Archive for the ‘Sufficient for All’ Category

Further Response regarding the Sufficiency of Christ’s Death

April 20, 2008

GodIsMyJudge (Dan) has provided a further response (link) to my previous two posts (first) (second).

Dan believes I have been inconsistent. Dan insists that if a reprobate person turned from their sins and repented, Christ’s blood would not save them under a consistent Calvinist model. Dan’s reason for this is that Christ did not offer himself for them, and therefore they have no redemption under a consistent Calvinist position. I agree that if Christ did not offer himself for them, Christ’s blood will not save them. Dan, however, seems to have conflated what will be with could be. We are speaking hypothetically, and so we need to consider the hypothetical world, not the actual world.

Dan’s charge is incorrect.

First, let’s be clear: regardless of whether one is Calvinist or Arminian, a reprobate person is (by definition) someone who is not saved. Thus, when we speak of a hypothetical situation in which a reprobate person is saved, we are denying that the person is (in our hypothetical world) reprobate. Furthermore, there are only two categories of people: elect and reprobate. So, if our hypothetical man is not reprobate, he is elect. We know that Christ (in consistent Calvinism) died on the cross for each and every elect person. Moreover, we know that the Trinity operates consistently with itself. Thus, the Holy Spirit regenerates the elect, and without regeneration the “reprobate” man in our hypothetical would never repent and believe. Thus, to be consistent, if we are to say that the “reprobate” man repents and believes and is saved by Christ’s blood (which is the only way men are saved) we are also saying that the man was one of the elect. In short, if the reprobate man were to repent and believe it would also (for consistency) also be the case that the Holy Spirit regenerated him, and that Christ died for him. But Christ’s death itself in no way has to be changed to accomodate that man. It’s not as though Christ would have needed to suffer longer, have more blood mixed with water gush from his side, or have an extra prick in his crown of thorns. No. Christ’s death itself (considered in itself) is sufficient for all men – and for more men than there are.

The point of the remark is something that Dan seems to have missed at least twice now. The point is that Christ’s death has infinite intrinsic sufficiency. If one imagines the transaction between the Father as judge, and Christ as substitute to be a barter, Christ’s blood is so valuable that in exchange for it, God would have permitted all mankind without exception to be considered as righteous.

Dan seems to be focused on the temporal aspects of Christ dying in 33 A.D., whereas this reprobate man lives now. Dan states, “Today, for someone to say that Christ can save everyone, it has to be based on what Christ actually did on the cross, not what He could have done on the cross.” What Christ actually did on the cross was die. That action would not have been different if he had died only for (i.e. in the place of) Paul the Apostle, or for each and every human being. Anyone who is saved is saved by that death, and that death is a price that has intrinsic sufficiency to save anyone Christ wants to save by it. It is an offering that the Father accepts.

Perhaps Dan has misunderstood our argument. We are not saying that salvation is still open. We are not saying that there is a non-zero probability of a reprobate person being saved. The probability of the reprobate person being saved is zero (it’s actually zero in Molinism and classical Arminianism as well, though that’s for another day). Nevertheless, the sacrifice of Christ considered in itself, and as to its intrisic value, could save more men than there are atoms in the universe.

I’ll take Dan to task for one other minor thing: the affirmation of the sufficiency of Christ’s death is not a compromise to Arminianism. It is not designed to make anything more or less palatable to anyone. It is instead simply the nature of the matter. Christ death is itself sufficient for all. Because, however, Christ only offers this sacrifice for (and intercedes for) the elect, it is only they to whom the sacrifice is efficient. The Trinity works together so that all the elect believe, and receive the promise of eternal life, a promise that would be given to the reprobate were the reprobate to believe (since God cannot lie).


One of my Theological Opponents on the Atonement

April 19, 2008

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

Here is what he says:

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

A brief response from me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise and thanks be to our Substitute!


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.


What Watson and I believe about the Atonement

January 12, 2008

Thomas Watson writes:

*** Quotation from Body of Divinity ***

Use one: Of instruction. (I.) See into what a wretched deplorable condition we had brought ourselves by sin; we had sinned ourselves into slavery, so that we needed Christ to purchase our redemption. Nihil durius servitute, says Cicero, ‘Slavery is the worst condition.’ Such as are now prisoners in Algiers think it so. But by sin we are in a worse slavery, slaves to Satan, a merciless tyrant, who sports in the damnation of souls. In this condition we were when Christ came to redeem us.

(2.) See in this, as in a transparent glass, the love of Christ to the elect. He came to redeem them; and died intentionally for them. Were it not great love for a king’s son to pay a great sum of money to redeem a captive? But that he should be content to be a prisoner in his stead, and die for his ransom; this were matter of wonder. Jesus Christ has done all this, he has written his love in characters of blood. It had been much for Christ to speak a good word to his Father for us, but he knew that was not enough to redeem us. Though a word speaking made a world, yet it would not redeem a sinner. ‘Without shedding of blood there is no remission.’ Heb 9: 22.

Use two: Of trial. If Christ came to purchase our redemption, then let us try whether we are the persons whom Christ has redeemed from the guilt and curse due to sin. This is a needful trial; for let me tell you, there is but a certain number whom Christ has redeemed. Oh, say sinners, Christ is a redeemer, and we shall be saved by him! Beloved, Christ came not to redeem all, for that would overthrow the decrees of God. Redemption is not as large as creation. I grant there is a sufficiency of merit in Christ’s blood to save all; but there is a difference between sufficiency and efficiency. Christ’s blood is a sufficient price for all, but it is effectual only to them that believe. A plaster may have a sovereign virtue in it to heal any wound, but it does not heal unless applied to the wound. And if it be so, that all have not the benefit of Christ’s redemption, but some only, then it is a necessary question to ask our own souls, Are we in the number of those that are redeemed by Christ or not?

*** End of Quotation ***

(source, with context)

Praise be to our Redeemer!


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