Tag Archives: John Owen

John Owen’s Defense of Limited Atonement

John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is a thorough explanation of what has been called limited atonement. Or you might say Death of Death is a book-length refutation of universal atonement, the position that Jesus died for all people. One implication of universal atonement would be that Jesus died for many people who will never be saved, meaning that Jesus was ineffective in his purpose and his work.

Below is a collection of 31 passages that Owen gives in Book II, chapter 3 refuting such a position. Here’s his main thesis followed by proofs from three classes of Scripture: 1) the intention of God and Christ, 2) the actual accomplishment of Christ, and 3) the persons for whom Christ died. [Page numbers given below refer to The Works of John Owen, vol. 10.]

“Our thesis as before declared, whereof this is the sum: Jesus Christ, according to the counsel and will of his Father, did offer himself upon the cross, to the procurement of those things before recounted; and maketh continual intercession with this intent and purpose, that all the good things so procured by his death might be actually and infallibly bestowed on and applied to all and every one for whom he died, according to the will and counsel of God” (208). Let us now see what the Scripture saith…

I. The Intention of God and Christ

For the first, those which hold out the counsel, purpose, mind, intention, and will of God and our Saviour in this work.

  1. Matthew 18:11, “The Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (cf. Lk 19:10)
  2. Matthew 1:21, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”
  3. 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” –not to open a door…not to make a way passable…but actually to save them
  4. Hebrews 2:14-15, “…that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death…” Than which words nothing can more clearly set forth the entire end of that whole dispensation of the incarnation and offering of Jesus Christ
  5. Ephesians 5:25-27, “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word;” along with Titus 2:14, “He game himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people.” “I think nothing can be clearer than these two places” (98)
  6. John 17:19, “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth,” “not the whole world” (cf. vv. 6, 9)
  7. Galatians 1:4, “he gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father”
  8. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” “Now if the Lord did not purpose what is not fulfilled…then he made Christ sin for no more than do in the effect become actually righteousness in him” (211)

Argument Summary: From all which we draw this argument: That which the Father and the Son intended to accomplish in and towards all those for whom Christ died, by his death that is most certainly effected…. Christ died for all and only those in and towards whom all these things recounted are effected. (211)

II. The Accomplishment of Christ’s Sacrifice

The second rank contains those places which lay down the actual accomplishment and effect of this oblation.

  1. Hebrews 9:12, 14, “By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us…. The blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” “Two things are here ascribed to the blood of Christ;–one referring to God, ‘it obtains eternal redemption;’ the other respecting us, ‘purgeth our conscience from dead works.’”
  2. 1 Peter 2:4 (cf. Isaiah 53:5, 6, 10-12), “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and life to righteousness”
  3. Colossians 1:21, 22, “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight
  4. John 6:33, where our life is ascribed to the death of Christ, “He came down from heaven to give life to the world” (as also 2 Tim 1:10 and Romans 5:6-10).

Argument Summary: I shall take from the whole this general argument: –If the death and oblation of Jesus Christ doth sanctify all them for whom it was a sacrifice…. –then died he only for those that are in the event sanctified, pursed, redeemed, justified, etc.; But that all are not thus sanctified, freed, etc is most apparent: and therefore, they cannot be said to be the proper object of the death of Christ. (214)

III. The Persons for Whom Christ Died

Many places there are that point out the persons for whom Christ died (214)

  1. In some places they are called many
    1. Matthew 26:28, “blood of the new testimony is shed for many
    2. Isaiah 53:11, “my righteous servant shall justify many
    3. Mark 10:45, “give his life a ransom for many
    4. Hebrews 2:10, “to bring many sons to glory”
  2. And though perhaps many itself be not sufficient to restrain the object of Christ’s death unto some, in opposition to all, because many is sometimes placed absolutely for all, as Rom 5:19, yet these many being described in other places to be such as it is most certain all are not, so it is a full and evident restriction of it.
    1. John 10:15, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own [sheep]”
    2. John 11:52, “the children of God who are scattered abroad”
    3. Hebrews 2:11, “the children that God gave him”
    4. John 17:2, 6, 9, 11, “those who were given unto Jesus by his Father”
    5. Hebrews 13:20, the sheep whereof he was the “Shepherd, through the blood of the everlasting covenant”
    6. Romans 8:33, “God’s elect”
    7. Matthew 1:21 “his people”
    8. Luke 1:68, “he has visited and redeemed his people”
    9. Romans 11:2, “his people whom he foreknew”
    10. Acts 18:10, “I have many in this city who are my people”
    11. Hebrews 13:12, “to sanctify the people through his own blood”
    12. Acts 20:28, “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood”
    13. Ephesians 5:25, the church which Christ loved and gave himself up for
    14. Hebrews 9:28, “to bear the sins of many”
    15. Daniel 9:27, “he shall make a strong covenant with many”
  3. Those many being thus described, and set forth with such qualifications as by no means are common to all, but proper only to the elect, do most evidently appear to be all and only those that are chosen of God to obtain eternal life through the offering and blood-shedding of Jesus Christ. (214)