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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Illustrated Summary of The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen

"Death, be not proud.  Though some have called thee mighty…thou art not so…. We wake eternally, but death shall be no more.  Death, thou shalt die!" exults John Donne with a triumphant, mocking tone. Dylan Thomas, in another famous poem, declares, "Though they go mad [with grief], they shall be sane, though they sink through the sea, they shall rise again; though lovers be lost, love shall not; and death shall have no dominion." Both poems owe their inspiration to 1 Corinthians 15:54-57: "Then shall be brought to pass the sayings, 'Death is swallowed up in victory' and 'O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?'… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" Perhaps no book better describes this triumphant victory than the superbly titled The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by Pastor and Oxford scholar John Owen in 1684.

Introduction

This classic work has stood the test of time and is strengthening Christians today with the latest challenges we face, as contemporary theologian J.I. Packer explains in his masterful introduction to Owen's triumph: "There are signs today of a new upsurge of interest in the theology of the Bible: a new readiness to test traditions, to search the Scriptures and to think through the faith. It is to those who share this readiness that Owen's treatise is offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing Evangelical Christendom today: the recovery of the Gospel.... We have during the past century bartered [the biblical] Gospel for a substitute product which...does not answer the ends for which the authentic Gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new Gospel conspicuously fails to produce a deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church... It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts.... In the new Gospel the center of reference is man.... Accordingly the themes of man's natural inability to believe, of God's free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep are not preached.... It is at this point that Owen's treatise on redemption can give us help....

"Owen's book...is a biblical and theological inquiry; its purpose is simply to make clear what Scripture actually teaches about the central subject of the Gospel: the achievement of the Savior. As its title proclaims, it is 'a treatise of the redemption and reconciliation that is in the blood of Christ: with the merit thereof, and the satisfaction wrought thereby.' The question which Owen...is really concerned to answer is just this: what is the Gospel? All agree that it is a proclamation of Christ as Redeemer, but there is a dispute as to the nature and extent of His redeeming work.... If it was offered to save some who will finally perish, then it cannot have been a transaction securing the actual salvation of all for whom it was designed. But, says Owen, this is precisely the kind of transaction that the Bible says it was. The first two books of his treatise are a massive demonstration of the fact that according to Scripture the Redeemer's death actually saves His people, as it was meant to do. The third book consists of a series of...arguments against the hypothesis of universal redemption, all aimed to show, on the one hand, that Scripture speaks of Christ's redeeming work as  effective, which precludes its having been intended for any who perish, and, on the other, that if its intended extent had been universal, then either all will be saved (which Scripture denies, and the advocates of the 'general ransom' do not affirm), or else the Father and the Son have failed to do what they set out to do, 'which to assert,' says Owen, 'seems...blasphemously injurious to the wisdom, power and perfection of God, as likewise derogatory to the worth and value of the death of Christ'.... 

"Finally, in the fourth book, Owen shows with  great cogency that the three classes of texts alleged to prove that Christ died for persons who will not be saved (those saying that He died for 'the world,' for 'all,' and those thought to envisage the perishing of those for whom He died) cannot on sound principles of exegesis be held to teach any such thing.... The claim that Christ died for every man, even those who perish...so far from magnifying the love and grace of God...dishonors both it and Him, for it reduces God's love to an impotent wish and turns...'saving' grace...into a monumental divine failure. Also, so far from magnifying the merit and worth of Christ's death, it cheapens it, for it makes Christ die in vain. Lastly, so far from affording faith additional encouragement, it destroys the Scriptural ground of assurance altogether, for it denies that the knowledge that Christ died for me...is a sufficient ground for inferring my eternal salvation; my salvation, on this view, depends not on what Christ did for me, but on what I subsequently do for myself. Thus this view takes from God's love and Christ's redemption the glory that Scripture gives them, and introduces the anti-scriptural principle of self-salvation at the point where the Bible explicitly says: 'not of works, lest any man should boast' [Ephesians 2:9].... The doctrine of the general ransom must accordingly be rejected, as Owen rejects it, as a grievous mistake....

"No comparable exposition of the work of redemption as planned and executed by the Triune God has ever been done since Owen published his. None has been needed.... His interpretation of the texts is sure; his power of theological construction is superb; nothing that needs discussing is omitted, and...no arguments for or against his position have been used since his day which he has not himself noted and dealt with.... All that one finds is solid, painstaking exegesis and a careful following through of biblical ways of thinking. Owen's work is a constructive, broad-based biblical analysis of the heart of the Gospel.... If we listen to him, he will teach us both how to believe the Scripture Gospel and how to preach it. For the first: he will lead us to bow down before a sovereign Savior who really saves, and to praise Him for a redeeming death which made it certain that all for whom He died will come to glory.... Then, secondly...preaching the Gospel is entirely a matter of proclaiming...the following four facts:
1. That all men are sinners and cannot do anything to save themselves.
2. That Jesus Christ, God's Son, is a perfect Savior for sinners, even the worst.
3. That the Father and the Son have promised that all who know themselves to be sinners and put faith in Christ as Savior shall be received into favor and none cast out....
4. That God has made repentance and faith a duty, requiring of every man who hears the Gospel 'a serious full ...rolling of the soul upon Christ in the promise of the Gospel as an all-sufficient Savior, able to deliver and save to the utmost those who come to God by Him; ready, able and willing, through the preciousness of His blood and sufficiency of His ransom, to save every soul that shall freely give themselves unto Him for that end.'"
Book 1

