Wednesday, May 27, 2009

the unlimited sufficiency of the cross for the elect

by John Owen

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
1. All the sins of all men;
2. All the sins of some men, or;
3. Some of the sins of all men.

In which case it may be said:
1. That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved;
2. 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;
3. 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!"

this has been an encore presentation


donsands said...

A short and sweet gem of a teaching! A true teacher of the Word, was John Owen.

After digging into 2 Pet. 2:1 in such a thorough way concerning this doctrine, and I learned a lot, I thought another verse which I struggle with to a degree, could be looked at as well, if anyone would want to.

"For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." 1 Tim. 4:10

pilgrim said...

Very succinct, and true.

And of course unbelief is a sin.

I have heard some say that unrepentant unbelief (that is dying in unbelief) is the unpardonable sin--that however finds no support in Scripture.

Mike Ratliff said...

I love that logic. Isn't this from the Death of Death in the Death of Christ?

Mike Ratliff said...

This from John Gill's commentary on 1 Timothy 4:10

Who is the Saviour of all men; in a providential way, giving them being and breath, upholding them in their beings, preserving their lives, and indulging them with the blessings and mercies of life; for that he is the Saviour of all men, with a spiritual and everlasting salvation, is not true in fact.

Specially of those that believe; whom though he saves with an eternal salvation; yet not of this, but of a temporal salvation, are the words to be understood: or as there is a general providence, which attends all mankind, there is a special one which relates to the elect of God; these are regarded in Providence, and are particularly saved and preserved before conversion, in order to be called; and after conversion, after they are brought to believe in Christ, they are preserved from many enemies, and are delivered out of many afflictions and temptations; and are the peculiar care and darlings of providence, being to God as the apple of his eye: and there is a great deal of reason to believe this, for if he is the Saviour of all men, then much more of them who are of more worth, value, and esteem with him, than all the world beside; and if they are saved by him with the greater salvation, then much more with the less; and if he the common Saviour of all men, and especially of saints, whom he saves both ways, then there is great reason to trust in him for the fulfilment of the promises of life, temporal and eternal, made to godliness, and godly persons. This epithet of God seems to be taken out of Psa_17:7 where he is called מושיע חוסים, "the Saviour of them that trust", or believe.

donsands said...

Thanks for that excellent commentary. The Puritans were incredible, and thanks be to God still are for us.
To God be all the glory. Amen.

Mike Ratliff said...

Don Sands - Thanks Brother!

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Steve,

That sure is the Reader's Digest version! I'm plowing through the whole thing now, and it is tough reading---both exhaustive and exhausting!

My puny education, which cost many dollars and years, has not prepared me for scholarship at the Puritans' level. I'm humbled, and I'm inspired to study more and better.

Love in Christ,


Anonymous said...

Good to see it once again Steve I've often used the logic that Owen displays here in my response to Arminian objections.

Heavy G said...

Very logical but where is the Scripture? (Sola Scriptura?)

anoninva said...

Isaiah 53:4-11 ESV
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

Matthew 1:21 - "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins."

Jesus said, "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matt. 20:28)

n John 10:11, 14, 15, Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.... "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep."

In the next verse He continues, "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." (John 10:16) Here He speaks of those outside the Jewish fold, the Gentiles. Christ has many sheep amongst both Jews and Gentiles for whom He would lay down His life.

John 10:26-30...but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.

Acts 20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Eph. 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church...

Here's a rather lengthy quote from Dr. John Piper, that's well worth considering. In commentating on the above verses he said, "There is a precious and unfathomable covenant love between Christ and His Bride, that moved Him to die for her. The death of Jesus is for the bride of Christ in a different way than it is for those who perish. Here's the problem with saying Christ died for all the same way he died for his bride. If Christ died for the sins of those who are finally lost, the same way he died for the sins of those who are finally saved, then what are the lost being punished for? Were their sins covered and canceled by the blood of Jesus or not? We Christians say, "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). And we mean that his death paid the debt those sins created. His death removed the wrath of God from me. His death lifted the curse of the law from me. His death purchased heaven for me. It really accomplished those things!"

