One of my Theological Opponents on the Atonement

The following is a passage on the atonement from one of my theological opponents. Can you, without doing an Internet search or looking for the answer below the quotation, discover who it is?

Here is what he says:

What you say concerning the virtue and efficacy of the price, paid by Christ, needs a more careful consideration. You say, that “the efficacy of that price, as far as merit is concerned, is infinite;” but you make a distinction between “actual and potential efficacy.” You also define “potential efficacy” as synonymous with a sufficiency of price for the whole world. This, however, is a phrase, hitherto unknown among Theologians, who have merely made a distinction between the efficacy and the sufficiency of the merit of Christ. I am not sure, also, but that there is an absurdity in styling efficacy “potential,” since there is a contradiction in terms. For all efficacy is actual, as that word has been, hitherto, used by Theologians. But, laying aside phrases, let us consider the thing itself. The ransom or price of the death of Christ, is said to be universal in its sufficiency, but particular in its efficacy, i.e. sufficient for the redemption of the whole world, and for the expiation of all sins, but its efficacy pertains not to all universally, which efficacy consists in actual application by faith and the sacrament of regeneration, as Augustine and Prosper, the Aquitanian, say. If you think so, it is well, and I shall not very much oppose it. But if I rightly understand you, it seems to me that you do not acknowledge the absolute sufficiency of that price; but with the added condition, if God had willed that it should be offered for the sins of the whole world.
So then, that, which the Schoolmen declare categorically, namely, that Christ’s death was sufficient for all and for each, is, according to your view, to be expressed hypothetically, that is, in this sense the death of Christ would be a sufficient price for the sins of the whole world, if God had willed that it should be offered for all men. In this sense, indeed, its sufficiency is absolutely taken away. For if it is not a ransom offered and paid for all, it is, indeed, not a ransom sufficient for all. For the ransom is that, which is offered and paid. Therefore the death of Christ can be said to be sufficient for the redemption of the sins of all men, if God had wished that he should die for all ; but it can not be said to be a sufficient ransom, unless it has, in fact, been paid for all.
Hence, also, Beza notes an incorrect phraseology, in that distinction, because the sin-offering is said to be absolutely sufficient, which is not such, except on the supposition already set forth. But, indeed, my friend [TurretinFan], the Scripture says, most clearly, in many places, that Christ died for all, for the life of the world, and that by the command and grace of God.
The decree of Predestination prescribes nothing to the universality of the price paid for all by the death of Christ. It is posterior, in the order of nature, to the death of Christ and to its peculiar efficacy. For that decree pertains to the application of the benefits obtained for us by the death of Christ: but his death is the price by which those benefits were prepared.
Therefore the assertion is incorrect, and the order is inverted, when it is said that “Christ died only for the elect, and the predestinate.” For predestination depends, not only on the death of Christ, but also on the merit of Christ’s death; and hence Christ did not die for those who were predestinated, but they, for whom Christ died, were predestinated, though not all of them. For the universality of the death of Christ extends itself more widely than the object of Predestination.
From which it is also concluded that the death of Christ and its merit is antecedent, in nature and order, to Predestination. What else, indeed, is predestination than the preparation of the grace, obtained and provided for us by the death of Christ, and a preparation pertaining to the application, not to the acquisition or provision of grace, not yet existing? For the decree of God, by which he determined to give Christ as a Redeemer to the world, and to appoint him the head only of believers, is prior to the decree, by which lie determined to really apply to some, by faith, the grace obtained by the death of Christ.

A brief response from me:

1. My theological opponent’s point about the difference between “actual and potential efficacy” seems to gloss over an important point. Something has potential efficacy if it is able to do something. Thus, for example, an analgesic tablet (sitting on the shelf) may have the potential efficacy to relieve a headache. Sitting on the shelf, however, the tablet does not exercise or actuate that efficacy.

Thus, “actual efficacy” or (more simply) “efficiency” is to be ascribed only to the analgesic that is actually efficacious, that alleviates pain, and not merely that has the ability to alleviate pain if properly used.