John Owen begins with a simple question: "Will you know the end and intention with which Christ came into the world? Let us ask Himself (who knew His own mind, as also all the secrets of His Father's heart), and He will tell us that the 'Son of man came to save that which was lost' [Matthew 18:11]to recover and save poor lost sinners was His intent and design, as is again asserted [Luke 19:10]. Ask also His apostles, who know His mind, and they will tell you the same. So Paul, 'This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' [1 Timothy 1:15]. Now, if you will ask who these sinners are towards whom He has this gracious intent and purpose, He tells you Himself in Matthew 20:28 that He came to 'give His life a ransom for many,' in other places called us, believers, distinguished from the world.... They are His church: 'He loved the church and gave Himself for it that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish' [Ephesians 5:25-27]....

"The effect...or what is accomplished and fulfilled by the death...of Jesus Christ is no less clearly manifested, but is...expressed as, first, Reconciliation with God by removing...the enmity that was between Him and us, for 'when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son' [Romans 5:10].... 'He is our peace' [Ephesians 2:14].... Secondly, Justification, by taking away the guilt of sins, procuring remission and pardon of them, redeeming us from their power.... 'In Him we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins' [Colossians 1:14]. Thirdly, Sanctification, by the purging away of the uncleanness and pollution of our sins, renewing us in the image of God, and supplying us with the graces of the Spirit of holiness, for 'the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself to God, purges our consciences from dead works that we may serve the living God' [Hebrews 9:14].... God has 'blessed us in Him with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places' [Ephesians 1:3]. Fourthly, Adoption...for 'God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law that we might receive the adoption as sons' [Galatians 4:4-5]. Fifthly, Glorification. Neither do the effects of the death of Christ rest here; they leave us not until we are settled in heaven, in glory and immortality forever.... 'For this cause He is the mediator of a New Covenant that by means of death...they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance' [Hebrews 9:15]. The sum of it all is that the death...of Jesus Christ has wrought and does effectively procure for all who are concerned in it eternal redemption, consisting in grace here and glory hereafter.

"Thus full, clear, and evident are the expressions in the Scripture concerning the ends and effects of the death of Christ...but...there is scarce anything more questioned than this, which seems to be a most fundamental principle. A spreading persuasion there is of a general ransom to be paid by Christ for all: that He died to redeem all and everyonenot only for many, His church, the elect of God, but for everyone also of the posterity of Adam. Now, the masters of this opinion do see full well...that if that be the end of the death of Christ...then...either...God and Christ...did not accomplish what They intended...or else that all men, all of the posterity of Adam, must be saved, purged, sanctified, and glorified...which the Scripture and the woeful experience of millions will not allow. Therefore...they must and do deny that God or His Son had any such absolute aim or end in the death...of Jesus Christ...that no benefit arises to any immediately by His death but what is common to all and every soul...until an act of faith, not procured for them by Christ...distinguishes them from others. Now this seems to me to seriously weaken the virtue, value, fruits and effects of the satisfaction and death of Christ.... I desire that the Lord, by His Spirit, leads us into all truth, 'and if anyone be otherwise minded, to reveal that also to him' [Philippians 3:15]....

"God imposed His wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for either 1. All the sins of all men, 2. All the sins of some men, or 3. Some sins of all men. If the last...then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved for...'If the Lord should mark iniquities, who would stand?' [Psalm 130:3].... If the second, which we affirm, Christ in their stead...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 is unbelief 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...? If He did not, then He did not die for all their sins." Christ said, "'Lo, I come (in the volume of the Book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God' (Hebrews 10:6-7).... He professed that 'He came not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him' (John 6:38)it was His food and drink to do His Father's will and to finish His work (John 6:34). The first words we find recorded of Him in Scripture are to the same purpose: 'Did you not know I must be about my Father's business?' (Luke 2:49). At the close of His ministry He said, 'I have glorified You on the earth; I have finished the work which You gave Me to do' (John 17:4). That work was 1. His incarnation...His taking on flesh and pitching His tent among us (John 1:14)...2. His oblation or 'offering Himself up to God for us' (Hebrews 9:14)...3. His intercession for all and everyone of those for whom He gave Himself for an oblation.... 'I pray not for the world, but for those You have given Me,' said Jesus in His High Priestly prayer (John 17:9).... And 'He is able to save to the uttermost who  come to God by Him, seeing that He ever lives to make intercession for them' (Hebrews 7:25)."

