John Davenant (1572–1641) on the Death of Christ

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in For Whom did Christ Die?

[Note: Davenant was the leader of the English delegation to Dort. For a brief comment on Davenant’s Dortian orthodoxy, see Richard Muller’s comments here and here.]



Unlimited Expiation:

1) That the Apostle here lays down what be calls reconciliation procured from God through the mediation of Christ, as a common benefit for the whole world. And indeed to haw reconciled the world generally can mean nothing else than to have ordained and granted to the world that universal remedy or propitiatory sacrifice of the death of Christ, which is applicable to all. Secondly, It is proper to observe, in what sense God is said actually to have reconciled the world to himself by the merit of the offering of Christ, namely, because the sacrifice of Christ being made, he will not impute their trespasses unto them; that is, He will not require from any man that he should make satisfaction for his own sins, that being impossible; nor, further, will he punish any one for his sins who shall make use of this propitiatory sacrifice. And lastly, it is to be remarked, that this reconciliation, this not imputing of sins, of which the Apostle speaks, is considered as performed on the part of God and Christ, as soon as Christ is understood to have laid down his life for the sins of the world. But on the part of sinful men there remains the Ministry of the Gospel, by which it is made known to men; there remains that the Gospel should be believed, before men are brought as it were into the actual possession of this grace. Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 347-348.

2) He who by undergoing death by the ordination of God sustained the punishment due not only to the sins of certain individual persons, but of the whole human race; His passion, by virtue of the same ordination, is applicable not only to certain definite persons, but to every individual of the human race. But Christ by dying sustained the punishment due to the sins of the world: Therefore, he willed that his death should be, as it were, an universal cause of salvation applicable to all. He who denies the major, is bound to shew why God willed that his Son should bear the sins of the human race, if he was unwilling to appoint in his death a cause at least applicable to the human race, although the application world not follow in many. Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 354.

3) Now let us descend to the minor, in which it is affirmed, that Christ sustained the punishment due to the sins of the human race. Thus the Scriptures speak, All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity, of us all. Isaiah liii. 6. Thus the Fathers speak, The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is the ransom of the whole world, from which they are excluded, who, either being delighted with their captivity are unwilling to be redeemed, or after redemption have rerurned to the same slavery. Prosper ad Capit. Gallor. sent. super. 9. Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 355.

4) The last argument is taken from a comparison of the twofold covenant, and according to it, of a twofold ordination of men to salvation. As, therefore, in the covenant of nature, that is, the agreement with Adam at the time of creation, salvation was procurable by Adam and all his posterity under the condition of obedience to be paid to the law of nature, and to the express commandment of God; so in the covenant of grace, which was confirmed by the blood of the Mediator, salvation is also understood to be procurable for all men under the condition published in the Gospel, that is, of faith in this Mediator, who hath made satisfaction for the sins of the human race. Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 364.

5) As therefore God, by that more extensive providence, is understood to have provided many bodily remedies applicable to the removing of certain bodily diseases from any persons, which nevertheless he hath not determined to be infallibly applied to any particular individuals; so also we affirm that God of his love to man, and that more common providence, hath provided and ordained the blood of his Son as a remedy applicable to the expiation of the sins of mankind in general, although he hath not determined from his individual predestination to have it applied to all men individually. But for what purpose is that ordained as applicable to all men, which is not intended to be infallibly applied to all? I answer, that from hence the good-will, mercy, and justice of God may appear more conspicuous, whilst that remedy which, from the ordination of God, is applicable to every one for salvation is applied nevertheless only to certain persons, to whom God shews his compassion in a special manner; it is not applied to others, although God promises it and sets it before them, through their own wickedness. Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 370.

6) As to the major proposition, we think its consequence may be safely conceded. For the orthodox Fathers  boldly assert that Christ made satisfaction for the sins of the human-race or of all mankind. Thus Eusebius,  (Evang. Demonstr. lib. x. in the preface) “It was needful that the Lamb of God should be offered as a sacrifice for the other lambs whose nature he assumed, even for the whole human race. “Thus Nazianzen (Orat. 2. in Pasch.) “The sacrifice of Christ is an imperishable expiation of the whole world. ” Thus, finally (omitting others), Cyril (Catech. 13.), He redeemed the whole world of mankind. Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 374-375.

