Archive for the ‘Amyraldian’ Category

Atonement Category Error

July 2, 2009

I am sure he means well, but Panta Dokimazete gives a less than ideal title to this post (link). The less than ideal title is “Unlimited/Limited Atonement.” The post correctly states the death of Christ has a general benefit for all mankind, in that it incidentally prevents their immediate destruction. However, the term “Unlimited/Limited Atonement” is less than ideal to describe this concept for two reasons:

1) Potential Confusion

The neo-Amyraldians have been using this term to describe their position, which is not simply that there incidental benefits (such as delayed judgment) to the non-elect. I realize that we do not have to cede things to groups that err, but perhaps it would be better to give them this term so that they may distinguish themselves from Calvinists.

2) Technical Accuracy – Both “Unlimited” and “Atonement” are Being Used Imprecisely

Technically, the atonement is the reconciliation – the rendering of God as propitious (favorable) toward the beneficiary. God is not rendered propitious toward the reprobate by Christ’s sacrifice. Indeed, the temporal benefits that they enjoy incidental to the salvation of the elect are only temporal benefits. Moreover, these temporal benefits – because they do not lead to repentance – actually increase the heinousness of the sin of the unbelievers, making them even more culpable (blameworthy).

Furthermore, “universal” and “unlimited” are not identical terms. The merit of Christ’s death is unlimited (though it is only impetrated for the elect – see this previous post). The incidental effects of Christ’s death, on the other hand, are merely universal.


Yes, I realize that this sounds like my nitpicking an otherwise good post (although, as I plan to mention in another post – I think Chrysostom is referring to the unlimited sufficiency of Christ’s death, not to the incidental benefits of that death). I don’t mean to detract from Panta Dokimazete’s work, and – in fact – I hope this encourages him to continue. Along the way, I’d like to help him develop the categories more clearly so as not to fall prey to the “unlimited/limited atonement” error promoted by the neo-Amyraldians out there who may seize upon the verbal match to suggest unity of position.


UPDATE: J.D. Longmire has what appears to be an identical post (link). Same comment on that one. I’m not sure who originally wrote this post, but I read PD’s before I read JDL’s.

Calvin and Limited Atonement – Impetration Argument

June 25, 2009

Calvin never heard of the acronym “TULIP” and never argued with an Arminian. The Arminian controversy and the “five points of Calvinism” that were presented by the Reformed folks against the Arminians came after Calvin’s death. After (and perhaps because of) the Arminian controversy, there arose a smaller controversy between the Calvinists and the Amyraldians. The Amyraldians, classically speaking, assert that Christ died for each and every person on the hypothesis of faith, thereby denying limited atonement. A few folks both then and now have sought to obtain Calvin’s mantle for their Amyraldianism, and the Calvinists have responded with a variety of proofs of Calvin’s Calvinism.

One of the proofs of Calvin’s Calvinism is the fact that the death of Christ is tied to the impetration of the death of Christ, and Calvin recognizes that the impetration of the death of Christ was only for the elect. Therefore, the proof concludes, Calvin also implicitly recognized that the death of Christ was only for the elect.

In order to understand the argument, one must understand the sacrificial system. After all, the atonement is principally a sacrifice to satisfy divine Justice and reconcile us to God. In the sacrificial system, the priest kills an animal and presents it to God. The priest presents it to God on behalf of an individual or group. We call the animal the victim and the person on whose behalf the sacrifice is offered the beneficiary. The killing of the animal is the death of the victim, its presentation to God is the impetration of the death of the victim.

In Christ’s sacrifice, Christ is both the priest and victim. We, the elect, are the beneficiaries. Now, Christ is a sufficient sacrifice to be offered for as large a group of beneficiaries as Christ wishes from one person to more people than there are atoms in the universe. But when we say that Christ is “offered for us” we are saying that Christ impetrated his death on our behalf, rendering God propitious toward us. In that sense, Christ is the propitiation for our sins.

At least one of the neo-Amyraldians has acknowledged that if Calvin links (as inseparable) the death of Christ and the impetration of Christ’s death, then this proof suffices to show that Calvin held limited atonement. However, this man (Steve Costley of “Controversial Calvinism”) has argued that Calvin does not so link Christ’s death and impetration (link to his argument).

Mr. Costley makes his argument from a passage of Calvin that is not actually germane to the issue of the relation of Christ’s death and its impetration. When we examine the places where Calvin considers the issue, we do see that he links them in an inseparable way.

There are at least a few places where this can be seen in Calvin. One way that it can be seen is in Calvin’s discussion of assurance:

This so great an assurance; which dares to triumph over the devil, death, sin, and the gates of hell, ought to lodge deep in the hearts of all the godly; for our faith is nothing, except we feel assured that Christ is ours, and that the Father is in him propitious to us.

– Calvin, Commentary on Romans 8:34 (link)

As you can see from this example, Calvin places assurance in the linking of us being united with Christ and the Father being “in him propitious to us.” The Amyraldian and Arminian views essentially allege that God is already propitious toward all mankind. If Calvin held such a view, then knowledge of God’s propitiation would not be a ground of assurance of salvation, since God is also propitious (according to the Amyraldians and Arminians) to everyone, even those in hell.

Calvin goes on to make this link even stronger in his subsequent comments in the same section:

Who intercedes, etc. It was necessary expressly to add this, lest the Divine majesty of Christ should terrify us. Though, then, from his elevated throne he holds all things in subjection under his feet, yet Paul represents him as a Mediator; whose presence it would be strange for us to dread, since he not only kindly invites us to himself, but also appears an intercessor for us before the Father. But we must not measure this intercession by our carnal judgment; for we must not suppose that he humbly supplicates the Father with bended knees and expanded hands; but as he appears continually, as one who died and rose again, and as his death and resurrection stand in the place of eternal intercession, and have the efficacy of a powerful prayer for reconciling and rendering the Father propitious to us, he is justly said to intercede for us.

– Calvin, Commentary on Romans 8:34 (link)

Notice how in this discussion Calvin explains that Christ’s death and resurrection “stand in the place of eternal intercession.” It is hard to imagine Calvin using stronger linking short of saying that the death and impetration are inseparable. Calvin actually equates here the death of Christ and the intercession of Christ, and Calvin is clear (elsewhere, as well as here) that the intercession is specific to the elect. Calvin is essentially saying that Christ intercedes for us by dying for us.

Calvin says the same thing in his Institutes:

Yet we do not dream that he intercedes for us in suppliant prostration at the Father’s feet; but we apprehend, with the apostle, that he appears in the presence of God for us in such a manner, that the virtue of his death avails as a perpetual intercession for us; yet so as that, being entered into the heavenly sanctuary, he continually, till the consummation of all things, presents to God the prayers of his people, who remain, as it were, at a distance in the court.

– Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XX, Section XX (John Allen, translator)

This becomes even more clear when the remainder of that section, and particularly the quotations from Augustine are considered:

Now, the cavil of the sophists is quite frivolous, that Christ is the Mediator of redemption, but believers of intercession; as if Christ, after performing a temporary mediation, had left to his servants that which is eternal and shall never die. They who detract so diminutive a portion of honour from him, treat him, doubtless, very favourably. But the Scripture, with the simplicity of which a pious man, forsaking these impostors, ought to be contented, speaks very differently; for when John says, “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ,” does he only mean that he has been heretofore an Advocate for us, or does he not rather ascribe to him a perpetual intercession? What is intended by the assertion of Paul, that he “is even at the right hand of God, and also maketh intercession for us?” And when he elsewhere calls him the “one Mediator between God and man,” does he not refer to prayers, which he has mentioned just before? For having first asserted that intercessions should be made for all men, he immediately adds, in confirmation of that idea, that all have one God and one Mediator. Consistent with which is the explanation of Augustine, when he thus expresses himself: “Christian men in their prayers mutually recommend each other to the Divine regard. That person, for whom no one intercedes, while he intercedes for all, is the true and only Mediator. The apostle Paul, though a principal member under the Head, yet because he was a member of the body of Christ, and knew the great and true High Priest of the Church had entered, not typically, into the recesses within the veil, the holy of holies, but truly and really into the interior recesses of heaven, into a sanctuary not emblematical, but eternal, — Paul, I say, recommends himself to the prayers of believers. Neither does he make himself a mediator between God and the people, but exhorts all the members of the body of Christ mutually to pray for one another; since the members have a mutual solicitude for each other; and if one member suffers, the rest sympathize with it. And so should the mutual prayers of all the members, who are still engaged in the labours of the present state, ascend on each other’s behalf to the Head, who is gone before them into heaven, and who is the propitiation for our sins. For if Paul were a mediator, the other apostles would likewise sustain the same character; and so there would be many mediators; and Paul’s argument could not be supported, when he says, ‘For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; in whom we also are one, if we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.'” Again, in another place: “But if you seek a priest, he is above the heavens, where he now intercedes for you, who died for you on earth.”

– Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XX, Section XX (John Allen, translator)

Again, we see the close linking (both in Augustine and Calvin) of Christ’s death and intercession. Hopefully, these quotations suffice to illustrate the point, although perhaps others could be adduced if someone were inclined to be argumentative or to doubt the clarity of Calvin’s comments above.

Now, while this may settle the question of historical theology as to what Calvin (and Augustine) believed about the scope and extent of the atonement, it is more important to note that Calvin is rightly dividing the word of truth here. It is more important that this doctrine of the limited atonement is Scriptural, than that it was held by Calvin or Augustine. We don’t accept the doctrine because those men taught it: we hold that doctrine because Scriptures teach it. I hope that no one will make the mistake of reading this and concluding that we hold to the doctrine of limited atonement simply because Calvin (or Augustine) taught it. No, they are aids to our understanding, but Scripture alone is our rule of faith.


UPDATE: Some readers may want to compare Beveridge’s translation of Calvin’s Institutes at the relevant section:

Moreover, the Sophists are guilty of the merest trifling when they allege that Christ is the Mediator of redemption, but that believers are mediators of intercession; as if Christ had only performed a temporary mediation, and left an eternal and imperishable mediation to his servants. Such, forsooth, is the treatment which he receives from those who pretend only to take from him a minute portion of honour. Very different is the language of Scripture, with whose simplicity every pious man will be satisfied, without paying any regard to those importers. For when John says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,” (1 John 2:1), does he mean merely that we once had an advocate; does he not rather ascribe to him a perpetual intercession? What does Paul mean when he declares that he “is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us”? (Rom. 8:32). But when in another passage he declares that he is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), is he not referring to the supplications which he had mentioned a little before? Having previously said that prayers were to be offered up for all men, he immediately adds, in confirmation of that statement, that there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man. Nor does Augustine give a different interpretation when he says, “Christian men mutually recommend each other in their prayers. But he for whom none intercedes, while he himself intercedes for all, is the only true Mediator. Though the Apostle Paul was under the head a principal member, yet because he was a member of the body of Christ, and knew that the most true and High Priest of the Church had entered not by figure into the inner veil to the holy of holies, but by firm and express truth into the inner sanctuary of heaven to holiness, holiness not imaginary, but eternal, he also commends himself to the prayers of the faithful. He does not make himself a mediator between God and the people, but asks that all the members of the body of Christ should pray mutually for each other, since the members are mutually sympathetic: if one member suffers, the others suffer with it. And thus the mutual prayers of all the members still laboring on the earth ascend to the Head, who has gone before into heaven, and in whom there is propitiation for our sins. For if Paul were a mediator, so would also the other apostles, and thus there would be many mediators, and Paul’s statement could not stand, ëThere is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;’ in whom we also are one if we keep the unity of the faith in the bond of peace,” (August. Contra Parmenian, Lib. 2 cap. 8). Likewise in another passage Augustine says, “If thou requirest a priest, he is above the heavens, where he intercedes for those who on earth died for thee,” (August. in Ps. 94) imagine not that he throws himself before his Father’s knees, and suppliantly intercedes for us; but we understand with the Apostle, that he appears in the presence of God, and that the power of his death has the effect of a perpetual intercession for us; that having entered into the upper sanctuary, he alone continues to the end of the world to present the prayers of his people, who are standing far off in the outer court.

– Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XX, Section XX (Henry Beveridge, translator)

Or Battles’ translation:

This babbling of the Sophists is mere nonsense: that Christ is the Mediator of redemption, but believers are mediators of intercession. As if Christ had performed a mediation in time only to lay upon his servants the eternal and undying mediation! They who cut off so slight a portion of honor from him are, of course, treating him gently! Yet Scripture speaks far differently, disregarding these deceivers, and with a simplicity that ought to satisfy a godly man. For when John says, “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Christ Jesus”[1 John 2:1], does he mean that Christ was an advocate for us once for all, or does he not rather ascribe to him a constant intercession? Why does Paul affirm that he “sits at the right hand of the Father and also intercedes for us” [Romans 8:34]? But when, in another passage, Paul calls him “the sole mediator between God and man” [1 Timothy 2:5], is he not referring to prayers, which were mentioned shortly before [1 Timothy 2:1-2]? For, after previously saying that intercession is to be made for all men, Paul, to prove this statement, soon adds that “there is one God, and… one mediator” [1 Timothy 2:5].
Augustine similarly explains it when he says: “Christian men mutually commend one another by their prayers. However, it is he for whom no one intercedes, while he intercedes for all, who is the one true Mediator.” The apostle Paul, although an eminent member under the Head, yet because he was a member of Christ’s body, and knew that the greatest and truest priest of the church had not figuratively entered the inner precincts of the veil to the Holy of Holies but through express and steadfast truth had entered the inner precincts of heaven to a holiness real and eternal, also commends himself to the prayers of believers [Romans 15:30; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3]. And he does not make himself mediator between the people and God, but he asks that all members of Christ’s body mutually pray for one another, “since the members are concerned for one another, and if one member suffers, the rest suffer with it” [1 Corinthians 12:25-26, Cf. Vg.]. And thus the mutual prayers for one another of all members yet laboring on earth rise to the Head, who has gone before them into heaven, in whom “is propitiation for our sins” [1 John 2:2, Vg.]. For if Paul were mediator, so also would the rest of the apostles be; and if there were many mediators, Paul’s own statement would not stand, in which he had said: “One God, one mediator between God and men, the man Christ” [I Tim. 2:5], “in whom we also are one” [Romans 12:5], “if we maintain unity of faith in the bond of peace” [Ephesians 4:3]. Likewise, in another passage Augustine says: “But if you seek a priest, he is above the heavens, where he is making intercession for you, who died for you on earth.” [Cf.Hebrews 7:26 ff.]
But we do not imagine that he, kneeling before God, pleads as a suppliant for us; rather, with the apostle we understand he so appears before God’s presence that the power of his death avails as an everlasting intercession in our behalf [cf. Romans 8:34], yet in such a way that, having entered the heavenly sanctuary, even to the consummation of the ages [cf. Hebrews 9:24 ff.], he alone bears to God the petitions of the people, who stay far off in the outer court.

– Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XX, Section XX (Ford Lewis Battles, translator)

Fellow Limited Atonement Advocate

March 3, 2009

Today I happened to spot the blog of a fellow advocate of Limited Atonement. Mr. Josh Walker of the Bring the Books blog has a number of interesting posts on the Atonement.

