Confession of an Ex- “Highper”- Calvinist


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John Owen John Calvin

 

Before you read the following, I should make it clear that I was never HYPER-Calvinist. That is a very specific designation. For one to be a hyper-Calvinist, there are some very specific criteria which must be met. Phil Johnson in his excellent “A Primer of Hyper-Calvinism” discusses them in the following paragraphs:

Notice three very crucial points in that definition: First, it correctly points out that hyper-Calvinists tend to stress the secret (or decretive) will of God over His revealed (or preceptive) will. Indeed, in all their discussion of “the will of God,” hyper-Calvinists routinely obscure any distinction between God’s will as reflected in His commands and His will as reflected in his eternal decrees. Yet that distinction is an essential part of historic Reformed theology. (See John Piper, “Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God’s Desire for All To Be Saved” in Thomas R. Schreiner, ed., The Grace of God and the Bondage of the Will, 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995, 1:107-131.)
    Second, take note of the stress the above definition places on hyper-Calvinists’ “denial of the use of the word ‘offer’ in relation to the preaching of the gospel.” This is virtually the epitome of the hyper-Calvinist spirit: it is a denial that the gospel message includes any sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.
    Third, mark the fact that hyper-Calvinism “encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect.” Assurance tends to be elusive for people under the influence of hyper-Calvinist teaching. Therefore, hyper-Calvinism soon degenerates into a cold, lifeless dogma. Hyper-Calvinist churches and denominations tend to become either barren and inert, or militant and elitist (or all of the above).”

 

Given what Phil wrote there, I would have classified myself as a HIGH Calvinist (with a very narrow concept of Christ’s atonement – i.e. He died ONLY for the elect), which resulted in a Hyperesque discomfort with the free offer of the Gospel, without denying it outright. I knew instinctively and Biblically that all should be called, but had diminished zeal in the calling when I preached. I was like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis, it wasn’t supposed to hurt, the disconnect was all supposed to be in my mind, but it REALLY hurt!

Let me add here too that just because someone retains the view that Jesus died ONLY for the elect, somehow they are automatically Hyper-Calvinists. That isn’t true. I do believe it not only can but often leads to Hyper tendencies – I might even say most often. But there is not a one-for-one necessary correspondence.

What you have below is the substance of a letter I wrote to the other Elders where I serve as senior pastor, to give them a handle on where I shifted to. I hope it will prove beneficial to some others who may be wrestling with the same issues as I have.

We begin…

In the spirit of Semper Reformanda (always reforming) I’ve been looking for an opportunity to dialogue with you as a group over the nature (or more precisely the extent) of the atonement. Historically, this has been a subject for great discussion within Reformed and Calvinistic circles.

In order to give you a solid grasp of where my thinking has gone, I will site W. G. T. Shedd’s position on the critical areas which have affected me most. They are the closest I can find to my own view. I would especially call your attention to section 8 which I underlined. In short form, with Shedd, Charles Hodge, R. L. Dabney, John Davenant, Bishop Ussher, Isaac Watts, Philip Doddridge, John Bunyan, J. C. Ryle and a host of other Reformed men – I am constrained by the Scripture to adopt a view of Universal Atonement/Particular Redemption, affirming God’s love to all mankind as well as His secret counsels in election. In other words, an atonement that provides so that “whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:41 / Also Acts 2:21, 10:43 & John 11:26 and others), but of course, is applied salvifically only to the elect when they believe. Or, to quote the Heidelberg Catechism – Q37: What do you understand by the word “suffered”? A37: That all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life, He bore, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race;

In a nutshell, the view takes the texts which appeal to a universal aspect to Christ’s atonement as just that – universal. And it allows the doctrines of election and justification by faith alone carry the burden for determining who gains the salvific application of the atonement (who, is determined by unconditional election before the foundations of the world) and how they come to have their part in it (how, is by faith as a gift imparted to the elect alone – not to all mankind). It is a subtle change in some ways, but a true shift from the way I used to understand it. I would categorize my former position as virtually hyper-Calvinistic, making the doctrine of the atonement perform virtually the same function as election. In other words, Christ dies solely for the elect without any consideration for the non-elect and that the atonement holds nothing for the non-elect whatever. Let me try to outline a couple of the key ideas before I turn you over to Shedd’s treatment of this question.

When we ask the question “for whom did Christ die?” we tend to ask it in a way that prevents us (I believe) from answering it in full concert with the Scripture. We normally state our answer by saying: “He either died for all men and failed to save all men, or He died only for the Elect and certainly saved them.” But the very way the question is asked assumes the atonement could only do one thing. That God’s design in it was absolutely single. That He had only one intention in offering up Christ and thus only one thing was accomplished. Instead, I’m convinced now that the atonement accomplished a number of things. Some of those benefits are applicable to all mankind, and others only to the elect by virtue of the fact that they are obtained only by faith, which is given to the elect alone. Yes, Jesus came to die “for His people”, to infallibly accomplish the salvation of the elect – those sovereignly and unconditionally elected unto salvation by the Father before the worlds began. Yet, I do not believe that is ALL His atoning work was to do.

(I might note here that Owen’s – The Death of Death in Christ is often cited on this, but Owen both had a minority view at the time, AND, and as I read more of his material, I am convinced he made several serious errors. Neil Chambers’ excellent work on Owen clearly shows Owen’s exegesis of John 3:13 & I John 2:2 cannot possibly be limited to the elect – as well as challenging Owen’s logic errors in his famous Triple Choice. The one who takes the heaviest handed approach is Arthur Pink. He virtually has God holding nothing but contempt for the lost. A view he modified a good deal before his death – but one which much influenced me previously. And yet, here is how Arthur Pink closed one sermon preached in 1927: “Why not believe in him for yourself? Why not trust his precious blood for yourself, and why not tonight? Why not tonight, my friend? God is ready, God is ready to save you now if you believe on him. The blood has been shed, the sacrifice has been offered, the atonement has been made, the feast has been spread. The call goes out to you tonight. ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’” (Studies in the Scriptures 1927)

This articulates the offer of the Gospel (I believe) in a much more Biblically balanced form. The concept of “all things are ready” speaks to all impediments on God’s side having been removed. Man’s will alone being the obstacle. An insurmountable obstacle overcome only by God’s regenerating grace at work in the Elect.

Even though Jonathan Edwards was theologically of the more narrow view, he nevertheless called sinners to Christ from a different paradigm than the narrow view would ordinarily imply: “Come to Christ and accept salvation. You are invited to come to Christ, heartily to close with Him, and to trust in Him for salvation. If you do so, you shall have the benefit of His glorious contrivance. You shall have the benefit of all, as much as if the whole had been contrived for you alone. God has already contrived everything that is needful for your salvation; and there is nothing wanting but your consent. Since God has taken this matter of the redemption of sinners into His own hand, He has made a thorough work of it. He has not left it for you to finish. Satisfaction is already made; righteousness is already wrought out; death and hell are already conquered. The Redeemer has already taken possession of glory, and keeps it in His hands to bestow on them who come to Him. There were many difficulties in the way, but they are all removed. The Savior has already triumphed over all, and is at the right hand of God to give eternal life to His people. Salvation is already brought to your door; and the Savior stands, knocks, and calls that you would open to Him so that He might bring it to you. There remains nothing but your consent. All the difficulty now remaining is with your own heart. If you perish now, it must be wholly at your door. It must be because you would not come to Christ that you might have life, and because you virtually choose death rather than life.” – This when he preached on Matt. 23:37.

Consider the following by R. L. Dabney on this question. He too held that the Atonement did more than only save the elect. / Nature of Christ’s Sacrifice by R. L. Dabney

There is no safer clue for the student through this perplexed subject, than to take this proposition; which, to every Calvinist, is nearly as indisputable as a truism; Christ’s design in His vicarious work was to effectuate exactly what it does effectuate, and all that it effectuates, in its subsequent proclamation. This is but saying that Christ’s purpose is unchangeable and omnipotent. Now, what does it actually effectuate? ‘We know only in part;’ but so much is certain:

1. The purchase of the full and assured redemption of all the elect, or of all believers.

2. A reprieve of doom for every sinner of Adam’s race who does not die at his birth. (For these we believe it has purchased heaven). And this reprieve gains for all, many substantial, though temporal benefits, such as unbelievers, of all men, will be the last to account no benefits. Among these are postponement of death and perdition, secular well-being, and the bounties of life.

