Definite Atonement and Christ’s Intercession (Owen)

One of the major biblical reasons why I believe and teach the doctrine of limited atonement (better: definite atonement) has to do with Jesus’ work of salvation.  Specifically, the Bible teaches that Jesus’ obedience, suffering, and death is very much connected to his resurrection, ascension, and intercession (Is. 53:12b, Rom. 8:33-34).  Those for whom Jesus obeyed, suffered, and died are the same ones for whom he rose, ascended, and intercedes.  John Owen made this argument in The Death of Death, where he says that Christ’s oblation and his intercession are intimately connected:

“…They are both alike intended for the obtaining and accomplishing the same entire and complete end proposed, that is, the effectual bringing of many sons to glory, for the praise of God’s grace.  …The object of the one is of no larger extent than the object of the other.  In other words, Christ intercedes on behalf of the ones he offered himself for, and only those, as he says himself in John 17:19.

…The sole end why Christ procured anything by his death was that it might be applied to them for whom it was so procured.  The sum is, that the oblation and intercession of Jesus Christ are one entire means for the producing of the same effect, the very end of the oblation being that all those things which are bestowed by the intercession of Christ, and without whose application it should certainly fail of the end proposed in it….”

We cannot say that Christ died for all and only intercedes for some, since Paul said that Christ who died for us also intercedes for us (Rom. 8:33-34).  Again, here’s Owen:

“That he died for all and intercedeth only for some will scarcely be squared to this text, especially considering the foundation of all this, which is (verse 32) the love of God which moved him to give up Christ do death for us all; upon which the apostle infers a kind of impossibility in not giving us all good things in him;  which how it can be reconciled with their opinion who affirm that he gave his Son for millions to whom he will give neither grace nor glory, I cannot see.

The extent of Christ’s atonement matches the extent of his intercession.  His atonement is limited to the elect, as is his intercession.  It’s not theological nitpicking; this has to do with the glorious work of Christ!  We never want to detract or subtract from Christ’s work.  Furthermore, it is a great comfort to know that Jesus definitely died for me and now definitely intercedes for me! He left nothing undone in the work of redemption.  So I can rest comfortably in his finished work.

The above quotes (edited for readability and length) are found in Owen’s The Death of Death, p. 68-70.

Shane Lems


Jesus, Paul, Redemption, Religion

Around 100 years ago, liberals were driving a big wedge between Paul and Jesus; something similar is still happening today.  For example, some people say that Jesus was a nice teacher of morals (the first Christian and a martyr for the cause), but Paul came in and messed it all up with detailed doctrine. Machen responded to this liberal teaching quite well in The Origin of Paul’s Religion (in 1925). In chapter 4, for example, Machen does a nice job showing how Paul, as an apostle commissioned by Jesus, agreed with Jesus in his teaching and preaching.  Here are two paragraphs I really appreciated:

The details of Jesus’ earthly ministry no doubt had an important place in the thinking of Paul. But they were important, not as an end in themselves, but as a means to an end. They revealed the character of Jesus; they
showed why He was worthy to be trusted. But they did not show what He had done for Paul. The story of Jesus revealed what Jesus had done for others: He had healed the sick; He had given sight to the blind; He had
raised the dead. But for Paul He had done something far greater than all these things—for Paul He had died.

The religion of Paul, in other words, is a religion of redemption. Jesus, according to Paul, came to earth not to say something, but to do something; He was primarily not a teacher, but a Redeemer. He came, not to teach men how to live, but to give them a new life through His atoning death. He was, indeed, also a teacher, and Paul attended to His teaching. But His teaching was all in vain unless it led to the final acceptance of His redemptive work. Not the details of Jesus’ life, therefore, but the redemptive acts of death and resurrection are at the center of the religion of Paul. The teaching and example of Jesus, according to Paul, are valuable only as a means to an end, valuable in order that through a revelation of Jesus’ character saving faith may be induced, and valuable thereafter in order that the saving work may be brought to its fruition in holy living. But all that Jesus said and did was for the purpose of the Cross. “He loved me,” says Paul, “and gave Himself for me.” There is the heart and core of the religion of Paul.

J. G. Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion, p.167 (ch. 4)

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Revelation: Acts and Speech

Fundamentalism and the Word of God If you haven’t read Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God, I’d suggest putting it on your “to read” list.  Here’s a section from it that explains how God reveals himself in his acts (i.e. the Exodus) and also in speech (i.e. the Prophets) – and these go together, as Packer notes.  Packer’s helpful argument also has to do with the necessity of Scripture.

“…According to Scripture, God reveals himself to men both by exercising power for them and by teaching truth to them.  The two activities are not antithetical, but complementary.  …Leave man to guess God’s mind and purpose, and he will guess wrong; he can know it only by being told it.  Moreover, the whole purpose of God’s mighty acts is to bring man to know him by faith; and Scripture knows no foundation for faith but the spoken word of God, inviting our trust in him on the basis of what he has done for us.  Where there is no word from God, faith cannot be.  Therefore, verbal revelation – that is to say, propositional revelation, the disclosure by God of truths about himself – is no mere appendage to his redemptive activity, but a necessary part of it.  This being so, the inspiring of an authoritative exposition of his redemptive acts in history ought to be seen as itself one of those redemptive acts, as necessary a link in the chain of his saving purposes as any of the events with which the exposition deals.”

“The need for verbal revelation appears most clearly when we consider the person and work of Christ.  His life and death was the clearest and fullest revelation of God that ever was or could be made.  Yet it could never have been understood without explanation.  Whoever could have guessed, without being told, that the man Jesus was God incarnate, that he created the world in which he was crucified, that by dying a criminal’s death he put away the sins of mankind, and that now, though gone from our sight, he lives forever to bring penitent sinners to his Father?  And who can come to faith in Christ if he knows none of this?  No considerations could show more plainly the complete inability of man to ‘make do’ in his religion without a spoken word from God (p. 92).”

