《死亡之死》导读.听稻版

《死亡之死》导读.听稻版
——巴刻介绍约翰欧文“The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”

I.

“ Death of Death in the Death of Christ” 是一本论战性作品,旨在论述普救论如何违背圣经、毁坏福音真道。所以,许多人不大会对此作品感兴趣。那些即鄙视教义的严谨性又没有时间做神学辩论(这会使“福音派”阵营分裂的吗!)的人对本书的再现一定很遗憾。有人会因为欧文的观念太震撼而拒绝阅读:偏见使我们义愤填膺,而我们对自己原有的神学传统又是如此的骄傲。但此次再版有希望赢得另一种读者。近来对圣经的神学研究的热情有复苏的迹象:重新审查流传的教义、查考圣经、对信仰的全面反思。此次再版为的正是这些读者,愿它能帮助我们来面对福音派基督徒今日之最紧迫的任务——重拾福音。

最后这句话让你惊讶吗?但这却是以事实为依据的。

无疑,今日之福音主义是处于茫然的不安之中。在福音原则的实践、圣洁的教导、地方教会生活的建立、牧师对灵魂的教牧、惩戒的实施等诸多方面,对现状人们有普遍的不满,对前途更是充满忧虑。这现象是多方面因素造成的,但究其根源,是因为我们已经失去了圣经所教导的那个福音。在过去的一个世纪里,不知不觉之中,我们出卖了那个福音,换回来一个赝品做为替代。这个赝品在许多方面与真福音很相像,但就整体而言,却是一个本质上完全不同的东西。所以我们的麻烦就来了:赝品在功能上并不能替代那在过去的年日里充满能力的真福音。不可遮掩的,这新福音在促使人真正的敬畏神、灵魂的痛悔、谦卑、虔诚敬拜、真正的关切教会等方面都是失败的。这是为什么呢?我们认为原因存在于它自身的品质与内涵。它没有导致人所思所想以神为中心并内心敬畏神是因为这些并非是它首要努力去做的事。可以这样说,它与原福音的区别在于它尽其所能的关注于如何给人“带来益处”——带来平安、安慰、快乐、满足——这些远远超过了其对神的荣耀的关心。其实原福音也是对人“有益处”的,甚至比新福音更多,但这对原福音来说却是“副产品”,因为它第一所关注的总是使神得荣耀。它本质上就是一种宣告和呼召:它一直宣告神施怜悯、行审判的主权,它一直呼召人来俯伏敬拜大能的主——主是人在自然与恩典中所唯一能仰赖的。毫不犹豫的,它的参照的核心是神。但新福音所参照的核心却是人。这也就是说,在信仰上,新福音与原福音走的是两条路。原福音的主要目的是教导人敬拜神,而新福音只关心如何使他们感觉更好些。原福音的主题是神以及神的道路;新福音的主题是人以及人从神得到的那些帮助。这是不同的两个世界。所传的福音的视角与重点都完全改变了。

这一动机的改变导致内容的改变,实际上,新福音既然预设了要以“给人带来益处”为焦点,就以此而重新组织圣经的信息。所以,人本性在信心上的无能为力、神白白的拣选是救恩的终极因素、基督特别的为属他的羊而死…这些题目是不会被传讲的。这些教义被认为是没有益处的;它们会使罪人绝望,因为他们被告知以他们自己本身的能力并不能通过基督而得救。(他们才不会考虑这种绝望是否可能会有益处,这当然是不可能的!因为这太伤害我们的自尊了吗。)就算这种说法是对的吧(我们后面再讨论这个),你既然遗漏掉了这些,那么,你现在所传讲的那另一半儿“合乎圣经”的福音不就会被人以为是整个的福音了吗?若是真理只有一半儿,却化妆成整个儿的,那它就是一个完全的谎言了。就这样,我们的呼吁使人误以为他们所有人都有能力在任何时间来接受基督;讲到他的救赎之工,好像他的死的功效仅是提供给了我们一条可以通过信而救自己的途径;讲到神的爱,好像那只不过是一种乐意接纳任何愿意相信的人的意愿;我们所描述的圣父、圣子,并不是以主权的大能将罪人挽回到自己面前,而是无能的静候在“我们的心门”之外——等着我们允许他们进来。不可否认,这就是我们所传的福音;没准这也就是我们所真正相信的。但有必要强调,这一扭曲了的“半真理”完全是圣经所传福音之外的另一种东西。我们这样布道是与圣经为敌;但事实上,这种布道几乎已经成为了标准做法,这是何其危险呀。我们目前所最迫切需要的可能就是重拾那以前的、真实的、合乎圣经的福音,并使我们的传讲与实践回归到福音真道。在这一方面,欧文的这一关于救赎的论文可以帮助我们。

II

“先打住,”有人会说,“这样谈论福音是很好的;但欧文所做的不就是捍卫加尔文五要点中的有限代赎这一点吗?你说要重拾福音,但其实是想让我们成为加尔文主义者吧?”

这些问题值得思考,许多人都会这么想。但其实呢,这些不过是出于偏见与愚昧。“捍卫有限代赎”?好像这就是改革宗神学家关于福音核心想做的唯一事情!“想让我们成为加尔文主义者”?好像我们除了为自己的阵营招兵之外没有其它感兴趣的事可做,成为加尔文主义者是最大的堕落吧!而且这和福音没有任何联系!在回答这些问题之前,为了消除偏见,我们需要澄清加尔文主义究竟是什么;我们希望读者做好笔记,我们要从历史与神学的角度来介绍加尔文主义,尤其是其五要点。

首先,我们应当注意,所谓的“加尔文主义五要点”,其实只是加尔文主义对十七世纪初某些“比利时半伯拉纠主义者”提出来的一个“五点声明”的回应。他们的神学思想(称为“阿民念主义”的)是源于如下两条哲学原则:

第一,神的主权与人的自由、人的责任是不能兼容的;
第二,能力限制义务。(所以说他们是半伯拉纠主义者)

从这两条原则出发,阿民念主义得到两条推论:

第一,既然圣经认为人对信心是即自由又有责任的,则信心的原因不可能是神,而是在神之外独立运行的;
第二,既然圣经认为所有听到福音的人都有义务归信,则相信的能力必然是普遍具有的。

所以,他们坚持认为,圣经的诠释必须遵循如下原则:

  1. 人从来没有因罪而堕落到即使听到福音也无法产生得救的信心。
  2. 人从来没有被神控制以至于无法拒绝福音。
  3. 神的拣选是基于神预见到他们会相信。
  4. 基督的死并不能保证任何人得救,因为它并不能保证任何人会相信;基督的死只是为所有人提供了一种得救的机遇——如果他们相信的话。
  5. 只有保持住自己的信心的人神才能给他们提供恩典;那些失败的人就跌倒失丧了。

