Posted tagged ‘John Owen’

Did Christ’s Death At least Give Everybody an Incomplete Justification?

August 5, 2016

What good is an incomplete justification? If the justification is incomplete because you did not complete it, then you end up being condemned by God’s “grace” and not by God’s law.

Instead of hearing the gospel and being condemned by it, on this theory, you would have been better off not hearing the gospel and then you could not be condemned by your lack of faith in not accepting the grace “God” had for you. Had you not heard the gospel, God could not have condemned you! Those who teach that all sin is against grace have a “don’t ask and don’t tell” kind of “gospel.”

God decreed the non-election of the non-elect before the ages, and so God excluded certain humans from salvation, even while ordaining these humans to be sinners.

It is not necessary to preach law before gospel until despair is created, and only then the gospel as hope. This one-two step can be a way of assuming or implying that sinners can actually take sides against themselves without any hope of forgiveness.

True repentance is not produced by the law only, however, but by the revelation of the gospel. Since the justice of God is a part of the gospel, there is no need to preach law separately before gospel.

But even the non-elect are commanded to believe the gospel
Believing the gospel is NOT believing that “God has grace for me” or that “God has grace for everybody”

The promise of the gospel is that as many as believe the gospel will be justified, so that anybody who says I believe the promise but I don’t believe that there is grace for me….is not yet believing the promise

The non-elect do NOT “exclude themselves” from election. The gospel is not the law, and we are born condemned, so that those who never hear the gospel are still condemned. Rejection of the gospel is not the basis of condemnation ,John 3:18-20 teaches that there is no escape from condemnation except by the gospel.

John 3: 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God. 19 “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed.

Terrance Tiessen agrees with the Arminians that Christ’s death gets rid of many sins for everybody but not all the sins of anybody because he thinks it’s faith which unites you to Christ. Many Arminians think the only sin which condemns anybody is lack of faith. They think that the good news was that God loved you but you didn’t have faith in God’s grace for you.

Tiessen—“I propose that one of the universal benefits of Christ’s atoning death is the forgiveness of sins of ignorance. Because any and all sin deserves God’s judgment, namely, death, everyone who sins objectively, having done what is morally wrong by God’s standard, deserves to be punished. Before the law of God, they stand guilty. When God chooses not to punish us for unintended sin, however, he does not simply say: “That is OK, it doesn’t matter.” It does matter, and it violates God’s holiness and disrupts the shalom, the total well being, of God’s creation. When God, the Judge of all moral beings, chooses not to punish us for that unintended moral violation, his own holiness is preserved, I suggest, by the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for sin.”

Tiessen—“Of course, I am not here speaking of the complete justification that leads to eternal life, simply of acts for which God does not hold the ignorant sinner accountable. But, nonetheless, I am suggesting one of the ways in which Jesus satisfied the just wrath of God against sin, is in his providing a sacrifice of atonement which God applies to sins of ignorance, that is to say, to acts which, though sinful, were done in good faith (as per Rom 14). This was typified in the old covenant provision of sacrifices for sins done unintentionally (Leviticus 5:17-19; Numbers 15:22-28), particularly in the annual offering of the high priest, which was for his own sin and “for the sins committed unintentionally by the people” (Hebrews 9:7).

Tiessen–“Of much greater magnitude than God’s forbearance of sins done in ignorance is God’s forgiveness of sins done deliberately. No provision was made for these sins in the old covenant sacrificial system. Yet that is precisely what God does to all whom he graciously justifies, not on account of their own righteousness, but on account of the righteousness of Jesus, in whom they are incorporated by faith.”

http://rethinkinghell.com/2016/07/what-did-jesus-suffer-for-us-and-for-our-salvation/

In his attempt to say that lost people are lost only because of themselves, Andrew Fuller taught a common prevenient moral ability to believe (his false gospel).

It is now more and more common to think of all sin as sin against grace. This tends to remove the antithesis between law and grace .

William Lane Craig, In Pinnock, the Grace of god and the Will of Man, p 157—-“God desires and has given sufficient grace for all people to be saved. If some believe and others do not, it is not because some received prevenient grace and some did not. The efficacy of God’s grace is UP TO US, because every person is moved by God in a measure sufficient for salvation.”

Wesley, Working Out Our Own Salvation—“Allowing that all persons are dead in sin by nature, this excuses none, seeing that there is no man in a state of nature only. There is no man, unless he has quenched the Holy Spirit, that is wholly void of the grace of God. No man sins because he has not grace, but because he does not use the grace he has.”

Horton–God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. Yet they must embrace the promise in faith. Otherwise, they fall under the covenant curse without Christ as their mediator.

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/kingdom-through-covenant-a-review-by-michael-horton/

Paul Helm—“We may note that one thing that the Amyraldian proposal does is to weaken connection between the plight of the race in the fall of Adam. For now the responsibility of each of the non-elect comes simply from hearing and not receiving the message of grace.”

http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com/2015/04/amyraut-one-more-time.html

Tom Nettles—”The idea of universal atonement is not demanded by the Bible at all, but only by the inference drawn from a no-grace-no-justice assumption…. The piggy-backing of grace onto the command to believe the gospel does not come from the Bible. The whole idea of obligatory grace is contrary to the biblical presentation of grace.

