12 January, 2017

John Owen Quotes

Here is a list of quotes from the writings of John Owen (1616 – 1683) that either do not fit with, or out-rightly contradict central tenets of the theory of “common grace” and the “well-meant gospel offer.”

[N.B. These quotes are not intended to imply, however, that Owen never made erroneous statements on this subject or that all his writings were always entirely consistent on these points.

1. Against the Theology behind the Well-Meant Offer/The Free Offer

(a) John Owen, in the following, is responding to some Arminian arguments for the idea of an ineffectual desire in God for the salvation of all men—something which is right at the heart of the theology of the free/well-meant offer of the gospel. Notice in the list of texts he is examining, that many of these passages are actually listed in the Murray-Stonehouse pamphlet “The Free Offer of the Gospel” as their proof texts! Clearly, John Owen would not be a proponent of their position. He repudiates the idea of “desires and wishings” being ascribed to God, asserting that such are “exceedingly opposite to his all-sufficiency and the perfection of his nature; they are no more in him than he hath eyes, ears, and hands”!

[The Arminians argue thus] God’s earnest expostulations, contendings, charges, and protestations, even to such as whereof many perished, Romans 9:27; Isaiah 10:22. As, to instance:—‘O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me,’ etc., ‘that it might be well with them!’ Deuteronomy 5:29. ‘What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?’ etc., Isaiah 5:4, 5. ‘What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me?’ Jeremiah 2:5. ‘Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?’ verse 31. ‘O my people, what have I done unto thee? wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me,’ Micah 6:3. ‘How often would I have gathered,’ etc., ‘and ye would not!’ Matthew 23:37. ‘O that my people had hearkened unto me!’ etc., ‘I should soon have subdued their enemies,’ etc., Psalm 81:13, 14. ‘Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded,’ etc., Proverbs 1:24-31. ‘Because, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God,’ etc., Romans 1:21, 28. ‘Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man,’ etc., ‘Thou, after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath,’ etc., Romans 2:1, 5. The Christian, I hope, will reply against God, and say, Thou never meantest us good; there was no ransom given for us, no atonement made for us, no good done us, no mercy shown us,—nothing, in truth, whereby we might have been saved, nothing but an empty show, a bare pretense.’ But if any should reason so evilly, yet shall not such answers stand.

Ans. To this collection of expostulations I shall very briefly answer with some few observations, manifesting of how little use it is to the business in hand ... Not that I deny that there is sufficient matter of expostulation with sinners about the blood of Christ and the ransom paid thereby, that so the elect may be drawn and wrought upon to faith and repentance, and believers more and more endeared to forsake all ungodliness and worldly lusts, to live unto him who died for them, and that others may be left more inexcusable; only for the present there are no such expostulations here expressed, nor can any be found holding out the purpose and intention of God in Christ towards them that perish ... Fourthly, It is confessed, I hope by all, that there are none of those things for the want whereof God expostulateth with the sons of men, but that he could, if it so seemed good before him, effectually work them in their hearts, at least, by the exceeding greatness of his power: so that these things cannot be declarative of his purpose, which he might, if he pleased, fulfill; “for who hath resisted his will,” Romans 9:19. Fifthly, That desires and wishings should properly be ascribed unto God is exceedingly opposite to his all-sufficiency and the perfection of his nature; they are no more in him than he hath eyes, ears, and hands. These things are to be understood [in a way befitting to God]. Sixthly, It is evident that all these are nothing but pathetical declarations of our duty in the enjoyment of the means of grace, strong convictions of the stubborn and disobedient, with a full justification of the excellency of God’s ways to draw us to the performance of our duties.

(Source: The Works of John Owen [Great Britain: Banner, 1967], vol. 10, pp. 400-401, emphasis added.)


(b) Owen, in the following, describes it as “extreme madness” to assign a will or desire unto God of doing that which himself knows and orders that it shall never be donesomething which is a central tenet of the “well-meant gospel offer”: the notion that God wills or desires the salvation of all men, while at the same time He knows and has ordered that only some (the elect) will be saved.

