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John Owen on the Sufficiency of Christ’s Death as the Foundation of the Gospel Offer

April 26, 2008

Owen:

1) Neither may we be charged as straiteners of the merit of Christ; for we advance the true value and worth thereof (as hereafter will appear) far beyond all the Arminians ascribe unto it. We confess that that “blood of God,” Acts 20:28, of the “Lamb without blemish and without spot,” 1 Peter 1:19, was so exceedingly precious, of that infinite worth and value, that it might have saved a thousand believing worlds, John 3:16; Romans 3:22. His death was of sufficient dignity to have been made a ransom for all the sins of every one in the world. And on this internal sufficiency of his death and passion is grounded the universality of evangelical promises; which have no such restriction in their own nature as that they should not be made to all and every one, though the promulgation and knowledge of them are tied only to the good pleasure of God’s special providence, Matthew 16:17; as also that economy and dispensation of the new covenant whereby, the partition-wall being broken down, there remains no more difference between Jew and Gentile, the utmost borders of the earth being given in for Christ’s inheritance. “Display,”in Works, 10:89.

2) To the honour, then, of Jesus Christ our Mediator, God and man, our all-sufficient Redeemer, we affirm, such and so great was the dignity and worth of his death and blood-shedding, of so precious a value, of such an infinite fulness and sufficiency was this oblation of himself, that it was every way able and perfectly sufficient to redeem, justify, and reconcile and save all the sinners in the world, and to satisfy the justice of God for all the sins of all mankind, and to bring them every one to everlasting glory. Now, this fulness and sufficiency of the merit of the death of Christ is a foundation unto two things:–

First, The general publishing of the gospel unto “all nations,” with the right that it hath to be preached to “every creature,” Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; because the way of salvation which it declares is wide enough for all to walk in. There is enough in the remedy it brings to light to heal all their diseases, to deliver them from all their evils. If there were a thousand worlds, the gospel of Christ might, upon this ground, be preached to them all, there being enough in Christ for the salvation of them all, if so be they will derive virtue from him by touching him in faith; the only way to draw refreshment from this fountain of salvation. Owen, “Death of Death,” in Works, 10:295-297.

3) Fourthly, The gospel requires a resting upon this Christ, so discovered and believed on to be the promised Redeemer, as an all-sufficient Savior, with whom is plenteous redemption, and who is able to save to the utmost them that come to God by him, and to bear the burden of all weary laboring souls that come by faith to him; in which proposal there is a certain infallible truth, grounded upon the superabundant sufficiency of the oblation of Christ in itself, for whomsoever (fewer or more) it be intended. Now, much self-knowledge, much conviction, much sense of sin, God’s justice, and free grace, is required to the exercise of this act of faith. Good Lord! how many thousand poor souls within the pale of the church can never be brought unto it! The truth is, without the help of God’s Spirit none of those three before, much less this last, can be performed; which worketh freely, when, how, and in whom he pleaseth. Owen, “Death of Death,” in Works, 10:315..

4) The foundation of God’s command unto men to use the means granted them is not Christ’s dying for them in particular, but the connection which himself, by his decree, hath fixed between these two things, faith and salvation; the death of Christ being abundantly sufficient for the holding out of that connection unto all, there being enough in it to save all believers. Owen, “Death of Death,” Works, 10:344.

5) Thirdly, What can be concluded hence, but that the death of Christ is of such infinite value as that it is able to save to the utmost every one to whom it is made known, if by true faith they obtain an interest therein and a right thereunto, we cannot perceive. This truth we have formerly confirmed by many testimonies of Scripture, and do conceive that this innate sufficiency of the death of Christ is the foundation of its promiscuous proposal to elect and reprobate. Owen, “Death of Death,” Works, 10:376.

6) Ans. The intention of this proof is, to show that men shall be condemned for their unbelief, for not believing in Christ; which, saith the author, cannot be unless three things be granted, –First, That there be enough in the atonement made by Christ for them. Secondly, That there be truth in God’s offer of mercy to them. Thirdly, That there be sufficient will and power given them by the Spirit, at some time or other, to believe. Now, though I believe no man can perceive what may be concluded hence for the universality of redemption, yet I shall observe some few things: and to the first thing required do say, That if, by “Enough in the atonement for them,” you understand that the atonement, which was made for them, hath enough in it, we deny it; not because the atonement hath not enough in it for them, but because the atonement was not for them. If you mean that there is a sufficiency in the merit of Christ to save them if they should believe, we grant it, and affirm that this sufficiency is the chief ground of the proposing it unto them (understanding those to whom it is proposed, that is those to whom the gospel is preached). Owen, “Death of Death,” in Works, 10:383-4.

[Note: While much of what Owen asserts as part of his brand of Calvinism is not in line with the intention and theology of this web-site, it clear, nonetheless, that contrary to some modern Calvinists that Owen did agree with classic Calvinism in its assertion that the sufficiency of Christ’s death underwrites, grounds, even sustains the free offer. To that end, these excerpts from Owen are published here.1]

Conversely:

1) Secondly, It is not the disbelieving the death of Christ for every individual soul that ever was or shall be (which to believe is nowhere in Scripture required) that is the cause of man’s destruction, but a not-believing in the all-sufficiency of the passion and oblation of Jesus Christ for sinners, so as to accept of the mercy procured thereby, upon those terms and conditions that it is held forth in the gospel; which doth not attend the purpose and intention of God for whom Christ should die, but the sufficiency and efficacy of his death for all that receive him in a due manner, he being the only true way, life, and light, no other name being given under heaven whereby men may be saved. Owen, “Death of Death,” in Works, 10:396.

[Note: This is posted because of what is implied. If men are condemned for not believing in the all-sufficiency of the atonement, then clearly believing in it is part of the grounds for the command, offer and warrant to believe.]

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1I should note, too, that posting these comments from Owen should not be taken as suggesting that I find Owen’s theology regarding the sufficiency of the expiation and the free offer coherent or rational. The aim here is simply to show that he did feel constrained to ground the offer in the sufficiency of the death of Christ, contrary to some today.

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