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John Owen's Folly

John Owen's Folly


The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:

  1. 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:
a. That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so none are saved.

b. 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.

c. 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!
(John Owen)
Christ did not die for any upon condition, if they do believe; but He died for all God's elect, that they should believe. -- JOHN OWEN

The above little ditty gets much mileage in Calvinist circles. Calvinists perceive this to be an unshakeable argument which undeniably proves they are right about their doctrine of Limited Atonement. It is just too bad that John Owen's argument is totally based upon a false premise and completely disintegrates when this false premise is exposed.

Owen argues that Christ could not have died for all the sins of all men because if he had died for all the sins of all men then all men would necessarily be saved. Notice the presumption that John Owen is making. He is making the presumption that if Christ died for anyone's sins then that person would have to be saved.

Owen is presuming that Christ's death itself secured salvation for people. He assumes that any given person's sins were taken away at the cross, at that time, and if they were taken away at the cross then that person must be saved. Notice that he includes unbelief as a sin and assumes that if Christ died for that sin then the person with that sin necessarily must be saved

Now this kind of thinking is shown to be unbelievably warped when we realize the following things. Firstly, even the Calvinist knows that he was committing the sin of unbelief before his conversion event. So was he saved in his unbelief before that conversion or was he not saved until he was converted into Christ? Of course, every Calvinist can be found expounding on how he was "saved" by grace in a conversion event complete with the date of his conversion when Christ washed his sins away. John Owen's argument presumes that he was saved from his sins when Jesus died on the cross, not when he was converted into Christ and being saved by grace at that time. The cross only washes away the sin of unbelief once we choose to believe.

Now cornered at this point, Calvinists will try to claim that it is only those people for whom Christ died that ever come to Christ and have their sins washed away including the sin of unbelief. What they intend to do here is make the claim that Christ only died for the sins of the elect and therefore only the elect's sin of unbelief is atoned for and therefore only the elect can overcome the sin of unbelief. In other words, with 1 Corinthians 1:18 in the back of their mind, they perceive that the cross itself is the power of salvation which saves.

But now we are in a circular reasoning situation. The Calvinist is arguing that Christ only died for the sins of the elect, therefore only the elect will be forgiven of the sin of unbelief because Christ only died for the sins of the elect. It is much like arguing a banana is yellow because bananas are yellow and since bananas are yellow therefore bananas are yellow. Essentially, he is aruging for Limited Atonement on the basis of his other false doctrine of Total Depravity. This is common among Calvinists. Yet the Calvinist has not here proved that Christ only died for the sin of the elect by John Owen's argument.

The cross did not effectually save us from our sins. We are only saved through the cross when we come to Christ and die with him on that cross. Only those who pick up their cross can be his disciples. The cross did indeed save the Jews from their sins who died under the law before Christ and before Jews were commanded to submit to John the Baptist's baptism of repentance. Christ became a Jew, born under law, circumcised, and King of the Jews for this very purpose (see Mt 15:24; Rom 15:8). He united with his the Jews for this reason. Since no Old Testament person's sins were washed away, Christ came to save his people from their sins (see Mt 1:21; Heb 9:15). The iniquity of Israel was laid upon him. However, we ourselves who live after the cross, do not have our sins washed away until we are converted into Christ who was that sacrifice upon that very cross and become united with the Lamb who takes away our sins.

Paul's sins were not washed away until Acts 22:16. It is not until the sacrifice of the cross is applied to anyone that his sins are taken away, including the sin of unbelief. When a person chooses to believe in Christ and is united with him, it is at that time he is forgiven of his sins, including the sin of unbelief.

The Bible teaches clearly in many places that our sins are taken away WHEN we are converted into Christ. They were not taken away at the cross. It is for this reason Ananias exhorts Paul to arise and have his sins washed away (Acts 22:16). Paul's sins were not washed away WHEN Jesus died on the cross. They were washed away when Paul called upon the name of Christ. Indeed, John gives us a similar message when he tells us that if we have no sin we are liars (1 Jn 1:8). So according to the apostle John, John Owen is a liar. Owen's claim is based on the false presumption that his sins were taken away in A.D. 30 when Jesus died on the cross and therefore he did not have any sin to be taken away when he was converted into Christ. Even further, the apostle John goes on to tell us that if we confess our sins he will forgive us these sins. Indeed, Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses..." This does not make a whole lot of sense if all our sins were already taken away WHEN Jesus died on the cross does it?

It is rather obvious that John Owen's argument is nothing but a comedy of words. When we repent and put our faith in God through Christ his Son, this is WHEN our sins are taken away, including the sin of unbelief, and it is at this conversion event where we are saved, not at the cross. Christ died for the sake of all men so that all men could have their sins forgiven WHEN they are united with him in his death and resurrection. We are saved by grace WHEN we are united with Christ and not before. And it is THEN the sin of unbelief is forgiven.

So, now we see the deception behind John Owen's argument. It is based on a false premise and anything based upon a false premise is false. Owen is trying to argue that if Christ died for the sake of one's sins, including the sins of unbelief, then it necessarily follows that that person has salvation secured. However, it is false to say a person has salvation before he is saved.

Christ died for all the sins of all men. He died so that all persons have an advocate in him when and if they sin. The cross did not save us; Jesus is our Savior, not an event. It is Jesus who takes away our sins; he himself is the sacrifice for our sins. It is not the event of the cross which takes away sins but Jesus Christ the Lamb of God who died on that cross who takes them away. It is union with Jesus through which we have reconciliation with God, not an event in past history. So when we unite with Jesus our sins are washed away.

Christ died for the sins of all men. This does not mean that all men's sins were taken away at the cross, at that time. It means that he is the sacrificial Lamb through whom we can obtain forgiveness of our sins when we come into his grace. And all men may come to him for this forgiveness of their sins.

If John Owen's sins, including the sin of unbelief, were taken away at the cross, he might be able to proclaim that he was saved. Of course, he must also declare that he was always saved, did not need to be saved and never had any sin to be forgiven because all his sins were taken away in A.D. 30!! But of course we know that none of this is true according to the Bible and John tells us that if we say we have no sin, we are a liar. We all know that John Owen was a sinner in need of God's grace and that he needed to have his sins forgiven and they were not forgiven until he was saved by grace in his conversion event. And only when the grace of Christ was applied were his sins forgiven, including the sin of unbelief.

Moreover, Jesus did not die for x number of sins nor did he die for our specific sins. It is not as if the candy bar we once stoled at the store was laid upon Christ in A.D. 30. Rather, Christ was the sacrifice for any sin and any kind and number of sins and his sacrifice is not applied to any sin until we repent of that sin and ask God to remit it from us. Such as, the sin of unbelief.

Hence, Owen's argument totally disintegrates. He does not even have an argument. The grace of the forgiveness of sins is not applied until one is united with Christ. As such, one's sins are not taken away until the grace of Christ is applied to a person. And they are applied when one repents and believes into him and has his sins washed away, including the sin of unbelief. Christ died for all the sins of all men. More precisely, Christ died for any number of sins of any number of men. And all men have an advocate in him.