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A Separation Between Provision and Application?

February 14, 2015

The false gospel does not talk about the justice of Christ’s death meriting anything. The false gospel does not talk about the justice of God having already imputed only the sins of the elect to Christ.

The false gospel assumes that only “eternal justification” is consistent with definite atonement. If there is a distinction between “provision” and “application”, then God can apply only to SOME sinners what God has provided for ALL sinners. This is sneaky double talk which does no good for anybody, not least those who perish under the wrath of God. What good is a provision that is not applied? Why is the application not provided? Romans 8:32 teaches that God will give all other blessings along with Christ to all who God loves. Does it make God look better to say that God “provided” something which is never applied? Does it do anything good and gracious for the sinner to tell the sinner that the application depends on him or that the application depends not on Christ’s death but on the Holy Spirit’s “separate” intention now?

The “multiple intentions” (two wills) view continually describes the application as “subjective application” or (even uglier) “appropriation”. But this ignores the reality of God’s imputations. God not only imputed the sins of all the elect to Christ, but in time God also imputes the death of Christ to all for whom Christ died, to all for whom Christ provided propitiation. Only after the elect are legally placed into the death of Christ are they regenerated and given faith in the gospel and justified. But this legal placing in time into Christ’s death is NOT “subjective application” but God’s legal active imputation of the merits (value) of Christ’s death to the elect sinner. This distinction is clearly described in Owen’s Death of Death, but that discussion seems to have gone down the memory hole.

Instead of talking about God’s legal imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ, or about God’s legal imputation of Christ’s death to the elect, it seems now that almost everybody rushes to one paragraph quotation from Calvin about “union with Christ”. And this strategy is clear in this new book. On p 164 as long as Christ is outside of us, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. “(3:1:1). Here is the fruit of Torrance’s agenda at work. First, ignore the legal reality of being “in Christ” by imputation. Second ignore the “in Christ” by saying instead “union with Christ” and conflating the “in Christ” with the “Christ in us”, and then confuse this with “the Holy Spirit in us” at work causing us to believe. Third, make the atonement about what’s happening now in us and not about what happened at the cross. Fourth, say there are two intentions at work. Don’t deny that Christ died because of sins but don’t say that God imputed the sins of the elect to Christ. But do deny that Christ’s “provision” to be the Savour of all sinners provides the application of that provision, so that salvation does not depend on Christ but on the Holy Spirit. Fifth, this makes the Holy Spirit’s work to be that which really atones. And perhaps even more important for the false gospel it makes the location of the atonement to be our own hearts instead of the justice obtained in Christ’s death at the cross, back then, over there.

As a Dallas four pointer (Stephen Strehe) explains it—“The limited atonement arguments of double jeopardy and universalism are not valid, because their proponents also must inconsistently make the atonement ineffective until it is actually applied. ” The idea is that the only way for a definite atonement person to be “consistent” is for that person to also teach eternal justification. But John Owen (in an argument in the Death of Death which is either ignored or unread and unknown) has already explained that God’s delayed legal application of what Christ has already legally purchased (impetration) does not make that purchase by death any less legal or effective. Indeed, the merits of that death were already imputed by God to some of the elect (Abraham and all who were justified before the cross) even before Christ died.

theologians (Kevin Dixon Kennedy, Torrance) are using the concept of “union” to say that the atonement which really matters is the application of Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” In other words, SOME OF THEM TEACH THAT CHRIST DIED ALSO FOR THOSE WHO WILL PERISH. But it’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

Although John Owen taught that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, Owen did not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

But SOME use “union” talk to change the meaning of the atonement and accuse the rest with thinking there is no need for faith. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it. This is the claim made by SOME who use “union” to make the application of the atonement to be the atonement.

But it’s clear that Owen did not teach justification apart from faith. It’s also clear that Owen did not teach that faith was a mere recognition that we were already justified. (See Carl Trueman essays on John Owen). “Unionists” should not ignore Owen’s careful distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement. Some “unionists” locate the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s propitiation itself but only in the efficacy of regeneration and faith to unite people with that propitiation. This is their argument: “you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”

But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to them, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. So, again according to them, it’s the “union” which designates for whose sins Christ died.

Nathan Finn-“Chun agrees with scholars who emphasize greater continuity than discontinuity between Edwards’s understanding of the atonement and the moral government view of the New Divinity theologians. Fuller embraced governmental language and was actually much closer to Edwards, who also allowed for a governmental aspect . Both men combined a universal sufficiency with a particular efficacy, the limitation being in God’s covenantal design rather than in the nature of propitiation itself.”

Romans 3:25-“Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…” Andrew Fuller (Reply to Philanthropos, Complete Works,II, p 499) comments: “There would be no propriety in saying of Christ that He is set forth to be an expiatory sacrifice THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD, because He was a sacrifice for sin prior to the consideration of our believing in Him. The text does not express what Christ WAS as laying down His life , but what He IS in consequence of it.”

The righteousness of Christ is His death and that death is real, so why would it be a fiction for God to count that death as the death of the elect? Thus the two senses of “imputation”. First, a legal solidarity. Second, on the basis of that REAL TRUTH, God then declares the justified elect sinner to be righteous, to be justified.

