Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

More Evidence: Common Grace Undermines Particular Atonement

More Evidence: Common Grace Undermines Particular Atonement

We often hear from proponents of neo-Calvinism that Christ died “particularly” and “specifically” for the elect but there is a “sense” in which Christ died for the reprobate as well. Christ purchased for them a non-salvific or non-saving favor that allows for good in society and for general and natural revelation in the arts, sciences, and civic realm of the worldly kingdom. This could be understood as an endorsement of the Roman Catholic concept of “christendom”. That is, the emphasis becomes this world only and the success of the church militant is measured on a this worldly and secular measurement of the effects of the church on the surrounding society in sociological terms.

The effects of the teaching of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck even extends to the Old School Princeton theologians. Charles Hodge, for example, went against his Presbyterian denomination when the denomination ruled that Roman Catholic baptism was invalid because it was improperly administered. (See, baptism). In other words, the Roman Catholic Church teaches wrong doctrine during the administration of the sacrament of baptism, including the magical ex opere operato view, baptismal regeneration, and sacerdotalism. It is the priest who mediates between God and man in this system. The Protestant Reformers stood firmly against the Papist view of baptism and the Lord's supper and said that a true church is one which rightly preaches the law and the gospel and one which duly, rightly, and correctly administers the sacraments. They also soundly rejected the other five so-called “sacraments” as not sacraments at all. Obviously, the reason the Reformers insisted on this is that they viewed the RCC administration of sacraments as an improper one. Hodge's view would later become the official doctrine of the Presbyterian Church USA and this ecumenical emphasis led to the relativizing of Scriptural dogma and the Protestant theology of the sacraments. It is not illegitimate then to connect Hodge's error in the ecumenical direction to his bias toward a divine favor toward all men.

That Hodge was influenced by Kuyper is beyond dispute, particularly since they lived in the same contemporary time frame. Looking at the timeline, however, it could be that Hodge influenced Kuyper's theology of common grace. At any rate by 1898 the neo-Calvinist view was taking hold in the United States. A good indication of this is the Stone Lectures of 1898 at Princeton Seminary. Although this is well after the death of Charles Hodge it is an indication of a relationship with the neo-Calvinist school of thought at Princeton well before the lectures delivered by Kuyper in 1898.

Another area where Hodge and modern neo-Calvinists compromise is the atonement. They will acknowledge that Christ died specifically for the elect but they wobble at this point because of their bias and presuppositional assumption that God favors mankind in general. Charles Hodge again exemplifies this line of thinking:

 The whole question, therefore, concerns simply the purpose of God in the mission of his Son. What was the design of Christ's coming into the world, and doing and suffering all He actually did and suffered? Was it merely to make the salvation of all men possible; to remove the obstacles which stood in the way of the offer of pardon and acceptance to sinners? or, Was it specially to render certain the salvation of his own people, i. e., of those given to Him by the Father? The latter question is affirmed by Augustinians, and denied by their opponents. It is obvious that if there be no election of some to everlasting life, the atonement can have no special reference to the elect. It must have equal reference to all mankind. But it does not follow from the assertion of its having a special reference to the elect that it had no reference to the non-elect. Augustinians readily admit that the death of Christ had a relation to man, to the whole human family, which it had not to the fallen angels. It is the ground on which salvation is offered to every creature under heaven who hears the gospel; but it gives no authority for a like offer to apostate angels. It moreover secures to the whole race at large, and to all classes of men, innumerable blessings, both providential and religious. It was, of course, designed to produce these effects; and, therefore, He died to secure them. In view of the effects which the death of Christ produces in the relation of all mankind to God, it has in all ages been customary with Augustinians to say that Christ died "sufficienter pro omnibus, efficaciter tantum pro electis;" sufficiently for all, efficaciously only for the elect. There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which He died for the elect alone.

From: Charles Hodge. Systematic Theology: Part 3. Soteriology: Chapter VIII. For Whom Did Christ Die? 1. The State of the Question.