Book 2

"Christ did not die for any upon conditionif they do believe, but He died for all God's electthat they should believe, and believing have eternal life. Faith itself is among the principal effects and fruits of the death of Christ.... It is nowhere said in Scripture nor can it reasonably be affirmed that if we believe, Christ died for usas though our believing should make to be what otherwise would not be. Rather, Christ died for us that we might believe. Salvation is bestowed conditionally but faith, which is the condition, is absolutely procured.... 'It is given to us for Christ's sake...to believe in Him' (Philippians 1:29)."

Book 3

These are general arguments against the universality of redemption. "The first may be taken from the nature of the covenant of grace, which was established, ratified, and confirmed in and by the death of Christ...which...is called 'the blood of the New Testament' (Matthew 27:28).... This covenant was not made universally with all, but particularly only with some...those for whom His blood...'obtained eternal redemption' [Hebrews 9:12].... Notice also the first revelation of the mind of God concerning a discrimination between the people of Christ and His enemies: Genesis 3:15, 'I will put enmity between you' (the serpent) 'and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed' [Christ].... The Seed of the woman died not for the seed of the serpent. In Matthew 7:23 Christ says, 'I will profess to them, "I never knew you."' On the Last Day Christ will profess to some that He never knew them, but Christ said directly that He knows His own, whom He lays down His life for as the Good Shepherd (John 10:14-17).... Ephesians 5:25 says, 'Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it' (as also Acts 20:28). The object of Christ's love and His death is here asserted to be His bride, His church, and that as properly as a man's own wife is the only allowed object of His conjugal affections."
Book 4

As J.I. Packer stated in the introduction, in this last book John Owen demonstrates that the three classes of texts said to prove that Christ died for people who will not be saved cannot on sound principles be held to teach that. These are the three classes of texts: 1. Those saying that He died for "the world," 2. Those saying that He died for "all," and 3. Those thought to envisage the perishing of those for whom He died. 

The Word World Has Several Meanings
"Two words there are that are mightily stuck upon or stumbled at: first, the world; second, all.... The words themselves...must be interpreted according to the scope of the place where they are used and the subject matter which Scripture discusses in those places.... The word world...is in general taken five ways." For example, "John 1:10: 'He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world did not know Him.' He that should force the same meaning upon the world in that triple mention of it would be an egregious deceiver. In the first it plainly signifies some part of the habitable world...in the second, the whole frame of heaven and earth...in the third, some men living in the earthnamely, unbelievers.... As we have said of the world world, so we may of the word all.... That Christ 'gave Himself a ransom for all' is expressly affirmed in 1 Timothy 2:6, but who this all should be, whether all believers, or all the elect, or some of all sorts, or all of every sort, is in debate.... In John 12:32 Jesus says, 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto Me'....Are they all and everyone? Then are all and everyone drawn to Christ, made believers, and truly converted...for those who come to Him by His and His Father's drawing 'He will certainly not cast out' (John 6:37). All, then, can here be no other than many...as the same word is interpreted in Revelation 5:9: 'You have redeemed us out of every tribe, tongue, and people, and nation.'"

John Owen applies this careful consideration of words in their context to key disputed verses and the meanings become clear when summarized by contrasting error with truth. He starts with John 3:16: "'God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life'.... I will give you, in brief, a double paraphrase of the words: 'God so loved,' had such a natural inclination...to the good of 'the world,' Adam, with all..his posterity, of all ages, times, and conditions...'that He gave His only-begotten Son,' causing Him to be incarnate in the fullness of time to die, not with a purpose and resolution to save any, but 'that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,' should escape death and hell, and live eternally.... Now look...at what we conceive to be the mind of God in those words, whose aim we take to be the...setting forth of the free love of God to lost sinners in sending Christ to procure for them eternal redemption, as may appear in this following paraphrase: 'God' the Father 'so loved,' had such a...transcendent love, being an unchangeable purpose and act of His will concerning the salvation of 'the world,' miserable, sinful, lost men of all sortsnot only Jews but Gentiles also...'that,' intending their salvation...'He gave,' He prepared a way to prevent their everlasting destruction by appointing and sending 'His only-begotten Son' to be an all-sufficient Savior to all that look to Him, 'that whosoever believes in Him,' all believers whatsoever and only they 'should not perish, but have everlasting life,' and so effectively brought to obtain all those glorious things through Him that the Lord in His free love had designed for them."