This is NOT a question about the duty of the non-elect to have faith in the gospel, and the related question of “two kinds of ability” (as argued by Edwards and Andrew Fuller). That is another distraction from the greater question about the nature of the atonement.

This is not even a question about the optimism of the post-millennial fantasies of Andrew Fuller. It’s a question about the justice of God, and about the justice of God in Christ dying for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ by God. If the sins of the elect are not “really” justly imputed to Christ, then the death of Christ itself is not that which “really” makes God both just and the justifier of the ungodly. Instead we would have to look away from the cross itself, and look to what God is now doing in terms of some kind of “covenantal intent”.

Though Andrew Fuller affirmed a particular atonement in a certain sense- in that the atonement will procure faith for only the elect-he is not willing to say that Christ was only the propitiation for the elect alone. Instead of telling that plain truth, that Christ either already died for a sinner or already did not, Andrew Fuller wanted to say that Christ died for all sinners in some sense. This universal sense advocated by Andrew Fuller has to do with the nature of propitiation. He denies that Christ in the past propitiated the Trinity for the sins of any specific person. Rather, Andrew Fuller teaches that Christ died to make an offer of propitiation to every sinner.

According to Andrew Fuller, what’s important is the “covenantal design and intent” of what Christ did, that there could be propitiation now if the Holy Spirit were to cause a sinner to accept the offer of propitiation and thus join themselves to Christ through faith . Fuller asserted an universal conditional sufficiency in Christ’s death for all sinners. It is an old and subtle doctrine, but Andrew Fuller was a very subtle man, much like John Wesley, using words like “imputation” in ways meant to mislead those who had a different meaning for the words.

What does Andrew Fuller accomplish by shifting from what Christ DID back then over there to who Christ Is and what He “Can” do here and now if the Spirit helps a sinner to take up the “offer”? Andrew Fuller changes the meaning of the propitiatory death of Christ. With the Arminians, he makes the propitiation to be dependent on the sinner having faith. The subtle “hybrid” part though is that (with other Calvinists) Andrew Fuller also makes the having faith be dependent on what God obtained by means of Christ’s death.

Andrew Fuller ends up putting the emphasis on grace as opposed to justice. God is sovereign now to give faith to elect sinners because of Christ’s death. The idea that God has already been JUSTLY propitiated for a sinner (or not) is no longer in the picture. Andrew Fuller’s notion of “sovereign grace” is opposing the gospel of God being justified in justifying the ungodly. He is opposing justice in the name of grace.

we must be careful in dismissing a “commercial view” of the atonement, not only because Christ can and does do things by measure (healing some but not others) but because the Bible does talk about being bought by blood and belonging. We need to talk about sins being imputed.

The best discussion in print on this is by Tom Nettles in By His Grace and For His glory. Check out his chapter on Christ Died for our Sins, According to the Scriptures. Nettles refutes the Dordt formula (sufficient/ efficient) while at the same time being honest about the history of most Calvinists liking it. Nettles quotes Andrew Fuller: “We could say that a certain number of Christ’s acts of obedience becomes ours as that certain number of sins becomes his. In the former case his one undivided obeidence affords a ground of justification to any number of believers; in the latter, his one atonement is sufficient for the pardon of any number of sins or sinners.

Nettles explains that Fuller “misconceives the biblical relation of imputation. Justification should not be considered as analogous to atonement but rather to the imputation of Adam’s sin”.

More from Nettles’ refutation of Andrew Fuller and “sufficient for all”. Error one: it’s tantamount to identifying the doctrine of effectual calling with atonement. What one really means by definite atonement is that the difference is not in the atonement but in the Spirit’s work of calling.

“A second error is subtle in nature and involves a shift in the understanding of the sacrificial death. Although Jesus’ death is spoken of as passive obedience–and though the concepts of reconciliation and propitiation are defined as activities accomplished in the Father’s setting forth God the Son–when the sufficiency of the death of Christ arises, the emphasis shifts from the Son’s passive obedience to what he actively accomplished by his infinite divine nature.”

Nettles quotes John Dagg and Abraham Booth against the “sufficient” general view of the atonement. Here’s some from Booth’s Divine Justice Essential to the Divine Character, book 3:60 “While cheerfully admitting the sufficiency of Immanuel’s death to have redeemed all mankind, had all the sins of the whole human species been equally imputed to Him, we cannot perceive any solid reason to conclude that his propitiatory sufferings are sufficient for the expiation of sins which he did not bear, or for the redemption of sinners whom he did not represent. For the substitution of Christ, and the imputation of sin to him, are essential to the scriptural doctrine of redemption by our adorable Jesus…

And from Dagg (Manual of Theology, p330): “Some have maintained that, if the atonement of Christ is not general, no sinner can be under obligation to believe in Christ, until he is assured that he is one of the elect. This implies that no sinner is bound to believe what God says, unless he knows that God designs to save him…

I quote from Carl Truman’s essay on John Owen and the timing of justification in the Westminster Seminary collection Justified in Christ.(ed by Oliphant, 2007) Carl Trueman, p 91–“The Protestant doctrine of justification by imputation was always going to be criticized as tending toward eternal justification. Late medieval theologians (nominalists, occasionalists) had used the distinction between God’s absolute power and God’s ordained power to break the necessary connection between the priority of actual righteousness and God’s declaration that a particular person is justified. In placing the declaration in God’s will, not in the intrinsic qualities of the one justified, it would be argued that any necessary connection between justification and any chronological factors had been decisively abolished”.

