Archive for the ‘David Ponter’ Category

Ponter and Paul on Sincerity (revisited)

August 25, 2011

David Ponter is a Unicornucopia of error in his attempt to challenge the “sincere offer.” My friend Paul has already provided a general response pointing out that a flaw of Ponter’s analogy is denial of omnipotence. Let’s take it a step further.

Ponter’s idea is expressed through this analogy:

David says to his friend Paddy,

Paddy, if God were to say to me, “David, I want to offer you a green polka dotted unicorn for your next birthday, all you have to do, David, is to believe and embrace my offer, you will get a green-spotted unicorn for your birthday,” God would be thoroughly sincere in this offer.

Paddy, the Irish Leprechaun, says to David,

But that would be impossible David, because everyone knows that green spotted unicorns don’t exist in this world. God could not sincerely offer to give you something that does not exist.

Ponter has tried to bias the example by picking something very fanciful. Let’s pick something less fanciful. Suppose that God simply promises 1 ounce more gold than currently exists. Well, in that case, I think we would all recognize that God would not be challenged to fulfill that offer simply because of the present non-existence of the last ounce of gold, since God can easily make more gold. It doesn’t even require omnipotence to make a finite amount of gold. So, the intuition that God cannot offer what he doesn’t presently have is mistaken.

Moreover, Ponter’s analogy seems flawed for another reason. The gospel (in its primary sense) doesn’t promise to give you a thing or object. It promises salvation from your sins. God is saying that if you trust in Christ and repent of your sins, you will be forgiven, adopted, justified, and so on.

Maybe you will say, “but what about our heavenly mansions?” Maybe you have something there! Will heaven be a ghost town of empty mansions of folks who were offered the gospel but didn’t accept? Or does God actually only prepare mansions for those who trust in Christ? Intuitively, one would not expect heaven to be full of unoccupied mansions. But is that what Ponter thinks is necessary to make God’s offer sincere?


Sincere Offer, Election, and Limited Atonement

August 24, 2011

My friend Paul has posted a response to David Ponter’s response to James Anderson’s comments on Limited Atonement and the Free Offer. It’s a very detailed and worth reading. Allow me to post some shorter thoughts on the topic, namely the objection:

Is the “free offer” of the gospel really “sincere” if Jesus only died for some men and not all? If there is no atonement available for them, the offer seems insincere.

This is a frequent objection, particularly from Amyraldians and Arminians. If you think that the gospel is “Jesus died for you,” then this objection makes a lot of sense. If we’re supposed to tell people indiscriminately that Christ died for them, but he didn’t, that doesn’t seem very sincere.

Scriptures, however, don’t present the gospel that way. In Scripture, the gospel is expressed in terms of repenting of your sins and believing on (i.e. trusting in) Jesus Christ for salvation. If you trust in Christ and repent of your sins, God will have mercy on you.

There is a world of difference between those two messages. One message makes an unconditional assertion regarding what Christ has done. The other message makes a conditional assertion about what God will do.

Yet, even among those who will grant to us that the gospel is not, “Jesus died for you,” some people still don’t like the idea of salvation being offered to those for whom God has not made any provision. Indeed, our Amyraldian and Arminian friends sometimes urge on us the idea that such a conditional offer is not “sincere” unless God has made preparations for those people.

The mere absence of enough provision for everyone to be saved, however, doesn’t explain this objection. Suppose a company offers to “anyone who is willing to come down here and listen to us explain the benefits of our new tractor,” an incentive of “$5, just for coming down and listening to the talk.” No one would consider it “insincere” if the company doesn’t actually have $5 times the number of people who will hear the offer, so long as they have $5 times the number of people that they think will accept the offer.

So, as long as the provision is sufficient for those who will “accept” the offer, we don’t view the offer as insincere. Since, under the Calvinist framework, God has made provision for all who will come to Christ, the offer of the gospel should also be considered to be sincere by this standard.

The intuition behind the objection that remains, however, is that an “offer” doesn’t seem sincere, if you have no intention of giving the offered thing to the person to whom you are offering it. For example, when a child offers to share an ice cream cone, it sometimes happens that this is simply an imitation of a parent’s offer to share the parent’s cone. If the parent were to try to accept the child’s offer, the child might greedily refuse to allow the parent to have a bite. So, the child has only offered to share the cone because the child thought the offer would be refused. Such an offer is insincere.

Of course, by this time we are now dealing with the kind of objection that an Amyraldian, or someone like Ponter, cannot consistently make. After all, the problem with the child’s offer is not that he doesn’t have a cone to share, but that he does not intend to give up the cone. The Amyraldian admits that God does not intend to save the non-elect. Therefore, whether or not a provision is made seems utterly moot.

Nevertheless, for those who insist that God must intend to save, we may still legitimately question the weight of this objection. Isn’t it enough that God intends to save everyone who “accepts” the “offer”? The idea that God must intend to save all those whom he knows will refuse seems absurd when expressed that way. Thus, we may conclude that while such an objection may have some limited intuitive appeal, it does not hold up to intellectual scrutiny.


Muller on the Reformation

November 3, 2009

The following is a very brief response I had written and placed on hold some time ago, but which I might as well post now. After that is some more recent news, brought to my attention by the helpful folks at Historical Theoblogy.

*** Older Portion ***

I’ve perceived that Ponter, battered and bruised by the Biblical (and Confessional) broadside against his bellicose and bilious banter, has pursued an even less productive path, pointing to his pal Muller as prince (or perhaps pope!) of Protestant pigeonholing (here’s Ponter’s Post).

Bah. [Both to the technique used and to my silly overuse of adjectives and consonation.]

