What common opinion and the innate conceptions of all assign to God, that is natural to God; but this corrective justice is so assigned to God: therefore, this justice is natural to God.
He continues: But nobody, even by report, hath heard that there exist any who have acknowledged the being of a God, and who have not, at the same time, declared him to be just, to be displeased with sinners and sin, and that it is the duty of mankind to propitiate him if they would enjoy his favour (ch. III).
Furthermore, Owen argues that mankind has universally agreed that one way to propitiate the god(s) is through offering sacrifices. But as mankind have testified this consent by other methods, so they have especially done it by sacrifices; concerning which Pliny says, "That all the world have agreed in them, although enemies or strangers to one another" (ch. III).
Owen holds that this universal belief in the necessity of a sacrifice to appease the deity can only be explained as a result of divine revelation. He writes:
But since these are plainly of a divine origin, and instituted to prefigure, so to speak, the true atonement by the blood of Christ, in which he hath been the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, -- that is, from the promise made of the seed of the woman, and from the sacrifice of Abel which followed, -- the use of them descended to all the posterity of Adam: therefore, though afterward the whole plan and purpose of the institution was lost among by far the greatest part of mankind, and even the true God himself, to whom alone they were due, was unknown, and though no traces of the thing signified, -- namely, the promised seed, -- remained, yet still the thing itself, and the general notion of appeasing the Deity by sacrifices, hath survived all the darkness, impieties, dreadful wickedness, punishments, migrations of nations, downfalls and destructions of cities, states, and people, in which the world for these many ages hath been involved; for a consciousness of sin, and a sense of divine and avenging justice, have taken deeper root in the heart of man than that they can by any means be eradicated (ch. III).
Owen then goes on to detail many examples of human sacrifices among the Pagans as well as among the Jews (he considers Jepthah an example). He believes that this practice of human sacrifice was a perversion instigated and motivated by the devil. He believes it may be traceable to a misunderstanding of Yahweh's command to Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice.
The fame of this transaction, no doubt, was spread in ancient times over many of the eastern nations. But that those who were altogether ignorant of the communion and friendship which Abraham cultivated with the Lord, and yet were convinced in their consciences that a more noble sacrifice than all cattle, and a more precious victim, was necessary to be offered to God (for if this persuasion had not been deeply impressed on their minds, the devil could not have induced them to that dreadful worship), assumed the courage of practising the same thing from that event, there is not any room to doubt (ch. IV).Owen continues:
Thus the prophecies concerning the oblation of Christ being but badly understood, mankind were seduced, through the instigation of the devil, to pollute themselves with these inhuman and accursed sacrifices. Perhaps, too, that most artful seducer had it in view, by such sacrifices, to prejudice the more acute and intelligent part of mankind against that life-giving sacrifice that was to be destructive of his kingdom; for such now hold these atrocious sacrifices and detestable rites in abhorrence (ch. IV).So, according to Owen, the devil inspired man to misunderstand the natural revelation that he had received and pervert it into the offering of human sacrifices. By doing this, the devil accomplished two things: 1) He caused man to sin in an especially vile manner; and 2) He caused the more "acute" to revolt in horror at the whole notion of a human sacrifice, so that when the perfect and ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ took place, the more "intelligent" would reject it.
Owen rejects the idea of Samuel Rutherford that the concept of sacrifices was revealed in the Mosaic law and then spread among Gentiles and became perverted. He writes:
But he must be a mere novice in the knowledge of these matters into whose mind even the slightest thought of that kind could enter; for I believe there is no one who doubts the custom and ceremony of sacrificing among the Gentile nations to be much more ancient than the Mosaic institutions. Nor can any one imagine that this universal custom among all nations, tribes, and people, civilized and barbarous, unknown to one another, differently situated and scattered all over the world, could have first arisen and proceeded from the institutions of the Jews (ch. IV)Owen, on the other hand, believes that man's idea of guilt before God and the need to offer a sacrifice to propitiate God is a result of natural revelation which God has given to all men. Man misunderstood and misapplied the revelation, thinking that he could offer something that would actually propitiate God instead of realizing his own bankruptness and depending upon God to provide the necessary sacrifice. He states:
Yea, I say, that a sinful creature could perform this [make propitiation to God] is false, and a presumption only, arising from that darkness which we are in by nature. But, notwithstanding, it is true that God must be appeased by a propitiatory sacrifice, if we would that our sins should be forgiven us; and this much he hath pointed out to all mankind by that light of nature, obscure indeed, but not dark (ch. IV)Thus, Owen argues that the universal notion of mankind that a sacrifice is needed to appease God's wrath with regard to sin is proof that this notion is true because it is universally believed. He cites several Greek philosophers to bolster his point. Aristotle: "What is admitted by all, we also admit; but he who would destroy such faith can himself advance nothing more credible," and "it is a very strong proof, if all shall agree in what we shall say." Hesiod: "That sentiment cannot be altogether groundless which many people agree in publishing." Seneca: "When we discourse of the eternity of the soul, the consent of mankind is considered as a weighty argument; I content myself with this public persuasion" (ch. IV).
I come to a different conclusion than the distinguised Puritan. I believe that man's sense of the need to appease the god(s) through sacrifice is an evolutionary development in the history of religion and can be better explained through a study of the anthropology of religion (see David Eller, Introducing Anthropology of Religion, pp. 230-34). This belief in the need to offer a sacrifice was the fertile soil in which the in the idea that the death of Jesus was the ultimate and final sacrifice developed. When Jesus died, the disciples were dumbfounded because they thought Jesus was to be the Messiah. As they pondered what happened, they reverted back to this concept of a sacrifice appeasing God and making atonement for the soul. The Hebrew Bible was of course filled with that notion (e.g., Lev. 17:11). There was also the concept that the highest or most valuable offering that one could present to God was one's only son. The story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 indictates that idea and in Micah 6:17, the prophet asks: Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul (NIV)?
So, my point is that it is understandable how the early Christians came to explain the death of Jesus as a propitiatiory sacrifice because the concept was prevalent in the Jewish mind as well as all of the Graeco-Roman world. The Jewish concepts were taken and then interpreted for a Hellenistic world by Paul. Thus, I see no reason to think that Evangelical Christianity is divinely revealed truth. It can be explained on a purely naturalistic basis.