这样,阿民念主义使人的救恩完全取决于人自己,得救的信心被看做是人自己的工作,是因为他们自己,而不是神在他们里面所做的。

为了回应此神学,1618年召开了多特会议,其相对应的神学陈述就形成了“加尔文五要点”。这些源于一个完全不同的原则——圣经的原则:“救恩出于耶和华”(拿2:9);概括如下:

  1. 堕落的人以其本性根本不可能相信福音——即使用种种外因来引导他。这就像人根本不可能信靠律法一样。
  2. 神的拣选是自由的、出于主权的、无条件的对罪人的选择;以罪人原来的本性,他们被基督所赎回、赐予信心并被接到荣耀里。
  3. 基督的救赎之工正是以这些具体的选民为目的和终结的。
  4. 圣灵以不可抗拒的能力使罪人归信,他从不会失败。
  5. 神以其大能保守其选民的信心,直到把他们接到荣耀里。

这五点正好组成了郁金香TULIP:

Total depravity, 完全的堕落
Unconditional election, 无条件的拣选
Limited atonement, 有限的代赎
Irresistible grace, 不可抗拒的恩典
Preservation of the saints.永恒的保守

这样,就有了两种对圣经所传福音的系统性的解释,两个系统是相互对立的。它们的区别并非在于其不同的侧重点,而是其内涵。一个宣告了一位实施拯救的神;另一个所说的却是一位使人能救自己的神。一个认为圣父的拣选、圣子的代赎、圣灵的召唤这三项三一真神的工作是直接针对相同的一群人的,这些也保证这群人的救恩万无一失。另一个则认为每一项行动所涉及的人群都是不同的(救恩是为全人类准备的,召唤是针对听到过福音的人,拣选的则是那些会归信的人),并否认任何人的救恩能因此而得到十足的保证。这两种神学对救恩的理解是非常不同的。一个认为救恩在于神的工作,另一个认为在于人的工作;一个认为信心本身也是神所赐的救赎恩典的一部分,另一个则把信心看做是人所做的贡献;一个把救恩的所有荣耀归与神,另一个则把荣耀分成两份:神只是建立起了救赎的机制,而人通过信来使之运作。这些区别是重要的,而以五要点做为加尔文主义的概要的价值在于这使这两种思想体系的对立之核心泾渭分明。

但加尔文主义并非简单的等同于五要点。我们索性也列举“五个要点”来阐明这个问题。

第一,加尔文主义的内涵比五要点要宽广的多。加尔文主义是一个完整的世界观,神是整个世界的创造者和君王,这是加尔文主义的出发点。它把神是创造主、凭己意行万事这一观念贯彻始终。加尔文主义是一种以神为中心的思考方式:生命的各方面都要遵从神之道的教导与掌管。换言之,加尔文主义是一种以神本的视角来解读圣经的神学,这种视角认为神是圣经的中心,无论是地上还是天上的恩典,创造者是万物的源头、意义和归宿。所以,加尔文主义是一神论的(相信这位神是万物的根本)、宗教的(仰赖神为所有恩典的赐予者)、福音性的(凡事都在基督里信靠神),而且都是最纯净、最高度发展的版本。加尔文主义又是一种协调的历史观,它把神所创造的世界中的万事万物都看做是神对其预定旨意的实施——毫无例外,也毫无遗漏。加尔文五要点仅是陈明神是个人的救恩的掌权之君,而加尔文主义的断言则要广阔的多:神在万事万物上都是至高无上的掌权之君!

第二,五要点是以消极论战的形式来表现加尔文主义的救恩论,但加尔文主义本身却是解经式、牧养性和建设性的。即便把所有涉及到阿民念主义的经文丢掉,加尔文主义仍然可以在圣经中得到其应有的地位,它并非是只有在与阿民念主义的抗衡中才有存在的价值。加尔文主义对这些消极方面并没有兴趣,如果争战,他们是在为福音的积极意义而战。五要点否定式的措辞(尤其是第三点)使人误以为加尔文主义者特别热心于限制神的仁慈。但事实上,这种措辞是为了捍卫福音的核心——基督是实实在在施行拯救的救赎主!类似的,对拣选是有条件的和恩典是可以抗拒的这两条的否定是为捍卫神才是施行救恩者这一积极的真理。真正持否定态度的是阿民念主义者,他们否认拣选、救赎和呼召是神的救赎性行动。加尔文主义否定这些否定,是为确保福音的积极内涵,是为坚固门徒信心、造就教会。

第三,把加尔文主义的救恩论分割成五点的形式一定程度上掩盖了加尔文主义在这一课题上的有机性,这本是为了应对多特会议上阿民念主义提出的那五点而已。这五点虽然是分开陈述的,但其实是不可分割的。他们是生死与共的,你要么拒绝全部,要么就一条也不能拒绝,多特会议是这么认为的。其实加尔文主义的救恩论只有一点了:上帝拯救罪人!

上帝——三位一体的耶和华神,圣父、圣子、圣灵;三个位格一起做工,以权能、智慧与仁爱做成一个选民的救恩:圣父拣选、圣子以代赎来成就圣父的旨意、圣灵以持续的更新来实现圣父与圣子的愿望。

拯救——自始至终,凡是涉及到把死在罪中的人带到荣耀的生命之中的全部工作:计划、成就、施行、呼召与保守、称义、成圣、得荣耀。

罪人——正如神所见的,罪恶、邪荡、无助、无能,丝毫不能遵行神的旨意、改变自己的属灵状况。

上帝拯救罪人——把三一真神的协同工作拆乱、让人把自己的认信做为决定性的要素来与神分享救恩的功劳、淡化罪人的无能以至于使他在自己的救恩上可以与自己的救主同得赞美——请不要这样的败坏圣道!

加尔文救恩论所坚持的正是这一点,而各种各样的阿民念主义所一致否认的也同样是这一点:罪人绝对不能自救,从头到尾,完完全全,过去、现在、将来,救恩出于主,荣耀要归给他,直到永远,阿们!

