Thursday, May 12, 2011

Who will argue with Owen about the atonement?

Few doctrines could be more important to the Christian than those concerning the cross of our Saviour. And since we know that it is only by Christ's work on the cross that we can be saved, it is especially important for us to consider the question asked by John Owen below in "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ." We must know the answer; did Christ die for:

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

Let's sit at Owen's feet for a while to hear him bring the Scriptures to bear on this issue:

"Nay, but in dying for us Christ did not only aim at our good, but also directly died in our stead. The punishment due to our sin and the chastisement of our peace was upon him; which that it was the pains of hell, in their nature and being, in their weight and pressure, though not in tendence and continuance (it being impossible that he should be contained by death), who can deny and not be injurious to the justice of God, which will inevitably inflict those pains to eternity upon sinners? It is true, indeed, there is a relaxation of the law in respect of the persons suffering, God admitting of commutation; as in the old law, when in their sacrifices the life of the beast was accepted (in respect to the carnla part of the ordinances) for the life of the man. This is fully revealed, and we believe it; but for any change of the punishment, in respect of the nature of it, where is the least intimation of any alteration? We conclude, then, this second act of God, in laying the punishment on him for us, with that of the prophet, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned each to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all," (Isa. 53:6): and add thereunto this observation, that it seems strange to me that Christ should undergo the pains of hell in their stead who lay in the pains of hell before he underwent those pains, and shall continue in them to eternity; for their worm dieth not, neither is their fire quenched." 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 all the sins of all men, or all the sins some men, or 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. 130:3; cf. Jas. 2:10). We might all go 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. 2:20, 21). If the second, that is it that 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 [Hence, they cannot be saved, SW]. Let them choose which part they will."

We can see that to understand who the intended objects were, we must understand the nature of the atonement. And the nature of this work of Christ will forever elude us if we do not always hold God's perfect justice before our eyes, by which we stand either condemned, or justified, if it is that Christ has satisfied God's justice on our behalf. If justified, then certainly glorified (Rom. 8:30-34), and since not all are glorified, not all are justified, and Christ died only for those who are saved: the elect.

Sam W.


Joseph Lim said...

It is very clever to argue from the nature and the accomplishment of sacrifice to explain who Christ died for. If Christ death not truly and effectively as propitiation, then Christ's death will be seen as merely making a possibility or opportunity to be redeemed.

Anonymous said...

What would you think of this?

Wiseguy said...

I would say that we are elect in Christ, and Christ is the head of His church and His covenant, which means that the purchased redemption must infallibly be applied to all the elect. I see no contradiction here with irresistible grace, rather I see that Christ pours out on us His Spirit to unite us spiritually to Him (and thus become partakers of all His benefits) because we are legally united to Him before the foundation of the world by election. But Owen's arguments are strong enough on their own to stand without my elaboration here. I'm not totally sure I understand what that article is trying to get at, but I admit I didn't take a lot of time with it.