J. I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962).

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The Excellencies of Redemption in Christ

 Thomas Brooks gives six “excellent properties of that redemption that we have by Jesus Christ.”  I’ll summarize them below:

1) It is a great redemption.  The greatness of the person employed in this work speaks out the work to be a great work.  The great and invaluable price that was paid for our redemption speaks it out to be a great redemption (the precious blood of Christ; 1 Pet. 1:18).  The making of the world was a great work of God, but it only cost him a word of his mouth; he spoke the word, and it was done.  The work of redemption, however, cost Christ’s dearest blood.  It was a redemption from sin’s guilt, dominion, damnatory power; a redemption from the power of Satan, the curse of the law, and from hell and the wrath to come.

2) It is a free and gracious redemption.  All the rungs in this ladder of redemption are made up of free, rich, and sovereign grace.  Though our redemption cost Christ dearly, to us it is most free (Rom. 3:24).  Our redemption is from the free love and favor of God.  It was free grace that God provided a surety who would undertake the work of redemption, carry it on and complete it.  And it was free grace that moved God to apply this redemption to his people.

3) It is a full and plenteous redemption.  With the Lord there is plenteous redemption (Ps. 130:7).  Christ redeems us from all sin and all the consequences of sin.  He redeems from death, the law, the curse, God’s wrath, this present evil age, and from the wicked.  Christ does not do his work by halves.  All his works are perfect; there is no defect or flaw in them at all.  Christ does not redeem us from some of our sins and leave us to grapple with the rest.  No, he pays all debts, cuts all scores, delivers from all wrath, removes the whole curse, saves to the uttermost, and will settle us in glory.

4) It is an everlasting redemption.  Jesus obtained eternal redemption for his people (Heb 9:12).  The ransom which Christ paid was the ground of man’s full and eternal redemption.  The liberty that Jesus brings the elect is permanent and lasting.  It is irremovable and unchangeable to all eternity.

5) It is an enriching redemption.  It is a redemption that makes Christians rich in ‘spiritual blessings in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 1:3).  There are many choice spiritual blessings that go hand in hand with redemption: reconciliation, forgiveness, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification (Rom. 3:24-25, 5:1).  Redemption is a rich mine, containing a mass of treasure that is beyond counting.  There are unsearchable riches in Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:8).

6) It is a sweetening redemption.  That is, it is a redemption by Christ that sweetens all our redemption out of this trouble, that affliction, this danger, that sickness, and this bondage.  It is a redemption that sweetens our trials like the tree that Moses cast into the bitter waters of Marah (Ex. 15).  God sweetens our greatest troubles and trials by the redemption we have in Christ.

Thomas Brooks, The Golden Key and Other Hidden Treasures.  Found in his Works, volume 5, pages 354-358.

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Christianity and Buddhism

The Christian doctrines of creation and redemption clearly show that our triune God is not anti-matter.  There is no room for spiritual nothingness or Nirvana in the Christian faith.  God became man to save sinful people – body and soul.  He will one day renew all of creation.  Christianity and Buddhism are completely different.  Os Guinness reminds us of G. K. Chesterton’s great quip on this topic.

“Christ said, ‘Seek first the kingdom and all these things shall be added unto you.’  Buddha said, ‘Seek first the kingdom and then you will need none of these things.’”

G. K. Chesterton, quoted in Os Guinness, Long Journey Home, p. 80.

shane lems

The Second Article of the Creed: Redemption

Luther’s exposition of the second article (…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, etc…) of the Apostles’ Creed is great.  This is from his small catechism, and the question is, “What does this mean?”

“Answer: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.  He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.  He did this not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.”

Martin Luther, the Small Catechism, Part II, the second article.

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 I’m enjoying this book on counseling: Redemption by Mike Wilkerson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011). In it, Wilkerson explains how the gospel kills our idols and heals our wounds.  I appreciate this book because it shows first of all that people really deal with some terrible suffering and secondly it shows that the redemption Jesus accomplished has everything to do with our wounds, sins, and tears.  This is where theory and practice meet: the truths of the gospel have everything to do with the Christian in the valley in the shadow of death.

“..What if your anguish stems from the slavery of addiction?  Here too it may get worse before it gets better.  But that doesn’t mean God is absent; it means he is at war against the gods that have enslaved you.  It means the bonds of slavery have been tied so tightly that they’ve cut into your skin and can’t be removed without some bleeding.  Your slave masters are not only outside you, in the temptations of the world; they are also within you, wherever you have allowed those temptations to bond with your sinful desires.”

“You must still cry out to God in faith for deliverance.  Yet, as you are brutally honest about your anguish, you must equally be honest about your sin.  You must know that you are in the midst of a war.  Expect death and pain in the process because you have to put sin to death by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13).  But also expect new life, for those who die with Christ also rise with him (Rom. 6:8).  What this means is that your redemption is as certain as his resurrection.”

I recommend this book for any serious Christian who deals with deep scars or who knows other scarred Christians who need gospel centered encouragement.  Pastors, elders, and other Christian leaders who counsel people will want to read this for sure.  There are reflection questions, Scripture references, and “for further study” resources at the end of each chapter.  Redemption is just under 200 pages, and most Christians should be able to work through the book one chapter at a time.  This may be a good book for a small group discussion setting.  I doubt anyone will regret reading this; in fact, I’m certain many will read it again and again.

shane lems