3. A manifestation of God’s mercy to many of the non-elect, to all those, namely, who live under the Gospel, in sincere offers of a salvation on terms of faith. And a sincere offer is a real and not a delusive benefaction; because it is only the recipient’s contumacy which disappoints it.

4. A justly enhanced condemnation of those who reject the Gospel, and thereby a clearer display of God’s righteousness and reasonableness in condemning, to all the worlds.

5. A disclosure of the infinite tenderness and glory of God’s compassion, with purity, truth and justice, to all rational creatures.

Note Dabney’s reference in #2 to “a reprieve of doom for every sinner of Adam’s race who does not die at his birth.” And #3 – the “manifestation of God’s mercy to many of the non-elect.” Such concepts have been virtually absent from the Calvinistic & Reformed groups I’ve interacted with. I believe that is a sad and grave error. It forces us to take passages like John 3:16 and perform exegetical gymnastics to avoid wrestling with the idea that God might actually love all men – and yet still not choose to save some. Clearly both are true. The balance of Dabney’s article deals directly with that as well – you can read the whole of it at http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/etc/printer-friendly.asp?ID=269

(At this point I will recommend purchasing Neil Chambers’ thesis for his Th. M. done at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1998. To my knowledge it can only be found at http://www.tren.com) (Since my first writing of this I have interacted with Chambers and he has given me permission to freely distribute his thesis if you would like a copy).

Charles Hodge writes in a similar vein on this same issue: “it does not follow from the assertion of its [the atonement’s] 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 on 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. The simple question is, Had the death of Christ a reference to the elect which it had not to other men? Did He come into the world to secure the salvation of those given to Him by the Father, so that the other effects of his work are merely incidental to what was done for the attainment of that object? (SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Vol. II, Page 546)

But in terms of God’s disposition toward all men, hear Calvin himself on John 3:16 – “Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish… Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith.”

Calvin knew how to balance the dynamic, while so often today we are unable. Faith is “not common to all”. This of course is one of Amyrault’s chief errors which we much avoid. Nor do we posit a hypothetical atonement which seeks to avoid allowing for unconditional election or the necessity of faith in the Gospel message while trying to reckon with some universal aspects. Calvin had it right.

In fact, Calvin is really bold when he speaks about God’s disposition concerning even the non-elect. Contrary to Pink who asserts God has almost no species of love for the lost, Calvin writes the following when commenting on Ezekiel 18:32 – “Meanwhile Ezekiel announces this very truly as far as doctrine is concerned, that God wills not the death of him that perishes: for the explanation follows directly afterwards, be you converted and live. Why does not God delight in the death of him who perishes? Because he invites all to repentance and rejects no one. Since this is so, it follows that he is not delighted by the death of him who perishes: hence there is nothing in this passage doubtful or thorny, and we should also hold that we are led aside by speculations too deep for us. For God does not wish us to inquire into his secret. Counsels: His secrets are with himself, says Moses, (#De 29:29), but this book for ourselves and our children. Moses there distinguishes between the hidden counsel of God, (which if we desire to investigate too curiously we shall tread on a profound abyss,)and the teaching delivered to us. Hence let us leave to God his own secrets, and exercise ourselves as far as we can in the law, in which God’s will is made plain to us and to our children.”

I dare say, very few if any of the Calvinists I’ve hung around with would agree with what Calvin says on Ezek. 18:23 – “He confirms the same sentiment in other words, that God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who were perishing and rushing to destruction should return into the way of safety. And for this reason not only is the Gospel spread abroad in the world, but God wished to bear witness through all ages how inclined he is to pity. For although the heathen were destitute of the law and the prophets, yet they were always endued with some taste of this doctrine. Truly enough they were suffocated by many errors: but we shall always find that they were induced by a secret impulse to seek for pardon, because this sense was in some way born with them, that God is to be appeased by all who seek him. Besides, God bore witness to it more clearly in the law and the prophets. In the Gospel we hear how familiarly he addresses us when he promises us pardon. (#Lu 1:78). And this is the knowledge of salvation, to embrace his mercy which he offers us in Christ. It follows, then, that what the Prophet now says is very true, that God wills not the death of a sinner, because he meets him of his own accord, and is not only prepared to receive all who fly to his pity, but he calls them towards him with a loud voice, when he sees how they are alienated from all hope of safety.

Again, there is a wonderful and sweet balance here which delights in the fact that God can truly and earnestly desire all men to repent, and yet still does not grant them that repentance. I agree it is a mystery – but it is a Biblical tension that ought not to be ignored.

This Universal/Particular tension in the atonement was built into the OT Day of Atonement. The sacrifice was given and God’s anger against the entire community was assuaged. Not just of the believer, but of the unbeliever too. Whether or not all were actually regenerate, all of Israel benefited. Not salvifically in the eternal sense, but certainly in the temporal sense. Here, the sacrifice (typical of Christ) died for all, yet all were not saved (eternally). (Note: I will not take the time to develop this at present, but in a cursory survey of all the passages in the O.T. regarding atonement – from Gen. 6:14 where kopher is first used, as the pitch for Noah’s Ark – in the majority of citings it has some reference to God’s wrath being suspended, averted or forestalled. I do not believe I have seen any truly thorough analysis of this fact used to develop our concept of atonement in general. And since the only N.T. use of the word is in Rom. 5:11, this needs to be a controlling factor. Someone really needs to do this work.)

And additional aspect of the typological issues demonstrated in Israel’s Day of Atonement has to do with the fact that the blood being shed, in and by itself, was not even portrayed as sufficient there. Indeed, it still needed to be APPLIED to the altar and especially the Mercy Seat. We have a hint here to the need of application above and beyond the mere sacrifice. The Spirit must apply the blood to the believing one for salvation to be appropriated as it is by faith. Calvin also hints at this some, but does not develop it very much (as much as I’ve been able to tell so far).

When the brazen serpent was raised up by Moses in the wilderness – ALL who looked upon it might live. Not all did. Not all were appointed to. But it was provided for all who had been afflicted, whether they looked or not.

All of Israel was delivered from Egypt, but a great number were “unable to enter because of unbelief.” (Heb. 3:19-14)

When Jesus feeds the 5000, 12 baskets of over-abundance are taken up. This is not reckoned as waste, but as a symbol of His abundant grace. 7 more baskets than are necessary are shown at the feeding of the 4000 as well. He does “exceedingly abundantly above all that are able to ask or think.”

When Spurgeon comments of the parable in Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” – he writes: “To obtain a right to the treasure-trove, the finder must buy the field, and to do this he parts with “all that he hath.” So do men act when they discover the riches of the gospel. So did Jesus himself, at the utmost cost, buy the world to gain his church, which was the treasure which he desired. The special application of the parable we leave to the reader.”

This I must agree with, that Christ dying to purchase all men did not mean all would be saved, but He DID indeed purchase all that He might gain His elect. In this sense, He bought ALL men. (Again, this makes easy sense of passages like 2 Peter 2:1).

Note too that Christ is presented to us as the last or second Adam (Heb. 2:5-9 / 1 Cor. 15:22, 45 / Rom. 5:14). This places Him at the head of the entire human race. I would argue this explains much more easily how John 15:1 & 2 works (in my estimation) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” What in the world is a branch of His which does not bear fruit and is taken away? Not a believer losing his salvation for sure. But what DOES it mean? Nothing less than unbelieving humanity under its new Adam. He purchases all and is Lord of All (Acts 10:36) and as such purges those who are His by conquest, but who nevertheless do not share His spiritual life. (Mention should be made here of the Covenantal view taken by many of this passage, which posits the branches which are taken away as those baptized in the Church later proved to be unbelievers. This view parallels the view I am advancing in that is SOME way it pictures lost men “joined to Christ” – though not salvifically).

I am convinced that at Calvary, Christ indeed paid the penalty for every man. Or, to quote Calvin in his Commentary on Colossians 1:14 – “This is our liberty, this our glorying in

the face of death — that our sins are not imputed to us. He says that this redemption was procured through the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of his death all the sins of the world have been expiated.” But that does NOT mean every man is saved or gets off scot-free. Why? First and foremost, because of election. Only the elect have the gift of and can and do exercise saving faith. Secondly, because more than the debt is included in our fallenness. Let me try to illustrate.