It is precisely this sort of ambiguity and compromise which leads to placing reason above God's Word as the final authority. If common grace is true, then general revelation in “some sense” is equal to special revelation and from that point on theology is set up for a fall. The moment we concede that natural revelation trumps special revelation then liberalism is not far around the corner. We can see this in all sorts of ways when sociological and psychological studies lord it over theological studies in dogmatics. If the philosophy of religion and the sociology and psychology of religion reign, we end up with a theology from below, a man-centered or anthropological centered theology. If this world is all there is then the logical conclusion is that we ought to focus exclusively on social justice issues since the only judgment we will face is the consensus of society at large and a natural law by utilitarian ethics.

We can see that Hodge's influence in fact contributed to the undermining of the doctrine of a particular and efficacious atonement and the idea that Christ redeemed everyone “hypothetically”. That view is exemplified by D. Broughton Knox:

Thus from the point of view of the preacher, Christ has died for all his audience. All may accept the proffered salvation which Christ has provided. The preacher is not concerned with the intended application of the atonement, which at the time of the preaching still lies hidden in the counsel of God. Thus, from the point of view of the preacher presenting the gospel (which is the same as our point of view), all have an equal interest in the death of Christ. Were it not so, and not true that Christ had died for all men, it would not be possible to extend a universal offer; for the offer, it it is to be a true offer, must rest on true and adequate grounds, which cannot be less than the death of Christ for those to whom the offer is being made. Thus if the gospel is offered genuinely to all, it can only be offered because Christ died for all, and if for all, then the preacher is at liberty, and indeed obliged, to press home the offer, and to say to each sinner individually, “Christ died for you.”

D. Broughton Knox: Selected Works. Volume I: The Doctrine of God. Tony Payne, ed. “The Christian Worldview: Some Aspects of the Atonement.” (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2000), p. 261.

This is one huge non sequitur. First of all, this is the Arminian version of preaching Law and Gospel. Rather than showing our guilt under the Law, the Arminian takes the divine favor perspective. God has provided a “prevenient” grace beforehand to all mankind and God favors all mankind. The only obstacle to conversion therefore is man's will. It's up to the individual to accept or reject Christ as Savior to be saved or lost. So the approach to preaching is not Law and Gospel—that is preaching for the conviction of the sinner as guilty of both original sin/total corruption from birth and actual sins committed since birth (Psalm 58:3)—but that everyone is in some status of “favor” and the implication is that it would be unjust of God to condemn them without “offering” them salvation. The Amyraldian would claim that he believes in particular election but that election only occurs after the decree to redemption in the logical order of God's decrees. He claims to disagree with the Arminian but for all practical purposes his view is the same as the Arminian view. His view is that God redeems those whom He does not intend to save and we have the irony of Christ dying on the cross for those God never intends to save. Thus, the Amyraldian view, like Arminianism, is illogical and is an unbiblical theology of atonement. The Amyraldian, like the Arminian, has Jesus dying on the cross for those already in hell since election and reprobation have been set before creation even in the Amyraldian view.

It does not follow that we are to beg sinners to be saved or even to persuade them to be saved on the basis of some illegitimate “offer” or “favor”. The fact is no one has favor with God and we are all under the wrath of God apart from saving faith. I have no need to tell anyone “Christ died for you” unless that person is a believer! It is more correct to say, “Christ died for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2; Revelation 5:9). That's what the Articles of Religion say and nowhere in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion or in the 1559 or 1662 Book of Common Prayer will you find anything that says, “Christ died for every single individual who has ever lived.” Even more to the point, Scripture is the final authority and nowhere does the Bible teach unlimited atonement nor should any Anglican be obligated to believe it. But since the Bible does teach particular atonement, Anglicans ought to believe that doctrine. (John 10:11, 15; Matthew 1:21; Ezekiel 34:11-13; Revelation 5:9). We are commanded to “preach” repentance (Law) and Gospel (Promise), not to beg the elect or the reprobate to be saved. The Law of God commands everyone to repent. It does not give anyone the ability to obey. The grace of God alone can and does enable the elect alone to respond to the command to repent and believe the Gospel. (John 6:44, 65). The Gospel is the instrument God uses to present God's covenant promises to His people. (2 Corinthians 1:20; Acts 2:39).