Muller is part of the Calvin vs. Calvinist movement, which is a blemish on his record. As Dr. Chad van Dixhoorn recently noted, “Ward’s two chapters strike a more militant tone, and begin by chastening the public for their ignorant assumptions about the Assembly – a now commonplace introduction for lectures and studies about the gathering. He then takes up the hammer that Muller usually wields and batters away at the Calvin-versus-Calvinist arguments that continue to encrust otherwise attractive post Reformation research.”(Emphasis added – source)

One doesn’t have to be an anonymous internet apologist to recognize that just because one or two historians make a claim about the Reformation, doesn’t make it so. Muller doesn’t have anything better to back up his claims than Ponter has … although perhaps Muller would be more circumspect about how makes such claims.


I had drafted the above some time ago, and left it in draft mode. However, now it seems Muller has provided a new article on Calvin and Calvinism which concludes that neither Calvin nor the Calvinists were Calvinists. Muller ends up qualifying himself quite heavily, but I suspect it will simply be more fodder for the cannon of our Amyraldian friends (link to report regarding Muller’s paperdirect link to Muller’s paper)

My comment about him not having anything better than Ponter is almost certainly an overstatement, though Ponter has scrounged for material quite doggedly. I encourage folks to read Muller’s paper, if only to get a better idea of a more moderate stance on the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” position than what one would see at Ponter’s blog.


Phillip Johnson and Amyraldianism

December 12, 2008

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)

He also cautions: “But Amyraldism probably should not be equated with all brands of so-called “four-point Calvinism.” In my own experience, most self-styled four-pointers are unable to articulate any coherent explanation of how the atonement can be universal but election unconditional. So I wouldn’t glorify their position by labeling it Amyraldism. (Would that they were as committed to the doctrine of divine sovereignty as Moise Amyraut! Most who call themselves four-pointers are actually crypto-Arminians.)”

(source) “Notes on Supralapsarianism & Infralapsarianism”

It is very interesting to me that the same folks Tony Byrne, David Ponter, and some of their associates that have been so anxious to misuse Phillip Johnson’s primer on Hyper-Calvinism are completely unwilling to use his notes on Calvinism.

And, of course, when we see Tony’s chart that he handed out to Dr. Allen for the so-called John 3:16 conference, guess who pops up in the “Moderate/Classical Calvinist” column of the chart:

Amyraut – the very person for whom Amyraldianism is named
Baxter – one of the very few Puritan Amyraldians
Dr. Alan Clifford – The Pastor of the Norwich Reformed Church, which has been holding yearly Amyraldianism conferences for at least three years.

Now, certainly, Tony throws other men into the list, some more or less justifiably. Bunyan, for example, may belong there, but Jonathan Edwards almost certainly does not. Here’s some evidence in support of my position on Edwards:

‘Tis Absurd to suppose that Christ Died for the salvation of those that he at the same time Certainly knew never would be saved. What Can be meant by that expression of Christ dying for the salvation of any one, but dying with a design that they should be saved by his death. or dying hoping that he they will be saved or at Least being uncertain but that they will be saved by his death. When we say that one Person does a thing for another, that which is Universally Understood by such an expression is that he does it with a design of some benefit to that other Person. ‘Tis nonsense to say that Any Person does any thing to the End that Another thing that may be done and ’tis Impossible that he should design Any benefit to Another person that he Certainly knows will have no benefit by it.

‘Tis Nonsense to say that Any thing [is done] with a design that Another thing should be done and to that End that it may be Done, at the same time that he has not the Least expectation that that other thing Ever will be done. and much more when he perfectly knows it never will. It matters not in this Controversy whether we suppose an absolute decree or no if we only allow that God knows all things that he knows future things before they Come to Pass as he declares he does in his word and no Christians pretend to deny But if we don’t deny this it implies a plain Contradiction to suppose that Christ died for in a proper sense.

If it Replied that no other is Intended when they say Christ died for all then that by his death all have the offer of salvation so that they may have salvation if they will accept of salvation – without any expectation or design of Christ that they should be saved by his death. if that be all that is Intended they Are Against no body – all that are Called Christians own that By Christ’s death all that live under the Gospel have the offer of salvation.

– Edwards, Jonathan – Sermon on Galatians 2:20


Ponter vs. The Westminster Confession of Faith

October 18, 2008

Ponter writes:

One could say, “But such and such later Reformed confession or theologian denies this theology.” To that we would say, “So what? How does citing a man or confession a century or more later, disprove the historical truth that earlier Reformation theologians held to unlimited expiation and redemption? It doesn’t. In terms of proper historical investigation, citing sources from a century later is irrelevant. Such a strategy is just smoke and mirrors.”

(source) Leaving aside Mr. Ponter’s erroneous interpretation of the works of the early reformers for a moment, this is the sort of concession that I knew would have to come from Ponter eventually. As I had pointed out in an earlier post, Ponter’s hypothesis requires one to imagine that Calvin held not simply to an infralapsarian Calvinistic position, but to a full-blown Amyraldian position: one that contradicts all the major Reformed confessions and which consequently is properly placed outside the bounds of “Reformed” theology, whether or not it was held by earlier theologians.
Ponter’s admission may come as a bit of a surprise to some of his supporters, such as those in the PCA, who do not realize that Ponter’s agenda is aimed at placing the Reformers in conflict with the confessions.
Of course, this sort of deflection with respect pre-WCF reformers doesn’t extend past the 17th century. Even a very deceitful person cannot reasonably hope to fool many people into thinking that Charles Hodge taught universal redemption, contrary to the WCF, for example.
And, as has already been pointed out, quoting loosely worded statements by Reformers from before the Arminian controversy is a recipe for confusion, just as it would be improper to try read the “New Perspective on Paul” controversy back onto Calvin and his contemporaries, it is likewise improper to try to read the Arminian/Amyraldian controversies back into the minds of the pre-controversy Reformers.
There are some quotations, and Ponter’s post provides two examples, that taken out of their historical context and placed into ours sound very Arminian or Amyraldian. Ponter’s argument seems to be: “no one made a fuss about these comments at that time, so when Amyraldians make such arguments today, everyone should just accept them as part of the ‘Reformed’ perspective.” Such an argument is the result of shielding one’s eyes from the value that the Arminian/Amyraldian controversy had in developing and working out clearly the Scriptural doctrine of the Atonement. The debates with Romanists for the most part focused elsewhere.
Ponter’s apparent underlying strategy is to amass as many decontextualized quotations as possible from early Reformers, and then argue that despite the Scriptural resolution of the Arminian/Amyraldian controversies (in favor of TULIP, which Ponter so loathes), such positions (the positions contrary to the Reformed confessions) should still be viewed Reformed.