Lets say the bank up the street has $500,000.00 inside. One night, I break in, steal the $500,000.00 and run. A dear friend who loves me, agrees to pay the bank all the money I’ve stolen, so that they decide not to press charges. Even though they refuse to press charges, the Bank’s security cameras recorded my actions for all time, and the Law Enforcement Agencies as well as the Judicial system still proceed to charge me with the crime of armed robbery. Even though the Bank has in effect been satisfied or made whole, I am still not free. Why? For two reasons. 1- I now owe this friend who paid the debt for me. But 2 – No matter whether the bank was made whole or not, the police will still arrest me, because I am STILL GUILTY of having committed the crime. I am still liable to be charged with the crime of armed robbery even though the money has been returned by my gracious benefactor. Even if I have no other benefactor and the Bank simply forgives the debt – the guilt remains and must be dealt with judicially.

I believe this is at least part of how it is with Christ’s propitiation for all mankind. Man, made in God’s image, owed Him the glory He is due – we were made FOR His glory (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). We robbed Him. Christ, in His active obedience has paid the Father in full for the glory which was due Him from mankind. On the basis of His own death, He forgives our debt. As the second Adam, He made satisfaction, propitiation. But there is more here than just the debt. Christ has removed that particular impediment from being reconciled to the Father by virtue of His death. He removed the flaming sword (if you will) from the entrance to the Tree of Life. The Father will not demand of us what is due because of Christ. However – the Father is not just the one sinned against, He is also the righteous Judge. And though the debt has been forgiven, I am still guilty of having committed the crime. I am not righteous. Now in another amazing act, the Father commits the discharge of this judgment to the Son (John 5:22). Which judgment, if I would escape it, Christ requires I place my faith in Him for. Faith – it is true I cannot have unless He gives it to me – but that is the condition under which He places us all. While my sin was imputed to Him at the Cross – as it was for all – nevertheless His righteousness is not imputed to any until they believe.

I might add here that the example of the bank robbery and repayment versus the removal of guilt helps solve the “double payment” logic which troubles so many. This is but one part of several resolutions to that problem. A second, Shedd’s argument that while payment is made, if one has no faith in it, it cannot save – also removes this obstacle. A third is the transfer of debt to Christ. He paid our debt to the Father, but we still need to reckon with Him! He will be the judge of all mankind (John 5:22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son). And a fourth is the plain fact that there is no double jeopardy because the SINNER does not suffer twice – but rather Christ suffers, and if they do not repent and believe – then they suffer as well. No one suffers twice.

Again, another dimension to this could be illustrated this way. Say the bank who holds my house mortgage sells it to another bank – a fairly common practice today. The first bank discharges my debt to them – but I still owe the balance to the new mortgagor. Christ made the way to the Father clear, but I can still only get there THROUGH Him. Will there be men in Hell whom Christ died for? Yes. And the nature of their suffering will be finely attuned by the one who suffered for their sins at Calvary and who therefore knows exactly – by personal experience – what their punishment ought to be, the punishment He will personally exact from them. His payment, though full and free, did not expunge their guilt. I must still have the imputed righteousness of Christ if I am to be saved. I must still personally believe upon Him as my substitute. I am not saved until I believe.

Thus it is I feel constrained by Scripture to affirm Christ’s true love for all mankind, and the universality of His atoning work, while at one and the same time, affirming that Redemption is particular for the elect alone. For me, this all and at the same time keeps safeguarding the free offer of the Gospel, the more natural reading of passages like John 3:16, and yet preserves the absolute sovereignty of God in unconditional election. Christ’s OBEJECTIVE work of reconciliation satisfies the Father, so that He is not at present hunting us down, while the SUBJECTIVE part of reconciliation must yet take effect, when by the Spirit we are convinced of sin and righteousness and judgment, and come seeking the forgiveness Christ has provided for us in His death.

One last thought. Some object to this line of reasoning, arguing that it makes the death of Christ merely provisional. That He simply made salvation possible, and did not actually save. To that I need to reply that in one sense His death was certainly provisional. If Eph. 2:3 is correct, even the elect are “by nature, children of wrath even as the rest” until we come to faith in Christ in space and time. We do not come into the world saved, though the elect are earmarked for that day when Christ’s atoning sacrifice will be applied to us savingly by the Spirit. Nor were we saved at Calvary. Election is designation, not actuation. We are lost until sovereignly regenerated, divinely granted saving faith, and we exercise that faith on Christ and his death in our place. So in that sense, yes, His death was provisional, but it was not ONLY provisional. For in terms of the elect, it certainly and absolutely secured our salvation. There is no guesswork in this as though the salvation of any individual is subject to question in God. It is always in question to us until one either repents and believes or dies in unbelief. Thus we call all men to faith and repentance because provision HAS been made for all. “‘Come, for everything is now ready.” While in God’s sovereignty only 8 humans were ultimately going to be saved on the Ark, the Ark nonetheless – built by God’s specifications – was sufficient for a vast number more. Many more could have been cured in the wilderness had they looked upon the brazen serpent. Time reveals to us who were destined to and who were not. But nothing of the provision was wasted. It was offered to all, and sufficient for all, but effectual only for those who looked – by God’s grace. The provisional element shouldn’t scare us, when we consider that where sin abounded, grace did “much more abound.” Why didn’t it only abound to the exact measure of the sin?

Here then is Shedd. I cite him not as authority, but simply because he states the view so well. He in fact goes beyond my understanding (so far) in terms of how the atonement canceled all legal claims. But I believe his essential balance and understanding is so Biblical as to warrant a very close inspection. Remember, he was considered one of the premier Reformed and Calvinistic theologians of the 19th century.

For further inquiry on how the Reformed Church historically has wrestled with this idea and who was on which side of the argument – I highly recommend Curt Daniel’s History and Theology of Calvinism. I would also recommend John Davenant’s fine work on the question. Davenant was on the Synod of Dordt and felt the formulation on Limited Atonement was skewed. Davenant has been wrongly accused by some of being Amyrauldian. But Davenant never posits that all men either have or are capable of saving faith or that God had a conditional decree of election for all men, and an additional unconditional decree for the elect. In fine, his final argument regarding Dordt’s article is simply that when it was formulated, it went overboard in trying to deny universalism (i.e. that all are eventually saved), and thus overstepped and forgot that (as Shedd will mention below) we are saved by grace THROUGH faith. No matter HOW Christ atoned, if one has no faith in it, it is ineffectual for salvation. We must not leave this crucial aspect out. We preach (because the Gospel is) justification by faith, not justification by an automatic result of Christ’s death.

Very often in my estimation, the Reformed and Calvinistic view as popularly articulated collapses the ordo salutis so as to make justification by faith virtually unnecessary, and posits all in election itself.

Shedd: In Rom. 5:10 believers are said to be “reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” Here the reconciliation is described from the side of the offending party; man is said to be reconciled. Yet this does not mean the subjective reconciliation of the sinner toward God, but the objective reconciliation of God toward the sinner.[1]

God’s justice is completely satisfied for the sin of man by the death of Christ. This is an accomplished fact: “Jesus Christ the righteous is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The instant any individual man of this world of mankind believes that divine justice is thus satisfied, his conscience is at rest. The belief of a fact is always needed in order to a personal benefit from it. Belief is not needed in order to establish the fact. Whether a sinner believes Christ died for sin or not will make no difference with the fact, though it will make a vast difference with him: “If we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13)[2]

In the third place, atonement, either personal or vicarious, naturally and necessarily cancels legal claims. This means that there is such a natural and necessary correlation between vicarious atonement and justice that the former supplies all that is required by the latter. It does not mean that Christ’s vicarious atonement naturally and necessarily saves every man; because the relation of Christ’s atonement to divine justice is one thing, but the relation of a particular person to Christ’s atonement is a very different thing. Christ’s death as related to the claims of the law upon all mankind cancels those claims wholly. It is an infinite “propitiation for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). But the relation of an impenitent person to this atonement is that of unbelief and rejection of it. Consequently, what the atonement has effected objectively in reference to the attribute of divine justice is not effected subjectively in the conscience of the individual. There is an infinite satisfaction that naturally and necessarily cancels legal claims, but unbelief derives no benefit from the fact.[3]