Moreover, presupposing that God favors all mankind rather than that all mankind is the object of God's wrath leads to other errors. (Ephesians 2:3; John 3:36; Romans 5:9). Broughton Knox shows us that he does not have an adequate view of either the Synod of Dort or Calvin's commentaries on the New Testament by his comments here:

All men receive benefits from Christ's death. This is agreed. It should be further agreed that one of these benefits is savableness—which no fallen angel has received. Thus it is true to say that Christ is a ransom for all, without limiting the word 'all', nor limiting the word 'ransom' to that which is less than complete salvation.

Knox, p. 262.

This statement makes it clear that Knox does not understand election and reprobation or that salvation is not based on our decision but on God's decision. His theology is from below. Furthermore, if we take Knox at his word then the result should be universal salvation since Christ has accomplished “complete salvation” for everyone by His active and passive obedience and His finished work on the cross. So all those reprobates from the time of Adam up until the cross and even those in hell at this moment have “complete salvation”. At least that's the logical implication of Knox's statement. A salvation that does not effectually save is no salvation at all!

Knox goes on to say:

In the phrase “Christ died for the elect”, the word 'for' is ambiguous. If it implies intention, it is true. Thus Scripture affirms that Christ came to save his people from their sins. But if it applies to the extent of his atonement, it is not true; so that, with the Church of England Catechism, we are right in affirming that “Christ redeemed me, and all of mankind”; and with the Synod of Dort that he efficaciously redeemed only the elect. It is regrettable that the Westminster Confession has gone beyond this scriptural position of the Synod of Dort, to confine the redemption of Christ exclusively to the elect. “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ . . . but the elect only” (3.6).

To deny, as “limited atonement” does, the propriety of laying on the conscience of the unconverted their duties to repent and believe the gospel, by telling them “Christ died for you”, is improperly restrictive of the scope of the atonement, as seen from the point of view of preacher and hearer.

Knox, pp. 262-63.

As we can see, Hodge's theology that, “There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which He died for the elect alone,” in fact leads to further confusion and compromise. The decrees of God are submitted to a theology from a human perspective and an emphasis that must submit God's justice to the sinful rebellion of sinners and their perspective. This approach is like trying to persuade a child to do the right thing from his own perspective. If you tell a child who is too young to understand not to play in the street because a car might run him down, the child will in his natural rebellion continue to play in the street. Persuasion does not work. The child will feel you are being unjust in forbidding him to play in the street. The facts do not change, however. It is both just and right to command the child not to play in the street rather than caving in to the child's own perverted sense of what is just or unjust.

The fact is, however, Knox has the Canons of Dort wrong and the Church of England Catechism wrong.  (See Article VII). The Catechism is to be interpreted in light of Scripture and not the other way around. The Canons of Dort in no way whatsoever endorse the hypothetical view of Amyraut. 

In fact, the Second Head of Doctrine, Rejection of Errors VI clearly refutes the late Broughton Knox' attempt to harmonize his Amyraldian view with either Dort or the Catechism in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:

Rejection of Errors: Paragraph VI

Who use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced this teaching that God, as far as he is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that, while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace. For these, while they feign that they present this distinction, in a sound sense, seek to instill into the people the destructive poison of the Pelagian errors.

How those who are in bondage to sin and have no free will are made "savable" without free will, Knox never tells us.  Furthermore any argument that appeals to Amyraut would be an anachronistic argument since Amyraut's view was promoted well after the Synod of Dort.  Amyraut's purpose was to try to reconcile the Arminian view of the atonement with the Reformed view expressed by Calvin in his commentary on 1 John 2:2. In fact, Calvin flatly denies that the sufficient/efficient theory applies at all to “this verse” and 1 John 2:2 is one of the key proof texts used by Arminians and Amyraldians to support a general atonement that redeems no one in particular. Well, the Amyraldians try to have it both ways but it does not make logical sense.

