Friday, February 08, 2013

John Owen on Christ's Satisfaction, not "ipso facto" or pecuniary

I was just reading through John Owen's tract on the Trinity, where he also considers the nature of Christ's satisfaction for our sins, and goes into further detail in an appendix. I was reminded of previous discussions with friend of mine (and his supporters), who argued that Owen's view of the satisfaction necessitated an "ipso facto" justification etc, and that Owen really had a pecuniary view of the atonement, and that hence God's pardon was not really free (see also this previous post).I think the quote below is fairly clear of Owen's position, and representative of the latter part of his life (the tract was published in 1669). Essentially Owen says that the satisfaction cannot automatically justify or save since it is not like a pecuniary (monetary) debt. There needs to be some kind of compact or agreement by God to accept the satisfaction, and part of that agreement can therefore include stipulations, such as faith on the part of the sinner etc. We find the same kind of understanding in Dabney etc. Here is the extended quote:
Neither does it follow, that, on the supposition of the satisfaction pleaded for, the freedom, pardon, or acquitment of the person originally guilty and liable to punishment must immediately and “ipso facto” ensue. It is not of the nature of every solution or satisfaction, that deliverance must “ipso facto” follow. And the reason of it is, because this satisfaction, by a succedaneous substitution of one to undergo punishment for another, must be founded in a voluntary compact and agreement. For there is required unto it a relaxation of the law, though not as unto the punishment to be inflicted, yet as unto the person to be punished. And it is otherwise in personal guilt than in pecuniary debts. In these, the debt itself is solely intended, the person only obliged with reference whereunto. In the other, the person is firstly and principally under the obligation. And therefore, when a pecuniary debt is paid, by whomsoever it be paid, the obligation of the person himself unto payment ceases “ipso facto.” But in things criminal, the guilty person himself being firstly, immediately, and intentionally under the obligation unto punishment, when there is introduced by compact a vicarious solution, in the substitution of another to suffer, though he suffer the same absolutely which those should have done for whom he suffers, yet, because of the acceptation of his person to suffer, which might have been refused, and could not be admitted without some relaxation of the law, deliverance of the guilty persons cannot ensue “ipso facto,” but by the intervention of the terms fixed on in the covenant or agreement for an admittance of the substitution.
It appears, from what has been spoken, that, in this matter of satisfaction, God is not considered as a creditor, and sin as a debt; and the law as an obligation to the payment of that debt, and the Lord Christ as paying it; — though these notions may have been used by some for the illustration of the whole matter, and that not without countenance from sundry expressions in the Scripture to the same purpose. But God is considered as the infinitely holy and righteous author of the law, and supreme governor of all mankind, according to the tenor and sanction of it. Man is considered as a sinner, a transgressor of that law, and thereby obnoxious and liable to the punishment constituted in it and by it, — answerably unto the justice and holiness of its author. The substitution of Christ was merely voluntary on the part of God, and of himself, undertaking to be a sponsor, to answer for the sins of men by undergoing the punishment due unto them. To this end there was a relaxation of the law as to the persons that were to suffer, though not as to what was to be suffered. Without the former, the substitution mentioned could not have been admitted; and on supposition of the latter, the suffering of Christ could not have had the nature of punishment, properly so called: for punishment relates to the justice and righteousness in government of him that exacts it and inflicts it; and this the justice of God does not but by the law. Nor could the law be any way satisfied or fulfilled by the suffering of Christ, if, antecedently thereunto, its obligation, or power of obliging unto the penalty constituted in its sanction unto sin, was relaxed, dissolved, or dispensed withal. Nor was it agreeable to justice, nor would the nature of the things themselves admit of it, that another punishment should be inflicted on Christ than what we had deserved; nor could our sin be the impulsive cause of his death; nor could we have had any benefit thereby. And this may suffice to be added unto what was spoken before as to the nature of satisfaction, so far as the brevity of the discourse whereunto we are confined will bear, or the use whereunto it is designed does require.
[Source: Brief Declaration and Vindication of The Doctrine of the Trinity, pp443-445.] 
There was also a wonderful remark by the Editor in the Prefatory Notes, regarding Owen's writing style :) Here it is:
This little work is farther remarkable for the almost total absence of the tedious digressions, which abound in the other works of Owen. Such logical unity and concentration of thought is the more remarkable, when we find that the treatise was written, as he tells us, “in a few hours.” But it was a subject on which his mind was fully stored, and his whole heart was interested. The treatise which follows, therefore, was not the spark struck in some moment of collision, and serving only a temporary purpose, but a steady flame nourished from the beaten oil of the sanctuary.
[Source: Brief Declaration and Vindication of The Doctrine of the Trinity, Prefatory Note.]

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