Owen next considers 1 John 2:1-2: "'If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world'.... 'The whole world'...is the whole people of God (opposed to merely the Jewish nation), scattered abroad throughout the whole world.... The consolation of this text must of necessity be restrained to believers" by its context, especially because the propitiation or satisfaction of God's wrath comforts only those whose sins have been paid for.  This necessitates a definite, not a potential, atonement. Christ "is also a propitiation only by faith (Romans 3:25) and surely none have faith but believers.... It is they only throughout the world for whom alone Christ is a propitiation."

Owen also discusses 1 Timothy 2:4, 6: "'God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.... Christ gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time'.... All shall be saved whom God will have to be saved...for 'who has resisted His will?' [Romans 9:19].... God would have no more be 'saved' than He would have 'come to the knowledge of the truth.' These two things are of equal latitude and conjoined in the text, but it is not the will of the Lord that all and everyone, in all ages, should come to the knowledge of the truth." Jesus said that the hiding of such knowledge, at times, "'seemed good in His sight' (Matthew 11:25-26).... These...reasons...compel us to understand by all men...whom God would have to be saved to be men of all sorts [as described in Revelation 5:9]...the redeemed, ransomed ones of Jesus Christ...by virtue of the price of His blood, are vindicated 'into the glorious liberty of the children of God' [Romans 8:21]."

The last class of texts John Owen explains are those that seem to describe the perishing of those whom Jesus purchased. He easily demonstrates that most of these can be dismissed because they obviously are not referring to eternal loss. For example, Romans 14:15, "If your brother is grieved because of what you eat, you are not walking charitably. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died," is speaking about being sensitive to a fellow believer's conscience and scruples. One text Owen focuses on is 2 Peter 2:1: "There shall be false teachers, denying the Lord that bought them and bringing upon themselves swift destruction." He comments, "All things here, as to any proof of the business in hand, are exceedingly dark, uncertain, and doubtful. Uncertain that by the Lord is meant the Lord Christ, the word in the original being despotes, seldom or never ascribed to Him.... On the other side, it is most certain ... that there are no spiritual distinguishing fruits of redemption ascribed to these false teachers.... Here there is no mention of blood, death, price, or offering of Jesus Christ, as ... where proper redemption is discussed.... By reason of their outward ... profession that they themselves made to be purchased by Him whom they pretended to preach to others ... the apostle [Peter] justly presses these false teachers." In other words, Peter is saying something like, "These teachers claim to be Christians, but they don't act like Christ at all. They deny their claim by promoting teaching that contradicts His Word," and then Peter spends the rest of the chapter warning true believers about the ungodly lifestyles and disruptive tendencies of false teachers.

John Owen  closes his work with this REDEMPTION SUMMARY to proclaim "the honor of Christ and the excellency of His death ... with the fruits of it":

1. The error of Universal Redemption asserts that "Christ died for all and everyone, elect and reprobate," but Scriptural Redemption teaches that "Christ died for the elect only."

2. Universal Redemption asserts that "most of them for whom Christ died are damned," but Scriptural Redemption teaches that "All those for whom Christ died are certainly saved."

3. Universal Redemption asserts that "Christ, by His death, purchased not any saving grace for them for whom He died," but Scriptural Redemption teaches that "Christ by His death purchased all saving grace for them for whom He died."

4. Universal Redemption asserts that "Christ took no care for the greatest part of them for whom He died, that ever they should hear one word of His death," but Scriptural Redemption teaches that "Christ sends the means and reveals the way of life to all them for whom He died."

5. Universal Redemption asserts that "Christ, in His death, did not ratify nor confirm a covenant of grace with any federates, but only procured by His death that God might, if He would, enter into a new covenant with whom He would and upon what condition He pleased," but Scriptural Redemption teaches that "The new covenant of grace was confirmed to all the elect in the blood of Jesus."

6. Universal Redemption asserts that "Christ might have died and yet no one be saved," but Scriptural Redemption teaches that "Christ, by His death, purchased upon covenant ... an assured particular people, the pleasure of the Lord prospering to the end by His gracious hand."

7. Universal Redemption asserts that "Christ had no intention to redeem His church, any more than the wicked seed of the serpent," but Scriptural Redemption teaches that "Christ loved His church and gave Himself for it."

8. Universal Redemption asserts that "Christ died not for the unbelief of any," but Scriptural Redemption teaches that "Christ died for the unbelief of the elect."

"For a close, I desire the reader to peruse ... Romans 8:32-34: 'He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us'.... Conclude with me that if there be any comfort, any consolation, any assurance, any rest, any peace, any joy, any refreshment, any exultation of spirit to be obtained here on earth, it is all to be had in the blood of Jesus long since shed, and His intercession still continued.... Both are united and appropriated to the elect of God, by the precious effects and fruit of them both drawn to believe and preserved in believing, to the obtaining of an immortal crown of glory that shall not fade away."

Ponder This Masterpiece in Depth for Yourself!



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