mark: In other words, since “synthetic” (the imputation of another extrinsic factor) justification is not about what’s happening in the sinner now, why not say that all the elect were justified at one time, either at the cross, or before the beginning of the ages? This is what Baxter accused John Owen of doing, of simply “announcing in the gospel” that the elect had already all been justified. That’s not what Owen did, but Baxter said he should do that to be consistent. Baxter wanted to get “chronological factors” into the equation, because Baxter wanted to make “intrinsic conditions” a factor in justification.

mark: The assumption of Baxter, and even of most Protestants, is that if you remove the chronological changes (inner transformation), then you only have an appeal to God’s bare sovereignty, and then you might as well say that God justified all the elect at the same time, or even all of them before the beginning of time. But justification is NOT a matter of God’s bare sovereignty but also a revelation of God’s righteousness, and God’s justice demands that God impute in time to the elect the death which Christ earned in time for the elect. If all you have is bare sovereignty, then there is no need for imputation in time, and also there is really no need for Christ to die to satisfy justice.

John Owen used to agree with the nominalists (John Calvin on this particular question) that the death of Christ was not strictly necessary, but then John Owen changed his mind. Owen concluded that justification is not only a matter of God’s declaring the elect to be just (while yet sinners). But neither does justice demand that “justification be imputed” to all the elect at one time, either when Christ’s righteousness is actually accomplished, or when God decrees the death of Christ. Owen concluded that justice demands a connection between Christ’s death and the imputation of that death, but it does not demand that the death be imputed at the same time to all the elect. It’s not “justification” which is imputed. It’s Christ’s righteousness which is imputed.

Carl Trueman, p 92—Samuel Rutherford saw eternal justification as the foundation of an antinomian trajectory in English Puritan thought which was also connected to the sinister calls for the most un-Presbyterian tenet, liberty of conscience in religious matters. Others were quick to say that eternal justification subverted the need for the moral imperatives.”

mark: while I also oppose eternal justification (as did John Owen), it’s not because of the two reasons given above. First, I am for voluntary churches and religious liberty. Second, even though I oppose any notion of justification by “bare sovereignty” unrelated to law-satisfaction and Christ’s righteousness, I do oppose justification based on what God does intrinsically in the sinner, so any affirmation of justification by imputation (such as mine) is going to be accused of “cutting the nerve that leads to morality”. My response to that is that the motive for obedience to moral commands should not and cannot be to make justification “fitting” ( as Jonathan Edwards and his contemporary followers would have it). The motive for obedience is gratitude for a present justification and a faith that every blessing will be given to those who are already in Christ.

Carl Trueman, p 93–“Baxter claims that if Christ has paid the actual price for our sins, as Owen argues in The Death of Death (1647), then this payment is not refusable by God, nor is it possible that there could be a chronological delay between payment of the debt and the dissolution of the debt, since it is either paid or not paid, thus all the elect are already justified in Christ, and thus faith can only fulfill a mere epistemological function whereby the elect come to acknowledge that which they are already, namely, justified.”

mark: Notice that this is not what Baxter himself advocates. It’s what Baxter is accusing Owen of believing, or needing to believe, if Owen were consistent. This is really rich in a way, because Baxter is saying that Owen would not be following strict justice if Owen allows a time lag between Christ’s death as payment for sins and the actual forgiveness of sins, but Baxter himself has rejected any notion of strict justice, substituting a”new law” (neo-nomian) whereby God accepts something less than strict justice, namely, the chronological changes of moral improvement in the life of the one to be justified. It’s as if Baxter is saying, let me show you that not even Owen is being strictly just, so strict justice is not the issue. Baxter accuses Owen of not being just, while at the same time Baxter makes no claim that his own view is strict justice.

Owen would agree that justice demands that “the payment is not refusable” but would not agree that this demands the justification of the elect sinner at the very same time payment is made.

Carl Trueman, p 95–“Owen argues that it is crucial to understand that God’s desire to save is prior to the establishment of the covenant of redemption, and thus to any consideration of Christ’s satisfaction. Thus Owen precludes any notion that Christ’s death in any way changes the Father’s mind or buys his favor. Owen calls attention to the fact that Christ’s death, considered in abstraction from its covenantal context, has no meaning as a payment. The force of this is to focus attention on the will of God as teh determining factor in the economy of salvation. The positive relationship of Owen’s theology to voluntarist/Scotist trajectories of medieval thought is here evident.”

mark: so yes, Owen is “nominalist” in that Owen does affirm the sovereignty of God, and does make a distinction between Christ’s death and the imputation of Christ’s death chronologically. But Owen never appeals to “bare sovereignty” without any righteousness. Owen teaches that Christ’s death is not merely one possible way that God could in sovereignty save, but the only way, the necessary way, the just way. And, even though Owen makes a distinction between Christ’s death and the imputation of that death, Owen is clear that God must in justice impute (in time) Christ’s death to all for whom Christ died. The payment is not “refusable”. This is not a matter of arbitrary law-less sovereignty, because it’s a question of righteous sovereignty. Baxter thinks the only thing that can make justification of sinners just is intrinsic change (not perfect, not strict justice) in the sinner. Owen thinks the only thing that can make the justification of sinners just is Christ’s death and the imputation of that death.