第四,五要点的格式掩盖了加尔文主义与阿民念主义救恩论之间的区别的深刻性。许多人都误以为这格式的重音在形容词部分,也即双方在名词部分是相同的,双方争论的只是形容词部分——双方在拣选、救赎、内在的恩典这些概念上达成了共识,区别仅在于人在其中的位置:拣选是否在于对信心的预见啦;救恩是否是为所有人准备的啦;恩典是否不可抗拒啦。但这完全是误解了!这些形容词的改变总是伴随着名词含义的改变。有条件的拣选、普世的救赎、可以抗拒的恩典,这些并非加尔文主义所说的拣选、救赎、恩典了。问题的关键并非形容词是否恰当,而是这些名词的定义。若不澄清这些定义就无法继续讨论了。

(i.) 神的拣选在阿民念主义者看来是一种使据有某种资质的人群(信基督的)被接纳为儿子并得荣耀的心愿。神以预见来知道谁会自愿相信,而只有具有这样美德的人才能从上述心愿受益。这一拣选并不保证是否有合此资格的人选,神自己并没有单方面决定使任何一个人相信。但加尔文主义所说的拣选却是指从人群之中选择出一些不配得的人来,使他们从罪中得拯救并带入荣耀之中,为此,他们被基督的死所赎回,圣灵以有效的呼召赐予他们信心。阿民念主义者说:“我把蒙拣选归功于自己的信心”,加尔文主义者说:“我把自己的信心归功于蒙拣选”。显然,这两种拣选的观念是相去甚远的。

(ii.) 基督的救赎工作在阿民念的定义中是指除去了一个障碍(对公义的满足),这障碍拦阻着神去饶恕归信的罪人——虽然神渴望这样去做。在他们看来,救赎只是使神能“合法”的去饶恕罪人,但其自身却不能保证是否有人会得到此救恩;因为信心是人自己的工作,而不是来自于各各他的恩典。基督的死提供了运用得救信心的机遇,仅此而已。加尔文主义则把基督的救赎定义为基督真实的站在某些具体的罪人的位置上代替他们承受了罪的刑罚,藉此神与他们和好,他们所欠的刑罚被永远的摧毁了,他们的永生之福是安定在天的。既然这样,神就喜悦赐给他们信心的恩赐,使他们可以为自己所继承的产业而欢呼。这样,各各他不仅是使基督为之而死的人有可能得救而已,它保证了会把他们带入信心、确实得到救恩。十字架施行拯救!阿民念会说:“没有各各他我就不可能得到我的救恩”,而加尔文则说:“在各各他基督为我赢得了救恩”。前者把十字架看成是救恩的必要条件,而后者把十字架看成是获得救恩的真实原因,并把包括信心在内的所有属灵恩赐的源头归于上帝和其儿子在各各他所成就的。显然,这两种救赎观念是不能相容的。

(iii.) 阿民念主义把圣灵的内在恩典定义为“道德上的劝说”,好使他们理解神的真理。他们坚持认为这本身并不保证任何人做出信心的回应。而加尔文主义者的心目中此恩典不仅是开导而已,而是神在人身上所做的重生的工作,“除掉他们的石心,赐给他们一颗肉心,更新他们的意志。用他的大能使他们向善,并有效地把他们带到基督面前。他们的愿意仍然是极其自由的——这是主的恩典所造成的。”之所以说恩典不可抗拒是因为它能摧毁抵抗的意志。阿民念主义者喜欢于说:“我决定信耶稣了”,“我自己决定要做个基督徒了”,加尔文主义者希望把他的归信表达的更有神学内涵——把到底是谁的功劳表达清楚:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off: my heart was free:
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

显然,这两种对恩典的观念是尖锐对抗的。

所以,加尔文主义者认为阿民念主义者所说的拣选、救赎、呼召是一位不施行拯救的神所做的,这如同在它们的圣经原义的心脏插了一刀;阿民念主义者说神拣选相信的人、基督为所有人而死、圣灵对那些接受圣道的人的鼓励,但按照圣经的标准,这如同说神没有拣选任何人、基督没有为任何人而死、圣灵没有使任何人重生。因此争论的核心在于这些圣经用语的含义,这也包括其它一些在救恩论上重要的用语,比如神的爱、恩典之约、以及“拯救”这个词本身。阿民念主义用同样原则来解释这些用语,这原则就是拯救不直接依靠神的任何命令或者工作,而是依靠人独立自主的相信。加尔文主义者坚决认为这个原则是违背圣经且不敬虔的,可以验证,这样的释经歪曲了经文的原意,且在其所波及到的每一处侵蚀着福音。阿民念主义之争正在于这一点。

关于五要点格式的缺陷还有第五点要说。五要点的形式(一系列对阿民念主义的否定)容易使人觉得它是阿民念主义的修正——阿民念主义在自然次序上居于首要地位,加尔文主义是其旁支。即便有人证明这是历史错误,许多人仍会持保留意见——单论两者本身的关系不就是这样吗?许多人认为阿民念主义应该是以最“自然”、公正、朴实的解经所得到的(它与今日的新福音是相契合的),而加尔文主义则是一斧凿而成的产品:其更依赖于对经文的复杂的辱神逻辑而不是经文本身,把经文硬塞入一个不是它们本身所具有的神学体系这剥夺了经文本身明了的意思并破坏了其平衡。对于个别的加尔文主义者这也许是真的吧,但把此作为对加尔文主义的一般性评价则是最远的偏离了真相。没错,阿民念主义是“自然”的——它是堕落的人性对圣经教导的典型的曲解,甚至身处“救恩”之中他们都不能容忍放弃幻想自己是自己命运的主宰和灵魂的船长。这一曲解早在教父时期就以伯拉纠主义和半伯拉纠主义的形式出现了,然后托身于经院神学,17世纪又以各种唯理主义自由派和新式福音教导的形式重现于天主教和新教;无疑,它会一直与我们纠缠下去。只要人堕落的理性保持不变,这种错误的阿民念主义式的思维就会继续是自然的。但从其它意义而言,它是不自然的。事实上,加尔文主义理解圣经的方式才是以经文的自然含义——人本应认为的、无可避免的含义;加尔文主义保守经文实际所述说的;加尔文主义坚持要严肃对待圣经断言:上帝施行拯救,他拯救那些他选择要拯救的人,并且他以恩典来拯救他们而不是靠他们的工作——是为没有人可以自夸,基督是赐给他们的完美救主,他们整个的救恩都是从十字架而来,救赎之工在十字架上已经成就。是加尔文主义把当得的荣耀归给十字架的。当加尔文主义者唱道:

“There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all;
He died the we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good;
That we might go at last to Heaven,
Saved by His precious blood.”