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.


Ponter’s Last Stand

September 17, 2008

Ponter seems to be unable to justify his position with respect to Bullinger and has reduced himself to simply insulting those with whom he disagrees. (link to insult-riddled post)
Leaving aside the barrage of insults, I’ll summarize his points (implicit and explicit), and explain why they don’t avail him any support.

1) Mischaracterization of the Criticism

Ponter asserts that: “Our opponent has made a claim that comes to this, when Bullinger, for example, uses the term ‘world’ he does not literally mean world.” That is not, of course, the criticism. The criticism is that Ponter puerilely assumes that “world” means something like “each and every person who has ever lived, is now living, or will live” whenever it suits his agenda. It’s the same “WORLD MEANS WORLD” argument that we are used to seeing from novice Arminian debaters who haven’t figured out that “world” has a broad semantic range.

Ponter cannot plead the excuse of inexperience, so Ponter’s mischaracterization of the criticism must be attributed to something other than ignorance.

2) A Second mischaracterization, and a Bit of Silliness

Ponter continues by stating, “His arguments for this naked assertion in essence, come down to this: ….” Before we get to the rest of his description it’s worth noting that poor Ponter cannot decide for himself whether the supposed position of his critic is a “naked assertion” or an assertion supported by “His arguments.”

Ponter characterizes the arguments this way: “Because the Arminian (1620s) and Amyraldian (1640s) debates had not occurred yet, the early Reformed felt no need to be careful about their terms, and so we cannot assume that by their language they literally meant all the world.” (emphasis omitted) Of course, again, Ponter has thrown in his false definition of the issue already address in (1). Furthermore, Mr. Ponter has made the argument more extreme than it is. Instead of saying that “the early Reformed felt no need to be careful about their terms,” the argument was more narrowly focused on the lack of need to be wary of an Arminian or Amyraldian misunderstanding of the Biblical terms.

Ponter then argues that, “This of course presupposes the claim that they were somehow unable to state or have an opinion on the extent of the expiation as per its substitution and sin-bearing,” but Ponter is wrong. At least, if the characterization he presents presupposes what he claims, it is only because he has chosen to attack a straw man. In fact, there is no presupposition that the Arminian or Amyraldian controversies were necessary to in order for one to have an opinion regarding the extent of the expiation Christ made (with or without the further detail of substitution and/or sin-bearing) or in order for one to state an opinion in that regard. In fact, I myself illustrated Knox (or at least his adversary) speaking to the issue before those controversies.

Ponter than argues that: “Our opponent therefore claims we must assume that by “world” they meant it in a non-exhaustive sense,” but again Ponter is wrong. Ponter’s invalid induction is premised on his multiple straw men. Furthermore, it’s not my intent to suggest that one must “assume” anything. Instead, one must not read the Arminian and Amyraldian controversies into earlier writers. One can readily establish that the word “world” had a broad semantic domain not only in Scripture but in the writings of the Reformers. With that in mind, to make an infantile assumption that a given usage of the word happens to carry the precise meaning helpful to one’s case is to engage in what can only be pleasantly described as wishful thinking.

Ponter than continues with his rebuttal of his caricature of the criticism placed against his position. He states, by way of preface, “Well, firstly, it is nonsense. The discussion now has well and truly gone into twilight mode. Let me posit a few common sense rejoinders.” Only the straw men, however, are nonsense.

Ponter claims, “1) Just because a topic was not debated, does not mean a given person could not have had an opinion on a given subject. Or that they could not have explicitly meant what they quite apparently said.” The first of these two points is – of course – fully acceptable, since Reformers (such as Knox) did have an opinion and did express their opinion. They didn’t have an opinion on the controversies per se, and of course they couldn’t have – without the gift of prophecy. The second of these two points just begs the question. It is only “quite apparently” the case that they said what Mr. Ponter would like to imagine they said, because Mr. Ponter has an axe to grind. In fact, (at least in some of the instances we’ve explored) they simply used a word that has a wide semantic domain, and Mr. Ponter has made the common lexical error of just picking a definition that suits him.

Ponter next asserts, “2) However, we do know the topic of limited atonement was debated in Bullinger’s time. It was clarified by Prosper in the 5thC. It was debated again by Gottschalk in the 9thC. It was settled and clarified again by Lombard in the 12thC. Lombard’s synthesis was reaffirmed by Thomas in the 13thC. We know that Bucer debated it in the 16thC, in some form or another. We know that Trent condemned limited atonement in the 16thC. So the issue was known to the Reformers.” This is, perhaps, the most bizarre of Mr. Ponter’s claims.

The Council of Trent, one may recall, stated their doctrine of “universal atonement” in terminology that would be more amenable to a hypothetical sense than to an actual sense,

Him God hath proposed as a propitiator, through faith in his blood, for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world. [Chapter III] But, though He died for all, yet do not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only unto whom the merit of His passion is communicated. For as in truth men, if they were not born propagated of the seed of Adam, would not be born unjust, – seeing that, by that propagation, they contract through him, when they are conceived, injustice as their own, – so, if they were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just. For this benefit the apostle exhorts us, evermore to give thanks to the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, and hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, and remission of sins.

