonement. By simply mentioning the name they have thereby proven that Christ did not die for everyone, but rather for the elect alone. I intend to address some of Owen’s arguments.
The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is a difficult read. It’s massive, complex and quite detailed. Owen’s style is as much rhetorical as it is argumentative, which makes for volume. As such, Owen’s work is not as accessible to today’s reader as perhaps it could have been. So my strategy is to distill his arguments down to simple syllogism and then address them. I will not quote Owen’s text at length. It’s just too bulky and awkward. I will however, provide links back to the section I am addressing.
I plan on starting at chapter 7.
Chapter VII. – “Containing reasons to prove the oblation and intercession of Christ to be one entire means respecting the accomplishment of the same proposed end, and to have the same personal object.” (Link)
This chapter is perhaps the most important in the whole work, because it’s vital to Owen’s entire argument. It’s Owen’s attempt to hold the ship together. To see the problem and importance of this chapter, we have to look at the introduction.
Owens lays out 5 effects of Christ’s death: 1) reconciliation, 2) justification, 3) sanctification, 4) adoption and 5) eternal inheritance. He then goes on to argue:
“Now, the masters of this opinion [i.e. that Christ died for everyone] do see full well and easily, that if that be the end of the death of Christ which we have from the Scripture asserted [i.e. the 5 points above], if those before recounted be the immediate fruits and products thereof, then one of these two things will necessarily follow:— that either, first, God and Christ failed of their end proposed, and did not accomplish that which they intended, the death of Christ being not a fitly-proportioned means for the attaining of that end (for any cause of failing cannot be assigned); which to assert seems to us blasphemously injurious to the wisdom, power, and perfection of God, as likewise derogatory to the worth and value of the death of Christ; — or else, that all men, all the posterity of Adam, must be saved, purged, sanctified, and glorified; which surely they will not maintain, at least the Scripture and the woeful experience of millions will not allow. 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, or that any such thing was immediately procured and purchased by it, as we before recounted; but that God intended nothing, neither was any thing effected by Christ, — that no benefit ariseth to any immediately by his death but what is common to all and every soul, though never so cursedly unbelieving here and eternally damned hereafter, until an act of some, not procured for them by Christ, (for if it were, why have they it not all alike?) to wit, faith, do distinguish them from others. Now, this seeming to me to enervate the virtue, value, fruits and effects of the satisfaction and death of Christ, — serving, besides, for a basis and foundation to a dangerous, uncomfortable, erroneous persuasion”
Words in brackets were mine as was the bolding of “immediately”.
If you stopped reading half way through the quote, perhaps you can appreciate my point about Owen’s style, but please do go back and finish, as it’s important.
Notice that little word “immediately”. Owen is sharp. He knows the Arminian position is that Christ’s work is in two parts, His death and the application of His blood in the life of the believer. This first part Christ accomplished on the cross for everyone, the second part is accomplished through intercession and is for the believer alone. Owen’s knowing this is why he uses the word immediately, ruling out any two step process. He has to tie Christ’s death so closely with His intercession that there can be no room for one to be for all men and the other only for the elect.
The problem is if Christ’s death immediately 1) reconciles us to God, 2) justifies us 3) sanctifies us, 4) adopts us and 5) gives us an eternal inheritance, there is no room for justification through faith. According to Owen, I was justified in 33 AD and was born justified. I was not justified when I came to faith. But this is clearly inconsistent with scripture. Further, what’s the point of Christ’s interceding? He is already done.
In spite of this clear problem, Owen goes on in attempting to tie Christ’s death and intercession together. Let’s see how he does. (to be continued . . .)
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