Calvin says:

2. And not for ours only. He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.

Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.
Calvin's Commentary on 1 John 2:2

When Calvin says that the writer of 1 John “designates those who should believe” he is not referring to contingency but to a future certainty that the elect will be brought to believe. It is difficult to see how any hypothetical “savableness” applies here when Calvin flatly rejects that the atonement is for the reprobate in any sense at all. In fact, it directly contradicts Knox's idea that Christ did not die for fallen angels but did die for the reprobate. It is a non sequitur. Calvin says that if Christ did not die for Satan then He most certainly did not die for the reprobate either.

If we interpret the 1662 Catechism in light of Scripture and the Reformed view upon which it is based, it does not follow that the Catechism teaches the Amyraldian view as Knox would have it. Rather it simply means that Christ died for the sins of the elect all over the world: the sins of the whole world does not extend attributively to all individuals but distributively to the elect only, a specific set of individuals all over the world. This is particularly clear since 1 John is addressed to believers, not everyone without exception. (1 John 1:1-3).

Since salvation is not evident unless there is a clear and credible profession of faith, it follows that the atonement is not applied to those who are unbelievers. That is true of all three positions: Arminian, Amyraldian, and Calvinist/Reformed. But only the Calvinist is consistent with God's revealed will in Scripture that both the sovereignty of God in election/reprobation and the order of His decrees stand as He intended. The Calvinist accepts both the complete accountability of man for his rebellion and the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation. The two positions are compatible and are true simply because Scripture teaches both. Only the Calvinist can say to sinners, “All of us deserve hell, including the Christian. All of us deserve God's justice in hell.” Therefore, we do not need to tell them that Christ died “for you”. That does not seem to persuade very many of the reprobates. In fact, it persuades none of them! I could tell someone that “Christ died for you” from here until the day they drop dead but the fact remains that such promises mean nothing to a dead man. If in fact God is the One who raises the dead sinner from spiritual death and regenerates him and gives him the grace to believe, it follows that God provided the atonement only for those He intended to save. Seen from God's perspective, there is no atonement for the reprobate person and God never intended to save them in the first place. Did Jesus die on the cross for Judas Iscariot or Pharoah or Esau? May it never be said! The Scriptures never make such a statement and in fact teach the opposite:

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," 8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:7-8 ESV)

"Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." (Acts 1:16-17 ESV)

(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. (Acts 1:18 ESV) (See also: Romans 9:11-18).

There never was a possibility, not even a “hypothetical” possibility, in the mind of God as to what would happen. (Acts 2:23; Deuteronomy 29:29).

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27 ESV)

God himself brings about election, regeneration, effectual calling, repentance, faith, justification, conversion, sanctification (both positional and progressive), and glorification. Salvation is all of God from beginning to end and we get none of the credit, not even that we accepted a hypothetical atonement for everyone in general and no one in particular. To say that Christ died for all and that Christ died only for the elect is irrational, illogical and inherently self contradictory to the propositional truth statements recorded in Holy Scripture. The compromises of Hodge and Kuyper and the neo-Calvinists is in fact undermining the Law of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot tell anyone that Christ died for them. But I can tell them that Jesus died for the elect who most certainly will believe. I can tell them that salvation is guaranteed and accomplished on the behalf of the elect. And I can tell them that if they do believe it is because God gave them that gift to believe unconditionally and without any foreseen goodness or deserving on their part. Unconditional election implies exactly that: Salvation itself is completely undeserved and a gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 4:4-5).

Christ came to save His people from their sins and to give Himself a ransom for many.  He laid down His life only for the sheep.  (Matthew 1:21; John 10:11, 15; 1 John 3:16; Mark 10:45; Isaiah 53:11).

May God grant unbelievers the grace to believe and may He give them the gift of the new birth.  Only after the regeneration and conversion of the elect can I preach to them that "Christ died for you!"


Reasonable Christian Blog Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. 1662 Book of Common Prayer

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