Carl Trueman, p 96—“Owen claims that that the union of Christ with the elect in his atonement is not actual direct participation but that it must be understood in terms of federal representation. The imputation of sin to Christ is thus not strictly parallel to the imputation of Christ’s death to sinners. This is because it is not simply incarnation which is the foundation of salvation, but the covenant which lies behind the incarnation and which gives gives the incarnation meaning .”

mark: It it is not simply incarnation which is the foundation, but the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God which gives the incarnation meaning. God does not save simply by might and sovereignty. God also saves by God’s justice. Christ became incarnate under God’s law. Christ’s righteousness was Christ’s just payment to God’s law for the sins of the elect imputed. And justification in time is God’s just counting of this just payment by Christ.

Carl Trueman’s Essay on John Owen and the Timing of Justification

September 30, 2013

I quote from Carl Truman’s essay on John Owen and the timing of justification in the Westminster Seminary collection Justified in Christ.(ed by Oliphant, 2007)

Carl Trueman, p 91–“The Protestant doctrine of justification by imputation was always going to be criticized as tending toward eternal justification. Late medieval theologians (nominalists, occasionalists) had used the distinction between God’s absolute power and God’s ordained power to break the necessary connection between the priority of actual righteousness and God’s declaration that a particular person is justified. In placing the declaration in God’s will, not in the intrinsic qualities of the one justified, it would be argued that any necessary connection between justification and any chronological factors had been decisively abolished”.

mark: In other words, since “synthetic” (the imputation of another extrinsic factor) justification is not about what’s happening in the sinner now, why not say that all the elect were justified at one time, either at the cross, or before the beginning of the ages? This is what Baxter accused John Owen of doing, of simply “announcing in the gospel” that the elect had already all been justified. That’s not what Owen did, but Baxter said he should do that to be consistent. Baxter wanted to get “chronological factors” into the equation, because Baxter wanted to make “intrinsic conditions” a factor in justification.

mark: The assumption of Baxter, and even of most Protestants, is that if you remove the chronological changes (inner transformation), then you only have an appeal to God’s bare sovereignty, and then you might as well say that God justified all the elect at the same time, or even all of them before the beginning of time. But justification is NOT a matter of God’s bare sovereignty but also a revelation of God’s righteousness, and God’s justice demands that God impute in time to the elect the death which Christ earned in time for the elect. If all you have is bare sovereignty, then there is no need for imputation in time, and also there is really no need for Christ to die to satisfy justice.

John Owen used to agree with the nominalists (John Calvin on this particular question) that the death of Christ was not strictly necessary, but then John Owen changed his mind. Owen concluded that justification is not only a matter of God’s declaring the elect to be just (while yet sinners). But neither does justice demand that “justification be imputed” to all the elect at one time, either when Christ’s righteousness is actually accomplished, or when God decrees the death of Christ. Owen concluded that justice demands a connection between Christ’s death and the imputation of that death, but it does not demand that the death be imputed at the same time to all the elect. It’s not “justification” which is imputed. It’s Christ’s righteousness which is imputed.

Carl Trueman, p 92—Samuel Rutherford saw eternal justification as the foundation of an antinomian trajectory in English Puritan thought which was also connected to the sinister calls for the most un-Presbyterian tenet, liberty of conscience in religious matters. Others were quick to say that eternal justification subverted the need for the moral imperatives.”

mark: while I also oppose eternal justification (as did John Owen), it’s not because of the two reasons given above. First, I am for voluntary churches and religious liberty. Second, even though I oppose any notion of justification by “bare sovereignty” unrelated to law-satisfaction and Christ’s righteousness, I do oppose justification based on what God does intrinsically in the sinner, so any affirmation of justification by imputation (such as mine) is going to be accused of “cutting the nerve that leads to morality”. My response to that is that the motive for obedience to moral commands should not and cannot be to make justification “fitting” ( as Jonathan Edwards and his contemporary followers would have it). The motive for obedience is gratitude for a present justification and a faith that every blessing will be given to those who are already in Christ.

Carl Trueman, p 93–“Baxter claims that if Christ has paid the actual price for our sins, as Owen argues in The Death of Death (1647), then this payment is not refusable by God, nor is it possible that there could be a chronological delay between payment of the debt and the dissolution of the debt, since it is either paid or not paid, thus all the elect are already justified in Christ, and thus faith can only fulfill a mere epistemological function whereby the elect come to acknowledge that which they are already, namely, justified.”

mark: Notice that this is not what Baxter himself advocates. It’s what Baxter is accusing Owen of believing, or needing to believe, if Owen were consistent. This is really rich in a way, because Baxter is saying that Owen would not be following strict justice if Owen allows a time lag between Christ’s death as payment for sins and the actual forgiveness of sins, but Baxter himself has rejected any notion of strict justice, substituting a”new law” (neo-nomian) whereby God accepts something less than strict justice, namely, the chronological changes of moral improvement in the life of the one to be justified. It’s as if Baxter is saying, let me show you that not even Owen is being strictly just, so strict justice is not the issue. Baxter accuses Owen of not being just, while at the same time Baxter makes no claim that his own view is strict justice.