1. Demonstrates one (of several) problems with the theory that Calvin held universal atonement.

2. Demonstrates that Charles Hodge held to Limited Atonement.

3. Quotes John Murray on Limited Atonement.

4. Identifies Dabney’s refutation of Amyraldianism.

5. Even identifies that (at least at one time) even Doug Wilson held (or holds) to Limited Atonement.


Ponter’s Last Stand Part II

September 19, 2008

Continued from part I (link) …

Before I continue, I should point out that I had mentioned in my last post that “It’s not really clear whether Ponter understands what non-speculative hypothetical universalism is.” The expression “hypothetical universalism” is a technical term of theology that has itself had a range of meanings. I had suspected that Mr. Ponter had simply borrowed the expression from Muller discussing something written by Jonathan Moore, which was confirmed by Mr. Ponter’s brief linking to that article in response to my point (link).

In fact, Mr. Ponter had previously written, “For example, on Contend Earnestly the label of hypothetical universalism or hypothetical atonement has been tabled. The phrase is either so poorly defined or not defined or inaccurately defined.” (source)

As I note above, however, the concept has a range of meaning. The concept of “hypothetical universalism” can even include those particularists classified as Infralapsarians.

Picking up with Ponter’s last stand, Ponter states:

4) It actually works against his own position. That is, his position becomes self-contradictory and irrational. For when he wants it, he can say here and here they did mean world in an exhaustive sense, either the whole world, or of the elect. Take his citation of Knox. Clearly “whole world” means all mankind, because for some almost magical reason, our opponent is able to say, ‘here Knox means ‘exhaustively’ the whole world.’ However, when it comes to Bullinger’s identical use of the phrase “whole world,” our opponent asserts the contrary.

a) As previously discussed, the irrationality is simply the product of the fact that Mr. Ponter has presented a straw man rather than the actual criticism pressed against his points.

b) It is actually Mr. Ponter who seems to wish to be able to assert that words in old writings mean what he would like them to mean today.

c) Mr. Ponter’s quotation is fabricated – it’s not drawn from the actual criticism.

d) It is Mr. Ponter who wishes to make identical (at any rate, similar) statements from Bullinger and Knox mean different things – just as he wishes to make the less clear statements of Calvin and Knox before the Arminian controversy means something different from the more clear statements of Turretin after the controversy.

Ponter continues:

5) He has no public rules by which he determines when and where each instance of “world” means all mankind or some non-defined entity. He just picks and chooses at will.

Actually, as noted above, it is Mr. Ponter who picks and chooses the exhaustive sense of the word “world” as the meaning when he thinks it helps his case.

Ponter again:

6) He completely misleads his readers about the fact that Bullinger et al, did in fact go to lengths to define “world” as all mankind, the whole human race etc. As an aside, we see similar explicit attempts by men such as Musculus (click here) and Calvin (click here) where they define their terms like world and human race to mean the whole of it, all of it.

Mr. Ponter’s apparent idea that if the word “world” gets defined by someone once in one particular context that it consequently always carries that same weight is a rather droll concept – amusing but not something we can take seriously. Despite Mr. Ponter’s false charges, the reader is not mislead by considering the words Bullinger (and the rest – Calvin especially) uses in the context in which they use them, rather than trying to find some place where the word is used in the way one would like, and then apply that specific definition everywhere it seems helpful to one.

Ponter continues:

But now let us grant that our opponent might have a case if Bullinger had merely referenced “the world.” The problem is, though, this is not the case.

Actually, if Mr. Ponter had read the criticism more carefully (so as not to misrepresent with straw men, for example) he would have seen that in fact the criticism accounted for the idea that Bullinger (or Calvin) could mean by “world” what Ponter and his gang mean by the word “world.” The result, however, is something not Reformed at all – and not something that Ponter and his gang are willing to endorse openly (as far as I know).

Ponter continues:

Its not rocket science. Its not the fog our opponent wants to bring down over our heads. Bullinger uses many helper terms. I will not multiply the citations here. I have listed dozens of them already: click here. If the reader clicks over to the main file page, he or she will see Bullinger use helper terms such as “all the world” “the whole world,” “all the sins of the world,” even “all the sins of all the world.” What is more, he will use equivalent terms interchangeably, “all men,” “all mankind” “all sinners” “all the sinners of all the world” and “all men of all ages.” At some point, the honest reader has to admit the Bullinger’s true position on the extent of the expiation.

a) No, it’s not rocket science – it’s the more interesting and difficult science of theology. That’s why its important to be clear and not bandy about words that one doesn’t understand, simply because one thinks they sound nice next to one’s hypothesis (whether that word be “all” or “non-speculative hypothetical universalism”).

b) Actually, as observed above, the reason for all those qualifications was to counter the very limited position on the atonement advocated by, for example, the papists who opposed Bullinger and asserted that venial sins were not satisfied-for by the atonement or that only the sins of the Old Testament fathers or only Original Sin was atoned for by Christ. To counter purgatory, indulgences, and penance one may resort to very broad language – and in the absence of the Arminian controversy – who would expect the reader to have an Amyraldian misunderstanding of what is being said?

c) But Ponter is not even willing to be intellectually honest enough to acknowledge the alternative (and true) explanation for the broad terminology employed by Bullinger, which tends to reinforce the theme that Ponter has an axe to grind.


The old adage that “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” comes to mind. One can certainly appreciate how Bullinger’s comments could initially be taken by someone intent on establishing a hypothesis that the early Reformers were all advocates of Universal Atonement, but when that person tries to shift the burden for his thesis on his critics, refuses to interact with the actual criticism leveled against his theories, and refuses to revise his theories when the context is explained to him, all the while suggesting that everyone who disagrees with him is a fool or a knave, one loses sympathy for that person and his pet project. It is time for Mr. Ponter to move on, and I hope he will.


William Cunningham on Several Views of the Atonement

April 19, 2008

Having posted (and, I trust, refuted) a post from a theological opponent on the atonement, I thought I would post an article from one of my theological allies. In this case, that ally is William Cunningham. In Chapter XXIV, of Cunningham’s Historical Theology (in Volume 2, beginning at page 323 of the 1864 (2d) edition), the following is Section VIII, one of several sections on the Atonement and relevant to the present controversy that has been brewing on the doctrine of the Atonement. The entire work (including this section) is freely available here (link). I believe I can fully endorse the article below, except (perhaps) for the issue of distinguishing between Socianized Arminians and un-Socinianized Arminians. One word used in the article that may not be familiar to many readers, is the word “impetration” (and various forms thereof). According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, impetration means “The act of obtaining by prayer or petition.” (source)

Sec. VIII. Extent of the Atonement.

We proceed now to the third and last division, namely, the consideration of the peculiar views, in regard to the atonement, of those divines who profess to hold Calvinistic doctrines upon other points, but on this concur with, or approximate to, the views of the Arminians; and this, of course, leads us to examine the subject of the extent of the atonement, a topic which is much discussed among theologians in the present day, and is, on this account, as well as from its own nature and bearings, possessed of much interest and importance.

