Chapter 1 of Book 1 treats of why Christ died. Why did Christ die? The question seems simple enough. What is the “end” of his death. We know that the means of his death is dying on the cross. What is the end? To what end, for what purpose, did Christ die? Owen sets out to explain: 1) what it is that the Father intended to accomplish by commissioning the Son to live a perfect life and die on the cross, and 2) What was really and actually accomplished by it.
1) To what end did Christ come into the world? He came to “save that which was lost”(Matt. 28:11, Lk. 19:10). He came to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)(Owen 45). He came to give his life a ransom for “many”(Matt. 20:28). Which of the lost did he come to save? He died for “our” sins (Gal. 1:4), that is believers. He died for the Church (Eph. 5:25-27)(Owen 45). By his atonement he intended to obtain redemption for a definite, select group of people(Tit. 2:14)(Owen 46).
2) What was accomplished by this? That is, what was effectually wrought by Christ’s death on the cross? Owen frequently refers to Christ’s sacrifice as an “oblation.” An oblation is a sacrificial offering. Christ’s sacrifice obtained the actual reconciliation of a specific and limited number of people. “We” were enemies and “we” were reconciled by Christ(Rom. 5:10). In reconciling the world, Christ did not impute their sins to “them”(2 Cor. 5:19). That is, he did not merely obtain a potential for forgiveness whose application is conditional upon a faith and repentance that might not materialize in its intended objects(in this case, sinners). Rather, he wrought actual reconciliation for a specific group of people, infallibly saving those whom he intended to save. He abolished the alienation between God and man wrought by sin (Eph. 2:15, 16)(Owen 46). He is “our” peace (Eph. 2:14)(Owen 46).
How does Christ reconcile us to God through him? He enters into the heavenly holy place, and obtains redemption for us(Heb. 9:12). That is, he brought his slain body to God, and with it, his redeeming blood, and with it, obtained pardon for our sins. “Our” refers to believers(namely, those specific believers he intended to save through belief). “He redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us”(Gal. 3:13)(Owen 46). He redeemed – that is – actually saved – “us”, being made a curse for “us.” That is, he actually bore our curses for us, and in doing so, exhausted and satisfied God’s wrath, really and actually, not potentially, obtaining pardon for us. “his own self bearing our sins in his own body on the tree”(1 Pet. 2:24)(Owen 46). He bore “our” sins in his body. That is, he bore God’s wrath for us in his body, by his death. “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins”(Rom. 3:23-25)(Owen 46). That is, we, who have fallen short of the glory of God, are really and actually “justified” by grace through Christ’s “redemption.” Christ is a “propitiation.” That is, he is a sacrifice which bears God’s wrath and actually exhausts and satisfies God’s anger. In him “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins”(Col. 1:14)(Owen 46). That is, “we” were actually redeemed by his blood. Christ offered his blood to God in order to purge away the pollution of our sins (Heb. 9:14). He actually cleanses “us” from all sins (1 Jhn. 1:7)(Owen 46). He purges “our” sins (Heb. 1:3). He sanctifies the “people” with his own blood, he suffered without the gate (Heb. 13:12)(Owen 46-47). He gave himself up for the church (Eph. 5:25-27)(Owen 47). It is given to us, the church, to believe in Christ(Phil. 1:29), by which we are blessed with all the blessings in the heavenlies(Eph. 1:3)(Owen 47).
God sent forth his son in order that he might obtain adoption for us. “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons”(Gal. 4:4-5)(Owen 47). What we have obtained is a “purchased possession”(Eph. 1:14). He died for us in order that those who are called might obtain the eternal redemption(Heb. 9:15). He mediates the new covenant for us. He died in order that those who were called might receive the promised blessings. That is, He obtained blessings through his blood and by his death for a specific, individually handpicked group of people. He died in order to obtain redemption for those who are “called.” Not everyone is called (Rom. 8:30, 1 Cor. 1:23-24). Paul specifically makes a distinction.
In spite of these passages, Owen points out that there are many who believe in a general ransom(Owen 47). That is, he tells us that there are those who believe that Christ died for every single person ever. A person may say of many, or most, of the aforementioned passages “well of course these passages include those who are actually saved, but this does not necessarily entail that Christ’s redemptive benefits are limited to them. Rather, it is only these who actually obtain and benefit from Christ’s gifts, whereas the rest of humanity refuses the offer and forsake their opportunity for forgiveness.” This, according to Owen, implies one of two things: Either God and Christ failed in their intended end, and did not accomplish their goal of saving all those for whom Christ died, or God and Christ did succeed in their goal, and obtained actual redemption for everyone, so that everyone ends up saved, and no one ends up condemned.
Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007. Print. 45-47.