Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Response to John Owen's "The Death of Death" Book 1, Chapters 2-3

Chapter 2: Of the nature of an end in general, and some distinctions about it.

In his second chapter, Owen commences with a discussion about ends and means. He argues that humans have ends, or goals, but don’t always accomplish them due to their failure to meet certain conditions. That is the nature of the human creature. However, God, if he intends to do something, necessarily brings about the intended action. He argues that “God only, whose will and good pleasure is the sole rule of all those works which outwardly are of him, can never deviate in his actions, nor have any end attend or follow his acts not precisely by him intended.” (I.2.III) Thus what God intends to accomplish will always necessarily be accomplished.

The death of Christ is placed within this context. Owen states that “the end which God effected by the death of Christ was the satisfaction of his justice: the end for whose sake he did it was either supreme, or his own glory; or subordinate, ours with him.” (I.2.IV) Thus, that which God intended as the goal of Christ’s death must occur. He argues further that “no means, as a means, is considered as good in themselves.” (I.2.V) If means don’t accomplish their intended ends, they are purposeless and useless.

Chapter 3: Of the agent or chief author of the word of our redemption, and of the first thing distinctly ascribed to the person of the Father

The acts of the Trinity are undivided, though distinct. Thus, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work in consort with one another when accomplishing any act. Owen argues that “Two particular acts there are in this work of our redemption by the blood of Jesus, which may be and are properly assigned to the person of the FATHER:--first, The sending, of his Son into the world for this employment. Secondly, A laying the punishment due to our sin upon him.” (I.3.II) The Father is an active instrument in redemption by his sending of the Son. This sending was for the purpose of Christ being a savior and mediator for his people. This sending is part of a pactum salutis, an eternal covenantal relationship between the Father and the Son, wherein the Trinitarian actions of redemption were decided and enacted. Owen explains the nature of this covenant:

This, then, our Savior certainly aimed at, as being the promise upon which he undertook the work,-- the gathering of the sons of God together, their bringing unto God, and passing to eternal salvation; which being well considered, it will utterly overthrow the general ransom or universal redemption, as afterward will appear. (I.3.II.3)

Citing Isaiah 53, Owen argues in light of both the unity of ends and means inherent in God’s character, along with the congruence between the Father and the Son, that if the Father sent the Son on behalf of a specific group of humanity, the intended purpose must be accomplished. If God sent Christ into the world to save all, then all would necessarily be saved. However, this is not the case, as the Bible declares otherwise. Therefore, Jesus died only for specific people, and God the Father only intended the cross for these individuals.

Owen defends this assertion by citing the high priestly prayer in John 17. According to his interpretation of this text “God gave [the elect] unto him, and he sanctified himself to be a sacrifice for their sake, praying for their sanctification.” (I.3.II) The Father granted specific individuals for the Son, and decreed that the Son would die only for these individuals. The difficulties with the argument that Owen makes throughout chapters 2 and 3 are twofold.

First, Owen makes the statement that means are only good in relation to the ends which they accomplish. With this in mind, then Christ’s death could not necessarily be “good” in any sense if it was given as a means to an unaccomplished end. In a Lutheran perspective, Christ’s death did achieve the ends that were intended: Jesus took away the sins of the world by his act of self-sacrifice, and justified the human race through his resurrection from the dead. The fact that some reject the act that had been accomplished on their behalf does not negate the goodness or reality of the atonement of Christ. Yes, there are many who reject the cross. However, that does not imply failure on God’s part, or a negation of the efficacy of the cross, but simply demonstrates the nature of the fallen human will. Owen doesn’t allow for paradox here. In his approach, if Jesus truly died for every single human being, desiring their redemption, then all people must necessarily be saved, because God cannot fail in bringing about the intended result of any action. Despite Owen’s argument, though God’s control over the human creature is absolute, and his will cannot be hampered by human decision, God can voluntarily choose not to utilize his absolute power in any given circumstance. Just as Christ limited his use of divine attributes (such as omniscience) in the incarnation, God has the ability to limit his use of divine power and allow a sinner to perish even while desiring that person’s redemption. The nature of God’s universal will and electing grace remains a paradox.

Second, Owen’s utilization of John 17 is unwarranted. Though it is clear that there is an eternal relationship between the Father and the Son implied here, wherein the Father gave his Son the task of redeeming humanity, there are insufficient grounds to argue for a pactum salutis as Owen claims. He cites the beginning of this text:

"Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed." (John 17:1-5)

Though a context-less citation of the above text may warrant an understanding of particular redemption, a reading of the surrounding context proves otherwise. In Owen’s view, this prayer speaks of the elect whom the Father gave the Son, and consequently the Son’s death on behalf of these specific individuals. The following section of the text proves otherwise:

"I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." (John 17:6-19)

There is a group that Jesus is speaking of in this prayer, but it is not identified with the elect. Rather, those for whom Jesus is praying are the apostles. Jesus prays for “those whom you gave me out of the world,” and even states that “I am not praying for the world” but only for these individuals. This may be read as a distinction between elect and non-elect, but it is apparent that such is not the case. Included in this group is “the son of destruction” who has been lost. All others in this group have been preserved in the faith, but Judas is an exception. Unless Judas is considered one of the elect, which would contradict Calvinistic convictions, it must be admitted that the elect are not being considered specifically in this text. Though one might argue that this text excludes Judas from being of “those whom you have given me,” this would contradict the meaning of an exception clause. If I were to say, “I like all donuts except chocolate frosted” it would imply that chocolate frosted is within the category of “donut.” It would make no sense if I were to make an exception out of something which isn’t included in the group in discussion. For example, if I said “I like all donuts except the color blue” it would be seen as a nonsensical statement.

The contents of the high priestly prayer are primarily ecclesiological rather than soteriological. He is praying for the future of the church which would be founded after his death, rather than for the salvation of elect individuals. This is why his prayer is for their protection from “the evil one” while they remain in the world. He prays, first, for the apostles and their ministry which would found the church. In the second section of his prayer, the referent changes from the apostles to those who are part of the church after its founding. He prays,

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

The primary intent of the prayer in this final section is for the unity of the future church, and a love for one another which reflects the love between the Father and the Son. To argue that the first section of the prayer is about particular redemption is to conflate the two groups being spoken of, and to take the prayer out of its intended ecclesiastical context.

No comments: