Archive for the ‘Substitutionary Atonement’ Category

Scriptural Doctrine of the Atonement Defended – against John Martin

April 28, 2010

John Martin has also responded to another of my previous posts (link to post, his comments are in the comment box there).

I had written: “The Christian position is that Christ is our substitute.”

JM responded: “If Christ is our substitute and we are impute a legal righteousness, even though the Father knows we are sinners, means”

Christ is our substitute, and we are imputed the righteousness of Christ … let’s examine the supposed implications:

“1 – Jesus has deceived the father and therefore the Father and Jesus are not God because God cannot be deceived, or sin.”

No. The Father has graciously permitted the substitution.

“2 – The Father sent the son to do a sinful act to deceive the father into believing we are righteous even though we are not.”

No. It’s absurd to say that Father sent the Son to deceive the Father – how could that even be possible? More to the point, the Father sent the Son to die in the place of the elect, so it was known to the Father all along.

“3 – There is no need for faith, because a substitute is a substitute for all our sins. Yet the scriptures say we need faith to be justified.”

Faith is the instrumental means of justification, not a meritorious cause of justification. Thus, faith does not satisfy divine justice, only Christ’s work does that.

“4 – Nobody can go to hell, because Jesus has already taken the punishment for sin as a substitute.”

None of the elect can go to hell (or the Romanist fiction of purgatory), because that would imply double payment.

“5 – The scriptures nowhere say Jesus was a substitute for our sins.”

a) You’ve lost track of supposed implications. That isn’t an implication of the doctrine.

b) It’s also not a true allegation. The Scriptures do teach that Jesus was a substitute for the sins of his people. I can provide a more extensive discussion on this, if needed.

“6 – The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son, after the Son has deceived the Father into thinking we are righteous, even though we are sinners. Therefore the Holy Spirit has been sent on a mission by a deceiver and the deceived, to guide the church into the truth of forensic imputation of righteousness, which is itself a deception. Evidently the Holy Spirit is also a deceiver and has been deceived.”

This blasphemy is built in the previous false claim that forensic imputation is deception.

“7 – There is no precedent in the OT for a substitute atoning for a sinner and the sinner having the substitutes righteousness imputed to the sinner, therefore if penal substitution is correct, it is not base upon the OT, so Jesus cannot be the Messiah, because he didn’t fulfill the OT.”

This simply shows JM’s unfamilarity with the OT sacrificial system. Practically the whole system was one of substitution and imputation. Of course, it was in shadows and types, but Hebrews helps us to see the connection between the shadow and substance.

“8 – There is no need for repentance because the substitute has been made and the Father sees all men as righteous.”

Repentance is not a meritorious cause of justification. See discussion of faith above.

“9 – According to Calvinism, the substitute only has limited value because it’s not applied to all men, even though it’s a perfect substitute. Somehow the father is deceived into thinking the substitute is only satisfactory for some men and not others, even though the Son was a perfect substitute. So the Father has been deceived in sending the Son as a substitute because the substitute didn’t work for some men even though Jesus was the perfect substitute. What’s a God got to do to be a substitute and perfect savior when not even an imputed exchange that is external to the sinner cannot cover all men’s sins?”

a) This misrepresentation of Calvinism is possibly the result of reading Dave Armstrong on Calvinism rather than reading Calvinists on Calvinism.

b) “the substitute only has limited value” That’s not the Calvinist position. The Calvinist position is that the value of the substitute is limitless – sufficient for all.

c) “Somehow the father is deceived into thinking the substitute is only satisfactory for some men and not others, even though the Son was a perfect substitute.”

The Son, as Priest, only offers himself (as sacrifice) for many (not all). That many is the elect.

“10 – The scriptures have deceived us into thinking we need to do something to be justified and pleasing to God, even though according to Calvinism, man is depraved and cannot do a good act in the eyes of God. Therefore we are told on one had to have faith and this is enough to be justified by a legal process, yet we are also told men cannot do an act pleasing to God, so God justifies man, even though He is not pleased with men’s acts. What’s a man to do to be justified after all? Does he have to do an act pleasing to God and if so, is this is a meritorious act? (Yep!) If not, then why does man have to do any act at all to receive justification, when the perfect sacrificial substitute has already been made?”

a) “we need to do something to be justified and pleasing to God”

Scripture’s message is clear that we cannot do anything to be justified and pleasing to God. Justification is by grace, through the instrumental means of faith in Christ and His work.

b) “man is depraved and cannot do a good act in the eyes of God.”

Until God’s Holy Spirit regenerates him, right. As Jesus said, “Except a man be born again … .”

c) “What’s a man to do to be justified after all?”

There is nothing a man can do to be justified. “In thy sight shall no flesh be justified.”

Instead, man must place his hope in the works of another so that he may be vicariously justified.

d) “Does he have to do an act pleasing to God and if so, is this is a meritorious act? (Yep!)”

That is the alternative to the Christian view of the atonement. The alternative is that man merits justification by an act that is pleasing to God.

“11 – If God sends anyone to hell then He is being unjust, because Jesus has already taken the punishment for sin.”

If God received Christ’s payment for the sins of anyone and still punished them for those sins, there would be a double punishment. Thus, none of those for whom Christ was offered will go to hell.



Atonement Debate vs. Catholicism – Complete

April 27, 2009

“Catholic Nick” and I have concluded the debate we were having on the Atonement. One can access all the parts of that debate via an index page that I have created (link) or via the debate blog more generally (link). Between the two, the index page may be easier to use.



Cur Deus Homo? Further Response to Horne

August 10, 2008

Gene Bridges provided the following comments (link) which I have reproduced in part below:

As you noted, stating that the Covenant of Grace is in some way “conditional” or “conditioned” on faith does not lead to it being (a) meritorious or (b) pactum merit. Indeed that’s a non sequitur.

Turretin (the real one) went over this as hyper-Calvinism arose among the Supras/High Calvinists of his period. FT distinguished between faith as a meritorious condition and faith as an instrumental condition. We affirm the latter, not the former. Since the reason people believe is due to effectual calling/regeneration and that is only by way of grace that is applied by the Spirit, which comes a result of the atonement, which was accomplished by the Son in obedience to the Father (notice the Trinitarian relation-a relation the FVists often discuss), it is all of grace, as you say. Ergo, while affirming the latter (instrumental conditionality) we deny the former (that the CoG would be meritorious).

FT drew this distinction of conditions in the face of those who were seeking to collapse the decrees, and thus the conditions, into one, and therefore misconstruing the CoG. By collapsing the decrees, there were questions that arose as to the nature of conditions. In their day, they were asking if the CoG is wholly unconditional or conditional. FT’s reply was in essence that it is unconditional with respect to merit (being that it is of grace) yet conditional with respect to instrumentality. Sound like a familiar problem today…?

I answer:

Gene, there is a strong interconnect between the issue of faith’s role as condition or instrument (as well as the nature/basis of the hypothetical merit of Adam and the actual merit of the active obedience of Christ), and the issue of the atonement.

It is interesting to hear Pastor Horne turning as he does in the comments we were discussing (link) to Anselm’s “Cur Deus Homo,” which is usually thought of as a work on the atonement.

It seems that:

a) He (i.e. Pastor Horne) overlooks the role of sin in necessitating the incarnation. Contrary to Hodge et al., he seems to imagine that it is simply the fact that we are creatures that prevents us from having merit. Thus, he overlooks original sin: both in its effect of imputed guilt and in its effect of total depravity.

b) He also overlooks that Anselm states “Now it is not by any means to be supposed that the good angels were confirmed by the fall of the evil, but by their own merit. For as the good, if they had sinned with the evil, would have been condemned together with them; so the unrighteous, had they remained steadfast with the just, would have been equally confirmed in grace. For if some of them were to be confirmed only by the fall of others, either none would ever be confirmed, or it would be necessary that one should fall, who should be punished for the sake of the confirmation of the others; both of which are absurd.” (Cur Deus Homo, Book 1, Chapter XVII) While I do not fully agree with Anselm on this (I do not think confirmation in obedience was according to the merit of obedience, but according to grace) Pastor Horne’s appeal to Anselm is clearly erroneous, for Anselm does not build his argument on the theory that creatures qua creatures are unable to obtain merit of any kind.

c) He also overlooks that Anselm states: “So, therefore, when the angel had the power of depriving himself of righteousness, and did not so deprive himself, and had the power of causing himself not to be righteous, and did not so cause himself, he is rightly asserted to have given himself his own righteousness, and to have made himself righteous. In this way, therefore, has he his righteousness from himself, (for a creature can in no other way have it from himself,) and on that account is he to be praised for his righteousness; and he is righteous, not from necessity, but from free will, since that is improperly termed necessity in which there is neither
compulsion nor prohibition.” (Cur Deus Homo, Book 2, Chapter X) This, while not using the word “merit,” conveys a similar concept. As can be seen from the same chapter, a little further on, when Anselm asks the following penetrating question: “What do you say of God, who cannot sin; (and yet He did not merit this by having had the power of sinning and not sinning) is not He to be praised for His righteousness?”

Likewise, Pastor Horne appears to have the same thing in mind when he argues “Horton, if I recall, is all concerned about protecting Christ’s merit. I don’t see how that can fail to be proper merit without denying the absolute necessity of Christ’s work. There is a history of doing so among some of the Reformed, but I think it is now largely resisted and should be.” (source) But in this:

d)He overlooks that the merit of Christ’s active obedience in fulfilling the law is pactum merit. It is by the covenant of works that Christ as man deserves life on account of his obedience. That’s what makes his death significant. If he did not merit life, he would be dying for himself.

e) He also overlooks that Christ’s so-called passive obedience in suffering and dying on the cross can also be viewed pactum merit. It is not pactum merit vis-a-vis the covenant of works, but the covenant of grace. Christ’s humiliation is the condition of the covenant of grace (not our faith, as has already been distinguished in the preceding posts on this subject). It should be noted of course, that as Thomas Boston explains:

Secondly, How does the narrow way lead to life ? And,
1st. NEG. Not by way of merit, proper or improper. Proper merit is what arises from the intrinsic worth of the thing done, fully proportioned to the reward. Such is the merit of Christ’s obedience and death. But no such merit can be in our works ; for there is no proportion between our obedience and eternal life, whatever the papists pretend; Rom. viii. 18; 2 Cor. iv. 17; and whatever they be, they are due from us to God; Rom. viii. 12; Luke xvii. 10. Improper merit is what arises from paction ensuring such a reward on such a work as the condition thereof; so that the work being performed, the reward becomes a debt. So Adam’s perfect obedience would have been meritorious, namely by paction. But no such merit is in our works. Legal protestants advance this, though they do not call it merit, while they pretend that God has promised eternal life on condition of our obedience; thinking it enough to free them from the doctrine of merit, that they do not pretend to an intrinsic worth in the works, proportioned to the reward. But what more do they yield in this, than innocent Adam behoved to have yielded, had he perfected his obedience? Do they not hereby confound the two covenants? for all the difference remains only in degrees, which do not alter the kind. The scripture rejects this as well as the other;
Rom. iv. 4, and vi. 23. Paul would not lippen to it; Phil. iii. 9.

(Thomas Boston, Whole Works of the Late Reverend Thomas Boston, Volume X, p. 376 – 1851 ed.)

Thus, we acknowledge that Christ’s death, as the God-man, was (because of the dignity of his person) of infinite intrinsic merit, although we likewise acknowledge that such merit would have been completely without applicable value, if God had not condescended (as legislator) to permit substitution of the offender in the punishment of sin. In contrast, the dignity of a mere image of God is much less demanding only life for life (Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.).

f) Indeed, he overlooks the interconnection between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The only way that the death of an innocent man can be pleasing to God is upon the two-fold bases that (a) the innocent man’s death is being offered on behalf of someone else and (b) that the someone else is guilty.

g) He overlooks the general impossibility of anyone meriting anything from God in the strict sense. To assert that anyone can merit (in the strict sense) anything from God would seem to be a denial of the impassivity of God. If someone will argue from Christ’s deity that impassivity is not implicated, we may likewise note that Christ did all things whatsoever he did in obedience to the will of the Father, which likewise prevents them from being acts of strict merit (though we may note that they were still deserving of glory).

At the end of the day, it is Horne who overlooks why God had to become man: the covenant of works (the law) had to be fulfilled, and so did the covenant of grace. By the merit obtained under the covenant of works, and the substitution permitted under the covenant of grace, Christ merited life for those for whom he died.

It was necessary because Christ’s righteousness is the only pure righteousness acceptable to God under the covenants. No other righteousness will do: not the righteousness of the Apostles, of the prophets, or of the greatly blessed and highly favored mother of our Lord – for they were all sinners, both by virtue of Adam’s sin (as it is written, Romans 5:19 “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”) and their own sin (as it is written, Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”). Only Christ’s righteousness can save, and it can and does save completely. God graciously accepts Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of those for whom it is offered by Christ. Thus, justice is satisfied while mercy is shown.

Praise be to our Loving God,


P.S. Perhaps it would of interest to some of my readers to provide a part of a poem by Ralph Erskine:

The law of works we introduce,
As if old merit were in use,
When man could life by doing won,
Ev’n though the work by grace were done.

Old Adam in his innocence
Deriv’d his power of doing hence —
As all he could was wholly due;
So all the working strength he knew,

No merit but of paction could
Of men or angels e’er be told;
The God-man only was so high
To merit by condignity.

Were life now promis’d to our act,
Or to our works by paction tack’d ;
Though God should his assistance grant,
Tis still a doing covenant.

Though Heav’n its helping grace should yield,
Yet merit’s still upon the field;
We cast the name, yet still ’tis found
Disclaim’d but with a verbal sound.

If one should borrow tools from you.
That he some famous work might do;
When once his work is well prepar’d,
He sure deserves his due reward:

Yea, justly may he claim his due,
Although he borrow’d tools from you:
Ev’n thus the borrow’d strength of grace
Can’t hinder merit to take place.

From whence soe’er we borrow pow’rs,
If life depend on works of ours;
Or if we make the gospel thus
In any sort depend on us;

We give the law the gospel-place,
Rewards of debt the room of grace;
We mix Heav’ns treasure with our trash,
And magnify corrupted flesh.

Gospel Sonnets, pp. 301-02 (1870 ed.), Ralph Erskine

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.


Judged According to Works?

February 11, 2008

Dave Armstrong has a new post (at least it seems to be new, perhaps it is just an old post he has redated) of Scriptural pretexting (I’d say prooftexting, but Dave is not an advocate of Sola Scriptura) for the idea that “Final Judgment” will be on the basis of works and not faith.

In some ways it is an interesting post. You see, he analyzes thirty (count ’em) passages to arrive at the conclusion that Scripture “always” associate works and Final Judgment, never faith and final judgment.

It would be a sufficient rebuttal simply to quote:

Galatians 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

But we should go further, because Dave has asked a slightly different question than the justification question. In the process, though, he has stumbled about a bit, striking out a doctrines that are not representative of the Christian position that he openly opposes (calling it names, like “anti-Catholicism,” on many of his web pages). Here Dave is picking on a professing Christian, Matt Slick, whose views about salvation are succinctly put here (link). He has not addressed Matt’s views, nor the views of Christians generally.

You see, it seems that Dave has misunderstood the Christian position. The Christian position is that Christ is our substitute. Thus, we too will be judged on the last day according to works. But it will not be according to our own works, but according to His works. We will be clothed with Christ’s righteousness (Romans 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:). Thus, we will be counted as righteousness because of Christ’s righteousness.

Thus, when Dave sets out to prove that we will not be judged according to our faith, he’s partly right. That’s not the basis of judgment. The basis of judgment is righteousness. Anyone who lacks the substitutionary atonement of Christ will perish for their sins, however small they are, for the wages of sin is death, but eternal life is a gift. It is not earned, but given.

Those who seek justification by works, need to be very afraid, because their works will not be enough. It would be nice to comfort such people, telling them that if they call Jesus, Lord, they are ok. It would be nice, if it were true.

Sadly, it is not. Jesus said:

Matthew 7:21-23
21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Christ is the escape. If you will be saved, repent of your sins and trust in Him alone for salvation. Your works will only condemn you, but Christ has offered a perfect sacrifice for sins!

Hebrews 10:12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

Yes, the final judgment will be on the basis of works, not on the basis of “Faith alone.” Men will be judged according to their works, and it would be a defense to judgment to truthfully say that one is righteous. But you have to be more perfectly righteous than Paul the Apostle to merit salvation:

Matthew 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Furthermore, when it comes to the end of the day, if your testimony before God is, “I have no sin,” you are liar.

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Therefore, your only hope is to have a righteous man stand in your place. There is only one person who can do that, for there is only one perfect man, the God-man Jesus Christ. If you appropriate his righteousness by faith in Him alone, you will be saved.


Dining at Dover

January 24, 2008

Years ago, before the Chunnel, Dover England was known for its white, chalk cliffs. These rocks are very in calcium: in fact they are mostly calcium carbonate. Calcium is an important mineral for human life. Bones have a large calcium composition, and most doctors these days recommend calcium supplements to women, especially as the approach and pass menopause.

It would be absurd to seize on the fact of Calcium’s importance, to move to Dover and start dining on its cliff faces. Living off the land: literally! It wouldn’t just be absurd, it would be deadly. A person would die if he attempted to do such a thing.

We see a similar mistake in a recent post by “Orthodox,” who states: “White is effectively telling us that tradition ought to influence our interpretation of the text,” and then continues, “Great! But by how much, one might ask? Once given permission to employ this principle, he can hardly complain if we really employ it, can he?” (emphasis original) (source)

And of course, the answer is that we can complain if people abuse any good thing. Paul gave Timothy permission to drink alcohol:

1 Timothy 5:23 Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.

But that was not permission for Timothy to get really “medicated” whenever he wanted. Frankly, it would be absurd to suggest such a thing, and it would take a die-hard alcoholic to seek to justify his abuse by reference to that verse.

Even so, tradition has a place. Tradition is useful, and it is arrogant to ignore tradition. The Reformers have been noting this from the beginning of the Reformation. Orthodox mentions one part of the Dividing Line message (link to DL) that interested him, but he forgets to mention that Calvin (for example) frequently made reference to and relied on the teachings of the early church fathers.

“Orthodox” mockingly claims that if “ignoring the historical position of the church equals arrogance, then being a Reformed Baptist has got to be pretty high on the arrogance scale,” but his comment simply betrays his own ignorance of Reformed Baptists. It’s hardly the case that “Reformed Baptists” ignore church history. They may get some of it wrong, and they may have difficulty justifying their baptismal practices historically, but they don’t “ignore” history – at least none that I have met do.

“Orthodox” also asks: “why are they holding positions unknown in the history of the first 15 centuries of church?” (of which, “Orthodox” supposes that limited atonement is an example) Poor “Orthodox” – I really think he believes his own propaganda, and yet it is cruelly ironic, because he is demonstrating his ignorance of church history.

Limited atonement can be viewed, and I’ll not get into the full argument here (nor in the combox), as simply a more developed explanation of atonement as that provided by Anselm of Cantebury (1033-1109) and expanded upon by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). “Orthodox” may even be surprised to realize that the controversy over “limited atonement” actually post-dates Calvin (not because Calvin was a universalist as the Amyraldians would like to content), but simply because it was not a matter of debate. It became an issue when the universalist position became advocated by the Remonstrants.

Indeed, while limited atonement per se may not have been discussed previously, it was largely because of a lack of controversy. It is not as though Calvin or Luther cast of the shackles of universalism to rediscover the truth of limited atonement: instead, the Reformation more fully developed soteriological doctrines that were already known.

But that historical trivia is mostly an ironic aside. The bottom line is that whether or not the doctrine were merely a revival of a Scriptural doctrine, or a better explanation of an existing doctrine within Western Christianity, tradition is not the end of the matter. In the former case, if the Bible says it, we must believe it, and we must buck the contrary tradition, though not without caution. In the latter case, we must be sure to confirm that the doctrine is not just traditional but also Biblical.

In short, we must have a balanced diet. We must use our minds: we must search Scripture. On the other hand, we must do so with caution, aware of our own fallibility, and appreciative of the effort of theological giants that have gone before us. We must resist the urge to cast off the traditions of the elders in favor of anarchy and antinomianism. Tradition is good and useful, as part of healthy church life. But we’d be Dover diners to try to live by tradition rather than by the Word of God.

As Luther pointed out, relying on tradition alone ends most controversies: but does so by doctrinal stagnation. Deep mud doesn’t create a stir – in fact it, in a sense, stabilizes; but those mired therein are not better for the stability it provides. Don’t fall prey to Satan’s devices: do not cease to search Scripture.

May God give us wisdom as we do so,


What Dabney and I Believe about the Atonement

January 10, 2008

R. L. Dabney writes:

If you were a soldier and had not deserted the colors of your country, an accepted substitute would free you from all service and punishment. You are guilty of desertion toward God, and are also bound to pay a service to which sin utterly disables you through your own folly and fault. From these obligations Christ frees you, but it is only to bind you to His service more firmly by love. Now you should follow the Captain of your salvation with all your might, longing to follow Him better, not from fear of being shot for desertion (that danger is gone if Christ died for us), nor from fear of losing emoluments (they are already earned for us by our Substitute, and paid in advance to true believers), but because He asks us to follow Him. And now, if we love Him, we would die for Him were it necessary, because He died for us. If we do not love Him, it is proof that He never became our Substitute. “Now are ye My friends, if ye do what-soever I command you.” John xv.14.

(see the entire tract here)


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