——他是说真的。他不会在这些黑体字的宣告旁边注释说其实神以圣子的死来施行拯救的努力仅仅是无力的愿望而已,这要依靠人的信心才能成就,也就是说,不管神如何努力,都有可能基督死了但却没有一个人得救。加尔文主义坚称十字架显明了神施行拯救的大能,而不是无能。基督并非是为可能的信徒赢得了可能的拯救,不仅是针对任何可能会相信的人的一种得救的可能性而已,而是对他自己的选民的真实的拯救。他的宝血的的确确“拯救了我们全部”;他的自我献祭所预期的效果确实实现了,只是因为十字架就是十字架。它的拯救能力不取决于其上的信心;它的拯救能力如此之大,信心从之而涌出。十字架确保了完全的拯救会临到所有基督为之而死的人。所以,“我断不以别的夸口,只夸我们主耶稣基督的十字架。”

这样加尔文主义救恩论的真实本性就清楚了。它不是人工的牵强之作,也不是过度逻辑的产物。它的核心告白——上帝拯救罪人,基督用自己血赎回我们——是圣经和归信了的心所共同见证的。加尔文主义者就是那些在人面前坦白之信仰正如其在神面前祷告时内心之信仰的基督徒。每时每刻他们所说所想的都是那至高的恩典,正如同每个基督徒为失丧的灵魂祈祷的时候,或者因内里涌起的冲动而不得不敬拜的时候——促使他否定对自己的赞美把救恩的所有荣耀归给他的救主。加尔文主义是写在新人心版上的自然的神学,阿民念主义是一种因堕落而在理性上表现出的罪,它是自然的——正如同所有这类罪都是自然的一样,即使重生之人也是如此。加尔文主义式思维是基督徒的基督徒位份在理性层面上的表现,阿民念主义式思维是其因肉体的堕落而偏离了自己的位份。当教会不被争论、错误的传统所扰乱而是专心于圣经的时候其所传讲的正是加尔文主义;早期教父们对“五要点”教导的见证(有充足的证据可供引用)也正说明了这个问题。

(Owen appends a few on redemption; a much larger collection may be seen in John Gill’s The Cause of God and Truth.)所以,称此救恩论为“加尔文主义”真是太误导人了,它并非是约翰加尔文或多特神学家的特创,而是神所已经启示的真理的一组成部分,也是大公基督教的信仰。数世纪以来,“加尔文主义”成为了“可憎之名”的一员,招惹着偏见反对它。但其本身却正是本于圣经的福音。鉴于这些事实,我们可以正面回答刚开始讨论时提出的问题了。

“欧文所做的不就是捍卫有限代赎这一点吗?”其实不是的。他所做的远不仅这些。严格的讲,欧文著书的目的不是防御性的,而是建设性的。

It is a biblical and theological inquiry; its purpose is simply to make clear what Scripture actually teaches about the central subject of the gospel—the achievement of the Saviour. As its title proclaims, it is “a treatise of the redemption and reconciliation that is in the blood of Christ: with the merit thereof, and the satisfaction wrought thereby.” The question which Owen, like the Dort divines before him, is really concerned to answer is just this: what is the gospel? All agree that it is a proclamation of Christ as Redeemer, but there is a dispute as to the nature and extent of His redeeming work: well, what saith the Scripture? what aim and accomplishment does the Bible assign to the work of Christ? This is what Owen is concerned to elucidate. It is true that he tackles the subject in a directly controversial way, and shapes his book as a polemic against the “spreading persuasion…of a general ransom, to be paid by Christ for all; that he dies to redeem all and every one.” But his work is a systematic expository treatise, not a mere episodic wrangle. Owen treats the controversy as providing the occasion for a full display of the relevant biblical teaching in its own proper order and connection. As in Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the polemics themselves are incidental and of secondary interest; their chief value lies in the way that the author uses them to further his own design and carry forward his own argument.

That argument is essentially very simple. Owen sees that the question which has occasioned his writing—the extent of the atonement—involves the further question of its nature, since if it was offered to save some who will finally perish, then it cannot have been a transaction securing the actual salvation of all for whom it was designed. But, says Owen, this is precisely the kind of transaction that the Bible says it was. The first two books of his treatise are a massive demonstration of the fact that according to Scripture the Redeemer’s death actually saves His people, as it was meant to do. The third book consists of a series of sixteen arguments against the hypothesis of universal redemption, all aimed to show, on the one hand, that Scripture speaks of Christ’s redeeming work as effective, which precludes its having been intended for any who perish, and, on the other, that if its intended extent had been universal, then either all will be saved (which Scripture denies, and the advocates of the “general ransom” do not affirm), or else the Father and the Son have failed to do what they set out to do—“which to assert,” says Owen, “seems to us blasphemously injurious to the wisdom, power and perfection of God, as likewise derogatory to the worth and value of the death of Christ.”

Owen’s arguments ring a series of changes on this dilemma. Finally, in the fourth book, Owen shows with great cogency that the three classes of texts alleged to prove that Christ died for persons who will not be saved (those saying that He died for “the world,” for “all,” and those thought to envisage the perishing of those for whom He died), cannot on sound principles of exegesis be held to teach any such thing; and, further, that the theological inferences by which universal redemption is supposed to be established are really quite fallacious. The true evangelical evaluation of the claim that Christ died for every man, even those who perish, comes through at point after point in Owen’s book. So far from magnifying the love and grace of God, this claim dishonours both it and Him, for it reduces God’s love to an impotent wish and turns the whole economy of “saving” grace, so-called (“saving” is really a misnomer on this view), into a monumental divine failure. Also, so far from magnifying the merit and worth of Christ’s death, it cheapens it, for it makes Christ die in vain. Lastly, so far from affording faith additional encouragement, it destroys the Scriptural ground of assurance altogether, for it denies that the knowledge that Christ died for me (or did or does anything else for me) is a sufficient ground for inferring my eternal salvation; my salvation, on this view, depends not on what Christ did for me, but on what I subsequently do for myself. Thus this view takes from God’s love and Christ’s redemption the glory that Scripture gives them, and introduces the anti-scriptural principle of self-salvation at the point where the Bible explicitly says: “not of works, lest any man should boast.” You cannot have it both ways: an atonement of universal extent is a depreciated atonement. It has lost its saving power; it leaves us to save ourselves. The doctrine of the general ransom must accordingly be rejected, as Owen rejects it, as a grievous mistake. By contrast, however, the doctrine which Owen sets out, as he himself shows, is both biblical and God-honouring. It exalts Christ, for it teaches Christians to glory in His Cross alone, and to draw their hope and assurance only from the death and intercession of their Saviour. It is, in other words, genuinely Evangelical. It is, indeed, the gospel of God and the catholic faith.