"But what would it mean to say of an unbeliever in hell that Christ died for his sins? Would we mean that the debt for his sins was paid? If so, why is he paying again in hell? Would we mean that the wrath of God was removed? If so, why is the wrath of God being poured out on him in punishment for sins? Would we mean that the curse of the law was lifted? If so, why is he bearing his curse in the lake of fire?"

He continues, "One possible answer is this: one might say that the only reason people go to hell is because of the sin of rejecting Jesus, not because of all the other sins of their life. But that is not true. The Bible teaches that the wrath of God is coming on the world, not just because of its rejection of Jesus, but because of its many sins that are not forgiven. For example, in Colossians 3:5-6, Paul refers to "immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed," and then says, "On account of these things the wrath of God will come." So people who reject Jesus really will be punished for their specific sins, not just for rejecting Jesus."

"So, we go back to the problem: in what sense did Christ taste death for their sins? If they are still guilty for their sins and still suffer punishment for their sins, what happened on the cross for their sins? Perhaps someone would use an analogy. You might say, Christ purchased their ticket to heaven, and offered it to them freely, but they refused to take it, and that is why they went to hell. And you would be partly right: Christ does offer his forgiveness freely to all, and any who receives it as the treasure it is will be saved by the death of Jesus. But the problem with the analogy is that the purchase of the ticket to heaven is, in reality, the canceling of sins. But what we have seen is that those who refuse the ticket are punished for their sins, not just for refusing the ticket. And so what meaning does it have to say that their sins were canceled? Their sins are going to bring them to destruction and keep them from heaven; so their sins were not really canceled in the cross, and therefore the ticket was not purchased."

"The ticket for heaven which Jesus obtained for me by his blood is the wiping out of all my sins, covering them, bearing them in his own body, so that they can never bring me to ruin can never be brought up against me again - never! That's what happened when he died for me. Hebrews 10:14 says, "By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." Perfected before God for all time, by the offering of his life! That's what it means that he died for me. Hebrews 9:28 says, "Christ also, [was] offered once to bear the sins of many." He bore my sins. He really bore them (See Isaiah 53:4-6). He really suffered for them. They cannot and they will not fall on my head in judgment."

"If you say to me then, that at the cross Christ only accomplished for me what he accomplished for those who will suffer hell for their sins, then you strip the death of Jesus of its actual effective accomplishment on my behalf, and leave me with what? An atonement that has lost its precious assuring power that my sins were really covered and the curse was really lifted and the wrath of God was really removed. That's a high price to pay in order to say that Christ tasted death for everyone in the same way."

Hebrews 10:
10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Did Christ's sacrifice perfect for all time everybody on the planet? Surely not, unless we believe in universalism (that everyone will be saved).

In John 15, Jesus taught us that true love can be seen in laying a life down for friends:
13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.
14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you...

In Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Revelation 5:9-10. "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."

Scripture is explicit then in saying that Jesus died for His people, His sheep, His friends, His Church, securing eternal life for them in doing so.

Hebrews 9:15 declares, "Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant."

Excerpts from:

by Pastor John Samson

Matthew2323 said...


John Owen and Rembrandt all in one post!

Here is another gem from this great saint from the homepage of

“To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect."

S.K. Schultz said...

Wonderful thought for thre day, Steve!


Terry Rayburn said...

Here's a friendly suggestion:

In making the case for Limited Atonement, I find it helpful to abandon the term "atonement". It's a term almost designed to confuse for these reasons:

1. The concept of "atonement" in the Old Covenant was one of a temporary covering of sins, through the sacrifice of animals. In the New Covenant, the sacrifice for sins does more than just cover, and is not temporary, but once-for-all.

2. It's abused by New Agers and cultists by splitting the English word into at - one - ment, and speaking of our becoming one with the Universal Mind God type of thing.

3. In theology it encompasses at least four separate issues regarding the cross: sacrifice to pay the penalty of death; propitiation to remove us from the wrath of God; reconciliation to overcome our separation from God; and redemption to "redeem" or "purchase" or "ransom" us out of bondage to sin and Satan. (Ref. "Sysematic Theology", W. Grudem, pp. 579-580).

Better to deal with those four issues separately, as they are easier to defend scripturally from a Calvinistic point of view.

4. "Atonement" is not a New Testament word anyway, used only once in Rom. 5:11 in the KJV (but used incorrectly for "reconciliation").