Note especially the term “proposed” and the clear acknowledgment of the fact that “not all receive the benefit of His death.” In fact, if we dig deeper into Trent, we discover not only that it does not affirm a universal redemption of mankind, it in fact opposes the Reformed doctrine of complete redemption of the elect, for it canonizes: “CANON XIV.–If any one saith, that the satisfaction, by which penitents redeem their sins through Jesus Christ, are not a worship of God, but traditions of men, which obscure the doctrine of grace, and the true worship of God, and the benefit itself of the death of Christ; let him be anathema.”

And again, the unlimited satisfaction for the sins of the elect is opposed by Rome who states, “CANON XIII.–If any one saith, that satisfaction for sins, as to their temporal punishment, is nowise made to God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, by the punishments inflicted by Him, and patiently borne, or by those enjoined by the priest, nor even by those voluntarily undertaken, as by fastings, prayers, almsdeeds, or by other works also of piety; and that, therefore, the best penance is merely a new life; let him be anathema.”

These absurdities are – of course – the very things opposed by the Reformers (Bullinger and others). Thus, Trent hardened itself not into an Arminian or Amyraldian view (per se) but into an anti-Reformed view in particular with respect to the scope of the redemption and satisfaction made by Christ for the very elect. In point of fact, the original Arminians and Amyraldians would certainly have agreed with the Reformers (and against the unscriptural Tridentine notions) that Christ’s redemption and satisfaction for the elect were universal and complete – leaving no sin to be satisfied through penance, indulgences, or Purgatory.

Ponter continues with more of the same, “We also know unlimited expiation was being defended in the 1570s by Kimedoncius no less: against the Socinians and Universalists. That indicates the issue was already getting attention before then, in order to warrant Kimedoncius’ dedication of an entire book to the defense of the doctrine. We know that Ursinus is defending, what Richard Muller calls a non-speculative hypothetical universalism against the Socinians (recall Richard Muller identifies Ursinus, along with Bullinger and Musclus as holding to this form of non-speculative hypothetical universalism).”

It’s not really clear whether Ponter understands what non-speculative hypothetical universalism is.

Mr. Ponter continues: “3) Our opponent has assumed the onus or burden of proof here, as he must show that they never could have spoken of the extent of the expiation in literal or actual universal terms, denoting all mankind literally. Of course, his problem is, if just one example of an exhaustive use of “world” could be found, his whole thesis is imploded. That is why he has got to such absurdities.” Of course, this criticism only applies to the caricature, not to the actual argument. In fact, the opposite is the case. The onus is on Mr. Ponter to prove his thesis that Bullinger taught Universal Atonement – not on his critic to rebut him.

To be continued …

Unlimited Atonement Clarification

September 13, 2008

I want to add a piece of clarification regarding yesterday’s Unlimited Atonement rebuttal post. The clarification is this:

1) I realize that there are people who say that they hold to Unlimited Atonement who do not hold to Universal Redemption. How that is supposed to be a possible distinction is a fascinating study, but not the point of yesterday’s post.

2) There is no reasonable argument that Universal Redemption is an acceptable view under any of the major Reformed confessions, but see (1). Incidentally, if Ponter or any of his gang disagree about (2), I’d be surprised, but interested to see how they think that position defensible.

3) Before the rise of Arminianism, there was much less need for Reformed writers to be careful to clearly distinguish their position from that as-yet-nonexistent position. So, it’s not surprising that we don’t see the early Reformers specifically distinguishing their position from the Arminian and Amyraldian positions (as we see with the next generation of Reformers, such as Turretin).

4) Among the many quotations alleged by Ponter and his gang as being relevant to the issue are statements by the Reformers that would seem to state Universal Redemption, if the other statements relied upon would state Universal Expiation, Universal Satisfaction, or Universal Propitiation (or the like). We leave aside, for the moment, whether the Sacrifice of Christ permits of severing of Expiation from Redemption in intended scope of effect.

5) Consequently, Ponter’s attempts to wedge words of “Unlimited Atonement” into the mouths of the early Reformers by interpreting their words anachronistically in light of the later Arminian and Amyraldian controversies falls flat. Ponter cannot fairly take the seemingly universalistic interpretation only in those cases where the writer is not speaking of redemption, and – in fact – Ponter seems to rely (in the case of Bullinger) especially on such quotations.

6) A simpler explanation is simply that the Reformers, understanding the general (non-exhaustive) sense of the word “world” sometimes used it at one end of the semantic range and sometimes at another end of the semantic range, without feeling the need to clarify. After all, their biggest opposition was from folks who, through penance, indulgences, purgatory, and the mass sought to diminish the work of Christ – not those folks who sought to extend Christ’s work to the reprobate.

7) I suppose there is an alternative thesis that states that the doctrine of the Atonement was simply poorly understood before the Synod of Dordt among the Reformers. But then John Knox (1510-1572) must stand as a beacon of Pre-Dordt (Dordt was held 1618-19) Reformation light, for he plainly declares:

The third thing to be noted is, That the love of God towards his Elect, given to Christ, is immutable. For Christ puts it in equal balance with the love by the which his Father loved him. Not that I wold any man should so understand me, as that I placed any man in equal dignity and glory with Christ Jesus touching his office. No, that must be reserved wholy and only to himself; that he is the only Beloved, in whom all the rest are beloved; that he is the Head, that only gives life to the body; and that he is the sovereign Prince, before whom all knees shall bow. But I mean, that as the love of God the Father was ever constant towards his dear Son, so is it also towards the members of his body; yea, even when they are ignorant and enemies unto him, as the Apostle witnesses, saying, “God specially commends his love towards us, that when we were yet sinners Christ died for us; much more being justified now by his blood, we shall be saved by him from wrath. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, we, being reconciled, shall be saved by his life.”
To some these words may appear contrary to our purpose, for they make mention of a reconciliation, which is not made but where there is enmity and dissension. But if they be righteously considered, they shall most evidently prove that which we affirm, which is, that God loved the members of Christ’s body even when they are ignorant, when they by themselves are unworthy and enemies. For this is his first proposition, That we being justified by Faith, have peace with God by our Lord Jesus Christ. Where he makes mention of peace, he puts us in mind of the dissension and war which was betwixt God’s justice and our sins. “This enmity (says he) is taken away, and we have obtained peace.” And lest that this comfort should suddenly vanish, or else that men should not deeply weigh it, he brings us to the eternal love of God, affirming that God loved us when we were weak. Where we must observe, that the Apostle speaks not universally of all men, but of such as were and should be justified by Faith, and had the love of God poured into their heartes by the Holy Ghost which was given unto them. To such, says he, If God did love us when we were weak, and his enemies, much more must he love us when we are reconciled, and begin, in Faith, to call him Father. The Apostle affirms, that our reconciliation proceeded from God’s love, which thing Saint John more plainly does witness in these words: “In this appears the love of God towards us, that God has sent forth his only Son into the world, that we should live by him. In this, I say, is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and hath sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins.” So that both those Apostles in plain words do speak that which before I have affirmed, to wit, that God loved the members of Christ Jesus even when they were enemies, as well touching their knowledge and apprehension, as also touching the corruption of their nature; which was not regenerate. And so I conclude as before, that the love of God towards his Elect is stable and immutable, as it which begins not in time, neither depends upon our worthiness or dignity; which truth is contrary to that which I perceive you hold and affirm.

(The Works of John Knox, vol. 5, pp.52-53, Spelling modernized by TurretinFan)

And furthermore, Knox identifies this interesting comment from an adversary of the Reformation (speaking of Knox): “Now, as touching the other sort whom you call Reprobates, you say they can by no means be saved, yea, and that Christ died not for them: then was Christ’s death altogether in vain, for his death, you say, belongs not to the Reprobate, and the Elect have no need of it.” (Id. at 248)

And when Knox replies, he simply reaffirms the traditional “sufficient for all” formulation, saying: “We do not deny but that Christ’s death is sufficient for to redeem the sins of the whole world; but because all do not receive it with faith, which is the free gift of God, given to the chosen children, therefore abide the unfaithful in just condemnation.” (Id. at 250) Thus, Knox does not deny the charge, but instead explains it (and, frankly, explains it much the way we have seen in other Reformed writers).

As brother Bridges pointed out in his own post (link) it would be a good time for those who have been making these mistaken historical claims to move on.


Unlimited Atonement is not a Reformed Doctrine

September 12, 2008

David Ponter writes: “What is clear now, beyond any doubt whatsoever, is that the doctrine of unlimited atonement was a Reformed doctrine. The evidence now is of such efficacy that only a proverbial fool would insist otherwise.” (source)

a) Mr. Ponter should not use big words he doesn’t understand. Evidence is not “of … efficacy” (at least, not this sort and not in this context). It might of “weight” or of “volume” or something like that. It might even be of “of … sufficiency.” “Efficacy,” however is simply the wrong English word.

b) Perhaps this is part of the overarching problem that Mr. Ponter has: since he doesn’t understand what the word “efficacy” means, he has trouble dealing with the old axiom apparently endorsed by Calvin at one point that the atonement is “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.”

c) In fact, Mr. Ponter seems to exhibit a profound inability to deal with the terminology of the Reformed writers, particularly on his pet subject of the atonement. Consider, for example, the words of Bullinger, who Mr. Ponter thinks is a Universal Atonement advocate:

But the scripture setteth forth unto us Christ, as the only mediator of redemption, so also of intercession. The office of a mediator touching redemption and intercession is one and the selfsame. A mediator putteth himself in the midst between them that are at variance or disagreement; and he is joined to each in disposition and nature. An intercessor putteth himself in the midst between them that are at strife and dissension; and unless he be indifferent for either side, he cannot be an intercessor.

But, as you can see, Bullinger properly interrelates the roles of redemption and intercession. And furthermore, when Bullinger encounters the key passage upon which universal atonement advocates hang their hat, we seem him give the Calvinist explanation:

And the holy evangelist John, agreeing with Paul, doth say: “The blood of the Son of God doth cleanse us from all sin. For he is the propitiation for our sins; not for our sins only, but for the sins of all the world.” Therefore the merit of Christ his redemption doth extend itself to all the faithful of both the testaments.

(and the student of Calvin will recall that Calvin likewise does not interpret this key verse in a universalistic sense)

d) Perhaps a better example of Mr. Ponter’s inability to grasp Reformed theological terminology comes in his infamous “Calvin file,” a massive compilation of quotations alleged to be related to the issue of the atonement, and particularly to its scope. For example, Mr. Ponter seems to think that Calvin means by “world” each and every man, and cites a number of places where Calvin refers to Christ as dying for the world. The problem is, if Ponter is right, then we have some odd results, for Calvin is quoted as saying:

But the usefulness of this doctrine extends much farther; for never are we fully confirmed in the result of the death of Christ, till we are convinced that he was not accidentally dragged by men to the cross, but that the sacrifice had been appointed by an eternal decree of God for expiating the sins of the world. For whence do we obtain reconciliation, but because Christ has appeased the Father by his obedience? Wherefore let us always place before our minds the providence of God, which Judas himself, and all wicked men–though it is contrary to their wish, and though they have another end in view–are compelled to obey. Let us always hold this to be a fixed principle, that Christ suffered, because it pleased God to have such an expiation… In short, God’s determination that the world should be redeemed, does not at all interfere with Judas being a wicked traitor. Hence we perceive, that though men can do nothing but what God has appointed, still this does not free them from condemnation, when they are led by a wicked desire to sin. John Calvin, Matthew 26:24.

And again:

However, this is not to exclude what is shown in all other passages, and even to derogate from the article that the death and passion of our Lord Jesus would not have served to wipe away the iniquities of the world except insofar as He obeyed, indeed, abasing Himself even to so frightful a death. Sermons on the Deity of Christ, Sermon 9, Matt 27-45-54, p., 156.