There are now, and for more than two centuries, that is, since the time of Cameron, a Scotchman, who became Professor of Theology in the Protestant Church of France, there have always been, theologians, and some of them men of well-merited eminence, who have held the Calvinistic doctrines of the entire depravity of human nature, and of God s unconditional election of some men from eternity to everlasting life, but who have also maintained the universality of the atonement, the doctrine that Christ died for all men, and not for those only who are ultimately saved. As some men have agreed with Arminians in holding the universality of the atonement who were Calvinists in all other respects, and as a considerable appearance of Scripture evidence can be produced for the doctrine that Christ died for all men, it has been generally supposed that the doctrine of particular redemption, as it is often called, or of a limited atonement, forms the weak point of the Calvinistic system, that which can with most plausibility be assailed, and can with most difficulty be defended. Now, this impression has some foundation. There is none of the Arminian doctrines, in favor of which so much appearance of Scripture evidence can be adduced, as that of the universality of the atonement ; and if Arminians could really prove that Christ died for the salvation of all men, then the argument which, as I formerly intimated, they commonly deduce from this doctrine, in opposition to the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, could not, taken by itself, be easily answered. It is evident, however, on the other side, that if the Arminian doctrine of the universality of the atonement can be disproved, when tried upon its own direct and proper grounds and evidences, without founding upon its apparent inconsistency with the other doctrines of the Calvinistic system, then not only is one important principle established, which has been held by most Calvinists, that, namely, of a limited atonement, that is, of an atonement limited as to its destination or intended objects, but great additional strength is given to the general body of the evidence in support of Calvinism.

This is the aspect in which the arrangement we have followed leads us to examine it. Looking merely at the advantage of controversial impression, it would not be the most expedient course to enter upon the Arminian controversy, as we are doing, through the discussion of the extent of the atonement, since Arminians can adduce a good deal that is plausible in support of its universality, and found a strong argument against Calvinistic predestination on the assumption of its universality, considerations which would suggest the policy of first establishing some of the other doctrines of Calvinism against the Arminians, and then employing these doctrines, already established, to confirm the direct and proper evidence against a universal, and in favor of a limited, atonement. But since we have been led to consider the subject of an atonement in general, in opposition to the Socinians, we have thought it better to continue, without interruption, the investigation of this subject until we finish it, although it does carry us into the Arminian controversy, at the point where Arminianism seems to be strongest. We have thought it better to do this than to return to the subject of the extent of the atonement, after discussing some of the other doctrines controverted between the Calvinists and the Arminians. And we have had the less hesitation about following out this order, for these reasons: first, because we are not afraid to encounter the Arminian doctrine of a universal atonement, upon the ground of its own direct and proper evidence, without calling in the assistance that might be derived from the previous proof of the other doctrines of Calvinism; secondly, because the examination of the whole subject of the atonement at once enables us to bring out more fully the principle, which we reckon of fundamental importance upon this whole question, namely, that the nature of the atonement settles or determines its extent; and, thirdly, because, if it can be really shown, as we have no doubt it can, that the Scripture view of the nature, and immediate object and effect, of the atonement, disproves its universality, then we have, in this way, what is commonly reckoned the weakest part of the Calvinistic system conclusively established, on its own direct and proper evidence; and established, moreover, by the force of all the arguments which have been generally employed not only by Calvinists, but by the sounder or un-Socinianized Arminians, in disputing with the Socinians on the truth and reality of an atonement.

In proceeding now to advert to the subject of the extent of the atonement, as a distinct, independent topic, we shall first explain the doctrine which has been generally held upon this subject by Calvinists, commonly called the doctrine of particular redemption, or that of a limited or definite atonement; and then, secondly, advert to the differences between the doctrine of universal or unlimited atonement or redemption, as held by Arminians, and as held by those who profess Calvinistic doctrines upon other points.

The question as to the extent of the atonement, is commonly and popularly represented as amounting in substance to this: Whether Christ died for all men, or only for the elect, for those who ultimately believe and are saved? But this state of the question does not bring out the true nature of the point in dispute with sufficient fullness, accuracy, and precision. And, accordingly, we find that neither in the canons of the Synod of Dordt, nor in our Confession of Faith, which are commonly reckoned the most important and authoritative expositions of Calvinism, is there any formal or explicit deliverance given upon the question as stated in this way, and in these terms. Arminians, and other defenders of a universal atonement, are generally partial to this mode of stating it, because it seems most readily and obviously to give to their doctrine the sanction and protection of certain scriptural statements, which look like a direct assertion, but are not, that Christ died for all men; and because there are some ambiguities about the meaning of the expressions, of which they usually avail themselves. I have no doubt that the controversy about the extent of the atonement is substantially decided in our Confession, though no formal deliverance is given upon the precise question, whether Christ died for all men, or only for the elect; and it may tend to bring out clearly the true state of the question, as well as contribute to the subsidiary, but still important, object of assisting to determine what is the doctrine of our Confession upon this subject, if we advert to the statements it contains regarding it, and the manner in which it gives its deliverance upon it. We have already had occasion to quote, incidentally, the principal declarations of the Confession upon this subject, in explaining the peculiar views of the Arminians, with regard to the atonement in general; but it may be proper now to examine them somewhat more fully. They are chiefly the following: “They who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.” [FN: C. iii., s. vi.]

There are two questions which may be, and, indeed, have been, started with respect to the meaning of these words; attempts having been made to show that they do not contradict or exclude the doctrine of a universal atonement, as it has been sometimes held by Calvinists. The first question is as to the import of the word “redeemed;” and it turns upon this point, Does the word describe merely the impetration or purchase of pardon and reconciliation for men by the death of Christ? or does it comprehend the application as well as the impetration? If it be understood in the first or more limited sense, as descriptive only of the impetration or purchase, then, of course, the statement of the Confession clearly asserts a definite or limited atonement, comprehending as its objects those only who, in fact, receive all other spiritual blessings, and are ultimately saved; whereas, if it included the application as well as the impetration, the statement might consist with the universality of the atonement, as it is not contended, even by Arminians, that, in this wide sense, any are redeemed by Christ, except those who ultimately believe and are saved. Indeed, one of the principal uses to which the Arminians commonly apply the distinction between impetration and application, as they explain it, is this, that they interpret the scriptural statements which seem to speak of all men as comprehended in the objects of Christ’s death, of the impetration of pardon and reconciliation for them; and interpret those passages which seem to indicate some limitation in the objects of His dying, of the application of those blessings to men individually. Now, it seems very manifest that the word “redeemed” is to be taken here in the first, or more limited sense as descriptive only of the impetration or purchase of pardon and reconciliation; because there is a distinct enumeration of all the leading steps in the great process which, originating in God’s eternal, absolute election of some men, terminates in their complete salvation, their redemption by Christ being evidently, from the whole structure of the statement, not comprehensive of, but distinguished from, their vocation and justification, which constitute the application of the blessings of redemption, the benefits which Christ purchased.

The second question to which I referred, applies only to the last clause quoted, namely, “neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.” Here it has been made a question, whether the concluding restriction, to “the elect only,” applies to each of the preceding predicates, “redeemed,” called,” “justified,” etc., singly and separately, or only to the whole of them taken collectively; that is, whether it be intended to be here asserted that not any one of these things, such as “redeemed,” can be predicated of any but the elect only, or merely that the whole of them, taken in conjunction, cannot be predicated of any others. The latter interpretation, namely, that there are none but the elect of whom the whole collectively can be predicated, would make the declaration a mere truism, serving no purpose, and really giving no deliverance upon anything, although the repetition of the general statement about the consequences of election, or the execution of God’s eternal decree, in a negative form, was manifestly intended to be peculiarly emphatic, and to contain a denial of an error reckoned important. The Confession, therefore, must be regarded
as teaching, that it is not true of any but the elect only, that they are redeemed by Christ, any more than it is true that any others are called, justified, or saved. Here I may remark by the way, that though many modern defenders of a universal atonement regard the word redemption as including the application as well as the impetration of pardon and reconciliation, and, in this sense, disclaim the doctrine of universal redemption, yet a different phraseology was commonly used in theological discussions about the period at which the Confession was prepared, and in the seventeenth century generally. Then the defenders of a universal atonement generally maintained, without any hesitation, the doctrine of universal redemption, using the word, of course, to describe only the impetration, and not the application, of spiritual and saving blessings; and this holds true, both of those who admitted, and of those who denied, the Calvinistic doctrine of election. Of the first of these cases (the Calvinists) we have an instance in Richard Baxter’s work, which he entitled,” Universal Redemption of Mankind by the Lord Jesus Christ;” and of the second (the Arminians) in Dr. Isaac Barrow’s sermons, entitled, “The Doctrine of Universal Redemption Asserted and Explained.”