This reasoning applies to vicarious atonement equally with personal. Justice does not require a second sacrifice from Christ in addition to the first: “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 10:28). This one offering expiated “the sins of the whole world,” and justice is completely satisfied in reference to them. The death of the God-man naturally and necessarily canceled all legal claims. When a particular person trusts in this infinite atonement and it is imputed to him by God, it then becomes his atonement for judicial purposes as really as if he had made it himself, and then it naturally and necessarily cancels his personal guilt, and he has the testimony that it does in his peace of conscience. Divine justice does not, in this case, require an additional atonement from the believer. It does not demand penal suffering from a person for whom a divine substitute has rendered a full satisfaction, which justice itself has accepted in reference to this very person. By accepting a vicarious atonement for a particular individual, divine justice precludes itself from requiring a personal atonement from him. Accordingly, Scripture represents the noninfliction of penalty upon the believer in Christ’s atonement as an act of justice to Christ and also to the believer viewed as one with Christ: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9); “who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died” (Rom. 8:33–34). The atoning mediator can demand upon principles of strict justice the release from penalty of any sinful man in respect to whom he makes the demand. And if in such a case we should suppose the demand to be refused by eternal justice, we should suppose a case in which eternal justice is unjust. For, by the supposition, justice has inflicted upon the mediator the full penalty due to this sinner and then refuses to the mediator that release of this sinner from penalty which the mediator has earned by his own suffering and which is now absolutely due to him as the reward of his suffering. Says Edwards (Wisdom in Salvation in Works 4.150):

It is so ordered now that the glory of the attribute of divine justice requires the salvation of those that believe. The justice of God that [irrespective of Christ’s atonement] required man’s damnation and seemed inconsistent with his salvation now [having respect to Christ’s atonement] as much requires the salvation of those that believe in Christ, as ever before it required their damnation. Salvation is an absolute debt to the believer from God, so that he may in justice demand it on the ground of what his surety has done. (see also Edwards, God’s Sovereignty in Works 4.552)[4]

It may be asked: If atonement naturally and necessarily cancels guilt, why does not the vicarious atonement of Christ save all men indiscriminately, as the universalist contends? The substituted suffering of Christ being infinite is equal in value to the personal suffering of all mankind; why then are not all men upon the same footing and in the class of the saved, by virtue of it? The answer is because it is a natural impossibility. Vicarious atonement without faith in it is powerless to save. It is not the making of this atonement, but the trusting in it, that saves the sinner: “By faith are you saved” (Eph. 2:8); “he that believes shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). The making of this atonement merely satisfies the legal claims, and this is all that it does. If it were made but never imputed and appropriated, it would result in no salvation. A substituted satisfaction of justice without an act of trust in it would be useless to sinners. It is as naturally impossible that Christ’s death should save from punishment one who does not confide in it as that a loaf of bread should save from starvation a man who does not eat it. The assertion that because the atonement of Christ is sufficient for all men therefore no men are lost is as absurd as the assertion that because the grain produced in the year 1880 was sufficient to support the life of all men on the globe therefore no men died of starvation during that year. The mere fact that Jesus Christ made satisfaction for human sin, alone and of itself, will save no soul. Christ, conceivably, might have died precisely as he did and his death have been just as valuable for expiatory purposes as it is, but if his death had not been followed with the work of the Holy Spirit and the act of faith on the part of individual men, he would have died in vain. Unless his objective work is subjectively appropriated, it is useless so far as personal salvation is concerned. Christ’s suffering is sufficient to cancel the guilt of all men and in its own nature completely satisfies the broken law. But all men do not make it their own atonement by faith in it by pleading the merit of it in prayer and mentioning it as the reason and ground of their pardon. They do not regard and use it as their own possession and blessing. It is nothing for them but a historical fact. In this state of things, the atonement of Christ is powerless to save. It remains in the possession of Christ who made it and has not been transferred to the individual. In the scriptural phrase, it has not been “imputed.” There may be a sum of money in the hands of a rich man that is sufficient in amount to pay the debts of a million debtors; but unless they individually take money from his hands into their own, they cannot pay their debts with it. There must be a personal act of each debtor in order that this sum of money on deposit may actually extinguish individual indebtedness. Should one of the debtors, when payment is demanded of him, merely say that there is an abundance of money on deposit, but take no steps himself to get it and pay it to his creditor, he would be told that an undrawn deposit is not a payment of a debt. “The act of God,” says Owen (Justification, chap. 10), “in laying our sins on Christ, conveyed no title to us to what Christ did and suffered. This doing and suffering is not immediately by virtue thereof ours or esteemed ours; because God has appointed something else [namely, faith] not only antecedent thereto, but as the means of it.” (See supplement 6.2.7.)[5]

Says Owen (Satisfaction of Christ):

The satisfaction of Christ made for sin, being not made by the sinner, there must of necessity be a rule, order, and law constitution how the sinner may come to be interested in it and made partaker of it. For the consequent of the freedom of one by the sacrifice of another is not natural or necessary, but must proceed and arise from a law constitution, compact, and agreement. Now the way constituted and appointed is that of faith, as explained in the Scriptures. If men believe not, they are no less liable to the punishment due to their sins, than if no satisfaction at all were made for sinners.[6]

Atonement must be distinguished from redemption. The latter term includes the application of the atonement. It is the term redemption, not atonement, that is found in those statements that speak of the work of Christ as limited by the decree of election.[7]

Since redemption implies the application of Christ’s atonement, universal or unlimited redemption cannot logically be affirmed by any who hold that faith is wholly the gift of God and that saving grace is bestowed solely by election. The use of the term redemption, consequently, is attended with less ambiguity than that of “atonement,” and it is the term most commonly employed in controversial theology.137 Atonement is unlimited, and redemption is limited. This statement includes all the scriptural texts: those which assert that Christ died for all men, and those which assert that he died for his people. He who asserts unlimited atonement and limited redemption cannot well be misconceived. He is understood to hold that the sacrifice of Christ is unlimited in its value, sufficiency, and publication, but limited in its effectual application. But he who asserts unlimited atonement and denies limited redemption might be understood to hold either of three views: (1) The doctrine of the universalist that Christ’s atonement, per se, saves all mankind; (2) the doctrine of the Arminian that personal faith in Christ’s atonement is necessary to salvation, but that faith depends partly upon the operation of the Holy Spirit and partly upon the decision of the sinful will; or (3) the doctrine of the school of Saumur (hypothetic universalism) that personal faith in Christ’s atonement in the first arrangement of God depended in part upon the decision of the sinful will, but since this failed, by a second arrangement it now depends wholly upon the work of the Spirit, according to the purpose of election.

The tenet of limited redemption rests upon the tenet of election, and the tenet of election rests upon the tenet of the sinner’s bondage and inability.[8]

The difference between the Calvinist and the Arminian appears at this point. Both are evangelical in affirming that salvation is solely by faith in Christ’s atoning blood. This differentiates them from the legal Socinian, who denies the doctrine of vicarious atonement and founds salvation from condemnation on personal character and good works. But they differ regarding the origin of faith. The Calvinist maintains that faith is wholly from God, being one of the effects of regeneration; the Arminian, that it is partly from God and partly from man. The Calvinist asserts that a sinner is unconditionally elected to the act of faith and that the Holy Spirit in regeneration inclines and enables him to the act, without cooperation and assistance from him. The Arminian asserts that a sinner is conditionally elected to the act of faith and that the Holy Spirit works faith in him with some assistance and cooperation from him. This cooperation consists in ceasing to resist and yielding to the operation of the Spirit. In this case, the Holy Spirit does not overcome a totally averse and resisting will, which is the Calvinistic view, but he influences a partially inclining will.[9]

In summary, at the heart of this discussion from my point of view is the need to more carefully recognize the very important difference between Atonement and Redemption, and not to use them as indiscriminately interchangeable. Redemption is the effect of the Atonement applied. Atonement is the more general term and Redemption the more particular one. Only the elect are redeemed, but all have been atoned for. For myself, this very necessary nuance prevents us from losing the large-heartedness of God in the glorious work of Christ at Calvary to be preached (in Calvin’s words) “indiscriminately to all” (Comm. on Gen. 19:12), and thus “The blame lies solely with ourselves, if we do not become partakers of this salvation; for he calls all men to himself, without a single exception, and gives Christ to all, that we may be illuminated by him.” (Comm. on Isa. 42:6) while safeguarding the doctrine of unconditional election.

