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Puritan Book Reviews – The Works of John Owen, Volume 10 (The Death of Christ)
Reviewed by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
The Works of John Owen, Volume 10 (The Death of Christ)
by John Owen
Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA: 1993.
624 Pages, Hardback
In this volume the reputation of John Owen has come to light. Through his work The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (also published by Banner of Truth in a separate volume – see above) he has become known as the greatest English Puritan to ever live and write in English. His work on the death of Christ is a benchmark in the theological history of the church. It has been said that The Death of Death “doth exhaust the subject” on the crucifixion of Christ and the atonement. It seems it does. It is no doubt that his reputation as a great theologian comes to light in his other writings as well, but it is in this particular volume (the 10th of 24!) that the substance and power of the Gospel shines through.
Owen takes up two major treatises in this work “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” and “A Display of Arminianism”. His “Display” was a work he wrote far earlier in his life, where “the Death” is something of a meditated, and proved theological mind – though in both works his theological mind is no doubt evident. The Death is the fullest description I know of in print that covers the doctrine of Christ’s vicarious and limited atonement for his elect people. Owen not only expounds the doctrine through keen exegetical work, but also exhibits other erroneous views and takes them down quickly with the hatchet of the Word of God.
This was the first puritan work I ever read. Owen is one of the more difficult puritans to read until you become used to him. If you read Owen and understand him in this volume, you will have no problem reading any other puritan work (except maybe for Francis Turretin). Anyone who desires to know the atonement of their Lord ought to read this book, attending it with fervent prayer. It is a wealth of knowledge and a great help to the intimacy of the soul with Christ.
Also in this volume is The Display of Arminianism. Here Owen attacks the false Gospel of the Arminians and shows why it is unbiblical and an overthrow of the Gospel. He literally tears apart their theological ideas without mercy, but graciously shows the true meaning of the biblical doctrines of the decrees of God, the atonement and election. The reason this is inserted in this volume is because Arminianism overthrows the biblical views of the death of Christ, and Owen in this volume is setting forth the true and biblically centered view of the death of Christ
This is a must read book for the Arminian camp. If you are anything other than a Reformed Calvinist, you need to spend a little with Dr. Owen and find out why so many hold the biblical view of Christ that Owen is propagating.
From the Display of Arminianism
First, Never were so many prodigious errors introduced into a church, with so high a hand and so little opposition, as these into ours, since the nation of Christians was known in the world. The chief cause I take to be that which Aeneas Sylvius gave why more maintained the pope to be above the council than the council above the pope,—because popes gave archbishoprics, bishoprics, etc., but the councils sued “in forma pauperis,” and, therefore, could scarce get an advocate to plead their cause. The fates of our church having of late devolved the government thereof into the hands of men tainted with this poison, Arminianism became backed with the powerful arguments of praise and preferment, and quickly prevailed to beat poor naked Truth into a corner. It is high time, then, for all the lovers of the old way to oppose this innovation, prevailing by such unworthy means, before our breach grow great like the sea, and there be none to heal it.
My intention in this weak endeavor (which is but the undigested issue of a few broken hours, too many causes, in these furious malignant days, continually interrupting the course of my studies), is but to stir up such who, having more leisure and greater abilities, will not as yet move a finger to help [to] vindicate oppressed truth.
From the Death of Death
Now, there is none of all these places but will afford a sufficient strength against the general ransom, or the universality of the merit of Christ. My leisure will not serve for so large a prosecution of the subject as that would require, and, therefore, I shall take from the whole this general argument: — If the death and oblation of Jesus Christ (as a sacrifice to his Father) doth sanctify all them for whom it was a sacrifice; doth purge away their sin; redeem them from wrath, curse, and guilt; work for them peace and reconciliation with God; procure for them life and immortality; bearing their iniquities and healing all their diseases; — then died he only for those that are in the event sanctified, purged, redeemed, justified, freed from wrath and death, quickened, saved, etc.; but that all are not thus sanctified, freed, etc., is most apparent: and, therefore, they cannot be said to be the proper object of the death of Christ. The supposal was confirmed before; the inference is plain from Scripture and experience, and the whole argument (if I mistake not) solid.