And again:

“Which is shed for many.” By the word “many” he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke–Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated. John Calvin, Mark 14:24.

Thus, if Mr. Ponter had properly understood “world” in Calvin to mean the exhaustive sense of the word to which it is ordinarily put by Amyraldian and Arminian folks today, we have an interesting problem, for Calvin does not say that Christ simply died for the world, Calvin also says that Christ has, by his blood, “redeemed” the world, and “expiated” (or “wiped away”) its sins.

And furthermore, as Mr. Ponter quotes:

“To bear,” or, “take away sins”, is to free from guilt by his satisfaction those who have sinned. He says the sins of many, that is, of all, as in Romans 5:15. It is yet certain that not all receive benefit from the death of Christ; but this happens, because their unbelief prevents them. At the same time this question is not to be discussed here, for the Apostle is not speaking of the few or of the many to whom the death of Christ may be available; but he simply means that he died for others and not for himself; and therefore he opposes many to one. John Calvin, Hebrews 9:28.

If – in the exhaustive sense – the world is freed from guilt for its sins, then there can be no hell at the hands of a just God. If the sins of the world have been expiated and wiped away, they do not any longer remain. If the world has been redeemed, it is Christ’s and he is its. But we need not stop there:

The bread which I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world. I wish they had been less accustomed to unbridled license in lacerating Scripture. I not only admit their postulate, that the bread is truly flesh, but I go farther, and add what they injuriously and shamefully omit, that this bread is given daily, as the flesh was offered once on the cross for the salvation of the world. Nor is the repetition of the expression, I will give, superfluous. The bread, therefore, is truly and properly the flesh of Christ, inasmuch as he is there speaking not of a corruptible or fading but of heavenly aliment. John Calvin, “Second Defence of the Pious and Orthodox Faith Concerning the Sacraments in Answer to the Calumnies of Joachim Westphal,” in Selected Works, vol, 2, p., 425.

and likewise:

Christ doth not only declare his power, but also his goodness; to the end he may allure men unto himself with the sweetness of his grace. For he came to save the world, and not to condemn it. John Calvin, Acts 5:12.

So, indeed, if Christ died to save the world (and if world = each and every person) then Christ failed to accomplish what he intended or we have universalism. Yet Calvin both clearly taught the reality of hell and the concept of reprobate men who end up in hell, as Mr. Ponter does not deny.

Furthermore, Calvin taught, in a passage not quoted by Mr. Ponter:

That God can do whatsoever he pleaseth is a doctrine of great importance, provided it be truly and legitimately applied. This caution is necessary, because curious and forward persons, as is usual with them, take the liberty of abusing a sound doctrine by producing it in defense of their frantic reveries. And in this matter we daily witness too much of the wildness of human ingenuity. This mystery, which ought to command our admiration and awe, is by many shamelessly and irreverently made a topic of idle talk. If we would derive advantage from this doctrine, we must attend to the import of God’s doing whatsoever he pleaseth in heaven and on the earth. And, first, God has all power for the preservation of his Church, and for providing for her welfare; and, secondly, all creatures are under his control, and therefore nothing can prevent him from accomplishing all his purposes. However much, then, the faithful may find themselves cut off from all means of subsistence and safety, they ought nevertheless to take courage from the fact, that God is not only superior to all impediments, but that he can render them subservient to the advancement of his own designs. This, too, must also be borne in mind, that all events are the result of God’s appointment alone, and that nothing happens by chance. This much it was proper to premise respecting the use of this doctrine, that we may be prevented from forming unworthy conceptions of the glory of God, as men of wild imaginations are wont to do. Adopting this principle, we ought not to be ashamed frankly to acknowledge that God, by his eternal counsel, manages all things in such a manner, that nothing can be done but by his will and appointment. John Calvin, Psalm 115:3

Likewise, Calvin taught (in yet another passage that Mr. Ponter omits from his list):

That is, “That I should not suffer it to be taken from me or perish;” by which he means, that he is not the guardian of our salvation for a single day, or for a few days, but that he will take care of it to the end, so that he will conduct us, as it were, from the commencement to the termination of our course; and therefore he mentions the last resurrection. This promise is highly necessary for us, who miserably groan under so great weakness of the flesh, of which every one of us is sufficiently aware; and at every moment, indeed, the salvation of the whole world might be ruined, were it not that believers, supported by the hand of Christ, advance boldly to the day of resurrection. Let this, therefore, be fixed in our minds, that Christ has stretched out his hand to us, that he may not desert us in the midst of the course, but that, relying on his goodness, we may boldly raise our eyes to the last day. John Calvin, John 6:39

In short, this is how we are to understand Calvin’s words, namely that the salvation of the whole world is the salvation of elect.

Thus, Calvin’s editor wisely provided this footnote on Romans 14:15:

From the words “destroy not,” etc., some have deduced the sentiment, that those for whom Christ died may perish for ever. It is neither wise nor just to draw a conclusion of this kind; for it is one that is negatived by many positive declarations of Scripture. Man’s inference, when contrary to God’s word, cannot be right. Besides, the Apostle’s object in this passage is clearly this, — to exhibit the sin of those who disregarded without saying that it actually effected that evil. Some have very unwisely attempted to obviate the inference above mentioned, by suggesting, that the destruction meant was that of comfort and edification. But no doubt the Apostle meant the ruin of the soul; hence the urgency of his exhortation, — “Do not act in such a way as tends to endanger the safety of a soul for whom Christ has shed his blood;” or, “Destroy not,” that is, as far as you can do so. Apostles and ministers are said to “save” men; some are exhorted here not to “destroy” them. Neither of these effects can follow, except in the first instance, God grants his blessing, and in the second his permission; and his permission as to his people he will never grant, as he has expressly told us. See Joh 10:27-29. — Ed.

