John Owen Concerning the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ

Puritan John Owen (1616 – 24 August 1683) proposed the following concerning Christ’s substitutionary atonement for the sins of all for whom Christ died.

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 (according to Owen).
  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!”

Of course, if you do not believe in Jesus Christ’s death as our substitute, for our sins,  but subscribe to another view of the atonement, what John Owen proposed is not a matter of discussion you are interested in. But if you do believe in Christ’s substitutionary atonement, you might find Owen’s three possibilities worthy of thoughtful consideration and discussion. 

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