7) Nor ought this to appear unsound, since this universal redemption, satisfaction, or expiation performed by the death of Christ, brings nothing more than an universal cause of salvation to be confirmed and granted to the human race by the Divine ordination; the benefit of which every individual may enjoy through the faith required by the Gospel. We therefore call Christ the Redeemer of the world, and teach that he made satisfaction for the sins not of some, but of the whole world, not because that on account of the payment of this price for the sins of the human race, all mankind individually are to be immediately delivered from captivity and death, but because by virtue of the payment of this price, all men individually may and ought to be delivered from death, and, in fact, are to be delivered according to the tenor of the evangelical covenant, that is, if they repent and believe in this Redeemer. To what is further urged, That it is contrary to justice to receive satisfaction or a ransom for the sins of the whole human race, and yet not to deliver them all from the punishment of their sins but, notwithstanding this satisfaction, to adjudge many to eternal torments; I answer, That this would indeed be most unjust, if we of ourselves had paid this price to God, or if our Surety, Jesus Christ, had so offered to God his blood as a satisfactory price. that without any other intervening condition, all men should be immediately absolved through the offering of the oblation made by him; or, finally, if God himself had covenanted with Christ when he died, that he would give faith to every individual, and all those other things which regard the infallible application of this sacrifice which was offered up for the human race. But since God himself of his own accord provided that this price should be paid to himself, it was in his own power to annex conditions, which being performed, this death should be advantageous to any man, not being performed it should not profit any man. Therefore no injustice is done to those persons who are punished by God after the ransom was accepted for the sins of the human race, because they offered nothing to God as a satisfaction for their sins, nor performed that condition, without the performance of which God willed not that this satisfactory price should benefit any individual. Nor, moreover, ought this to be thought an injustice to Christ the Mediator. For he so was willing to die for all, and to pay to the Father the price of redemption for all, that at the same time he willed not that every individual in any way whatsoever, but that all, as soon as they believed in him, should be absolved from the guilt of their sins. Lastly, Christ, in offering himself in sacrifice to God the Father in order to expiate the sine of the world, nevertheless submitted to the good pleasure of the Father the free distribution and application of his merits, neither was any agreement entered into between the Father and the Son, by which God is bound to effect that this death of Christ, which, from the ordination of God, ie applicable to all under the condition of faith, should become applied to all by the gift of faith. We ought not, therefore, to deny that the offering of Christ once made is a perfect satisfaction for the sins, not of some men only, but of all; yet so that he who is simply said to have died for all, promises remission of sin through his death and salvation conditionally, and will perform it to those alone who believe. We will illustrate all these things by a similitude; Suppose that a number of men were cast into prison by a certain King on account of a great debt, or that they were condemned to suffer death for high treason; but that the King himself procured that his own Son should discharge this debt to the last farthing; or should substitute himself  as guilty in the room of those traitors, and should suffer the punishment due to them all, this condition being at the same time promulgated both by the King and his Son, That none should be absolved or liberated except those only who should acknowledge the King’s Son for their Lord and serve him  These things being so determined, I inquire, if those who persist in disobedience and rebellion against the King’s Son should not be delivered, would any charge of injustice be incurred, because after this ransom bad been paid, their own debts should be exacted from many, or after the punishment endured by the Son, these Rebels should nevertheless be punished? By no means; because the payment of the just price, and the enduring of the punishment was ordained to procure remission for every one under the condition of obedience, and not otherwise. I shall add no more ; it will be easy to accommodate all these things to our present purpose. Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 375.

8) Now, on the other hand, we do not maintain that faith is destined for or given to all, because the same holy Scripture, which proposes the death of Christ as a benefit vouchsafed to all and applicable to every one through faith, does not make this faith; a benefit promised or given to all, but derived from the peculiar decree of election. In addition to these things, the Mediator himself, who offered himself for a sacrifice to God to expiate the sins of the world, (Acts iii; 19 et seq.) obtained from God that all those individuals who should believe in him, should be absolved from their sins, and so far was willing to pay this ransom for all: but he did not apply to all the merit of his death, nor obtained from God that all should infallibly partake of faith and salvation. And here the secret of election discovers itself, which ought not to overturn or weaken the universality of the oblation, or the troth of the promise of the Gospel. Davenant, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 383.

9) Through blood.] He points at Christ’s bloody death: not that the previous acts and sufferings of Christ did nothing to merit human salvation ; but that by pouring out his blood, i.e. in death, there was a completion of satisfaction. “Although,” as Aquinas truly says, “any one act of Christ was meritorious in our behalf yet to make satisfaction for the guilt of human nature which was under the bond of death, it was necessary that Christ should sustain death;” Quaest. disput. de grat. Christi, art. 7. But we are redeemed by this blood, or by this death, of Christ, inasmuch as it expiated the wrath of God, inasmuch as it dissipated the power of the devil.

Christ averted the wrath of God from us, by undergoing the penalties due to it, that he might liberate us from our debts. “He without any evil deserts” (says Augustine) “underwent punishment, that we without any that were good might obtain grace.” And the Apostle, Gal. iii. 13, affirms, Christ was made a curse for us, that he might redeem us from the curse.

Here therefore we must observe, that although the devil held us captives, yet the price of our redemption, that is to say, the blood of Christ, was offered as a satisfaction to God, not to the devil: therefore it rested with God either to condemn or to absolve: and God being reconciled, and sin remitted, the power of the devil immediately vanished. And God is abundantly satisfied in the death of Christ for the sins of the whole world, because the death of Christ was the death of God; the blood of Christ, the blood of God: Therefore from the infinite dignity of his person, the price of his blood and his flesh which he offered for us was infinite. So Cyril, De recta fide ad Regin. lib. 2, If God incarnate and suffering in his own person he understood, every creature is trifling in comparison of him, and the death of his one body suffices for the redemption of the world.