Owen would agree that justice demands that “the payment is not refusable” but would not agree that this demands the justification of the elect sinner at the very same time payment is made.

Carl Trueman, p 95–“Owen argues that it is crucial to understand that God’s desire to save is prior to the establishment of the covenant of redemption, and thus to any consideration of Christ’s satisfaction. Thus Owen precludes any notion that Christ’s death in any way changes the Father’s mind or buys his favor. Owen calls attention to the fact that Christ’s death, considered in abstraction from its covenantal context, has no meaning as a payment. The force of this is to focus attention on the will of God as teh determining factor in the economy of salvation. The positive relationship of Owen’s theology to voluntarist/Scotist trajectories of medieval thought is here evident.”

mark: so yes, Owen is “nominalist” in that Owen does affirm the sovereignty of God, and does make a distinction between Christ’s death and the imputation of Christ’s death chronologically. But Owen never appeals to “bare sovereignty” without any righteousness. Owen teaches that Christ’s death is not merely one possible way that God could in sovereignty save, but the only way, the necessary way, the just way. And, even though Owen makes a distinction between Christ’s death and the imputation of that death, Owen is clear that God must in justice impute (in time) Christ’s death to all for whom Christ died. The payment is not “refusable”. This is not a matter of arbitrary law-less sovereignty, because it’s a question of righteous sovereignty. Baxter thinks the only thing that can make justification of sinners just is intrinsic change (not perfect, not strict justice) in the sinner. Owen thinks the only thing that can make the justification of sinners just is Christ’s death and the imputation of that death.

Carl Trueman, p 96—“Owen claims that that the union of Christ with the elect in his atonement is not actual direct participation but that it must be understood in terms of federal representation. The imputation of sin to Christ is thus not strictly parallel to the imputation of Christ’s death to sinners. This is because it is not simply incarnation which is the foundation of salvation, but the covenant which lies behind the incarnation and which gives gives the incarnation meaning to salvation.”

mark: yes, but let me change one word, for the sake of clarity. It it is not simply incarnation which is the foundation, but the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God which lies behind the incarnation and which gives the incarnation meaning to salvation. God does not save simply by might and sovereignty. God also saves by God’s justice. Christ became incarnate under God’s law. Christ’s righteousness was Christ’s just payment to God’s law for the sins of the elect imputed. And justification in time is God’s just counting of this just payment by Christ.

No Elect Person Dies Not Knowing the Gospel

August 21, 2012

As much as I agree with John Owen against the idea of double jeopardy, I think we need to be careful about how we use Owen’s trilemma about all the sins of all people, or all the sins of some people (the third hypothetical of course being some of the sins of some people).

The cross-work (the righteousness) of Christ not only entitles the
elect to justification (even before they are justified) but also
entitles the elect to conversion.

Even before they believe the gospel, the elect are entitled (because
of Christ’s work) to the converting work of the Holy Spirit. Christ
bought both the forgiveness of sins and the legal application of the
legal satisfaction God needs to forgive and continue to be just and
holy.

What does the application of Christ’s work mean? First, it means that
God imputes that work (not only the reward, but the righteousness) to
the elect. Before the cross, God imputed the work to some of the
elect. After the cross, God continues to impute the work to some of
the elect.

So there is a difference between Christ’s work and the imputation of
Christ’s work. Romans 6 describes being placed into the death of
Christ. There is a difference between the federal union of all the
elect in Christ before the beginning of the world and the legal union
of the elect with Christ when they are justified.

Second, the application (purchased by Christ for the elect, and thus
now their inheritance) includes the conversion which immediately
follows the imputation. We could go to every text in the New Testament about the effectual calling into fellowship, but let us think now of only two.

Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by
becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of
Abraham would come…, so that we would receive the promised Spirit
through faith.”

And here’s a second text which teaches us that regeneration and
conversion is a result of the imputation. Romans 8:10–”but if Christ
is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is
life because of righteousness.”

Because the work (righteousness) is imputed, the next result will be
life, not only forensic life but the life also the Holy Spirit gives
by means of the gospel, so that the elect understand and believe, and
are converted. Because the elect are now in Christ (not only by
election but by imputation), Christ is in the elect. Christ indwells
the elect by the Holy Spirit.

As II Peter 1:1 starts, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal
standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus
Christ.” The reason we need to be careful about John Owen’s trilemma
is that Christ did not die to forgive any elect person of the final
sin of unbelief of the gospel. Christ died to give every elect person
faith in the gospel and conversion.

Of course Christians do disbelieve even in their faith, and Christ
died for all the sins of all Christians including all those after they are converted. But no elect person dies unconverted, because Christ died to give them the new birth and the conversion which follows.

I am not saying that John Owen did not know this. I am only saying
that the trilemma (as it is often used by Cavinists) does not take
into account the time between Christ’s work and the application and
imputation of Christ’s work.

The trilemma in itself does not give us the necessary reminder that
Christ died to obtain not only the redemption but also the application of the redemption. Christ did not need to die for final disbelief by the elect because Christ died instead that the elect will not finally disbelieve.

