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In 1648 John Owen (1616-1683) published his definitive work The Death of Death in the Death of Christ which produced an almost immediate response, in the next year, from Richard Baxter (1615-1691) and an ongoing, controversial, public debate between the two.

In a summary, in 1846, of Baxter's theology, Thomas W Jenkyn states part of Baxter's views as follows :

The atonement of Christ did not consist in his suffering the identical but the equivalent punishment (i.e., one which would have the same effect in moral government) as that deserved by mankind because of offended law. Christ died for sins, not persons. The benefits of substitutionary atonement are accessible and available to all men for their salvation.

I have highlighted two parts with bold and italics.

Paul specifically says that 'the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me', Galatians 2:20, and Peter says of Christ, that 'he bore our sins (not just 'sins' - 'our sins') in his own body on the tree', 1 Peter 2:24.

This appears to be personal, to me. I cannot see how it could be more 'personal'.

But I can see in Richard Baxter's theology the beginnings (or the first strong public expression) of what would later become a very widely accepted 'gospel' - that of a 'universally available' 'salvation' which, actually, applies to none, and has to be 'accessed' to 'activate' its efficacy.

I am interested in how Richard Baxter supported his view, particularly regarding such texts as the ones I have quoted, where it would seem that scripture is not on his side in saying 'Christ died for sins, not persons' and 'the benefits are accessible and available to all' (when we are told that 'a sword turns every way to keep the way to the tree of life', Genesis 3:24.).

This view is certainly the antithesis of what John Owen published and I am interested in what arguments Baxter relied upon to counteract Owen's theology.


Personal Note : I have never agreed with the term 'limited atonement' since Jesus says, Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45, that the Son of man 'gave his life a ransom for many' (though 'strait is the gate that leads to life and and few find it' Matthew 7:14) and since John saw in vision, Revelation 7:9, 'a great multitude whom no man can number'.

'Many' and 'no man can number' does not sound 'limited' to my own ear. My own understanding is that some limit themselves, through unbelief, and exclude themselves from benefit and have only themselves to blame. That some are chosen 'before the foundation of the world', Ephesians 1:4, is irrelevant to the culpability of those who spend their life in activity contrary to their own humanity and detrimental to their own, ultimate, destiny.

Perhaps Richard Baxter has arguments against what I have just written in which case I am interested in hearing about them.

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  • It's rather hard to follow this question, even before the personal note! (lots of scare quotes around words that are either undefined, or used in a strange way) In isolation, that quote seems to say that Jesus didn't die for persons because he did not face the exact consequences that, say, an unbeliever will face. This puts a LOT of weight on the particular preposition: for. Mar 18 at 19:35
  • Then the path from that statement to the "widely accepted gospel" is not clear, especially since I don't know what that gospel is! Was one of these guys a hyper-Calvinist or something? Mar 18 at 19:36
  • Lastly, I don't see what this has to do with limited atonement, and would note that some modern Calvinists use a different term (which escapes me!) and see Limited Atonement as just the negation of universalism (i.e. "not all will be/are saved"). Still interested to see what answers you get, but I'm a bit lost. Mar 18 at 19:38
  • @TheChaz2.0 My question is quite specific. I am looking for knowledgeable input from anyone familiar with the arguments of Richard Baxter against John Owen, a controversy that continued between the two men (both regarded as 'Puritan') in the 17th Century. The argument continues today and I think the original controversy has bearing contemporaneously.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 19 at 11:09

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