It is safe to say that no comparable exposition of the work of redemption as planned and executed by the Triune Jehovah has ever been done since Owen published his. None has been needed. Discussing this work, Andrew Thomson notes how Owen “makes you feel when he has reached the end of his subject, that he has also exhausted it.” That is demonstrably the case here. His interpretation of the texts is sure; his power of theological construction is superb; nothing that needs discussing is omitted, and (so far as the writer can discover) no arguments for or against his position have been used since his day which he has not himself noted and dealt with. One searches his book in vain for the leaps and flights of logic by which Reformed theologians are supposed to establish their positions; all that one finds is solid, painstaking exegesis and a careful following through of biblical ways of thinking. Owen’s work is a constructive, broad-based biblical analysis of the heart of the gospel, and must be taken seriously as such. It may not be written off as a piece of special pleading for a traditional shibboleth, for nobody has a right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness of atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen’s proof that it is part of the uniform biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text. And nobody has done that yet.

“你说要重拾福音,但其实是想让我们成为加尔文主义者吧?”

这个问题所关心的大概不是用词,而是事物本身。大家是否称呼自己为加尔文主义者一点儿也不重要;重要的是应当合于圣经的来理解福音。但是,我们认为,这就意味着要以历史上的加尔文主义者的方式来理解。其它选择就是误解、扭曲它。我们早前说过,现代福音派总体而言已经不再按照原来的方式传讲福音了,直率的讲,新福音既然已经如此的背离了原福音,在我们看来这是对圣经信息的扭曲。现在我们可以清楚看到到底是哪里错了。我们的神学货币贬值了。我们的心智已经习惯了把十字架理解成一种少于赎回的赎罪,而基督则是一位并非施行拯救的救主,神的爱是一种虚弱的情感并不能避免任何人下地狱——除非有其它的帮助,而信心正是神要达此目的所需的帮助。结果,对于圣经见证的福音,我们既不能自由的相信也不能去传讲。我们不能相信它,是因为我们的思想被神人协作说所捕获。我们陷入了阿民念的观念:若信心和不信是需要负责任的行动,则其必然是独立自主的行动;所以我们就不可能去相信我们的得救完全是神的恩典而信心本身也是源于各各他的恩赐之一。相反,在救恩上我们陷入了矛盾之中,一会儿告诉自己说一切都依靠神,下一会儿又告诉自己说这全靠我们自己。这种精神错乱极大地抢夺了救恩的创始成终者应得的荣耀;也极大地剥夺了我们自己的安慰——知道神是能帮助我们的。

当传福音的时候,我们错误的预设使我们所说的与所预想的正相反。我们想宣告基督是救主;但所说出口的却是使救恩成为可能的基督让我们成为自己的救主。是这么回事。我们想扩大神的救赎恩典及基督的救赎能力。所以我们宣称神的救赎之爱是面向每个人类的,基督的死是为拯救每一个人,我们声称这些是衡量神的仁慈的标准。之后,为了避免成为普救论,我们不得不贬低我们刚才所赞美的,解释说,其实最后,神与基督所做过的一切没有一样能拯救我们——除非我们加上一些东西;真正拯救我们的决定性因素是我们自己的信心。我们所说的变成了这样:在我们的帮助下基督拯救了我们;这意味着什么呢?仔细一想,这等同于说在基督的帮助下我们拯救了我们自己。这个过山车也太冲了吧。但是,我们若坚持神的救赎之爱是面向每个人类的和基督的死是为拯救每一个人,而又不太敢公开成为普救论者,除了这过山车,我们真是没有其它选择了。让我们搞清楚我们以这种模式到底做了些什么。我们并没有高举恩典与十字架;我们贬低了它们。我们对救赎的限制远远比加尔文主义的“有限的代赎”更加彻底!加尔文主义至少承认基督的死其本身就拯救了所有其意欲拯救的人,而我们却否认了基督的死本身足够拯救其中的任何一个人。我们奉承不思悔改的罪人,使其确信,悔改归信是他们自己的能力——神掌管不了这一点。我们大概也把信与痛悔改装成了微不足道的版本(“这很简单——只要向神打开你的心。。。”)。 当然了,我们高效的否认了神的主权,摧毁了信仰的基本信条——人总是在上帝的手中。事实上,我们失去失去了极多。我们的教导产生那么少的敬畏与谦卑,公开认信的皈依者是如此的自信而无自知之明,更是缺乏圣经中真悔改所结的善行。大概,这没有什么好奇怪的了。

It is from degenerate faith and preaching of this kind that Owen’s book could set us free. If we listen to him, he will teach us both how to believe the Scripture gospel and how to preach it. For the first: he will lead us to bow down before a sovereign Saviour Who really saves, and to praise Him for a redeeming death which made it certain that all for whom He died will come to glory. It cannot be over-emphasised that we have not seen the full meaning of the Cross till we have seen it as the divines of Dort display it—as the centre of the gospel, flanked on the one hand by total inability and unconditional election, and on the other by irresistible grace and final preservation. For the full meaning of the Cross only appears when the atonement is defined in terms of these four truths. Christ died to save a certain company of helpless sinners upon whom God had set His free saving love. Christ’s death ensured the calling and keeping—the present and final salvation—of all whose sins He bore. That is what Calvary meant, and means. The Cross saved; the Cross saves. This is the heart of true Evangelical faith; as Cowper sang—

“Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more.”

This is the triumphant conviction which underlay the old gospel, as it does the whole New Testament. And this is what Owen will teach us unequivocally to believe.

Then, secondly, Owen could set us free, if we would hear him, to preach the biblical gospel. This assertion may sound paradoxical, for it is often imagined that those who will not preach that Christ died to save every man are left with no gospel at all. On the contrary, however, what they are left with is just the gospel of the New Testament. What does it mean to preach “the gospel of the grace of God”? Owen only touches on this briefly and incidentally, but his comments are full of light. Preaching the gospel, he tells us, is not a matter of telling the congregation that God has set His love on each of them and Christ has died to save each of them, for these assertions, biblically understood, would imply that they will all infallibly be saved, and this cannot be known to be true. The knowledge of being the object of God’s eternal love and Christ’s redeeming death belongs to the individual’s assurance, which in the nature of the case cannot precede faith’s saving exercise; it is to be inferred from the fact that one has believed, not proposed as a reason why one should believe. According to Scripture, preaching the gospel is entirely a matter of proclaiming to men, as truth from God which all are bound to believe and act on, the following four facts:

  (1.) that all men are sinners, and cannot do anything to save themselves;

  (2.) that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is a perfect Saviour for sinners, even the worst;

  (3.) that the Father and the Son have promised that all who know themselves to be sinners and put faith in Christ as Saviour shall be received into favour, and none cast out (which promise is “a certain infallible truth, grounded upon the superabundant sufficiency of the oblation of Christ in itself, for whomsoever [few or more] it be intended”);

  (4.) that God has made repentance and faith a duty, requiring of every man who hears the gospel “a serious full recumbency and rolling of the soul upon Christ in the promise of the gospel, as an all-sufficient Saviour, able to deliver and save to the utmost them that come to God by him; ready, able and willing, through the preciousness of his blood and sufficiency of his ransom, to save every soul that shall freely give up themselves unto him for that end.”