The other leading statements upon this subject is the Confession, are those which we have already had occasion to quote from the eighth chapter, secs. 5, 8 : “The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the Eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him:” and again: “To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption” (that is, pardon and reconciliation), “He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them; and revealing unto them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by His Spirit to believe and obey,” etc. Now, this latter statement, as I formerly intimated, contains, and was intended to contain, the true status quaestionis in the controversy about the extent of the atonement. It is to be explained by a reference to the mode of conducting this controversy, between the Calvinists and Arminians, about the time of the Synod of Dordt, and also to the mode of conducting the controversy excited in France by Cameron, [FN: It is a curious circumstance that the followers of Cameron maintained that the Synod of Dort did not condemn their views, because it did not make any statement precisely similar to this of our Confession. Dallaei Apologia pro duabus Synodis, p. 623. ] and afterwards carried on by Amyraldus in France and Holland, and by Baxter in England. The fundamental position of all who had advocated the doctrine of atonement against the Socinians, but had also maintained that it was universal or unlimited, was that Christ, by His sufferings and death, purchased pardon and reconciliation for all men, without distinction or exception; but that these blessings are applied or communicated to, and, of course, are actually enjoyed by, those only who came, from whatever cause, to repent and believe. This, of course, is the only sense in which the doctrine of universal atonement, or redemption, could be held by any who did not believe in the doctrine of universal salvation. And the assertion or denial of this must, from the nature of the case, form the substance of the controversy about the extent of the atonement, whatever diversity of phraseology may be, at different times, employed in discussing it.

The doctrine of a universal atonement necessarily implies, not only that God desired and intended that all men should be benefited by Christ’s death, for this, in some sense, is universally admitted, but that, in its special and peculiar character as an atonement, that is, as a penal infliction, as a ransom price, it should effect something bearing favorably upon their spiritual welfare. This could be only by its purchasing for all men the pardon of their sins and reconciliation with God, which the Scripture plainly represents as the proper and direct results or effects of Christ’s death. The advocates of this doctrine accordingly say, that He impetrated or purchased these blessings for all men; and as many are never actually pardoned and reconciled, they are under the necessity, as I formerly explained, because they hold a universal atonement, both of explaining away pardon and reconciliation as meaning merely the removal of legal obstacles, or the opening up of a door, for God’s bestowing these blessings, and of maintaining that these blessings are impetrated for any to whom they are never applied. Now this, of course, is the position which the statement in the Confession was intended to contradict, by asserting that impetration and application, though distinct, are co-extensive, and are never, in fact, separated, that all for whom these blessings were ever designed or procured, do certainly receive them; or, conversely, that they were not designed, or procured, for any except those who ultimately partake of them. This, then, is the form in which the controversy about the extent of the atonement is stated and decided in our Confession of Faith; and, whatever differences of phraseology may have been introduced into the discussion of this subject in more modern times, it is always useful to recur to this mode of stating the question, as fitted to explain the true nature of the points involved in it, and to suggest clear conceptions of the real import of the different topics adduced upon both sides. Those who are usually represented as holding the doctrine of particular redemption, or limited atonement, as teaching that Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect, contend for nothing more than this, and cannot be shown to be under any obligation, in point of consistency, to contend for more, namely, that, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased Redemption, He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; and all who take the opposite side, and maintain that Christ died for all men, that His atonement was universal or unlimited, can, without difficulty, be proved to maintain, or to be bound in consistency to maintain, if they really admit an atonement at all, and, at the same time, deny universal salvation, that He purchased redemption that is, pardon and reconciliation for many to whom they are never applied, who never are put in possession of them.

We would now make two or three observations, suggested by this account of the state of the question. First, the advocates of a limited or definite atonement do not deny, but maintain, the infinite intrinsic sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction and merits. They regard His sufferings and death as possessed of value, or worth, sufficient to have purchased pardon and reconciliation for the whole race of fallen man. The value or worth of His sacrifice of Himself depends upon, and is measured by, the dignity of His person, and is therefore infinite. Though many fewer of the human race had been to be pardoned and saved, an atonement of infinite value would have been necessary, in order to procure for them these blessings; and though many more, yea, all men, had been to be pardoned and saved, the death of Christ, being an atonement of infinite value, would have been amply sufficient, as the ground or basis of their forgiveness or salvation. We know nothing of the amount or extent of Christ’s sufferings in themselves. Scripture tells us only of their relation to the law, in compliance with the provision of which they were inflicted and endured. This implies their infinity, in respect of intrinsic legal worth or value; and this, again, implies their full intrinsic sufficiency for the redemption of all men, if God had intended to redeem and save them. There have been some Calvinists who have contended that Christ’s sufferings were just as much, in amount or extent, as were sufficient for redeeming, or paying the ransom price of, the elect, of those who are actually saved: so that, if more men had been to be pardoned and saved, Christ must have suffered more than He did, and if fewer, less. But those who have held this view have been very few in number, and of no great weight or influence. The opinion, however, is one which the advocates of universal atonement are fond of adducing and refuting, because it is easy to refute it; and because this is fitted to convey the impression that the advocates of a limited atonement in general hold this, or something like it, and thus to insinuate an unfavorable idea of the doctrine. There is no doubt that all the most eminent Calvinistic divines hold, the infinite worth or value of Christ’s atonement, its full sufficiency for expiating all the sins of all men.

A distinction was generally employed by the schoolmen, which has been often adverted to in this discussion, and which it may be proper to explain. They were accustomed to say, that Christ died sufficiently for all men, and efficaciously for the elect, sufficienter pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis. Some orthodox divines, who wrote before the extent of the atonement had been made the subject of full, formal, and elaborate discussion, and Calvin himself among the rest, admitted the truth of this scholastic position. But after controversy had thrown its full light upon the subject, orthodox divines generally refused to adopt this mode of stating the point, because it seemed to ascribe to Christ a purpose or intention of dying in the room of all, and of benefiting all by the proper effects of His death, as an atonement or propitiation; not that they doubted or denied the intrinsic sufficiency of His death for the redemption of all men, but because the statement whether originally so intended or not was so expressed as to suggest the idea, that Christ, in dying, desired and intended that all men should partake in the proper and peculiar effects of the shedding of His blood. Calvinists do not object to say[ing] that the death of Christ viewed objectively, apart from His purpose or design was sufficient for all, and efficacious for the elect, because this statement in the first clause merely asserts its infinite intrinsic sufficiency, which they admit; whereas the original scholastic form of the statement, namely, that He died sufficiently for all, seems to indicate that, when He died, He intended that all should derive some saving and permanent benefit from His death. The attempt made by some defenders of universal atonement to prove, that a denial of the universality of the atonement necessarily implies a denial of its universal intrinsic sufficiency, has nothing to do with the settlement of the state of the question, but only with the arguments by which the opposite side may be defended: and, therefore, I need not advert to it.

