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Prefatory note.

This work is devoted to a refutation of the doctrine that sin could be pardoned by a mere volition on the part of God, without any satisfaction to his justice; or, to state the question in the abstract form which it chiefly assumes in the reasonings of Owen, that justice is not a natural attribute of the divine nature, but so much an act of the divine will, that God is free to punish or to refrain from punishing sin. Owen clearly saw that if such a doctrine were entertained, there could be no evidence for the necessity of the atonement, and a stronghold would be surrendered to the Socinian heresy. He was the more induced to engage in the refutation of it, as it was maintained by some divines of eminent worth and ability. Calvin has been cited in its favour; and Owen, without naming him, refers to the only passage in his writings which, so far as we are aware, conveys the obnoxious sentiment, when in the second chapter he speaks of the learned men who, along with Augustine, and amongst orthodox divines, held the view in question. The passage occurs in his commentary on John xv. 13:— “Poterat nos Deus verbo aut nutu redimere, nisi aliter nostrâ causâ visum esset, ut proprio et unigenito Filio non parcens, testatum faceret in ejus personâ quantam habeat salutis nostræ curam.” An isolated phrase, however, when the question was not specially under his review, is scarcely sufficient basis from which to infer that Calvin held the possibility of sin being forgiven without an atonement; and other parts of his works might be quoted, in which he speaks of the death of Christ as a satisfaction to divine justice, in such terms as almost to preclude the theory for which the sanction of his name has been pleaded. Dr William Twisse, the learned prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly, published in 1632 a large work, now almost fallen into oblivion, but which passed through several editions, and was justly held in high esteem, “Vindiciæ Gratiæ. Potestatis, ac Providentiæ Divinæ.” In the midst of his discussions he inserts several digressions on special topics; and the eighth digression contains an argument to prove that God punishes sin, not by any necessity of nature, or under the promptings of justice, as essential to the perfection of his character, but simply in virtue of a decree, originating in a free act of his will, and regulating, in this subordinate sense, all his procedure towards our race. He was followed by Rutherford in his “Disputatio Scholastica de Divinâ Providentiâ,” 1649; and in his work on “Christ Dying, and Drawing Sinners,” etc. One extract from the latter gives a plausible and condensed statement of the whole theory:— “If we speak of God’s absolute power without respect to his free decree, he could have pardoned sin without a ransom, and gifted all mankind and fallen angels with heaven without any satisfaction of either the sinner or his surety; for he neither punisheth sin, nor tenders heaven to men or angels, by necessity of nature, — as the fire casteth out heat, and the sun light, — but freely.”

Owen, in one of the public disputations at Oxford, had asserted that the exercise of divine justice was necessary and absolute in the punishment of sin. Though his arguments were directed against Socinians, some divines in the university, it was found, held a different opinion from our author on this particular point, and, in full explanation of his views, in 1653 he published his Diatriba. “It is almost entirely,” says Mr Orme, “of a scholastic nature discovering, indeed, much acuteness, and a profound acquaintance with the subject, but not likely now to be read with much interest.” We concur in this criticism, but must take exception to the last remark. The work, in our judgment, at least deserves to be read with interest, as the conclusive settlement of a question of vital moment, one of the most vigorous productions of Owen’s intellect, a specimen of controversy conducted in the best spirit, and displaying powers of thought which remind us of the massive theology of Edwards, while rich in the stores of a learning to which the great American could not lay claim. In the first part of it. Owen proves that “sin-punishing justice is natural, and its exercise necessary to God,” by four leading arguments, — 1. The statements of Holy Writ; 2. The consent of mankind; 3. The course of Providence; and, lastly, The attributes of God as revealed in the cross of Christ. Various subsidiary arguments of considerable importance follow. The second part refutes in succession the opposing arguments of the Socinians, Twisse, and Rutherford

Thomas Gilbert, so great an admirer of Owen that he was employed to write his epitaph, nevertheless combated the views maintained in the Diatriba, in a work entitled, “Vindiciæ Supremi Dei Domini (cum Deo) Initæ,” etc., 1665. Baxter, in a brief premonition to his treatise against infidelity, dissented from the doctrine of Owen on this subject.

The Diatriba was published in Latin. We have compared Mr Hamilton’s translation of it, which appeared in 1794, with the original, and have been constrained to make some serious changes on it, which we cannot but deem improvements. The title, page is more exactly and fully-rendered; a translation of the dedication to Cromwell is for the first time, inserted; passages which had been placed at the foot of the page are restored to their proper place in the body of the text; several passages altogether omitted are now supplied; minor errors have been corrected: and where the change was so extensive as to interfere with the translator’s responsibilities, we have appended a different rendering in a note. — Ed.

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