Finally, Calvin explains the death of the reprobate in a way that does not fit with Mr. Ponter’s Universal Atonement thesis:

Now as salvation depends solely on the election of God, the reprobate must perish, in whatever way this may be effected; not that they are innocent, and free from all blame, when God destroys them, but because, by their own malice, they turn to their destruction all that is offered to them, however salutary it may be. To those who willingly perish the Gospel thus becomes, as Paul assures us, the savor of death unto death, (2Co 2:16;) for, though it is offered to all for salvation, it does not yield this fruit in any but the elect. It belongs to a faithful and honest teacher to regulate every thing which he brings forward by a regard to the advantage of all; but whenever the result is different, let us take comfort from Christ’s reply. It is beautifully expressed by the parable, that the cause of perdition does not lie in the doctrine, but that the reprobate who have no root in God, when the doctrine is presented to them, throw out their hidden venom, and thus accelerate that death to which they were already doomed.

Notice that it is the doctrine that is presented to them – not the blood of Christ itself, as though Christ were offered to men, rather than to God – but the doctrine and promise that if they trust in Christ they will be saved.

The bottom line is this, Mr. Ponter is mistaken in his theory that Unlimited Atonement is “a” Reformed Doctrine. It is an Amyraldian and Arminian doctrine. It is specifically condemned by the Westminster Confession of Faith:

VI. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore 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.

And even more clearly the same is condemned by the London Baptist Confession:

As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so He hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore 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, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

And in the Savoy Declaration:

As God bath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he by the eternal and most free purpose of his will fore-ordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore 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, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified and saved, but the elect only.

Likewise also in the Canons of Dordt:

For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

The Westminster Larger Catechism states:

Q. 59. Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?

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

These are the leading confessions of the Reformed churches. Mr. Ponter’s view of Calvin that has Calvin claiming that Christ redeemed each and every person places Calvin outside of the Reformed position, and in logical inconsistency with Calvin himself.

This is not the first time that Ponter’s false thesis has been rebutted. For example, I found this excellent rebuttal over at the PuritanBoard (link). Christ’s purpose in coming to die was to save the elect. Those who continue to doubt that Calvin agreed should read his commentary on John 6:34-40 (about midway or so through the page linked here).

It is distressing that Mr. Ponter continues to muddy the Reformational water with his propaganda campaign against Limited Atonement. It is even more distressing to see him leading others astray (example).

Mr. Ponter’s final word, “It’s time that our uber-calvinists out there on the big wide web leave behind their sectarianism and arrogance and rethink their approach to Reformed theology and to those who deviate from them the merest nanometer,” just demonstrates the problem. The issue of the atonement may not divide gospel from heresy, but it is not an issue of the “merest nanometer.” But supposing that it were, though, shame on Mr. Ponter for devoting some much energy on such an inconsequential doctrinal difference (in his evaluation). Of course, I don’t believe for a second that Mr. Ponter honestly considers this matter to be of “the merest nanometer” difference – and if that is the case, then shame on him for the other obvious reason. Either way, I hope he will reconsider his approach of trying to shoehorn the Reformation into his pet theory. He is in a position to do research on so many more useful issues – issues that actually would help to defend the gospel from false gospels: issues on which apparently he and we Calvinists are in agreement. So here is my exhortation to Mr. Ponter: find a new hobby. This one is doomed to failure. Calvin did not address the Amyraldian and Arminian errors because they had not yet developed in his lifetime, just as Calvin did not address the Federal Vision or the New Perspective on Paul. But Calvin taught particular redemption and did so in his Institutes, where he was trying to be precisely theological:

39. The sum of evangelical doctrine is, to teach, 1. What Christ is; 2. Why he was sent; 3. In what manner he accomplished the work of redemption.

40. Christ is God and man: God, that he may bestow on his people righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; Man, because he had to pay the debt of man.

41. He was sent to perform the office, 1. Of a Prophet, by preaching the truth, by fulfilling the prophecies, by teaching and doing the will of his Father; 2. Of a King, by governing the whole Church and every member of it, and by defending his people from every kind of adversaries; 3. Of a Priest, by offering his body as a sacrifice for sins, by reconciling God to us though his obedience, and by perpetual intercession for his people to the Father.

42. He performed the office of a Redeemer by dying for our sins, by rising again for our justification, by opening heaven to us through his ascension, by sitting at the right hand of the Father whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead; and, therefore, he procured for us the grace of God and salvation.


N.B. All emphases in the quotations above were added by TurretinFan.

UPDATE: Mr. Ponter, showering us with his kindness, has made some more bold assertions

Mr. Ponter provides two alleged quotations from Bullinger that are supposed to justify his bizarre behaviour:

1) He never sacrificed in the temple at the holy altars either of incense or of burnt-offerings. He never used priestly garments, which were figurative; whereof I spoke when I expounded the ceremonial laws [Heb. 8]. Therefore, when he would sacrifice for the satisfaction of the sins of the whole world, he suffered without the gate, and offered himself a lively and a most holy sacrifice, according as in the shadows or types, prophecies and figures foreshewed in the law of Moses: whereof in like manner I have entreated in the discourse of ceremonial laws… And that only sacrifice is always effectual to make satisfaction for all the sins of all men in the whole world… Christians know that the sacrifice of Christ once offered is always effectual to make satisfaction for the sins of all men in the whole world, and of all men of all ages: but these men with often outcries say, that it is flat heresy not to confess that Christ is daily offered of sacrificing priests, consecrated to that purpose. Decades, 4th Decade, Sermon 7, vol 2, pp., 285-286, 287, and 296. [His reference to these men is to Rome’s priests and to the Mass.]