Perhaps the tension I argue for can be found in its best expressed form in 1 Tim. 4:10 “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” The Savior of all people (all men – KJV) but ESPECIALLY, in particular, of those who believe.

This is my own position, and Shedd has expressed better than I can for sure. I leave it up to you to decide where that leaves us.

I hope I have neither made a mountain out of a molehill, muddied the waters, nor brought any undue stress upon you all. But I am constrained to go where the Scriptures lead.

I have waited long, studied hard, and prayed without ceasing over this, and trust this is useful to you.

I have changed significantly in my understanding of the doctrine of Christ’s atonement. Yes, it is still well within the pale of orthodox, Reformation thought, but it is not the way I came in, as Pastor of this Church. Sooner or later I knew I was going to bump into it when I preached. Obviously, when that happens it is going to raise questions. So I want to get everything out on the table for us to think, pray, study and talk through. What I have come to believe the Bible teaches on this subject, is different than many here, and I do not wish to bring either confusion or division. It is not a new view, and has long been an accepted view within Calvinistic & Reformed circles historically – but not the circles we’ve run in.

For additional Reformed men who at least wrestled with some universal effects of the atonement see: Berkoff, R. B. Kuiper (For Whom Did Christ Die?), Andrew Fuller, Thomas Boston, B.B. Warfield & Charles Hodge. All conceded at least some universal effects and to varying degrees came close to what I have cited above in Shedd. Though I believe Shedd the most complete of the group.

See also Phil Johnson’s excellent article on this topic at: http://ondoctrine.com/2joh0001.htm


[1] Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. 2003. Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed. /) . P & R Pub.: Phillipsburg, N.J.

[2] Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. 2003. Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed. /) . P & R Pub.: Phillipsburg, N.J.

[3] Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. 2003. Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed. /) . P & R Pub.: Phillipsburg, N.J.

[4] Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. 2003. Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed. /) . P & R Pub.: Phillipsburg, N.J.

[5] Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. 2003. Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed. /) . P & R Pub.: Phillipsburg, N.J.

[6] Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. 2003. Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed. /) . P & R Pub.: Phillipsburg, N.J.

[7] Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. 2003. Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed. /) . P & R Pub.: Phillipsburg, N.J.

1 37 137. WS: Owen in his treatise against Arminianism presents “arguments against universal redemption.”

[8] Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. 2003. Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed. /) . P & R Pub.: Phillipsburg, N.J.

[9] Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. 2003. Dogmatic theology. “First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)”–Jacket. (3rd ed. /) . P & R Pub.: Phillipsburg, N.J.

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38 thoughts on “Confession of an Ex- “Highper”- Calvinist

  1. Thanks Reid for this post!!..How True it is..and how some of us have Suffered from Knowing “Hyper-Calvanists” such as you described!!..Worst of All–it has Stopped Many people from Wanting to know what BIBLICAL Calvinism is..or even Salvation!!…Always Enjoy your most Helpful Insights!!!

  2. Good Stuff – I think you are right that modern day Calvinists don’t usually sound much like Shedd or Dabney on this issue. I also find disturbing that some think a recovery of the ‘doctrines of grace’ is the be all, end all to spiritual revival. I think a commitment to the Scriptures is far more important. This was helpful.

  3. Thanks Jerry. It is hard to find a right – Biblical balance. To be honest, it is much easier to take a harder stance on either side. I’m just convinced that we need to let the Bible speak, and where cannot resolve it – we need to let the Lord have the day.

  4. Mr. Ferguson,

    I am one who “lurks” and from time to time have visited your blog finding it informative and stimulating. Thus it is with interest that I have read your post and pondered your theological journey. One would like to drop in for a coffee and sit to discuss the issues you have raised. However, time and distance constraints prevent such an effort. I do have some questions or obsevations regarding some of your thinking and will offer them in no particular order.

    I am interested in your distinction between atonement and redemption. You are quite correct to note that terms are often used interchangably or as synonyms. I would agree with you that this has led to a great deal of confusion, particularly theological confusion. The need for theological precision in our day is great and I hope we can see a measure of it developed in the sovereign grace movement. I do wonder though if the bifurcation of atonement and redemption is as great or clear as you seem to think it is. Perhaps I am strongly infuenced here by my calvinistic background but it seems to me to be problamatic to hold to an atonement that atones for everyone but only redeems those who believe. In short, have we not simply slipped into the old “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” conundrum? If I understand your post this seems to be where you have gravitated.

    I also wonder about your use of the word vicarious. My dictionary offers 2 possible definitions: 1). taking the place of another thing or person; a substitute and 2). endured, suffered or performed by one person in place of another. In the theological sense I have understood the vicarious aspect of the atonement to be effectual and not legal. I am obviously not as well read as you in calvinistic theologians but it has been my understanding that calvinists have stressed the effectual aspect of the atonement as what is meant in the use of the term vicarious. Thus a vicarious atonement does actually effect the redemption of those for whom it was intended.

    Your making the application of the atonement to effect redemption dependent on an act of the will is most interesting. It seems to me that historic calvinistic theologians place a great deal of emphasis on depravity and its effect on the will of man born in sin. Cosequently, even Fuller can write about sin, depravity, the operation of the Spirit, salvation as a work of sovereign grace, etc and be regarded as one who is in the line of succession that identifies him as reformed or historically calvinistic. However, when one searches out what Fuller believed regarding the will of man one discovers that Fuller had ( I believe ) some questionable views regarding the effects of sin on the will. Fullers position on the operation of the Spirit is that all the Spirit does is to remove the inherent depravity from man’s will thus putting him in the position to excercise his created free will in the embracing of the gospel. Or, as Fuller states it: “…some writers have affirmed that men are under both a moral and a natural inability of coming to Christ, or that they neither will or can come to him: but if there be no other inability than what arises from aversion, this language is not accurate; for it conveys the idea that if all aversion of heart were removed, there would still be a natural and insumountable bar in the way. But no such idea as this is conveyed by our Lord’s words: the only bar to which he refers lies in that reluctance or aversion which the drawing of the father implies and removes. Nor will such an idea comport with what he elsewhere teaches.’And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do you not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. Why do ye not understand my speech? Because ye cannot hear my word.’ These cutting interrogations proceed on the sopposition that they COULD HAVE RECEIVED THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST. IF IT HAD BEEN AGREEABLE TO THEIR CORRUPT HEARTS: AND ITS BEING OTHERWISE WAS THE ONLY REASON WHY THEY COULD NOT UNDERSTAND AND BELIEVE IT (empasis Fuller’s) – Complete Works, p.163.

    Fuller is equally clear on his understanding of the nature of the atonement, holding that the sufficiency of the atonement for all mankind was consistent with God’s justice and provided the basis for the free offer of the gospel to all men. Again, “The death of Christ in itself considered, i.e. irrespective of the design of the Father and Son as to its application, was sufficient for all mankind; that a way was opened by which God consistently with his justice could forgive any sinner whatever that returns to him by Jesus Christ; that if the whole world were to believe in him, none need be sent away for want of a sufficiency in his death to render his pardon and acceptance consistent with the rights of justice: and this is all that I should concede now.” – Works, p. 322.

    The conclusions to be drawn regarding Fuller’s treatment of man’s will seems to be that in it’s sinful state it is nothing more than an “aversion” to the gospel message. All that the Father does is to remove this aversion leaving man’s will in it’s natural or created state. This natural state has the ability or power to embrace the gospel. Since the atonement was for all men all have the potential to appropriate redemption if the Father removes the aversion of their will and puts them in the position to exercise their will to do so. Note, in Roman theology man was created free and placed in the garden. There he was given the Donum Superadditum (gift of added righteuosness). At the fall he lost the Donum Superadditum but was left in his original created state where he is perfectly capable of obeying God and earning redemption. It is interesting to see that Fuller holds that man is able in his natural state to belive the gospel when the impediment is removed while Rome believes that man in his natural state unhindered is able to gain God’s righteousness and thus redeem himself. It seems to me that Fuller’s view of man’s will and the effects of sin on it and Rome’s view are really quite similiar. Had I been in a position to attend your conference last month it is a question I would have liked to pursue with Dr. Nettles as one who seems to be interested in the rehabilitation of Andrew Fuller.