Now, if this be not extreme madness, to assign a will unto God of doing that which himself knows and orders that it shall never be done, of granting a thing upon a condition which without his help cannot be fulfilled, and which help he purposed not to grant, let all judge. Is this anything but to delude poor creatures? ... Were not this the assigning such a will and purpose to Jesus Christ:—‘... That is, I do will that that shall be done which I do not only know shall never be done, but that it cannot be done, because I will not do that without which it can never be accomplished’? No, whether such a will and purpose as this beseem the wisdom and goodness of our Saviour, let the reader judge. In brief; an intention of doing good unto any one upon the performance of such a condition as the intender knows is absolutely above the strength of him of whom it is requires,especially if he know that it can no way be done but by his concurrence, and he is resolved not to yield that assistance which is necessary to the actual accomplishment of it,is a vain fruitless flourish.

(Source: The Death of Death [Great Britain: Banner, 1989], pp. 129, 130)


(c) Owen, in the following, says that to desire what one is sure will never come to pass is “not an act regulated by wisdom or counsel.” He attributes the notion of “unfulfilled desires” in God to the Remonstrants/Arminians, and judges that this idea (which is also the very heart of the well-meant offer) implies either “imperfection” in God, or overthrows His divine foreknowledge:

They [the Remonstrants or Arminians] affirm that God is said properly to expect and desire divers things which yet never come to pass. ‘We grant,’ saith Corvinus, ‘that there are desires in God that never are fulfilled.’ Now, surely, to desire what one is sure will never come to pass is not an act regulated by wisdom or counsel; and, therefore, they must grant that before he did not know but perhaps so it might be. ‘God wisheth and desireth some good things, which yet come not to pass,’ say they, in their Confession; whence one of these two things must need follow,either, first, that there is a great deal of imperfection in his nature, to desire and expect what he knows shall never come to pass; or else he did not know but it might, which overthrows his prescience.

(Source: Works, vol. 10, pp. 25-26, emphasis added.)


(d) Owen writes the following:

So that, without impairing of the infinite blessedness of the ever-blessed God, no natural affection unto anything never to be accomplished can be ascribed unto Him, such as this general love to all is supposed to be.

(Source: The Death of Death [Banner of Truth], pp. 209-210, emphasis added.)

Note: This is the very heart of the “Free Offer of the Gospel” (Murray/Stonehouse, 1948) or “well-meant offer” obliterated right here. For the “Free-Offer/well-meant offer” teaching is precisely that God does indeed have a natural affection towards something that will never be accomplished, namely, the repentance and salvation of the reprobate. This idea has been propounded especially by K. W. Stebbins, in his book Christ Freely Offered (Covenanter Press, 1978).


(e) Proponents of the “Free Offer/Well-Meant Offer” often teach that God’s ‘preceptive’ will (commands) and ‘decretive’ will (eternal decrees) are both manifestations of God’s “desire” (see, for instance, The Free Offer of the Gospel, by John Murray, and Christ Freely Offered, by K. W. Stebbins for proof of this), a “desire” of God being a sort of ‘common-ground’ between them both. Owen, however, says there is “no connection” between God’s decrees and His commands, and states that the commands are expressive of only man’s “duty”—what man merely “ought” to do—and nothing more than this:

We must exactly distinguish between man’s duty and God’s purpose, there being no connection between them. The purpose and decree of God is not the rule of our duty; neither is the performance of our duty in doing what we are commanded any declaration of what is God’s purpose to do, or His decree that it should be done. Especially is this to be seen and considered in the duty of the ministers of the gospel, in the dispensing of the word, in exhortations, invitations, precepts, and threatenings, committed unto them; all which are perpetual declarative’s of our duty, and do manifest the approbation of the thing exhorted and invited to, with the truth of the connection between one thing and another, but not of the counsel and purpose of God, in respect of individual persons, in the ministry of the word ... They command and invite all to repent and believe; but they do not know in particular on whom God will bestow repentance unto salvation, nor in whom He will effect the work of faith with power. And when they make proffers and tenders in the name of God to all, they do not say to all, “It is the purpose and intention of God that ye should believe” (who gave them any such power?) but, that it is His command, which makes it their duty to do what is required of them; and they do not declare His mind, what Himself in particular will do. The external offer is such as from which every man may conclude his own duty; none, God’s purpose, which yet may be known upon the performance of his duty. Their objection, then, is vain, who affirm that God hath given Christ for all to whom He offers Christ in the preaching of the Gospel; for His offer in the preaching of the Gospel is not declarative to any in particular, neither of what God hath done nor of what He will do in reference to him, but of what he ought to do, if he would be approved of God and obtain the good things promised.