The preacher’s task, in other words, is to display Christ: to explain man’s need of Him, His sufficiency to save, and His offer of Himself in the promises as Saviour to all who truly turn to Him; and to show as fully and plainly as he can how these truths apply to the congregation before him. It is not for him to say, nor for his hearers to ask, for whom Christ died in particular. “There is none called on by the gospel once to enquire after the purpose and intention of God concerning the particular object of the death of Christ, every one being fully assured that his death shall be profitable to them that believe in him and obey him.” After saving faith has been exercised, “it lies on a believer to assure his soul, according as he find the fruit of the death of Christ in him and towards him, of the good-will and eternal love of God to him in sending his Son to die for him in particular”; but not before. The task to which the gospel calls him is simply to exercise faith, which he is both warranted and obliged to do by God’s command and promise.

Some comments on this conception of what preaching the gospel means are in order.

First, we should observe that the old gospel of Owen contains no less full and free an offer of salvation than its modern counterpart. It presents ample grounds of faith (the sufficiency of Christ, and the promise of God), and cogent motives to faith (the sinner’s need, and the Creator’s command, which is also the Redeemer’s invitation). The new gospel gains nothing here by asserting universal redemption. The old gospel, certainly, has no room for the cheap sentimentalising which turns God’s free mercy to sinners into a constitutional soft-heartedness on His part which we can take for granted; nor will it countenance the degrading presentation of Christ as the baffled Saviour, balked in what He hoped to do by human unbelief; nor will it indulge in maudlin appeals to the unconverted to let Christ save them out of pity for His disappointment. The pitiable Saviour and the pathetic God of modern pulpits are unknown to the old gospel. The old gospel tells men that they need God, but not that God needs them (a modern falsehood); it does not exhort them to pity Christ, but announces that Christ has pitied them, though pity was the last thing they deserved. It never loses sight of the Divine majesty and sovereign power of the Christ whom it proclaims, but rejects flatly all representations of Him which would obscure His free omnipotence. Does this mean, however, that the preacher of the old gospel is inhibited or confined in offering Christ to men and inviting them to receive Him? Not at all. In actual fact, just because he recognises that Divine mercy is sovereign and free, he is in a position to make far more of the offer of Christ in his preaching than is the expositor of the new gospel; for this offer is itself a far more wonderful thing on his principles than it can ever be in the eyes of those who regard love to all sinners as a necessity of God’s nature, and therefore a matter of course. To think that the holy Creator, who never needed man for His happiness and might justly have banished our fallen race for ever without mercy, should actually have chosen to redeem some of them! and that His own Son was willing to undergo death and descend into hell to save them! and that now from His throne He should speak to ungodly men as He does in the words of the gospel, urging upon them the command to repent and believe in the form of a compassionate invitation to pity themselves and choose life! These thoughts are the focal points round which the preaching of the old gospel revolves. It is all wonderful, just because none of it can be taken for granted. But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all—the holiest spot in all the holy ground of gospel truth—is the free invitation which “the Lord Christ” (as Owen loves to call Him) issues repeatedly to guilty sinners to come to Him and find rest for their souls. It is the glory of these invitations that it is an omnipotent King who gives them, just as it is a chief part of the glory of the enthroned Christ that He condescends still to utter them. And it is the glory of the gospel ministry that the preacher goes to men as Christ’s ambassador, charged to deliver the King’s invitation personally to every sinner present and to summon them all to turn and live. Owen himself enlarges on this in a passage addressed to the unconverted.

  “Consider the infinite condescension and love of Christ, in his invitations and calls of you to come unto him for life, deliverance, mercy, grace, peace and eternal salvation. Multitudes of these invitations and calls are recorded in the Scripture, and they are all of them filled up with those blessed encouragements which divine wisdom knows to be suited unto lost, convinced sinners…. In the declaration and preaching of them, Jesus Christ yet stands before sinners, calling, inviting, encouraging them to come unto him.

  “This is somewhat of the word which he now speaks unto you: Why will ye die? why will ye perish? why will ye not have compassion on your own souls? Can your hearts endure, or can your hands be strong, in the day of wrath that is approaching?… Look unto me, and be saved; come unto me, and I will ease you of all sins, sorrows, fears, burdens, and give rest unto your souls. Come, I entreat you; lay aside all procrastinations, all delays; put me off no more; eternity lies at the door…do not so hate me as that you will rather perish than accept of deliverance by me.

  “These and the like things doth the Lord Christ continually declare, proclaim, plead and urge upon the souls of sinners…. He doth it in the preaching of the word, as if he were present with you, stood amongst you, and spake personally to every one of you…. He hath appointed the ministers of the gospel to appear before you, and to deal with you in his stead, avowing as his own the invitations which are given you in his name, 2 Cor. v. 19, 20.”

These invitations are universal; Christ addresses them to sinners, as such, and every man, as he believes God to be true, is bound to treat them as God’s words to him personally and to accept the universal assurance which accompanies them, that all who come to Christ will be received. Again, these invitations are real; Christ genuinely offers Himself to all who hear the gospel, and is in truth a perfect Saviour to all who trust Him. The question of the extent of the atonement does not arise in evangelistic preaching; the message to be delivered is simply this—that Christ Jesus, the sovereign Lord, who died for sinners, now invites sinners freely to Himself. God commands all to repent and believe; Christ promises life and peace to all who do so. Furthermore, these invitations are marvellously gracious; men despise and reject them, and are never in any case worthy of them, and yet Christ still issues them. He need not, but He does. “Come unto me…and I will give you rest” remains His word to the world, never cancelled, always to be preached. He whose death has ensured the salvation of all His people is to be proclaimed everywhere as a perfect Saviour, and all men invited and urged to believe on Him, whoever they are, whatever they have been. Upon these three insights the evangelism of the old gospel is based.