    To return to Fuller, the following quote draws both strands of his thought together regarding the discussion of his view of the will and the atonement. “There is no contradiction between this pecularity of design in the death of Christ, and a universal obligation on those who hear the gospel to believe in him, or a universal invitation being addressed to them. If God, through the death of his Son, has promised salvation to all who comply with the gospel; and if there be no natural impossibility as to a complience, nor any obstruction but that which arises from aversion of heart; exhortations and invitations to believe and be saved are consistent; and our duty, as preachers of the gospel, is to administer them, without any more regard to particular redemption than to election; both being secret things, which belong to the Lord our God.” – Works, p. 171 See also similiar qoutes on pp. 207 and 314.

    These are just some of the thoughts that occured to me in the reading of your post. There are probably a number of directions that can be considered in discussing these matters. All I wanted to do was interact with some of your points for the purpose of further clarification for myself. Perhaps even I could be persuaded to reconsider my position.

    At this point are you comfortable being considered a 4 point calvinist?

    I remain, for now, one who lurks with interest.

    Karis kai Ereinei,
    Skylinerfan

  5. Just curious – Do you have any qualms with a 4 point Calvinist label or does that create misunderstanding? I am pretty sympathetic with Robert Lightner’s view in ‘The Death Christ Died’ – although I think he is too ambiguous about where faith comes from. On the other side – I see no reason to see faith as something purchased for us thru the atonement. That sort of amounts to, ‘Christ died for our sins so we could believe that He died for our sins.’ I think God can grant faith or move the will – without dragging the atonement into the picture.

  6. Let me remark concerning Jerry’s second post first – because I want to take some very careful time with Karis’ excellent letter and the several points he raises. Though, in fact my answer to Jerry also addresses one of Karis’ last questions.

    Am I (or do I consider myself) a 4 point Calvinist? The short answer is – No. Classic 4-Point Calvinism as I understand it, places no special intent in the Atonement at all – making it provision only. I believe this fails to take into account that Election is real, and that there must have been some sense in which when Christ died, He was securing the salvation of those given to Him by the Father.

    I’ve actually begun to use the term 6-Point Calvinist in reference to myself. I believe I cannot draw a clean either/or distinction in the Atonement. So that the question “did Christ die for all, or for the elect only?” is in fact an errant question. As we might ask – Was Jesus divine, or human? The answer must be “yes”, not either/or. Is God three, or One? Yes again. Again cannot be either/or. Did Jesus die for all men, or for the elect? Yes. He died for all men, but that is not ALL HE did. He also died so as to absolutely secure the salvation of the elect.

    On your second point Jerry – I agree. The idea that Jesus somehow purchased faith for us simply has no direct Scriptural support from what I can see. I understand the need for its postulation given the normal 5-Point schema, but find its insertion in the discussion unhelpful, and ultimately unknowable. In the sense that all the good we have from God is in one way or another a product of the Atonement, I would not wish to try and argue too hard on either side. But is it explicitly taught that way in Scripture? I do not think so. Faith is beyond all question a gift, and one that is sovereignly bestowed at the Spirit’s discretion – along with all other spiritual gifts. But that faith itself must bear a direct relation to Christ’s atoning work at Calvary – I struggle to find clear evidince that such is a necessary conclusion.

    Thanks so much for the exchange – and I hope my answer helped some.

  7. Dear Karis – Thank you for such a thought provoking response to my “Confession.” As you might guess, there are aspects of all of this I am still working through, hoping at greater precision. Perhaps over time.

    I will do my best to respond to some of your comments below. Forgive me if I do not quote you in full where I felt I could safely edit. It is only for brevity’s sake.

    You wrote:

    I am interested in your distinction between atonement and redemption… The need for theological precision in our day is great…I do wonder though if the bifurcation of atonement and redemption is as great or clear as you seem to think it is…to hold to an atonement that atones for everyone but only redeems those who believe. In short, have we not simply slipped into the old “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” conundrum?

    RAF: In terms of the sufficient/efficient issue, it is interesting that Calvin himself did not object to it. Forgive me, but when I get the chance, I will look up the exact citation. But I really mean differently here. I would say there is not simply native sufficiency, but that there is actual intent that all men’s sins be provided for – even though it is not savingly applied. It is (as Bunyan argues) the only warrant we have for preaching to men that God will surely receive them if they come believing on Christ. As Calvin remarks on Romans 5.18 – “Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him.” Regarding the sufficiency/efficiency issue, Calvin mostly had problems with it because it could not answer arguments like that put forward by Georgius (A universalist). I quote: “Georgious thinks he argues very acutely when he says: Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world; and hence those who wish to exclude the reprobate from participation in Christ must place them outside the world. For this, the common solution does not avail, that Christ suffered sufficiently for all, but efficaciously only for the elect. By this great absurdity, this Monk has sought applause in his own fraternity, but it has no weight with me. Wherever the faithful are dispersed throughout the world, John extends to them the expiation wrought by Christ’s death. But this does not alter the fact that the reprobate are mixed up with the elect in the world. It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the whole world. But the solution lies close at hand, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but should have eternal life. For the present question is not how great the power of Christ is or what efficacy it has in itself, but to whom He gives Himself to be enjoyed. If possession lies in faith and faith emanates from the Spirit of adoption, it follows that only he is reckoned among the number of God’s children who will be a partaker of Christ. The evangelist John sets for the office of Christ as nothing else than by His death to gather the children of God into one (Jn 11.5-23). Hence we conclude that though reconciliation is offered to all through Him, yet the benefit is peculiar to the elect, that they may be gathered into the society of life. However, while I say it is offered to all, I do not mean that this embassy, by which on Paul’s testimony (II Cor, 5.18) God reconciles the world to Himself reaches to all, but that it is not sealed indiscriminately on the hearts of all to whom it comes so as to be effectual.”

    I will also agree that I am not as sure as Shedd on the clarity of the Atonement/Redemption distinction. Calvin prefers to locate the APPLICATION of the Atonement in Christ’s intercession, not in the objective sacrifice itself. But he does not seem to draw the lines as neatly as Shedd. Though I believe his distinction has much to be considered in it.

    Karis: I also wonder about your use of the word vicarious. My dictionary offers 2 possible definitions: 1). taking the place of another thing or person; a substitute and 2). endured, suffered or performed by one person in place of another. In the theological sense I have understood the vicarious aspect of the atonement to be effectual and not legal. I am obviously not as well read as you in calvinistic theologians but it has been my understanding that calvinists have stressed the effectual aspect of the atonement as what is meant in the use of the term vicarious. Thus a vicarious atonement does actually effect the redemption of those for whom it was intended.

    RAF: I believe you are correct in your understanding of how Calvinists usually use the term. But I am not at all convinced they are right. No man is “saved” until he or she believes. Until then, Paul argues we are “by nature children of wrath even as the rest.” Election is designation – no more. Atonement is satisfaction, but not application. We are saved by grace through faith. We cannot interrupt the chain, or leave links out. John 11.50 – “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” In waht sense did Jesus die “for the nation”? Offered as their Atoning Lamb, and yet how many still rejected Him and perished?

    Karis: …It seems to me that historic calvinistic theologians place a great deal of emphasis on depravity and its effect on the will of man born in sin…Cosequently, even Fuller can write about sin, depravity, the operation of the Spirit, salvation as a work of sovereign grace, etc and be regarded as one who is in the line of succession that identifies him as reformed or historically calvinistic. However, when one searches out what Fuller believed regarding the will of man one discovers that Fuller had ( I believe ) some questionable views regarding the effects of sin on the will. Fullers position on the operation of the Spirit is that all the Spirit does is to remove the inherent depravity from man’s will thus putting him in the position to excercise his created free will in the embracing of the gospel.