Secondly, It is not denied by the advocates of particular redemption, or of a limited atonement, that mankind in general, even those who ultimately perish, do derive some advantages or benefits from Christ’s death; and no position they hold requires them to deny this. They believe that important benefits have accrued to the whole human race from the death of Christ, and that in these benefits those who are finally impenitent and unbelieving partake. What they deny is, that Christ intended to procure, or did procure, for all men those blessings which are the proper and peculiar fruits of His death, in its specific character as an atonement, that He procured or purchased redemption that is, pardon and reconciliation for all men. Many blessings flow to mankind at large from the death of Christ, collaterally and incidentally, in consequence of the relation in which men, viewed collectively, stand to each other. All these benefits were, of course, foreseen by God, when He resolved to send His Son into the world; they were contemplated or designed by Him, as what men should receive and enjoy. They are to be regarded and received as bestowed by Him, and as thus unfolding His glory, indicating His character, and actually accomplishing His purposes; and they are to be viewed as coming to men through the channel of Christ’s mediation, of His sufferings and death. [FN: Witsius, De OEcon. Foed., Lib. ii., c. ix., sec. iv.; Turrettin., Loc. xiv., Qu. xiv., sec. xi]

The truth of this position has been considered as affording some warrant for saying, in a vague and indefinite sense, that Christ died for all men; and in this sense, and on this account, some Calvinists have scrupled about meeting the position that Christ died for all men with a direct negative, as if they might thus be understood as denying that there was any sense in which all men derived benefit, and in which God intended that they should derive benefit, from Christ’s death. But this position does not at all correspond with the proper import of what Scripture means when it tells us that Christ died foremen. This, as we prove against the Socinians, implies that He substituted Himself in their room and stead, that He put Himself in their legal position, that He made satisfaction to God’s justice for their sins, or that He purchased redemption for them; and this, we contend, does not hold true of any but those who are actually at length pardoned and saved. The advocates of universal atonement, then, have no right to charge us with teaching that none derive any benefit from Christ’s death except those who are pardoned and saved; we do not teach this, and we are not bound in consistency to teach it. We teach the opposite of this; and we are not deterred from doing so by the fear lest we should thereby afford to those who are opposed to us a medium for proving that, in the proper scriptural sense, He died for all men, or that the leading and peculiar benefits which His death procured for men, the benefits of salvation, were designed or intended for all mankind.

There is no very material difference between the state of the question with respect to the extent of the atonement, and to that at present we confine our attention, according as its universality is maintained by Arminians, or by those who hold Calvinistic doctrines upon other points. The leading distinction is, that the Calvinistic universalists are obliged to practice more caution in their declarations upon some points, and to deal somewhat more in vague and ambiguous generalities than the Arminians, in order to avoid as much as possible the appearance of contradicting or renouncing, by what they say upon this subject, their professed Calvinism upon other topics.

As the controversy with regard to the extent of the atonement does not turn, though many of the universalists would fain have it so, upon the question of the infinite sufficiency of Christ’s sufferings and merits, it must turn upon the question of the purpose, design, or intention of God in inflicting sufferings and death, upon His Son, and of Christ in voluntarily submitting to them. Universal atonement thus indicates and proves the existence, on the part of God and Christ, of a purpose, design, or intention, in some sense or other, to save all men. And for the Calvinistic universalists to assert the existence of such a purpose, design, or intention, in combination and in consistency with the doctrine that God has from eternity elected some men to everlasting life, and determined to save them, requires the introduction of a good deal of confusion and ambiguity into their mode of stating and arguing the case. They cannot say, with the Arminians, that Christ died equally for all men; for they cannot dispute that God’s special purpose of grace in regard to the elect, which Arminians deny, but they admit, must have, in some sense and to some extent, regulated or influenced the whole of the process by which God’s purpose was accomplished, by which His decree of election was executed. They accordingly contend for a general design or purpose of God and Christ indicated by the alleged universality of the atonement to save all men; and a special design or purpose indicated by the specialty of the bestowal of that faith (which they admit which the Arminians, practically at least, deny to be God’s gift) to save only the elect. But this, again, belongs rather to the argument of the case than to the state of the question. The substance of the matter is, that they concur with the Arminians in denying the great truth laid down in our Confession of Faith, that redemption, that is, pardon and reconciliation, are actually applied and communicated to all for whom they were procured or purchased; and, to a large extent, they employ the very same arguments in order to defend their position.

It may be worth while briefly to advert to one of the particular forms in which, in our own day, the state of the question has been exhibited by some of the Calvinistic universalists. It is that of asserting what they call a general and a special reference of Christ’s death, a general reference which it has to all men, and a special reference which it has to the elect. This is manifestly a very vague and ambiguous distinction, which may mean almost anything or nothing, and is, therefore, very well adapted to a transition state of things, when men are passing from comparative orthodoxy on this subject into deeper and more important error. This general reference of Christ’s death, its reference to all men, may mean merely, that, in consequence of Christ’s death, certain benefits or advantages flow to mankind at large, and in this sense it is admitted by those who hold the doctrine of particular redemption; or it may describe the proper Arminian doctrine of universal or unlimited atonement; or, lastly, it may indicate anything or everything that may be supposed to lie between these two views. It cannot, therefore, be accepted as a true and fair account of the state of the question about the extent of the atonement, as discussed between Calvinists, and may not unreasonably be regarded with some jealousy and suspicion, as at least fitted, if not intended, to involve the true state of the question in darkness or ambiguity. The universality of the atonement had been defended before our Confession of Faith was prepared, by abler and more learned men, both Calvinists and Arminians, than any who in modern times have undertaken the same cause. The authors of the Confession were thoroughly versant in these discussions; and it will be found, upon full study and investigation, that whatever variety of forms either the state of the question, or the arguments adduced on both sides, may have assumed in more modern discussions, the whole substance and merits of the case are involved in, and can be most fairly and fully discussed by, the examination of their position, namely, that “to all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same.” This position proceeds upon the assumption that He purchased redemption for men. The truth of this assumption is involved in the establishment of the doctrine of the atonement, of Christ’s death being a ransom price, in opposition to the Socinians, and must be admitted by all, unless, while professedly holding the doctrine of the atonement, they virtually sink down to Socinianism, by explaining it entirely away. And this being assumed, the position asserts, that all for whom redemption was purchased, have it applied or communicated to them; and that, of course, Christ died for the purpose, and with the intention, of procuring or purchasing pardon and reconciliation only for those who ultimately receive them, when they repent and believe.


That concludes Section VIII. I hope that those who disagree with me on the Atonement (particularly those who consider themselves Calvinists, and most especially those who claim to be confessional) will avail themselves of a careful reading of Cunningham’s chapter above. I have removed emphasis from the chapter throughout, and modified some of the formatting and spelling. If we could all agree with Cunningham, I believe there would be no great difference between us. I will not add further comment at this time.


One of my Theological Opponents on the Atonement

April 19, 2008

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!


Classifying Baxter and a Free Offer to my Theological Opponents

April 18, 2008

Classifying Baxter

Phillip Johnson has an article (to which Trey Austin thoughtfully directed me) in which he provides a fairly helpful and quick guide to some distinctions among Evangelical views of the order of decrees, ranging from Supralapsarianism to Arminianism.

In the section on what Johnson prefers to call Amyraldism (as opposed to Amyraldianism), Johnson states: “Puritan Richard Baxter embraced this view, or one very nearly like it. He seems to have been the only major Puritan leader who was not a thoroughgoing Calvinist. Some would dispute whether Baxter was a true Amyraldian. (See, e.g. George Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991 reprint], Appendix, 542.) But Baxter seemed to regard himself as Amyraldian.” (emphases omitted)

Free Offer to my Theological Opponents

This is interesting, because it seems that certain folks have been quoting Baxter on the issues related to the atonement, as though he and they were in agreement. This may have lead to certain misconceptions from my side, so – in the interest of fairness – I want to extend an offer (a well-meant offer) to those who have been quoting Baxter in support of their view of the atonement, as well as to any of my other theological opponents that have expressed a view that Christ died for each and every man without exception.

