An Extract* from a treatise by Dr J. Owen on “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”.
The faith which is required and commanded in the gospel hath different acts and degrees, in the exercise of which it proceeds in an orderly way, according to the natural method of the proposal of the objects to be believed: the consideration whereof is of much use in the business in hand, our adversaries pretending that if Christ died not for all, then in vain are they exhorted to believe, there being, indeed, no proper object for the faith of innumerable people because Christ did not die for them; as though the gospel held out this doctrine first of all, that Christ died for every one, elect and reprobate; or as though the first thing which any one living under the means of grace is exhorted to believe were, that Christ died for him in particular;Â—both which are notoriously false, as I hope, will be made manifest to all. I shall intimate something concerning the order of exercising the several acts of faith; whereby it will appear that no one in the world is commanded or invited to believe, until he has a sufficient object to fix the act of faith on, of truth enough for its foundation, and latitude enough for its utmost exercise.
The first thing which the gospel requires of sinners, and which it
persuades and commands them to believe, is, that salvation is not to be had in themselves, inasmuch as all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; nor by the works of the law, by which no flesh living can be justified. Here is a saving gospel truth for sinners to believe, which the apostle dwells upon, Romans chs. 1-3, to prepare a way for justification by Christ. Now, what numberless numbers there are, to whom the gospel is preached, who never come so far as to believe so much as this! amongst whom you may reckon almost the whole nation of the Jews, as is apparent, Rom. 9 and 10. Now, not to go one step farther with any proposal, a contempt of this object of faith is the sin of infidelity.
Secondly, The gospel requires faith in this, that there is salvation to be had in the promised seed,Â—in Him who was before ordained to be a captain of salvation to them that do believe. And here, also at this trial some millions of the great army of men, outwardly called, drop off, and do never believe, with true divine faith, that God has provided a way for the saving of sinners.
Thirdly, That Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified by the Jews, was this Saviour, promised before, and that there is no name under heaven given whereby they may be saved besides His. And this was the main point upon which the Jews broke off, refusing to accept Christ as the Saviour of men, but rather prosecuted him as an enemy of God; and consequently are so often charged with infidelity and
damnable unbelief. The question was not, between Christ and them, whether he died for them all or no, but, whether He was that Messiah promised. This they denied, and perished in their unbelief.
Now, before these three acts of faith be performed, in vain is the soul exhorted farther to climb the uppermost steps and miss all the bottom foundation ones.
Fourthly, The gospel requires a resting upon this Christ, so dis-covered and believed on to be the promised Redeemer, as an all-sufficient Saviour, with whom is plenteous redemption, and who is able to save the utmost them that come to God by Him, and to bear the burden of all weary labouring souls that come by faith to Him; in which proposal there is a certain infallible truth, grounded upon the superabundant sufficiency of the oblation of Christ in itself, for whoever it was intended. Now, much self-knowledge, much conviction, much sense of sin. God’s justice, and free grace, is the necessary for the exercise of this act of faith. Good Lord! how many thousand poor souls within the pale of the church can never be brought to it! The truth is, without the help of God’s Spirit none of those three before, much less this last step, can be taken; who worketh freely, when, how, and in whom He pleases.
Fifthly, These things being firmly seated in the soul (and not before), we are every one called in particular to believe the efficacy of the redemption that is in the blood of Jesus towards our own souls in particular. This, every one may assuredly do in whom the free grace of God has worked the former acts of faith, and does work this also. They may do so without either doubting or fearing they have no right object to believe in. For certainly Christ died for every one in whose heart the Lord, by His almighty power, effectually works faith to lay hold on Him and assent to Him, according to that orderly proposal that is held forth in the gospel. Now, according to this order as it is observed by some are the articles of our faith arranged in the apostles’ creed, the remission of our sins and life eternal being the last thing to be believed; for before we attain so far the rest must be firmly rooted. So that it is a senseless vanity to cry out of the nullity of the object to be believed, if Christ died not for all, there being an absolute truth in every thing which anyone is called to assent to, according to the order of the gospel.
*This extract has been abridged and the language somewhat modernised.