(Source: The Death of Death, Book 4, Chapt. 1, para 3; emphasis added.)

2. Against the idea of “General Grace/Mercy/Love”

(a) In the following, Owen denies that there is any “mercy” displayed in the general work of God in providence (something which is central to the theory of common grace) ...

All mercy is special and purposive, and is the true source of the remission of sins–a thing about which no word occurs in the whole Bible and any passage dealing with those who do not have the benefits of the Word of God. Salvation is only in Christ. Even our opponents admit that Christ is not revealed in God’s works of providence! Considering that true mercy–published and revealed from the bosom of the Father by Christ–is the fount of all saving faith and repentance, we can distinguish this from all loose and mistaken concepts of ‘mercy’ displayed by the general work of God in providence; and, having done so, we gladly let the point drop, since we here have nothing to prove but the one great truth of mercy only in and through Christ.

(Source: Biblical Theology [Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994], p. 74; emphasis added.)


(b) In the following, Owen

(i) denies that the good things of providence can be judged to be given in either love or hatred, and that they cannot reveal any facet of God’s character. (something which CG actually holds dearly: that the good things of providence are in fact tokens of God’s love towards all men.)

(ii) Owen explicitly states that God, in giving good things to the reprobate (those destined for eternal destruction), is “fattening them for the coming day of slaughter!”

We know that time and again God allows worldly good things to pass to the very people that He hates, whom He has a fixed determination to punish, and whom He has declared to be reserved for eternal punishment and destruction. (Psalm 73:4-12, 18-20). Note carefully—things which are good in themselves, but bestowed in such a way as to make it impossible to determine whether they are given in love or in hatred, cannot reveal any facet of God’s character. (‘The righteous and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them. All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked: to the good and the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as to the good, so to the sinner,’ Eccles. 9:1-2.) God gives good temporal things to the wicked. Why conclude that He is attempting to beguile them into realizing that He can be appeased? Far rather, as sovereign, He is fattening them for the coming day of slaughter!

(Source: Biblical Theology [Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994], p. 78)


(c) Owen confesses, in the following, that he is “unable to understand” how some would attribute to God a concern for and a will for the security and well-being of the reprobate:

In just what sense they would have us believe that God truly wills the security of those whom He voluntarily allows to walk in the darkness of their own paths, who are never actually saved, who are never called to new-birth, nor are given the revelation of the only name on which men might call for salvation, is something which I confess myself unable to understand.

(Source: Biblical Theology [Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994], pp. 50-51; emphasis added.)


(d) Owen states in the following that “there is no grace that is not in Christ.” “Common grace,” however, is, according to some, a grace of God outside of Jesus Christ.

There is no grace that is not in Christ, and every grace is in Him in the highest degree: so that whatsoever the perfection of grace, either for the several kinds or respective advancements thereof, requireth, is in him habitually, by the collation of his Father for this very purpose, and for the accomplishment of the work designed; which, though (as before) it cannot properly be said to be infinite, yet it is boundless and endless. It is in him as the light in the beams of the sun, and as water in a living fountain which can never fail.

(Source: The Death of Death [Banner of Truth, 2013], p. 55; emphasis added.)


(e) Owen comments on the idea of good gifts of providence (temporal earthly benefits) being called “mercies.” Are they really to be called “mercies”? …

Now, this kindness and mercy of God is generally and loosely called mercy; but, in fact, quite wrongly so when it is coupled with an assumed intention behind the act which is good in itself. Goodness is a quality of God, but to be “merciful” indicates a specific purpose of mercy in a specific situation. It is therefore, incorrect to translate, as in Psalm 145:9, 15-16, that God is “merciful” not only to men but to His whole creation; yea, to sheep and oxen and beasts of the field. These all feel the benefits of God’s general goodness in His providential upholding of His creation, but it is quite incorrect to argue from the fact of God’s kindness, manifesting and displaying itself in a vast number of earthly and temporal blessings, that the recipients of these benefits might improve them to arrive as a real and true, and saving repentance … Considering that true mercy—published and revealed from the bosom of the Father by Christ—is the fount of all saving faith and repentance, we can distinguish this from all loose and mistaken concepts of “mercy” displayed by the general work of God in providence; and, having done so, we gladly let the point drop, since we here have nothing to prove but the one great truth of mercy only in and through Christ.”

(Source: Biblical Theology [Pittsburgh: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994], p. 74; emphasis added.)

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