The offer is this:

Try to explain in what sense you think it is appropriate to say that Christ died “for” each and every person.

– Do you mean that Christ’s death had an intrinsic worth that was sufficient (if it were to be applied) for the atonement of the elect and reprobate together? If so, you’ll find us in agreement.

– Do you mean that Christ’s death was to no eternal benefit to the reprobate, but only (from an eternal standpoint) increased their guilt by making them in essence doubly guilty. If so, you’ll find us in agreement.

– Do you mean that Christ’s death had some temporal, incidental benefit to the reprobate, as the benefits of Christ’s death for the elect’s sake overflow to the rest of mankind? If so, you’ll find us in agreement.

– Or do you mean something more than that? Are you taking the position that Christ actually redeemed the reprobate? Are you taking the position that Christ’s death actually expiated the guilt of the sins of the reprobate? Are you taking the position that Christ’s death actually reconciled the reprobate to God? Are you taking the position that the sins of the reprobate were taken away, having been nailed to the cross? Are you taking the position that the reprobate died with Christ on the cross and were raised with Christ in his resurrection? Are you taking the position that Christ, as high priest, offered himself as a sacrifice to the Father on behalf of the reprobate? Are you taking the position that the Father does not accept Christ’s sacrifice for some for whom Christ offered that sacrifice? Are you taking the position that Christ actually substituted himself for the reprobate? Are you taking the position that Christ actually paid for the sins of the reprobate? Are you taking the position that Christ purchased the reprobate by his death? If so, we disagree.

It seems that answering these questions should help us determine our differences, if indeed there are differences.

This free offer, well-intentioned is open to all without exception (including Arminians, Amyraldians, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and anyone else who calls themsevles Christians). Also, if someone wants to respond by email (so as not to make the responses public), my email is accessible through my profile.


More of Trey Austin

April 14, 2008

Well, it seems that Mr. Austin does not like the correction he has received by those he considers his Christian brethren, so much that he has fired off a massive, multi-post response. I have addressed his multiple posts as a group.

1. Opening Post
In which Trey uses a colorful analogy involving dung, while falsely claiming, “Notice that Dr. White never refers to any other Christian with whom he has major disagrement as “brother.”” I seem to pretty clearly recall Dr. White calling Pastor Shishko a brother in Christ, even though Dr. White disagrees majorly with Pastor Shishko on the issue of Baptism.

2. Not the Reformed View (Round II)
In which Trey complains that he has been misunderstood, and claims that he was not saying that “my point was not that my own view is only Reformed view and Jame’s White’s isn’t.” He seems to be saying that he was complaining that there is a multiplicity of Reformed views on the subject – particularly on the subject of the doctrine of the Atonement. On the other hand, Trey actually wrote in his first article, “No more than you should have some Protestant Reformed theologian, who denies the free offer of the Gospel, and who denies common grace, to be the poster-child for being a Calvinist should you have James White out in the public eye representing himself and his lop-sided Calvinism as true and proper Calvinism.” Actually, though, the problem is that it is Trey’s contra-confessional view of the atonement (or at least the view that he seems to adopt vy his support of Ponter and company) that is “lop-sided Calvinism” if it can really be called Calvinism at all, rather than thinly-masked Amyraldianism. Again, lest Trey’s new intra-Reformed ecumenicism seem sincere, recall his claim: “So, if you want Puritanism of the modern variety, James White is your man; he tows the line to a tee. But if you want real, historical Calvinism, he’s not any kind of reliable source.” Now he claims, “So, understand, i’m arguing not that White’s view is not Reformed, nor am i arguing that it’s biblically wrong (though, i think it is), i am arguing that it’s only one among many Reformed views on the issue of God’s will concerning the salvation of the non-elect.” (all typos in original) Judge for yourself whether that’s the same argument or not.

3. Obligation to Critique Someone Else
In which Trey complains of having to deal with other subjects than the promotion of the distorted and logically incoherent view of the atonement advocated by Ponter and company. He complains that “In fact, having taken part in several forums devoted to internet apologetics, i have been increasingly convinced that it is a useless exercise that simply blakanizes positions rather than leading to understanding and mutual love.” (all typos original, I think “blakanizes” is supposed to be “Balkanizes”) Is it just my imagination or has the kettle of Internet apologetics been called black?

And he does so again in the same post, where he writes, “So, yes, it *IS* my business, and the business of every other Calvinist, how James White acts and how he displays a less than charitable attitude or a theological eccintricity that he presents as *THE* Reformed view, because, for good or for bad, many people will see that, recognize it as someone negative, as i do, and judge all Calvinists on that basis.” (again, all typos in original) Trey’s assisting those who advocate Amyraldianism-lite as though it were Calvinism, and then claims that conventional, confessional, middle-of-the-road Calvinism is not *THE* Reformed view. But if we are going to include Amyraldianism within the “Reformed View” broadly defined, then there is no strong reason to except Arminianism from the “Reformed View,” in which case the Reformed label is just something we should throw away, because it has lost its meaning.

Of course, the solution is to define Reformed theology by the major standards: the WCF, the LBCF, and even the canons of Dordt. The quasi-Amyraldianism of Ponter and company is not within the boundaries of any of those.

4. I Don’t Know Debate
In which Trey claims that he knows plenty about debate, and offers (based on his grade-school experience) some pointers to Dr. White. One hardly needs to provide commentary.

Trey seems to insist that he knows how better to answer questions. Thus, for example, he claims: “Hence, we can and should affirm that God desires the salvation of all the non-elect, insofar as he has commanded them to repent and believe and be saved, and insofar as he has told us plainly that it is his desire to see all men to be saved. God desires his commandments to be kept: That’s the heart of the assumption behind the preceptive will of God, and so we can rightly say that, anything God commands he desires to take place.”

Of course, Dr. White fully agrees with that statement, but such a statement would only confuse the issue, which was God’s sovereign desire, not his revealed will. In fact, all of those that Trey disparagingly refers to as “high Calvinists” (i.e. confessional Reformed folks) would agree that God desires (in one sense) that his commands be obeyed, and that one of his commands is that people repent and believe. But that sense is really not relevant to the debate that Dr. White was having with Mr. Gregg – a point that Trey seems willing to overlook in order to make a string of ad hominem attacks.

5. Personal Contact Needed?
In which Trey indicates that he feels justified in making his complaints public, apparently based in part (how, Trey doesn’t explain) on the subsequent public response by Dr. White. While I would agree that Trey might have been wiser to have complained to Dr. White privately first, before making himself appear absurd in a public forum, I also think that if Trey is responding to a public debate, he should feel free to do so publicly. Likewise, Trey should not complain that he is being responded to publicly, since he has made his amazing accusations a public matter (and I don’t think that Trey is necessarily complaining about that).

6. When Ad Hominem Arguments Go Wild
In which Trey complains that he has not seen substantiation for the claims that his initial post was ad hominem. Trey then complains that the present author’s introduction to my response to Tony Byrne’s post was ad hominem because I identified Tony’s connection to him and to their mutual friend (and theological ally), David Ponter. This truly is laughable.

Why so? It is laughable because (1) Trey imputes motives for the identification that are both unnecessary and inaccurate, and because (2) Trey does the very same thing. As to (1), the reason for providing identification is to help the readers make the connection to the pair of attacks recently launched on Dr. White. As to (2), Trey’s own self-label of “Reformed” and “Calvinist” are aimed to prejudice the reader in his favor. But I must qualify (2) a bit. It’s not quite the same thing, because I’ve actually demonstrated the non-Reformed nature of Tony’s and David’s (and, it appears, Trey’s) position, whereas Trey simply claims a label that doesn’t belong to him.