    RAF: In fact, I am in complete agreement with Fuller on this. This has been sorely neglected in Calvinistic circles in our day. I fear we’ve been so afraid men would think salvation within their own power, that we’ve forgotten God uses the will – inclines it so that we CAN and DO believe. This agrees with the Westminster – Ch. IX – “When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.” Calvin again on Isaiah – “Our Lord Jesus suffered for all, and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation in Him. Unbelievers who turn away from Him and who deprive themselves of Him by their malice are today doubly culpable. For how will they excuse their ingratitude in not receiving the blessing in which they could share by faith?”

    Karis: Fuller is equally clear on his understanding of the nature of the atonement, holding that the sufficiency of the atonement for all mankind was consistent with God’s justice and provided the basis for the free offer of the gospel to all men.

    RAF: Again I am in full agreement.

    Karis: …It is interesting to see that Fuller holds that man is able in his natural state to belive the gospel when the impediment is removed while Rome believes that man in his natural state unhindered is able to gain God’s righteousness and thus redeem himself. It seems to me that Fuller’s view of man’s will and the effects of sin on it and Rome’s view are really quite similiar. Had I been in a position to attend your conference last month it is a question I would have liked to pursue with Dr. Nettles as one who seems to be interested in the rehabilitation of Andrew Fuller.

    RAF: The idea of removing the impediment is key here. Shedd says the older divines halved the will into two sections: Volition, and Inclination. The inclination is the inward bent which informs all the volitional choices we make. It is in the change of inclination that God works. Thus giving us this new inclination, we voluntarily believe upon Christ with our wills.

    Karis: To return to Fuller, the following quote draws both strands of his thought together regarding the discussion of his view of the will and the atonement. “There is no contradiction between this pecularity of design in the death of Christ, and a universal obligation on those who hear the gospel to believe in him, or a universal invitation being addressed to them. If God, through the death of his Son, has promised salvation to all who comply with the gospel; and if there be no natural impossibility as to a compliance, nor any obstruction but that which arises from aversion of heart; exhortations and invitations to believe and be saved are consistent; and our duty, as preachers of the gospel, is to administer them, without any more regard to particular redemption than to election; both being secret things, which belong to the Lord our God.” – Works, p. 171 See also similiar qoutes on pp. 207 and 314.

    RAF: Again I agree. There is no “natural impossibility” there is fallen unwillingness. Jesus upbraid His hearers by saying: Matt 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” His argument is over the fact they WOULD NOT, not they “could not”.

    Karis: These are just some of the thoughts that occured to me in the reading of your post. There are probably a number of directions that can be considered in discussing these matters. All I wanted to do was interact with some of your points for the purpose of further clarification for myself. Perhaps even I could be persuaded to reconsider my position.

    At this point are you comfortable being considered a 4 point calvinist?

    RAF: Once again, I truly appreciated the interaction, and look forward to more. As to your last question – look at my reply to Jerry. No, I consider myself a 6 point Calvinist.

  8. You gave a number of examples of respected Reformed/calvinist preachers who preached as if Jesus died for all of the listeners – implying He atoned for them. Just curious if you had some Scriptural examples of such preaching. That would lend a lot of weight to your argument.

    Hey, and maybe we can get back to discussing the end of the world one day. Its getting closer! 🙂

    Katie

  9. Katie – I’m so glad you wrote. I fear I’ve been horribly remiss in
    getting back to our discussion. My wife and I were talking about it
    just the other day. She was chiding me for my laxity. While I probably
    do not have a lot more to add, I do want to respond to a number of the
    question you last posed.

    Yes, I will be spending some time working back through critical
    Biblical passages which speak to a more general view of the atonement.
    It is interesting to note that even the most strict passages which
    speak directly to Christ dieing for HIS people, giving His life for
    the Church, etc, never use exclusive language. In other words it never
    says He died ONLY for His Church, even when it does affirm He did
    indeed die for His Church. So while there was clearly intent in dieing
    FOR His Church, that does not rule out that He died for all, and
    several passages DO speak to that directly. It seems our need to have
    it all one way or the other tends to press both sides of the argument
    too far, and doesn’t let the text breathe more naturally.

    I promise to try and get back to you THIS WEEK on our eschatological
    discussion. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Dear Reid,
    I was wondering if you would be so kind as to give quotes, and statements (with the context) of the men you mentioned in your paper, where they say that Christ died for all men in a “penal” sense. Some of these men you mention are W.T. Shedd, R.L. Dabney, Charles Hodge, John Calvin, C. H. Spurgeon, John Davenant, Berkoff, R. B. Kuiper, Andrew Fuller, Thomas Boston, B.B. Warfield, and Phil Johnson.
    Thanks very much!
    Blessings,
    Marianne

  11. Thanks Marianne – As you can see in my paper – I have extensive quotes from Shedd there already. Also, I note where you can read Phil Johnson’s paper. I also quote Dabney from his Systematic theology. The section is under Atonement. For Hodge, you can also see his systematic theology, but I’ll try to give another quote below. R.T. Kendall’s book has a large number of Calvin quotes – which I will paste a few of below, and it is Kuiper’s little work “For Whom Did Christ Die?” I was referring to. On Boston, I’ve only read short clips but am taking other’s word for it – though in Boston’s Beauties I think you would find some ample citings. John Davenant’s work: “A Dissertation on The Death of Christ” is filled with references across the board. I have a copy if you would like to see it. He sat on the Synod of Dordt and wrote extensively on his concern for overstatement on the issue of the atonement and what precisely makes it “limited” in any sense. His survey of the Church’s teaching up until that time is very informative. Calvin located the limiting not in the atonement itself, but rather in Christ’s intercession. It is for whom Christ intercedes – so that the atonement is applied to them – was his view. I think Phil Johnson’s paper has more Spurgeon quotes. Yes, Christ died with special reference to the elect, but he also died in a more general sense. I am convinced that we simply have the wrong item when we speak of limit and atonement. Certainly not all men are saved. In that sense it is limited. It is not applied to all men in terms of eternal salvation – though some aspects of it are applied to all (see Dabney). The limitation is in who saving faith is given to, not in the atonement itself. God sovereignly bestows saving faith only on the elect. This is completely His doing. By means of that faith, the elect receive the fullness of saving grace. But the death of Christ considered by itself, does not save apart from faith – though it is sufficient to save all. Calvin for instance notes that on the Day of Atonement, the Lamb was killed for the nation – but even then two things were still needed. a. The blood had to be applied to the mercy seat (which he ties to Jesus entering in behind the veil – that is His intercession) and, b. each individual must trust the work. Those who have no faith, do not receive the benefit. While Owen makes faith something Christ purchased for us IN the atonement, Scripture itself never speaks that way. Faith is a gift for sure, sovereignly distributed, but there is no Biblical mention that this was somehow purchased for us at Calvary.

    Here is Calvin, Edwards, Carson, Pink, Dabney and Bunyan:

    From Calvin’s Sermons on Isaiah – Re: “That, then, is how our Lord Jesus bore the sins and iniquities of many. But in fact, this word ‘many’ is often as good as equivalent to ‘all’. And indeed, our Lord Jesus was offered to all the world. For it is not speaking of three or four when it says: ‘God so loved the world, that He spared not His only Son’. But yet we must notice what the Evangelist adds in this passage: ‘That whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but obtain eternal life.’ Our Lord Jesus suffered for all and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation in Him. Unbelievers who turn away from Him and who deprive themselves of Him by their malice are today doubly culpable. For how will they excuse their ingratitude in not receiving the blessing in which they could share by faith?..if we want to be of the Church and to be acknowledged of the flock of God, we must realize that it is because Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. Let us not fear to come to Him in great numbers, and each one of us bring his neighbour, seeing that He is sufficient to save us all.”

    “Further, that repentance is a singular gift of God I believe to be so clear from the above teaching that there is no need of a long discourse to explain it. Accordingly, the church praises God’s benefit, and marvels that he “granted repentance to the Gentiles unto salvation” [Acts 11:18, cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10]. And Paul bids Timothy be forbearing and gentle toward unbelievers: If at any time, he says, God may give them repentance to recover from the snares of the devil [2 Timothy 2:25- 26]. Indeed, God declares that he wills the conversion of all, and he directs exhortations to all in common. Yet the efficacy of this depends upon the Spirit of regeneration. For it would be easier for us to create men than for us of our own power to put on a more excellent nature. Accordingly, in the whole course of regeneration, we are with good reason called “God’s handiwork, created… for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” [Ephesians 2:10, cf. Vg.]. Calvin, Institutes 3.3.21.