It is a very ill-informed supposition that evangelistic preaching which proceeds on these principles must be anaemic and half-hearted by comparison with what Arminians can do. Those who study the printed sermons of worthy expositors of the old gospel, such as Bunyan (whose preaching Owen himself much admired), or Whitefield, or Spurgeon, will find that in fact they hold forth the Saviour and summon sinners to Him with a fulness, warmth, intensity and moving force unmatched in Protestant pulpit literature. And it will be found on analysis that the very thing which gave their preaching its unique power to overwhelm their audiences with broken-hearted joy at the riches of God’s grace-and still gives it that power, let it be said, even with hard-boiled modern readers—was their insistence on the fact that grace is free. They knew that the dimensions of Divine love are not half understood till one realises that God need not have chosen to save nor given his Son to die; nor need Christ have taken upon him vicarious damnation to redeem men, nor need He invite sinners indiscriminately to Himself as He does; but that all God’s gracious dealings spring entirely from His own free purpose. Knowing this, they stressed it, and it is this stress that sets their evangelistic preaching in a class by itself. Other Evangelicals, possessed of a more superficial and less adequate theology of grace, have laid the main emphasis in their gospel preaching on the sinner’s need of forgiveness, or peace, or power, and of the way to get them by “deciding for Christ.” It is not to be denied that their preaching has done good (for God will use His truth, even when imperfectly held and mixed with error), although this type of evangelism is always open to the criticism of being too man-centred and pietistic; but it has been left (necessarily) to Calvinists and those who, like the Wesleys, fall into Calvinistic ways of thought as soon as they begin a sermon to the unconverted, to preach the gospel in a way which highlights above everything else the free love, willing condescension, patient long-suffering and infinite kindness of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, without doubt, this is the most Scriptural and edifying way to preach it; for gospel invitations to sinners never honour God and exalt Christ more, nor are more powerful to awaken and confirm faith, than when full weight is laid on the free omnipotence of the mercy from which they flow. It looks, indeed, as if the preachers of the old gospel are the only people whose position allows them to do justice to the revelation of Divine goodness in the free offer of Christ to sinners.

Then, in the second place, the old gospel safeguards values which the new gospel loses. 我们先前说过,新福音既然坚持普世的代赎和神实施普世拯救的愿望,这就否认了圣父与圣子在救恩上是大能的掌权之君,而这就使它把恩典与十字架贬值了;因为他使我们相信,神已经做完了其所能做、所愿做的一切,而每个人自己的抉择最终决定了神拯救一个人的心愿是否能够成真。这种观点带来两个不好的后果。首先,它迫使我们误解我们所传讲的基督慷慨的福音邀请的意义;因为现在我们必须这样来解读,不是一位大能的掌权之君的柔和忍耐,而是源自无能欲望的可怜请求;宝座上的君王突然变成了一个虚弱、无用的角色,凄凄惨惨地轻拍那扇他无法进入的心门。这是对新约的基督的一种可耻的侮辱。第二点后果也同样严重:这种观点事实上否认了在重大问题的决策上我们应当信赖神,它使我们脱离了他的手,告诉我们自己才是自己命运的主人、灵魂的船长——正如同罪所一贯教导我们的,而这就破坏了人与其创造者之间的宗教关系的基础。新福音的归信者往往是既不敬畏又不虔诚,这一点儿也不奇怪,因为这正是其教导的自然趋向。然而,原福音所教导的是非常不同的,趋向也是非常不同的。On the one hand, in expounding man’s need of Christ, it stresses something which the new gospel effectively ignores—that sinners cannot obey the gospel, any more than the law, without renewal of heart. On the other hand, in declaring Christ’s power to save, it proclaims Him as the author and chief agent of conversion, coming by His Spirit as the gospel goes forth to renew men’s hearts and draw them to Himself. Accordingly, in applying the message, the old gospel, while stressing that faith is man’s duty, stresses also that faith is not in man’s power, but that God must give what He commands. It announces, not merely that men must come to Christ for salvation, but also that they cannot come unless Christ Himself draws them. Thus it labours to overthrow self-confidence, to convince sinners that their salvation is altogether out of their hands, and to shut them up to a self-despairing dependence on the glorious grace of a sovereign Saviour, not only for their righteousness but for their faith too.

It is not likely, therefore, that a preacher of the old gospel will be happy to express the application of it in the form of a demand to “decide for Christ,” as the current phrase is. For, on the one hand, this phrase carries the wrong associations. It suggests voting a person into office—an act in which the candidate plays no part beyond offering himself for election, and everything then being settled by the voter’s independent choice. But we do not vote God’s Son into office as our Saviour, nor does He remain passive while preachers campaign on His behalf, whipping up support for His cause. We ought not to think of evangelism as a kind of electioneering. And then, on the other hand, this phrase obscures the very thing that is essential in repentance and faith—the denying of self in a personal approach to Christ. It is not at all obvious that deciding for Christ is the same as coming to Him and resting on Him and turning from sin and self-effort; it sounds like something much less, and is accordingly calculated to instil defective notions of what the gospel really requires of sinners. It is not a very apt phrase from any point of view.

To the question: what must I do to be saved? the old gospel replies: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. To the further question: what does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? its reply is: it means knowing oneself to be a sinner, and Christ to have died for sinners; abandoning all self-righteousness and self-confidence, and casting oneself wholly upon Him for pardon and peace; and exchanging one’s natural enmity and rebellion against God for a spirit of grateful submission to the will of Christ through the renewing of one’s heart by the Holy Ghost. And to the further question still: how am I to go about believing on Christ and repenting, if I have no natural ability to do these things? it answers: look to Christ, speak to Christ, cry to Christ, just as you are; confess your sin, your impenitence, your unbelief, and cast yourself on His mercy; ask Him to give you a new heart, working in you true repentance and firm faith; ask Him to take away your evil heart of unbelief and to write His law within you, that you may never henceforth stray from Him. Turn to Him and trust Him as best you can, and pray for grace to turn and trust more thoroughly; use the means of grace expectantly, looking to Christ to draw near to you as you seek to draw near to Him; watch, pray, read and hear God’s Word, worship and commune with God’s people, and so continue till you know in yourself beyond doubt that you are indeed a changed being, a penitent believer, and the new heart which you desired has been put within you. The emphasis in this advice is on the need to call upon Christ directly, as the very first step.

“Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him”

—so do not postpone action till you think you are better, but honestly confess your badness and give yourself up here and now to the Christ who alone can make you better; and wait on Him till His light rises in your soul, as Scripture promises that it shall do. Anything less than this direct dealing with Christ is disobedience of the gospel. Such is the exercise of spirit to which the old evangel summons its hearers. “I believe—help thou mine unbelief”: this must become their cry.

And the old gospel is proclaimed in the sure confidence that the Christ of whom it testifies, the Christ who is the real speaker when the Scriptural invitations to trust Him are expounded and applied, is not passively waiting for man’s decision as the word goes forth, but is omnipotently active, working with and through the word to bring His people to faith in Himself. The preaching of the new gospel is often described as the task of “bringing men to Christ” if only men move, while Christ stands still. But the task of preaching the old gospel could more properly be described as bringing Christ to men, for those who preach it know that as they do their work of setting Christ before men’s eyes, the mighty Saviour whom they proclaim is busy doing His work through their words, visiting sinners with salvation, awakening them to faith, drawing them in mercy to Himself.

