The logic of Limited Atonement in light of Unconditional Election is not disputable, rather what is disputed is if this logic is in agreement with the biblical testimony about Christ’s death. It is my purpose here to make a biblical case for Limited Atonement by looking at the purpose of the atonement, the extent of the atonement and trying to give some answers for texts used against the doctrine of Definite Atonement. But first, let us go to the intermediate section about John Owen’s case for Definite Redemption.
John Owen’s Case for Particular Redemption
(This section was added on the 22nd of March 2017 and may also be found as a separate post in here.)
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 of 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.
- Book 1 (8 chapters) deals with the purpose of the Trinity in the design of the atonement.
- Book 2 (5 chapters) deals with the effects and application of the work of Christ.
- Book 3 (11 chapters) presents 16 arguments against Universal Atonement and for Definite Atonement.
- Book 4 (7 chapters) answers various interpretations and objections to Particular Atonement.
Note: All biblical references in the quotes are modernized (e.g., John i. 1 to John 1:1 for the ease of reading and the recognition by the Scripture Tag).
The General Purpose of Christ’s Death
First, he enquires about the “general of the end [i.e., purpose] of the death of Christ” (book I, chap. 1). What does the big picture of Scripture say about the death of Christ? What is indisputable there about it? He divides this question into two sections:
- “that which his Father and himself intended in it” (book I, chap. 1):
- Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
- 1 Tim. 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
- Matt. 20:28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- Gal. 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
- Eph. 5:25...