The key phrase for Mr. Ponter’s purposes, of course, is “for all the sins of all men in the whole world.” Let us examine this:

a) Note that this bundle is the object of “is always effectual to make satisfaction.” Always effectual! So if Bullinger meant that bundle to include the rebrobate, we have the odd view by Bullinger that Christ’s death is not only sufficient to make satisfaction for the reprobate, but always effectual as well. If anyone is so foolish as to imagine this is what Bullinger believed, let him wallow in his ignorance.

b) Note that “the sins of the whole world” is the secondary phrase of interest, but again this is in reference to satisfaction.

c) One can hardly see the context here, but what Bullinger is opposing here are the papist defects in understanding Christ’s sacrifice: to wit the Mass and Penance/Purgatory. Thus, Bullinger is emphasizing with Scripture the one-time nature of Christ’s offering (against the Mass) and the “for all sins of all men” aspect (against the notion of Penance/Purgatory).

Even if some petulant person will disagree with the analysis above, surely the reasonable person can see how Bullinger can mean something other than “Universal Atonement” by his comment.

Continuing to the second quotation:

2) Also they declare by the way, whom he has redeemed: that is to wit, men of all tribes, &c. In which rehearsal he does imitate Daniel in the 7. chapt. and signifies an universality, for the Lord has died for all: but that all are not made partakers of this redemption, it is through their own fault. For the Lord excludes no man, but him only which through his own unbelief, and misbelief excludes himself. &c. Henry Bullinger, A Hvndred Sermons Vpon the Apocalipse of Iesu Christ. (London: Printed by Iohn Daye, Dwellyng ouer Aldersgate, 1573), 79-80.

The key phrase here, for Mr. Ponter, is “signifies an universality, for the Lord has died for all: but that all are not made partakers of this redemption, it is through their own fault. For the Lord excludes no man….” Let us discuss:

a) Bullinger is speaking of the redeemed. If then, as Mr. Ponter supposes, this is a reference to all of mankind exhaustively, then Bullinger is plainly at odds with the standard Reformed works identified above, which limit redemption to the elect.

b) Notice, however, that Bullinger adopts the sense of all as in “men of all tribes,” the normal explanation of “all” used by particularists, not universalists.

c) Finally, note that Bullinger himself states, “but that all are not made partakers of this redemption,” which again is fully consistent with a particularist qualification and explanation, and not with a view that Christ actually redeems each and every man exhaustively.

Additionally to these two quotations from Bullinger (apparently the best examples he could muster, for Mr. Ponter states: “Now, if these two comments from Bullinger do not convince, then nothing will.”), Mr. Ponter quotes from another work of Bullinger’s against the Anabaptists where evidently Bullinger speaks of Christ being the “mediator for all sinners,” which one supposes Bullinger means to refer to the category not only of adults, but also of infants.

Finally (though Mr. Ponter places it as his principle testimony), Mr. Ponter quotes from a secondary source, which states:

Clear statements of nonspeculative hypothetical universalism can be found (as Davenant recognized) in Heinrich Bullinger’s Decades and commentary on the Apocalypse, in Wolfgang Musculus’ Loci communes, in Ursinus’ catechetical lectures, and in Zanchi’s Tractatus de praedestinatione sanctorum, among other places. In addition, the Canons of Dort, in affirming the standard distinction of a sufficiency of Christ’s death for all and its efficiency for the elect, actually refrain from canonizing either the early form of hypothetical universalism or the assumption that Christ’s sufficiency serves only to leave the nonelect without excuse.

Mr. Ponter, however, has provided what he views as the best such “clear statements” from the decades and from the commentary on the Apocalypse, and neither has proved to say what Mr. Ponter would seem to need it to say.

In short, Universal Atonement is not the doctrine of the Reformation. As Bullinger himself declared:

The sacrifice of confession, is of praise and thanksgiving, which we offer to God for the redemption and benefits of God freely bestowed upon His church.

And we better understand Bullinger’s seemingly Universalistic tones when we recall that he wrote:

And it is not amiss in this place fist of all to mark, that Christ is called a propitiation, or satisfaction, not for sinners or people of one or two ages, but for all sinners and all faithful people throughout the whole world. One Christ is sufficient for all: one intercessor with the Father is set forth unto all. For how so often thou sinnest, so often thou hast ready a righteous intercessor with the Father. Not that we should imagine in heaven, as in a court, the Father upon his throne to sit as a judge, and the Son our patron so often to fall down on his knees, and to plead or entreat for us, as we sin and offend: but we understand with the apostle, that Christ is the advocate and the universal priest of the church, and that he only appeareth in the presence of the Father: because as the power and force of his death, (albeit he die not daily,) so the virtue of his intercession, is always effectual. Let us therefore draw near and come to God by Christ, the only mediator of our redemption and intercession, our only intercessor and advocate. We cannot but be acceptable unto God the Father, if we be commended unto him by his only-begotten Son.

So, as noted above, Bullinger maintains the Reformed position that the work of Christ as Priest is one: both offering himself as a sacrifice for the church and also interceding for them. Bullinger does not illogically sever Christ’s role as redeemer from Christ’s role as intercessor, but declares boldly against the papists of the day the perfect work of Christ.

Further Response from Trey

April 17, 2008

Trey has (I think) clarified that he does not want to come down on the matter of the Atonement one way or another.

“There are lots of folks who don’t want to come down on the matter one way or another. R. L. Dabney was one of those. David Ponter is also one. But like Dabney, while not taking a side on the issue, i see Ponter’s views as aligning most closely with Infralapsarianism, not with Amyraldism.”

I disagree with Trey, but there you have it. I see Dabney’s views coming down pretty clearly on the “strict” Limited Atonement side, and I see Ponter’s view coming down to the Amyraldian side of Dabney’s views.

Trey also seems to suggest that somehow there is confusion being made between Infralapsarian and Amyraldian. I am familiar with both categories, and I don’t see the connection that is being made.

This matter, however, has generated more heat than light on the matter, so I don’t have further comments on Trey’s further remarks at this time.


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