Thus, then, satisfaction has been made to God and our sins expiated. Now we must shew how the shedding of the blood of Christ, not only hath reconciled God to us, but also utterly destroyed the power of the devil: for from him-hath this bloody death of Christ delivered us.   John Davenant, An Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 1:167-168. [Italics original, some reformatting, underlining mine.]

Unlimited Redemption:

The Father sent the Son to redeem the world:

1) But here it is proper to advise by the way. That when we assert that Christ our Lord is to be extolled in hymns, we do not exclude the Father or the Holy Spirit, nay, we call them into a participation of the same honor: for he who extols Christ the Redeemer, at the same time extols both the Father, who sent him to redeem the world; and the Holy Spirit, who renders this redemption efficacious to all the elect and believers. John Davenant, An Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 2:143. [Italics original, some reformatting, underlining mine.]

World redeemed:

1) Object 4.

Christ came to take away the sin of the world; God either did or might have satisfied his wronged justice in the blood of the Covenant for all mankind, and have opened the way of salvation unto every man.


Christ by shedding his blood redeemed the world of mankind, satisfied God’s justice, and obtained a way of salvation for every man: But God never intended that the outward act should presently put every man in possession of pardon or of a state of justification and salvation. But the way which he opened for everyone of us to partake the fruit of our redemption and of his plenary satisfaction, is by repentance and faith to come and lay hold of the Redeemer. The decrees of Election and Non-election are not obstacles unto the doing of this, or exception against any man which shall do this, and therefore they may stand in their full force though this last consideration of his [that is, the objector] be admitted. John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 233. [Some spelling modernized.]

2) In whom we have redemption.] These words are connected with the last in the former verse: In whom, viz. in his beloved Son. Here, therefore, it is proper to consider the person of the Redeemer.

Christ the Son of God, the God-man, is our Redeemer. This work required God, that he might overcome death: and man that he might die for us. As God, by right of property he undertook this work of redeeming his creatures; as man, by right of relationship he undertook to redeem his brethren.

To accomplish this work of redemption, not the Divinity alone, not the humanity alone was necessary; no, not an angelic nature; but the Soil of God alone; who, as the Apostle says, Phil. ii. “when he was in the form of God, made himself of reputation: and took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Whence also that declaration that “the Church was purchased with the blood of God,” Acts xx. 28. Well spake Augustine, that which mediates between divinity alone, and humanity alone, is the human divine nature, and the divine human nature.” Nor was it ill said by Aquinas, The humanity of Christ is the instrument, the divinity is the chief agent in fulfilling the work of our salvation,” Quaest. disp. de verb. Art. 5.

From this consideration of the person who redeems us, we may observe the infinite guilt of sin; agreeable to that remark of Bernard, “Acknowledge, O man, how grievous are those wounds for which it is needful the Son of God should be wounded.” This ought to strike us with horror and detestation of sin.

It demonstrates also the infinite love of God towards the human race, who willingly sent his own Son to redeem miserable mortals. Let this inflame us with reciprocal love; let this excite us to every kind of obedience.

It must also be observed, that the Apostle does not say we have redemption by the Son of God, but in him. For by Christ the whole world is said to be redeemed, inasmuch as he offered and gave a sufficient ransom for all; but in him the elect and faithful alone have effectual redemption, because they alone are in him.

Hence we learn that no one has, or can have, any fruit of the redemption procured by Christ, unless he be in Christ. But we are engrafted in Christ through faith by the Holy Spirit. Therefore salvation is not derived to us unless from Christ our Head; for when he becomes our Head, and we his members, then we are in him, then his saving virtue extends to us; but not before: For he is the Savior oh his body, Ephes. v. 23.  John Davenant, An Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 1:163-164. [Italics original, some reformatting, underlining mine.]

Ransom paid for all:

1) Christ therefore so dyed for all, that all and every one by the meanes of faith might obtaine remission of sins, and eternall life by vertue of that ransome paid once for all mankinde. But Christ so dyed for the elect, that by the merit of his death in speciall manner destinated unto them according to the eternall good pleasure of God, they might infallibly obtaine both faith and eternall life. Source: George Carleton, The Suffrage of the Divines of Great Britaine, Concerning the Five Articles Controverted in the Law Countries, (London: Robert Milbounre, 1629), 47-48. [Note this work was compiled first by Carleton and then signed by all the English Delegates to Dort, Davenant included.

Christ died for all:

1) The Remonstrants dare not promise salvation unto any persons reprobated, according to their decree founded upon prevision of their final infidelity and impenitency, but under these conditions, si crediderint & paexituerint: We assure them of salvation under the same conditions, notwithstanding the absolute decree of their Non-election. The Remonstrants cannot assign any grace or gracious operation of the Spirit of God which may stand truly with that decree of eternal Reprobation which they admit, and will not stand with that which we admit. It is therefore as true that Christ died for all men according to our doctrine of Predestination and Reprobation as according unto theirs. John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 259-260. [Some spelling modernized.]

[to be continued]

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