Furthermore, returning to (1), Trey goes even further off the deep end with his false claim that “[TurretinFan]’s trying to prejudice his audience against anything we say with regard to the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement by labeling us as “Quasi-Amyraldians.” This complaint is off the deep end for at least two reasons. One: as Trey himself admits, he hasn’t made a positive case at all – in fact – while he’s endorsed (one way or another) Ponter’s position, he hasn’t even made a negative position against the Reformed view of the limited atonement (as Tony and David have attempted). So, apparently (to Trey) I feel the need to rebut his position with an ad hominem, even though his position has not actually been presented. Two: it is the extent, not sufficiency, of the atonement that is at stake. If Tony, David, and company merely taught the unlimited sufficiency of Christ’s death, they would be within bounds of the Calvinistic view.

Moreover, returning again to (2), Trey himself uses labels on Dr. White to discredit Dr. White’s view as being the Reformed position. If it were ad hominem for me to use the label “Quasi-Amyraldian” (although I did not use it in the context of discrediting someone’s argument) all the more so it must be ad hominem for Trey to use a label in the context of discrediting Dr. White’s statements regarding the Reformed position.

Finally, the nail in the coffin was Trey claim that, “he also is engaging in guilt-by-association fallacy, by saying that Tony’s views are less than reliable because he is friends and in agreement with David Ponter.” (a) Actually, of course, I never make such a claim. Trey’s uncharitable assumption regarding the purpose for the association doesn’t convert a simple making of an association with an improper use of such an association. (b) Associating people by shared beliefs for the purpose of highlighting that shared belief is not the fallacy of guilt by association: it’s association by guilt. Trey would do well to get it straight. (c) Trey himself in post (1) above employed similar grouping (“his internet broadcast certainly was nothing more than an invitation to his sycophants to flood the blogosphere with responses”). (d) In Trey’s grouping, the inference was much harsher and prejudicial than in mine (comrades [mine] vs. sycophants [his]).

I hope Trey will see the error of his position, both with respect to Dr. White, but more importantly with respect to the Ponter position on the atonement.

If we believe in a Vicarious Atonement (and the Reformed church does) then those for whom Christ died – the elect nation for whom our High Priest offered His once-for-all sacrifice – will be saved. We should still affirm that Christ’s death is, as to its intrinsic worth, sufficient for all. But Christ is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.

But here’s my challenge to Trey Austin, who hands out debating tips to Dr. White. I have a debate blog all set up, and I’ve debated folks there before. If you’d like, we can debate (in writing) from Scripture the doctrine of the Atonement. I will take the view expressed in the Westminster Standards (WLC):

Question 59: Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?

Answer: Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ has purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.

If Trey believes that redemption was purchased for others to whom it will never be applied or effectually communicated, or who will never in time be enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel, then I hope he’ll take up the challenge. I’m 100% ready to defend the true doctrine expressed in WLC 59 against any taker – whether it be Trey, Tony, David, or anyone else.


Ponter’s Massive Calvin Quotations – A Quick Note

April 14, 2008

I’m in the process of carefully reviewing a recent massive post by David Ponter, full of quotations from English translations of John Calvin’s writings and preachings. My initial impression upon skimming through the post was that it was simply cherry-picked quotations designed to convey Ponter’s basic thesis. Having looked into the matter a bit deeper, it appears that Ponter has tried to include all the quotations he could find that he thinks are relevant.

At any rate, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he has not purposely omitted quotations that he believes indicate that Calvin held to the traditional 5 point Calvinism taught by Turretin, Owen, Hodge, Shedd, et al. On the other hand, I’m not sure what Ponter’s methodology has been – and I don’t think he specifically states it in his post. Indeed, I might be mistaken, but I think that Ponter may be in the process of continuing to expand on his lists – though how he is obtaining his quotations is somewhat obscure. Perhaps it is by personal reading of Calvin’s writings? Perhaps it is by the collective readings by those in his limited/unlimited-intention circle?

I hope to provide a bit more detailed response shortly, if God wills, followed ultimately by a very detailed response to a few interesting issues that the post presents.


Another Quasi-Amyraldian Attack on Dr. White

April 14, 2008

Tony Byrne (aka Ynottony) comrade-in-arms of Trey Austin and another of David Ponter‘s band of Quasi-Amyraldians (who host the misleading “Calvin and Calvinism” website), has launched a fresh attack on Dr. White’s radio debate with Steve Gregg. (link to attack piece) (Update: To be clear [and particularly since Carrie Hunter – one of David’s friends – has complained], when I say “attack” I do not mean that Tony calls Dr. White a big meanie. What I mean is that Tony (ironically) insinuates that Dr. White doesn’t understand the theological issues involved.)

The piece handles a complex (in terms of its grammar – not logically complex) question asked during a cross-examination portion of the debate, and appears to attempt to suggest the same thing that Trey Austin tried to suggest, namely that Dr. White doesn’t know the Reformed position.

This, of course, is absurd. Dr. White is well aware of the two wills distinction mentioned by Tony, and would indeed fully endorse it. What Dr. White would not do, however, is to make a false distinction between the non-elect who do not hear the gospel and the non-elect who do hear the gospel.

I’m not sure whether Tony misses this issue, or just doesn’t understand it. There is no difference with respect to the revealed will of God (or the secret will of God) between the non-elect who hear and do not hear the gospel. God’s revealed will is the same for both, and his secret will is the same for both. What is different is the culpability of the group that hear the gospel and reject it.

Tony goes so far as to accuse Dr. White of denying that God’s revealed will is that all men repent and believe, as though Dr. White would reject the fact that the gospel is revealed to be a command to be obeyed.

From where does Tony get these ridiculous ideas, it’s hard to say with absolute certainty. Nevertheless, the underlying root is clear. Tony has a mistaken idea that for the call to repent and believe to be universal and “well meant” it must be that (a) Christ died for the non-elect, and (b) God wants to save the non-elect. Of course, Dr. White would reject (a) as contrary to Scripture, and – if he would not reject (b) outright – would qualify it in ways that Tony could not accept.

After all, as Tony inconsistently is forced to admit, Christ died with the intent that his death be efficacious only for the elect. Once one recognizes that fact, the warm fuzzies generated by repeatedly using the term “well meant” go away. Unless Tony his slipped from Amyraldianism (what Tony likes to call, “moderate Calvinism”) into Arminianism or worse, his theology cannot really accommodate a gospel offer that is any more well-meaning than that of the Reformed position.

As Hoeksamaa explains, the gospel call is universal but conditional. It is, in a sense, an offer of salvation, but there is an explicit condition: a condition that none of the non-elect ever fulfill. It’s sincerity is not to be judged by a criterion of whether the non-elect can fulfill it, or whether hypothetical provision has been made in case the non-elect were to fulfill it, but rather by the certainty of salvation for those who do fulfill it.

Those who repent of their sins, and turn in faith to Christ alone for salvation will be saved. Those who do not, will be damned forever. It’s not just an offer, it’s an offer you cannot refuse. Once you realize that it is the truth, once you appreciate the sinfulness of your sin and the holiness of the God who stands in judgment over you, you’d have to be absolutely out of your mind to refuse to repent and trust in Christ. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

But the non-elect (in fact, even the elect, prior to regeneration – and thus all the unregenerate men) have a moral inability to come to Christ, because they love darkness better than light. They hate God and will not heed the warnings that God’s messengers give them. The command is there, Repent and Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ but to them it is as though someone were mocking. It is truly a sad thing to watch the wicked perishing, because we have empathy for our fellow men. Let us, therefore, bear testimony to the truth of God’s word and seek to persuade those around us to obey the Gospel command, for if they do, they will be saved.

Trust in Him!


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