The Staunch Calvinist

"Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God." - Jonathan Edwards


John Owen's Case For Particular Atonement

John Owen’s Case for Particular Atonement

 

(This post was originally written for a section in chapter 8 of the 1689 Baptist Confession.) 

Introduction

Dr. John Owen’s work titled “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” is, by the admission of many Calvinists, the most extensive work on the doctrine of Limited Atonement, or better named, Particular/Definite or Atonement/Redemption. Therefore, it is beneficial for us to take a brief look at his case for Particular Atonement over against Universal Atonement. Dr. Owen is aware and acquainted with the material of the opposing position and he interacts with them and answers their objections. He is not writing against caricatures of the opposing side but has researched the materials and arguments of the opposing side and, in my opinion, utterly refutes their arguments.

Almost everyone who has any reasonable knowledge of the debates concerning limited or unlimited atonement must have heard of Owen’s trilemma, which we have presented above. The trilemma is really forceful, but it is merely one argument out many more from Dr. Owen’s arsenal. The trilemma is not his only argument for Particular Redemption. But it may be an accurate summary of his case. He argues each of his points biblically. For a good summary of his arguments see here.

Dr. Owen’s book is divided into four books and various chapters dealing with the issues related to the atonement.

  1. Book 1 (8 chapters) deals with the purpose of the Trinit...

Hebrews 6:4-6, Apostasy and Calvinism

Hebrews 6:4-6 – It is impossible to restore them again to repentance

Heb 6:4-6 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

(This post is taken from a section in my commentary on chapter 17 of the 1689 Baptist Confession, so there are some things here that have been previously argued for, as for example the positive case for the doctrine of Perseverance).

This is arguably one of the most difficult and notorious passages in Holy Writ. There is no consensus on its interpretation. I have consulted many commentaries and articles on this passage and I come to it knowing that I don’t have all the answers. But I also come to it with presuppositions in mind. I am unashamed to say that the Bible does in fact teach the Perseverance of the Saints, therefore this passage cannot be describing the actual apostasy of a regenerate believer totally from the faith. It may be a warning about true believers, it may be hypothetical, but what it cannot be is say that some true and regenerate believers will in fact fall away completely from the faith. I have argued that even in the book of Hebrews itself, the doctrine of Perseverance a...


2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 'he died for all'

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

“Can it get plainer than this? Don’t you see that it says ‘he died for all.’” Well, we could take the “all’s” there to mean “every individual who has ever lived on this planet”, but we will lose biblically consistency.

This is going to be a little bit lengthy and that because I decided that we must deal with the clear context of the passage about Christ's death for a specific people rather than addressing verses 14-1...


Ephesians 1:10, 'unite all things in him'

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight: 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)

This is a verse (v. 9) frequently used by Universalists that I’ve seen on the Internet. The idea is that Christ will “unite” everything in Himself, meaning, people who did not repent and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved – eventually, they may have to go to Purgatory or a “temporal hell,” but in the end “Love Wins” and they are saved.

Word Study

Well let’s take a close look at the word “unite,” it’s the Strong’s G346: [1]  

- Original: ἀνακεφαλαίομαι

- Transliteration: Anakephalaiomai

- Phonetic: an-ak-ef-al-ah'-ee-om-ahee

- Definition:  

1.  to sum up (again), to repeat summarily, to condense into a summary 

- Origin: from G303 and G2775 (in its original sense)

- TDNT entry: 14:21,4

- Part(s) of speech: Verb

I think it is helpful to see how other translations other than the ESV have translated the verse:

KJV: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; [even] in him:

NASB: with a view to an administration suit...


1 Timothy 2:4 & Titus 2:11, 'desires all people to be saved'

1 Timothy 2:1-6 & Titus 2:11[1]

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:1-6, ESV)

(For a better and a more recent defense of 1Tim 2:4 see here.)

This is one of the “Arminian Big Three” which you will get almost in every conversation about Calvinism in real life or online. Usually verses 3-4 are just quoted to make the case that God wants to save every single individual. The question is, does “all” in context really mean “every single individual in the world”? Or is this talking about God’s desire not His sovereign decree?

Will of Desire interpretation

There are some people who understand this passage and other passages like 2 Pet 3:9 to refer to God’s will of desire. God’s will of desire being, God’s desire that people should not murder, lie, steal, commit adultery or have other gods before Him (Ex 20), but He doesn’t decree that it should be done so. It is also called His will of precept.

So God’s will of desire refers ...


Hebrews 2:9, 'Taste Death For Everyone'

Hebrews 2:9-10[1]

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. (ESV)

(For a better and more recent defense see here.)

Taste death for everyone,” if we understand this to refer to every single individual then the logical conclusion is Universalism, which has lots of biblical problems. So let us dig a little deeper in the context of this verse.