When speaking of the 5 Points, I find it gives much more light on the subject to use the term "Particular Redemption", especially when dealing with an Arminian that you really care for and want to persuade, as opposed to "beating" in a debate.

Since the term "Redemption" includes the concept of "effectual" in it's definition, it has half the battle won. Even an Arminian will seldom argue that all men are "redeemed", only to be lost because of their refusal to "accept Christ".


Rick Frueh said...

Unbelief is a sin for which Christ died.However without faith, the payment is not effectual. By grace through faith are we saved.

Limited Atonement - the atonement is limited to those who by faith appropriate it.

Darrin said...

Christ died for those who He would actually save; those to whom God gives faith. As in Ephesians 2:8.

"The Death of Death" (vol. 10 of Owen's Works) is excellent, though perhaps not the easiest place to start with Owen. I believe I heard Carl Trueman recommend, and I hope to soon read, volumes 3, 4, and 6.

kelvington said...

Excellent! John Piper needs to read and re-read this! It really is this simple. Thanks John Owen for your clarity!

Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...


You know this only works of you believe Jesus' death on the cross actually accomplished something on its own.

Good post!


logos1 said...

I have had this brief apologetic taped to the inside cover of my Bible for many years. Why most Christians refuse to believe this is a mystery to me. Pride is certainly one factor.

SJ Camp said...

You know this only works if you believe Jesus' death on the cross actually accomplished something on its own.

Amen! And yes it did... the redemption of the elect who were chosen by God in Christ in times past eternal, but in time were regenerated by the Holy Spirit and given saving faith to confess and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and that God has raised Him from the dead!

SJ Camp said...

Limited Atonement - the atonement is limited to those who by faith appropriate it.


A dead man in sin can't appropriate anything but unbelief and wrath upon wrath living suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness. That was me and you before regeneration. We were by nature, children of wrath.

But the faith to believe is a gift from God; even the godly sorrow to repent is God's gracious gift to us. It is all of grace, all of Christ. We appropriate nothing. We simply see the fruit of confession as the result of saving faith being given to us as a result of regeneration by which we believe.

SJ Camp said...

John Piper needs to read and re-read this! It really is this simple.

I thought Piper believed this too? OR, are you saying he unnecessarily complicates this issue in the way he has taught it in the past?

In either scenario, I always thought Piper was lucid and biblical on this issue. Help me understand further what you were saying.


SJ Camp said...

Christ died for those who He would actually save; those to whom God gives faith. As in Ephesians 2:8.

You said it much better and more concise than I did. Thank you. Spot on!

SJ Camp said...

One further thought to consider:

When we get a hold of this truth biblically, it will revolutionize the way we do evangelism. Only the Lord can add to His church daily, such as to be saved.


Michele Rayburn said...

That's an interesting argument by John Owen.

In all three cases, though, people are guilty of unbelief, not just in the first premise.

It is not initially the "belief" that saves us. Initially, we are chosen by Him "before the creation of the world", before we exercise that belief. And being born in sin, we are guilty before we can even choose to believe. Unbelief is a sin which Christ died for, and unbelief becomes belief which brings men to Christ because some are “chosen”. And all men aren't free from punishment, because the Scriptures do not say that all are “chosen”.

Also, in the last premise that Christ died for "some sins of all men" would also suggest that men are saved while still in “some” of their sins.

So, in the first and last premises it can be reasoned that all men do not have their sins paid for, whether it be some sins or the totality of them (which reinforces the doctrine of election).

Trying to reason it out sure does crystallize in one's thinking that Christ died for all the sins of the elect (chosen) in the world.

In that second premise, John Owen indicated that he went with the second premise, saying "...this is the truth" and didn't question it.

Otherwise, he might have asked, "Then have some men no sins to answer for, and are therefore freed from the punishment of all their sins, and so only the elect are saved?"

And we know from the Scriptures that the answer is “Yes”. And the beauty of it is that this was the truth before the creation of the world, because they were simply "chosen".

Anonymous said...

I know I am late in game. However, if one was to answer the question "why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?" by saying "because they have committed the unforgivable sin" and sites Luke 12:10. For even the ESV study bible states "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—that is, the persistent and unrepentant resistance against the work of the Holy Spirit and his message concerning Jesus". Can you please explain this to me more?