Romans 5: 17 speaks of “those who receive the free gift of
righteousness” and how they reign in life through the one man Christ
Jesus. This receiving is not the sinner believing. It is not an
“exercise of faith” (if you check the commentaries, Murray is right
here about the passive and Moo is wrong). The elect “receive” the
righteousness by God’s imputation.

The elect do not impute their sins to Christ. Nor do the elect impute
Christ’s righteousness to themselves. God is the imputer.

But here is the point: the receiving of the righteousness by
imputation is not the same as the righteousness. The imputation is not at the same time as Christ earned the righteousness. God declaring the elect to be joint-heirs with Christ in that righteousness is not the same as the righteousness. There is a difference between Christ’s righteousness and God’s imputation of it to the elect.

Not Only Sovereignty—Justice Demanded the Death of Christ

May 11, 2012

John Owen, A Dissertation on Divine Justice, chapter 13 (book 10, 587) answers Twisse who wrote “it cannot be maintained that God cannot forgive sins by his power, without a satisfaction.”

“For,” says Twisse, “if God by his might or absolute power cannot pardon sin, then it is absolutely impossible for sin to be pardoned, or not…it is evident that man not only can pardon, but that it is his duty to pardon his enemies when they transgress against him.”

Owen’s Answer: “The non-punishment of sin implies that God is the Lord of mankind by a natural and indispensable right, but that mankind are not subject to him, neither as to obedience nor as to punishment, which would be the direct case if sin should pass with impunity. To hate sin, that is, to will to punish it, and not to hate sin, to will to let it pass unpunished, are manifestly contradictory.

“If you say that God hath it in his power not to hate sin, you say that he hath the contrary in his power, — that is, that he can love sin; for if he hate sin of his free will, he may will the contrary. This Scotus maintains, and Twisse agrees with him. But to will good and to love justice are not less natural to God than to be himself. ”

“But it is manifest,” says Twisse, “that man not only can pardon, but
that it is his duty to pardon his enemies; and, therefore, this does
not imply a contradiction.”

Owen’s Answer: The supposition is denied, that God may do what man may do. Divine and human forgiveness are plainly of a different kind. The forgiveness of man only respects the hurt; the forgiveness of God respects the guilt. Man pardons sins so far as any particular injury hath been done himself; God pardons sin as the good of the universe is injured.

Neither is it in the power of every man to let sins pass unpunished, yea, of none absolutely to whom the right of punishing is competent; for although a private person may recede from his right, which for the most part is of charity, yet it is by no means allowed to a public person to renounce his right, which is a right of government, especially if that renunciation should in any way turn out to the hurt of the public. Although a private person may, at certain times, renounce his right and dominion in certain cases, and ought to
do so, it doth not follow from that that God, whose right and dominion is natural and indispensable, and which he cannot renounce unless he deny himself, can do the same.

“But neither,” says Twisse, “can it be consistently said that God
cannot do this because of his justice, if it be supposed that he can
do it by his power. But Scotus reasons with more judgment and accuracy on this point. ‘The divine will is not so inclined towards any secondary object by any thing in itself,’ says he, ‘that can oppose its being justly inclined towards its opposite.”

Owen’s Answer: “We maintain that God from his nature cannot do this,
and, therefore, that he cannot either by his power or his justice. To Scotus we answer: The divine will may incline to things opposite, in respect of those attributes which constitute objects to themselves, but not in respect of those attributes which suppose a condition of God’s character.

For instance: God may justly speak or not speak with man; but it
being supposed that he wills to speak, the divine will cannot be
indifferent whether he speak truth or not.

God could not but create the world; but God did not create the world from an absolute necessity. It is necessary that God should speak truly, but he doth not speak from an absolute necessity; but it being supposed that he wills to speak, it is impossible that he should not speak truly. We say, therefore, that God necessarily punishes sin.

“But that necessity,” you will say, “of what kind soever it be, flows
from the nature of God, not his will or decree; but all necessity of
nature seems to be absolute.” “If, then,” says Twisse, “God must punish sin from a natural necessity, he must necessarily punish it to the extent of his power”.

Owen’s Answer: “That necessity from which God punisheth sin does not
require that he should punish it to the extent of his power, but so
far as is just. We do not conceive God to be a senseless, inanimate
agent, as if he acted from principles of nature, after a natural
manner, without a concomitant liberty. For God does all things freely, with understanding and by volition, even those things which by supposition he doth necessarily, according to what his most holy
nature requires. T

“God appointed a surety, and this surety being appointed, and
all the sins of the elect laid upon him, he in their room and stead is the proper object of this vindicatory justice,so far as relates to their sins. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Cor5:21.

But Twisse thus replies, “If God punish as far as he can with justice, — that is, as far as sin deserves, — then it must be either as far as sin deserves according to the free constitution of God, or without any regard to the divine constitution. If according to the divine constitution, this is nothing else but to assert that God punishes not so far as he can, but so far as he wills. If without any regard to the divine constitution, then without the divine constitution sin so deserves punishment that God ought to punish sin because of his justice. If disobedience deserve punishment in this manner, obedience will also, deserve a merited reward without the divine constitution.”

