The following is a summary of the classic argument put forward by John Owen in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ
The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
- All the sins of all men.
- All the sins of some men, or
- Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
- That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
- That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
- But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
You answer, “Because of unbelief.”
I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!”
I’m preparing to do a class at church on what we believe about the Bible, and I hope to address some of the issues Christians face today regarding inerrancy, infallibility, and the role God’s Word should have in our daily life. There are few better on the nature of Scripture than John Owen.
Owen (1616 – 1683) broke new ground on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in his Pneumatologia (1693). One distinction he made was between prophecy in general and the inspiration of Scripture to the prophets. “The writing of Scripture was another effect of the Holy Ghost, which had its beginning under the Old Testament. I reckon this as a distinct gift from prophecy in general, or rather, a distinct species or kind of prophecy…”
Now this ministry was first committed unto Moses, who, besides the five books of the Law, probably also wrote the story of Job. Many prophets there were before him, but he was the fist who committed the will of God to writing after God himself, who wrote the law in tables of stone; which was the beginning and pattern of the Scriptures.
(All quotes from Owen in Works, III.143).
Hywel Jones notes that, prior to the modern period, most followed a reference in the Jewish Talmud to Moses’ authorship of Job (Baba Bathra, 14). However, this should be “balanced by the fact that the book was placed in the third section of the Hebrew Bible because of its acknowledged anonymity” (Jones, A Study Commentary on Job [Evangelical Press, 2007] 18).
Compare these two definitions of sanctification. The first comes from John Owen’s Works, the second from the Savoy Declaration of Faith, a document Owen, Goodwin,and many other influential congregationalist ministers had a large role in forming.
Owen’s Works, 3:386
Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing of their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience unto God, according unto the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ.
Savoy Declaration of Faith
Chapter XIII: Of Sanctification
They that are united to Christ, effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also further sanctified really and personally through the same virtue, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened, and mortified, and they more and more quickened, and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
What strikes you from these two definitions? The first seems to emphasize the Spirit while the second emphasizes (union with) Christ. The first mentions the imago Dei while the second mentions other facets of the ordo salutis. The first treats sin in its staining effects, whereas the latter looks at sin in its power. The first thinks of vivification in terms of “obedience” while the latter speaks of “holiness.” Only the first mentions covenant (“new covenant”), while only the latter mentions mortification. Both are clear that it is by “virtue” of Christ’s death and life/resurrection. Both are speaking of progressive, not definitive, sanctification.
So why the difference(s)? Can any Owen scholars weigh in and touch on the various emphases? Clearly, Savoy 13 is not very original to Owen or the congregationalist ministers, as it reads very similar to the WCF (click here for a comparison and scroll down). Is that the only difference here, or are there other factors at play behind these two very similar yet different definitions of sanctification?
In a Mars Hill Audio interview, Ellen Charry observes that the Protestant theologians of the seventeenth century, even before the Enlightenment, had a tendency to detach truth from historical reference. The truth of theology was seen in the coherence of the system of truth found in Scripture, rather than a truth of reference to historical events.
Charry’s comment was a passing one, no doubt a drastic oversimplification. Protestant scholastics, after all, defended the historical reliability of Scripture as well as its systematic coherence. But, the comment seems worthy of investigation, since it might provide a historical link between Protestant scholasticism and the development of liberal theology.
Maybe there is some truth to this claim, especially since “the Protestant theologians of the seventeenth century” (no reference to confessional position, orthodoxy, etc.) is a pretty wide generalization. I didn’t listen to the interview, and like Leithart noted, it was a passing comment.
That said, there are important nuances to this idea. If by “Protestant theologians of the seventeenth century” one is referring to Reformed Scholastics like Cocceius, Voetius, Brakel, Turretin, Owen, or Witsius, then qualifications should be noted. These qualifications follow in patterns that we, and Charry?, may not quickly set upon. First, the scholastics (and Protestant scholastic era) were some of the best with historically-referent theology, and secondly, despite their connections with history, some of these theologians were quickest into the liberal slide. Continue reading
What role does sanctification play in the Christian life? And specifically, is sanctification necessary for a Christian to ultimately be saved? Sometimes this issue can be confusing for Reformed Protestants who wish to maintain salvation by God’s saving grace from first to last, and yet also trumpet the need for holiness and good works. Even reading erstwhile helpful pastors and expositors can be confusing, as J.C. Ryle and Arthur W. Pink demonstrate. Consider their separate comments:
J.C. Ryle- “Holiness” pg.28-29
“Sanctification, in the last place, is absolutely necessary, in order to train and prepare us for heaven Continue reading
With the overwhelming influx of information available, discerning readers must become selective in what they give their time to read. Just in case you missed ‘em, here are some links I found valuable, and hope you will also.
John Owen on Pastoral Prayer
Looking for further resources on how to pray better? Rev. Danny Hyde discusses Owen’s thoughts on public prayer at Meet the Puritans, including how to “improve” upon Christ’s gifts and what it might mean to “study prayer” and “pray while we study.”
Ussher on the Corporate Nature of Baptism
“Thus if we were wise to make a right use of [attending to the sacrament]; we might learn as much at a Baptism as at a Sermon.”
The always interesting Lauren Winner writes for Slate to query whether it is even possible to apostasize from mainline Christianity. “Would that America’s Protestant mainline could produce an apostate. For one might say that a group that lacks the necessary preconditions for making apostates can’t make disciples either.” Perhaps you’ve never thought it a good thing, but could you be kicked out of your church? Is there a proportionate relationship between the severity of exclusion and the warmth of inclusion?
“…when you can remember Him no more, God will remember you. ‘Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.’”
Contra Accountability Groups
Tullian says “Reminders Are More Effective Than Rebukes” when it comes to living out the Christian life.
Dennis Johnson on Preaching the Gospel
From his magnum opus Him We Proclaim, “…the same gospel that initially called us to faith is the means that perfects us in faith.”
The Bavinck Institute
A wealth of resources. How did I just now hear about this?! Download The Bavinck Review, surf for dissertations on Bavinck that may be downloaded, and find information on a debate regarding Bavinck’s view of Two Kingdoms theology.
The Fun Cult
“Entertainment is a huge American idol. Q/A #1 of the American catechism is this: ‘The chief end of man is to glorify fun and enjoy it forever.’” Bonus: great Trueman quotes on deconstruction of entertainment.
to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ
J. I. Packer
The Death of Death in the Death of Christ is a polemical work, designed to show, among other things, that the doctrine of universal redemption is unscriptural and destructive of the gospel. There are many, therefore, to whom it is not likely to be of interest. Those who see no need for doctrinal exactness and have no time for theological debates which show up divisions between so-called Evangelicals may well regret its reappearance. Some may find the very sound of Owen’s thesis so shocking that they will refuse to read his book at all; so passionate a thing is prejudice, and so proud are we of our theological shibboleths. But it is hoped that this reprint will find itself readers of a different spirit. 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. Continue reading