In contrast, “potential efficacy” or “sufficiency” goes to the intrinsic merit of the work of Christ. Christ’s death was sufficient not only for all the men that ever have been and ever will be, but also for an infinite number of men – more than ever there will be. Christ’s work is super-abundant in merit. As is typified by the blood poured out upon the foot of the altar, as so well explained by Thomas Boston (“5. And all the rest of the blood shall be poured out at the foot of the altar. Figuring thereby, the abundant shedding of the blood of Christ, and superabundant merit thereof, Acts, xxii. 16 ; 1 John, i. 7. As likewise, that although it be so abundant and sufficient for all, yet it is not efficient to all, but is unprofitably poured out to many, through their own contempt and incredulous induration, Mat. xxiii. 37 ; Heb. x. 29.” – Thomas Boston, Crook in the Lot, p. 26, 1841 ed. [available here] [note especially the connection between this OT type and the NT ante-type in Hebrews 10:29])

2. As to the type of sufficiency, my theological opponent is correct in understanding that we do not believe only that Christ’s death is sufficient, and that is efficiently applied by regeneration which produces faith (leaving aside the issue of the order of those, and the issue of their relation to the sacraments). Instead, we also believe that Christ’s atonement would similarly have been efficient to every man, if God had so willed it – i.e. if it had been offered on their behalf.

You see, we believe that the efficacy of Christ’s blood extends further than to merely working when applied: it secures the elect. In that respect it is a redemption – a ransom – a payment. The elect have been purchased by Christ as his peculiar possession (Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. ).

3. My theological opponent’s comment, “For if it is not a ransom offered and paid for all, it is, indeed, not a ransom sufficient for all,” is incorrect because it assumes that the payment was commercial, when (in fact) it was penal. The payment made was not “this much for that many” but instead it was life for life. It was not that Christ had to spill 1000 drops of blood for 1000 souls, but that he had to give his life to save all those that were his. As it is written, “The good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep,” (John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.)

4. My theological opponent’s position that Scripture plainly states various things may be fully correct, but the question that divides us not whether Scripture plainly states thus-and-such, but how the words used in those passages are to be understood. For example, it would be absurd to interpret the words for “the world” and “to love” in the same sense in the expression, “For God so loved the world” and in the expression, “if any man love the world.” Both are plain statements of Scripture, and yet there sense must be properly understood if we are to make sense of them.

5. At this point, we see my theological opponent taking a position on an order and the decrees of God, which we might take to be a statement about the order of the decrees. My theological opponent has taken a position that is not merely infralapsarian (i.e. it does not merely subordinate predestination to the fall), but goes further – placing predestination in a place subordinate to the work of Christ. This order makes little sense, because Christ’s work is not the end but the means: and the predestination to glory with God is the end.

6. My theological opponent insists that those for whom Christ died were predestinated, though not all of them. We recognize that this is his position, but we cannot understand why (from Scripture) it is thought to follow. Indeed, Scripture reverses (as my theological opponent claims) the order and says that Christ went to the cross with joy in mind, which could be none other than our salvation (Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.).

7. My theological opponent finally argues, “What else, indeed, is predestination than the preparation of the grace, obtained and provided for us by the death of Christ, and a preparation pertaining to the application, not to the acquisition or provision of grace, not yet existing? For the decree of God, by which he determined to give Christ as a Redeemer to the world, and to appoint him the head only of believers, is prior to the decree, by which lie determined to really apply to some, by faith, the grace obtained by the death of Christ.” (emphasis added) The answer there is that predestination is the reason for Christ’s death – it is not the preparation of previously obtained grace, instead it is the decree that the grace would be both obtained (by the work of Christ) and applied (by the work of the Spirit) to the elect. Scripture confirms this, placing Christ’s obtaining of our inheritance logically subsequent to our predestination (Eph 1:7-11 7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:).