Owen’s answer: “God is brought under an obligation to no one for any kind of obedience; for ‘after we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants.’ But God’s right that rational creatures should be subject to him, either by obedience or a vicarious punishment, is indispensable. Obedience is due to God in such a manner, that from the nature of the thing he can be debtor to
none in conferring rewards; but disobedience would destroy all
dependence of the creature upon God, unless a recompense be made by
punishment.

“The question is not,” writes Vossius, “whether it be just that a
satisfaction be received? but whether it be unjust that it should not
be received? for it doth not follow that if God be merciful in doing
one thing or another, that he would be unmerciful in not doing it.” Although mercy be natural to God as to the habit, yet because there is no natural obligation between it and its proper object, it is as to all its acts entirely free; for the nature of the thing about which it is employed is not indispensable, as we have shown before to be the case with regard to justice.”

They Want Us To say that the Atonement was Already Our Justification, Because They want to Delay the Atonement Until Our Justification

November 15, 2011

The accusers of John Owen claim that those who teach substitution only for the elect should agree that the elect can go free before they are converted and believe the gospel. They want to put those who teach effective atonement in that box, so they can then deny that the death of Christ is the effective difference between saved and lost.

This is not only a tactic against definite atonement. This is what many “Calvinists” have sincerely come to believe—if the cross has no efficacy to set free before faith and without faith, then the cross has no legal efficacy by itself. They locate the efficacy, the reality of “atonement” not in propitiation, not in Christ’s bearing the sins of the elect, but only in the efficacy of “regeneration” and an “union with Christ” which is not legal but is instead transformation by the Spirit.

These folks don’t think there’s any “double jeopardy” until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that two persons were dying twice for the same sins of one person. So “union with Christ” comes to mean that you can stop counting, that you can stop talking about imputation when you talk about the justice and righteousness of God.

These folks have confused the accomplishment of atonement with the application of the atonement.Not only have they minimized the legal application of the atonement, they have collapsed accomplishment and application into one, as if there were no atonement before justification.

Thus the attempt to put John Owen in a box. Either say that the justification was at the atonement, or agree with them that the atonement is not until the justification.

And thus they stand in front of churches, elect and non-elect (covenant children and non-covenant children), and teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” . But according to them, that “died for you” doesn’t necessarily mean that Christ has died to propitiate God for your sins.

The Elect Will Believe the Gospel: Christ “Actually Atoned” for the Elect, but Christ Never Died for Anybody Who Never Believes the Gospel

October 29, 2011

The cross-work (the righteousness) of Christ not only entitles the elect to justification (even before they are justified) but also entitles the elect to conversion.

Even before they believe the gospel, the elect are entitled (because of Christ’s work) to the converting work of the Holy Spirit. Christ bought both the forgiveness of sins and the legal application of the legal satisfaction God made in Christ that God needed to forgive and continue to be just and holy.

What does the “legal application” of Christ’s work mean? First, it means that God imputes that the value of Christ’s work (not only the reward, but the righteousness) to the elect. God does not only impute Christ’s status as justified to the elect. God imputes the legal record of Christ’s satisfaction of God’s law to the elect.

Before the cross, during Old Testament times, God imputed that legal record of Christ’s satisfaction to some of the elect. After the cross, God continues to impute the “merits” of Christ’s legal satisfaction to some of the elect.

So there is a difference between Christ’s satisfaction of God’s law and God’s imputation of that satisfaction to the elect for whom that satisfaction was made. For example, Romans 6 describes being placed into the death of Christ. There is a difference between the federal union of all the elect in Christ before the beginning of the world and the legal union of the elect with Christ when they are justified.

The application (purchased by Christ for the elect, and then legally imputed as their inheritance) includes the conversion by the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit which immediately follows the imputation to an individual elect sinner.

Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by
becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come…, so that we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

Here’s a second text which teaches us that regeneration and
conversion immediately follow the imputation. Romans 8:10–”but if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

Because the legal record of Christ’s work (the righteousness) is imputed, the next immediate result will be life, not only legal life but also the life the Holy Spirit gives by means of the gospel, so that the elect understand and believe, and are converted.

At once after the elect are in Christ (not only by election but by imputation), Christ is also in the elect. Christ indwells the elect by the Holy Spirit.

As II Peter 1:1 starts, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

We need to be careful about explaining that Christ “actually atoned” for the elect alone and not “potentially” for everybody. We need to be careful because Christ did not die to forgive any elect person of the final sin of unbelief of the gospel. All the elect will believe the gospel.

The elect will believe the gospel, as soon as the actual atonement is imputed to them. “Actual atonement” does not mean that the atonement is justification. The very real legal record of the very actual atonement is not imputed to all the elect at one time. Even though the sin of Adam is imputed to all humans, that imputation is not at one time. And even though Christ died to give every elect person faith in the gospel, the propitiation Christ made for each elect person is not legally imputed until immediately before their conversion.

No elect person dies unconverted, because Christ died to give them the new birth and the conversion which follows. In our thinking and preaching, we need to take into account the time between Christ’s actual work of reconciliation and God’s legal imputation of that reconciliation which the elect receive. Romans 5:11 and 17 teach us that the elect receive not only by faith but first of all by imputation.

Christ died to obtain not only the redemption but also the legal application of the redemption. Christ did not need to die for final disbelief by the elect because Christ died instead that the elect will not finally disbelieve.