It is this older gospel which Owen will teach us to preach: the gospel of the sovereign grace of God in Christ as the author and finisher of faith and salvation. It is the only gospel which can be preached on Owen’s principles, but those who have tasted its sweetness will not in any case be found looking for another. In the matter of believing and preaching the gospel, as in other things, Jeremiah’s words still have their application: “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” To find ourselves debarred, as Owen would debar us, from taking up with the fashionable modern substitute gospel may not, after all, be a bad thing, either for us, or for the Church.

More might be said, but to go further would be to exceed the limits of an introductory essay. The foregoing remarks are made simply to show how important it is at the present time that we should attend most carefully to Owen’s analysis of what the Bible says about the saving work of Christ.
III.

It only remains to add a few remarks about this treatise itself. It was Owen’s second major work, and his first masterpiece. (Its predecessor, A Display of Arminianism, published in 1642, when Owen was twenty-six, was a competent piece of prentice-work, rather of the nature of a research thesis.)

The Death of Death is a solid book, made up of detailed exposition and close argument, and requires hard study, as Owen fully realised; a cursory glance will not yield much. (“READER…. If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again—thou has had thy entertainment; farewell!”) Owen felt, however, that he had a right to ask for hard study, for his book was a product of hard work (“a more than seven-years’ serious inquiry…into the mind of God about these things, with a serious perusal of all which I could attain that the wit of man, in former or latter days, hath published in opposition to the truth”), and he was sure in his own mind that a certain finality attached to what he had written. (“Altogether hopeless of success I am not; but fully resolved that I shall not live to see a solid answer given unto it.”) Time has justified his optimism.

Something should be said about his opponents. He is writing against three variations on the theme of universal redemption: that of classical Arminianism, noted earlier; that of the theological faculty at Saumur (the position known as Amyraldism, after its leading exponent); and that of Thomas More, a lay theologian of East Anglia. The second of these views originated with a Scots professor at Saumur, John Cameron; it was taken up and developed by two of his pupils, Amyraut (Amyraldus) and Testard, and became the occasion of a prolonged controversy in which Amyraut, Daillé and Blondel were opposed by Rivet, Spanheim and Des Marets (Maresius). The Saumur position won some support among Reformed divines in Britain, being held in modified form by (among others) Bishops Usher and Davenant, and Richard Baxter. None of these, however, had advocated it in print at the time when Owen wrote.

Goold’s summary of the Saumur position may be quoted. “Admitting that, by the purpose of God, and through the death of Christ, the elect are infallibly secured in the enjoyment of salvation, they contended for an antecedent decree, by which God is free to give salvation to all men through Christ, on the condition that they believe on him. Hence their system was termed hypothetic[al] universalism. The vital difference between it and the strict Arminian theory lies in the absolute security asserted in the former for the spiritual recovery of the elect. They agree, however, in attributing some kind of universality to the atonement, and in maintaining that, on a certain condition, within the reach of fulfilment by all men…all men have access to the benefits of Christ’s death.” From this, Goold continues, “the readers of Owen will understand…why he dwells with peculiar keenness and reiteration of statement upon a refutation of the conditional system…. It was plausible; it had many learned men for its advocates; it had obtained currency in the foreign churches; and it seems to have been embraced by More.”

More is described by Thomas Edwards as “a great Sectary, that did much hurt in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire; who was famous also in Boston, (King’s) Lynn, and even in Holland, and was followed from place to place by many.” Baxter’s description is kinder: “a Weaver of Wisbitch and Lyn, of excellent Parts.” (More’s doctrine of redemption, of course, was substantially Baxter’s own.) Owen, however, has a poor view of his abilities, and makes no secret of the fact. More’s book, The Universality of God’s Free Grace in Christ to Mankind, appeared in 1646 (not, as Goold says, 1643), and must have exercised a considerable influence, for within three years it had evoked four weighty works which were in whole or part polemics against it: A Refutation…of Thomas More, by Thomas Whitfield, 1646; Vindiciae Redemptionis, by John Stalham, 1647; The Universalist Examined and Convicted, by Obadiah Howe, 1648; and Owen’s own book, published in the same year.

More’s exposition seems to be of little intrinsic importance; Owen, however, selects it as the fullest statement of the case for universal redemption that had yet appeared in English and uses it unmercifully as a chopping-block. The modern reader, however, will probably find it convenient to skip the sections devoted to refuting More (I. viii., the closing pages of II. iii. and IV. vi.) on his first passage through Owen’s treatise.

Finally, a word about the style of this work. There is no denying that Owen is heavy and hard to read. This is not so much due to obscure arrangement as to two other factors. The first is his lumbering literary gait. “Owen travels through it (his subject) with the elephant’s grace and solid step, if sometimes also with his ungainly motion.” says Thomson. That puts it kindly. Much of Owen’s prose reads like a roughly-dashed-off translation of a piece of thinking done in Ciceronian Latin. It has, no doubt, a certain clumsy dignity; so has Stonehenge; but it is trying to the reader to have to go over sentences two or three times to see their meaning, and this necessity makes it much harder to follow an argument. The present writer, however, has found that the hard places in Owen usually come out as soon as one reads them aloud. The second obscuring factor is Owen’s austerity as an expositor. He has a lordly disdain for broad introductions which ease the mind gently into a subject, and for comprehensive summaries which gather up scattered points into a small space. He obviously carries the whole of his design in his head, and expects his readers to do the same. Nor are his chapter divisions reliable pointers to the structure of his discourse, for though a change of subject is usually marked by a chapter division, Owen often starts a new chapter where there is no break in the thought at all. Nor is he concerned about literary proportions; the space given to a topic is determined by its intrinsic complexity rather than its relative importance, and the reader is left to work out what is basic and what is secondary by noting how things link together. The reader will probably find it helpful to use a pencil and paper in his study of the book and jot down the progress of the exposition; and it is hoped that the subjoined Analysis will also be of service in helping him keep his bearings.

We would conclude by repeating that the reward to be reaped from studying Owen is worth all the labour involved, and by making the following observations for the student’s guidance. (1.) It is important to start with the epistle “To the Reader,” for there Owen indicates in short compass what he is trying to do, and why. (2.) It is important to read the treatise as a whole, in the order in which it stands, and not to jump into parts III. and IV. before mastering the contents of Parts I. and II., where the biblical foundations of Owen’s whole position are laid. (3.) It is hardly possible to grasp the strength and cogency of this massive statement on a first reading. The work must be read and re-read to be appreciated.