It’s worth pointing out that I’ve taken out the name of the person to whom this theological opponent of mine was responding and substituted my own name, not because I adopt everything that person may have said, but because this theological opponent of mine is generally setting forth a position that I could take. The name of that person opposed by my theological opponent was Perkins. Perhaps with that further clue, you can now identify my theological opponent. If you have not, I’ll spell it out for you. His name was Arminius. His theology was not supralapsarian, it was not infralapsarian, it was not even Amyraldian, it was Arminian. Nevertheless, in contrast to the supralapsarian position, it shared the commonality with infralapsarian of placing the decree to predestine after the fall, it shared the commonality with the Amyraldian of placing the decree to predestine after the decree to atone, and it differentiates itself from the Amyraldian in a way that is not reflected in the discussion above – by placing the decree to predestine subsequent to a recognition of those who would (will?) respond to the gospel call.

If you scanned down here to see who the theological opponent was, consider reading the arguments without knowing who the people are. If you insist on knowing who they are, the name is in the previous paragraph.

Praise and thanks be to our Substitute!


5 Responses to “One of my Theological Opponents on the Atonement”

  1. natamllc Says:

    TFin “your sense” herein I will add my two cents sense here at this portion:TF: For example, it would be absurd to interpret the words for “the world” and “to love” in the same sense in the expression, “For God so loved the world” and in the expression, “if any man love the world.”Michael: It is here that I place my sense. For God “so” loved is the only way or the “manner” by which those He sent Christ to die for, are saved. There is only ONE SAVIOR. This sets the complex into the simple, I would say. And what is that manner? I will insert here these words of John and quote the “other” John 3:16: 1Jn 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 1Jn 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1Jn 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.Here then it is important to make note John’s understanding of the use of the words “life” in verses 14 and 15 from the word “life” in verse 16.They are in verses 14 and 15, the Greek word: ζωήzōēdzo-ay’From G2198; life (literally or figuratively): – life (-time). Compare G5590.and in verse 16 the Greek word:ψυχήpsuchēpsoo-khay’From G5594; breath, that is, (by implication) spirit, abstractly or concretely (the animal sentient principle only; thus distinguished on the one hand from G4151, which is the rational and immortal soul; and on the other from G2222, which is mere vitality, even of plants: these terms thus exactly correspond respectively to the Hebrew [H5315], [H7307] and [H2416]: – heart (+ -ily), life, mind, soul, + us, + you.Secondly, it is precisely because of this “carnal”/soulish sense within man not gifted with the “Faith” that overcomes the world that that, this: “if any man love the world.”, is inserted and I say then distinguishes the non elect men of the flesh and the god of this world, and elect men of the Spirit, born again by the working of God by His Grace and Mercy through Christ.I know this is painful for some to consider that. All have sinned. Not all accept that truth about us.It is even more painful to realize that not all will be saved.1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1Co 15:23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 1Co 15:24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 1Co 15:25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 1Co 15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1Co 15:27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 1Co 15:28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. I know that even today some believe Arminius. To them it is hard to understand let alone believe that there is nothing for us to do but believe and receive redemption.Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, Eph 2:9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.It is by Grace through Faith that one overcomes the world. Not all men overcome the world.Not all men are the elect.There are elect angels and fallen angels.

  2. Turretinfan Says:

    Michael,Thanks for your comments!-Turretinfan

  3. Tartanarmy Says:

    Amazing, especially just after reading your other post by Cunningham.Just about every point discussed here and the other thread by Cunningham, dealing with the argumentation for universal aspects of the atonement could have been penned by my opponents, especially Mr Ponter. Mr Byrne less so, maybe because he is a Dispensationalist I dunno, or maybe because he does not understand the fine distinctions made by Cunningham and Perkins, probably both when I think about it.Anyway, thanks for these posts. And to think Arminius would be right alongside these men!Makes you wonder.Mark

  4. Turretinfan Says:

    Mark,Well, so far (that I know) the sentiments above have not been echoed by anyone except one of my explicitly Arminian readers (and I hope to respond to him shortly).-TurretinFan

  5. Turretinfan Says:

    Dan’s objections and my response (here). Thanks, Dan!-TurretinFan

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