The question is— If everyone (pas, πᾶς, G3956, “all, any, every, the whole”) in verse 9 is meant to be taken as in “every single person without exception,” then we have a problem on our hands. The problem is that the passage would then mean that everyone will be saved, or that Christ has atoned for the sins of everyone, even those in Hell. It will totally destroy the picture of Christ being the mediator/intercessor/High Priest of His people in Hebrews chapters 9 and 10. Interceding for a specific people whom He has perfected.

Let us now consider the surrounding passages. In verse 10 we see that that the Lord Jesus has brought “many sons to glory.” If the “everyone” of verse 9 is to be taken as “every single individual without exception” then verse 10 should’ve read something like: “b...


Colossians 1:19-20, 'reconcile to himself all things'

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

This is another one of the verses that Universalists like to use. While this site is not meant to refute Universalism, I’ve seen this verse used against Limited Atonement, so I thought it should be helpful if we could take a look at it and see what it teaches.

The Sovereignty Of Christ

We should realise that the context is actually about the absolute sovereignty of Christ in both creation and preservation.  Meaning, it is primarily not about the atonement, but about His sovereign reign over the created cosmos. Let’s take a look at Colossians 1:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authoritiesall things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

In this passage we see that Christ is actually the Creator. He is the One who created all that exists. He is the firstborn of creation - that does not mean that He was the first creature, for the text says all things were created by Him. But not only that, but fu...


John 3:16, 'God so loved the world'

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

(For a better and more recent defense see here.)

“The Gospel in a single verse,” that is what many have called John 3:16. Surely it is one of the most known verses from Scripture, if not the most known. But the contextual meaning of it now has been lost. Nowadays Jn 3:16 is used to imply that God loves everyone so very much and gives everyone a choice to believe in Him. I, for one thought that Jn 3:16 was something that John wrote, not something Jesus said in a conversation with Nicodemus! Although that is still debated and not 100% clear. So let us examine Jn 3:16 within its context.

First thing to remember is that this is a conversation between the Lord Jesus and Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus liked Jesus’ teachings and came to Him in the night to talk to him and ask Him questions. Jesus in verse 3 gives Him the famous “You must be born again” answer.

Now we need to examine the meaning of the word “world” in this context. The Lord tells Nicodemus that God has a special love for the “world,” it seems to me that it’s talking about redemptive love, not just general love that God has for every human being. What does this mean? The Greek word for “world” is kosmos (κόσμος,...


1 Timothy 4:10, 'Savior of all men'

1 Timothy 4:10

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10, ESV)

(For a recent defense see here.)

Many non-Calvinist take this verse to mean that God is trying to save all people. But, one wonders why isn’t He able to complete this ‘plan’ of His and the answer of course is that man doesn’t choose God, which we agree with, but not the part that God isn’t able to fulfill His desire, because the Son paid the ransom for all whom the Father gave Him (Jn 17; Eph 5:25; Jn 6:37-40).

But still we need to deal with this verse, if we believe that the Bible is inspired there should be a consistency running through it. There are no ‘Arminian’ or ‘Calvinist’ verses, there are only God inspired verses.

First we need to look how the word ‘Savior’ is used in this context. The word ‘soter’ (σωτήρ, G4990) has the meaning of ‘savior, deliverer, preserver’[7] it occurs 24 times in the New Testament mostly in the sense of personal Savior (Lk 2:11; Jn 4:42; Act 5:31; Tit 2:13; 2Pe 2:20 etc…). But it is important to note the context. I’m going to argue that it means soter as in the sense of a preserver, deliverer.

Let’s take a look at 1 Timothy 4. First we see in the first paragraph of 1 Timothy 4, in verses 1 through 5 Paul warns Timothy against false teachers who will teach doctrines of demons, who will lead many astray, who will forbid marriage and req...


Acts 7:51, 'You always resist the Holy Spirit'

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. (Acts 7:51 ESV)[1]

Calvinists, have no problem with this passage at all. Dead sinners always resist the Spirit of God. But when Spirit comes to regenerate, for the purpose of salvation, the dead sinner is made alive and willing, with no resistance.

Rather, there is a bigger problem for those Arminians who say that sinners are not really dead in sin or unable to come to God, how do they cooperate or respond to the Spirit if they always resist Him? There is said here much more than some Arminians would want to admit. The total depravity of human kind which without sovereign grace always resists the work of God.

This is what the ESV Study Bible says:[2]

Acts 7:51 Stephen concluded with a direct attack on Israel for rejecting the Messiah. While this may seem harsh, Luke will soon say that Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit” (v. 55; cf. 6:10, 15) and he was no doubt led by the Spirit, who knew the hearts of Stephen’s listeners, to make this accusation. Using the language of the OT he accused them of being stiff-necked (see Ex. 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6, 13), uncircumcised in heart and ears (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4, 6:10, 9:26; Ezek. 44:7, 9), and resisting the Holy Spirit (Isa. 63:10). In fact, the repeated rejection of God’s will is the point of his story, justifying the charge that prophets also made against the nation.

...