    Calvin on Mark 14.24 – This is my blood. I have already warned, when the blood is said to be poured out (as in Matthew) for the remission of sins, how in these words we are directed to the sacrifice of Christ’s death, and to neglect this thought makes any due celebration of the Supper impossible. In no other way can faithful souls be satisfied, if they cannot believe God is pleased in their regard. The word many does not mean part of the world only, but the whole human race: he contrasts many with one, as if to say that he would not be the Redeemer of one man, but would meet death to deliver many of their accursed guilt.

    Calvin on Isaiah 53.12 – He bore the sins of many. I approve of the ordinary reading, that He alone bore the punishment of many, because on Him was laid the guilt of the whole world. It is evident from other passages, and especially from the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, that ‘many’ sometimes denotes ‘all’…First, He offered the sacrifice of His body, and shed His blood, that He might endure the punishment which was due us; and secondly, in order that the atonement might take effect, he performed the office of an advocate, and interceded for all who embraced this sacrifice by faith.

    Calvin on Matt. 20.28 – And to give His life a ransom…And this is its meaning also in Rom. 5.15, where Paul is not talking of a part of mankind but of the whole human race.

    Calvin on John 1.28 – And when he says the sin of the whole world he extends this kindness indiscriminately to the whole human race, that the Jews might not think the Redeemer has been sent to them alone. From this we infer that the whole world is bound in the same condemnation; and that since all men without exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they have need of reconciliation. John, therefore, by speaking of the sin of the world in general, wanted to make us feel our own misery and exhort us to seek the remedy. Now it is for us to embrace the blessing offered to all, that each may make up his mind that there is nothing to hinder him from finding reconciliation in Christ if only, led by faith, he comes to Him.

    Calvin on John 3.17 – For God sent out. This is confirmation of the former statement. For God’s sending His Son was to us was not fruitless. Yet He did not come to destroy; therefore it follows that the proper function of the Son of God is that whosoever believes may obtain salvation though Him. None need now wonder or worry how he can escape death, since we believe it was God’s purpose that Christ should rescue us from it. The word world comes again so that no one at all may think he is excluded, if only he keeps to the road of faith.

    Calvin on Romans 5.18 – Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him.

    Calvin on Gal. 5.12 – For God commends to us the salvation of all men without exception, even as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world.

    Calvin on Colossians 1.14 – He says that this redemption was procured by the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of His death all the sins of the world have been expiated.

    Calvin on the Eternal Predestination of God – It is incontestable that Christ came for the expiation of the sins of the whole world. But the solution lies close at hand, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but should have eternal life (John 3.15). For the present question is not how great the power of Christ is or what efficacy it has in itself, but to whom He gives Himself to be enjoyed. If possession lies in faith and faith emanates from the Spirit of adoption, it follows that only he is reckoned in the number of God’s children who will be a partaker of Christ. The evangelist John sets forth the office of Christ as nothing else than by His death to gather the children of God into one (John 11.5-23). Hence, we conclude that, though reconciliation is offered to all through Him, yet the benefit is peculiar to the elect, that they might be gathered into the society of life. However, while I say it is offered to all, I do not mean that this embassy, by which on Paul’s testimony (2 Cor. 5.18) God reconciles the world to Himself reaches to all, but that it is not sealed indiscriminately on the hearts of all to whom it comes so as to be effectual.

    Edwards: “Come to Christ and accept salvation. You are invited to come to Christ, heartily to close with Him, and to trust in Him for salvation. If you do so, you shall have the benefit of His glorious contrivance. You shall have the benefit of all, as much as if the whole had been contrived for you alone. God has already contrived everything that is needful for your salvation; and there is nothing wanting but your consent. Since God has taken this matter of the redemption of sinners into His own hand, He has made a thorough work of it. He has not left it for you to finish. Satisfaction is already made; righteousness is already wrought out; death and hell are already conquered. The Redeemer has already taken possession of glory, and keeps it in His hands to bestow on them who come to Him. There were many difficulties in the way, but they are all removed. The Savior has already triumphed over all, and is at the right hand of God to give eternal life to His people. Salvation is already brought to your door; and the Savior stands, knocks, and calls that you would open to Him so that He might bring it to you. There remains nothing but your consent. All the difficulty now remaining is with your own heart. If you perish now, it must be wholly at your door. It must be because you would not come to Christ that you might have life, and because you virtually choose death rather than life.” – This when he preached on Matt. 23:37.

    Arthur Pink: “Why not believe in him for yourself? Why not trust his precious blood for yourself, and why not tonight? Why not tonight, my friend? God is ready, God is ready to save you now if you believe on him. The blood has been shed, the sacrifice has been offered, the atonement has been made, the feast has been spread. The call goes out to you tonight. ‘Come, for all things are now ready.'” (Studies in the Scriptures 1927)

    Dabney:

    Now, we find every condition which was lacking to the human substitute
    beautifully fulfilled in the case of Christ. He was innocent, owing for
    himself no debt of guilt. He gave his own free consent, a consent which
    his Godhead and autocracy of his own being entitled him to give or to
    withhold. (See John x. 17, 18.) He could not be holden by death; but,
    after paying the penal debt of the world, he resumed a life more
    glorious, happy, and beneficent than before.
    http://mbrem.com/jesus_Christ/dab-ch3.htm

    Dabney:
    The rite of bloody sacrifice, unquestionably ordained for man, the
    sinner, by God, proves the same truth. Until the Lamb of God came and
    took away the guilt of the world, God’s requirement of bloody sacrifice
    was invariable. From Abel down to Zachariah, the father of John, in
    order that believers might pray, the smoke of the burning victim must
    ascend from the central altar. The Apostle Paul has summed up the
    invariable history in the words (Heb. 9:22), “And without shedding of
    blood is no remission.” But this awful rite, the death and burning of an
    innocent and living creature, could typify but one truth, substitution.
    Compared with the milder ritual of the new dispensation, bloody
    sacrifice was more expensive and inconvenient, yet God regularly
    required it. It is manifest that his object was to keep this great
    truth, penal substitution, prominent before the minds of sinful men,
    because, like our opponents, they are so prone to forget it.
    http://mbrem.com/jesus_Christ/dab-ch5.htm

    Bunyan – Works – Chap. 9 on Reprobation: “I gather it from those several censures that even every one goeth under that, doth not receive Christ when offered in the general tenders of the Gospel: “He that believeth not shall be damned; he that believeth not makes God a liar, because he believeth not the record that God hath given of his Son;” and, “Woe unto thee, Capernaum, woe unto thee, Corazin, woe unto thee, Bethsaida; with many other sayings; all which words, with many other of the same nature, carry in them a very great argument to this very purpose; for if those that perish in the days of the Gospel shall have at least their damnation heightened because they have neglected and refused to receive the Gospel, it must needs be: that the Gospel was with all faithfulness to be tendered unto them; the which it could not be unless the death of Christ did extend itself unto them; for the offer of the Gospel cannot, with God’s allowance, be offered any further than the death of Jesus Christ doth go; because if that be, taken away there is indeed no Gospel nor grace to be extended… God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son would have all men whatever invited by the Gospel to lay hold of life by Christ, whether elect or reprobate; for though it be true that there is such a thing as election and reprobation, yet God, by the tenders; of the Gospel in the ministry of his word, looks upon men under another consideration to wit, as sinners — and as sinners invites them to believe, lay hold of, and embrace the same. He saith not to his ministers, “Go preach to the elect because they are elect, and shut out others be: cause they are not so.” But, “Go preach the Gospel to sinners; and as they are such, go bid them come to me and live.” And it must needs be so, otherwise the preacher could neither speak in faith nor the people hear in faith; first, the preacher could not speak in faith, because he knoweth not the elect from the reprobate; nor they again hear in faith, because, as unconverted, they would be always ignorant of that also; so, then, the minister neither knowing whom he should offer life to, nor yet the people which of them are to receive it, how could the word now be preached in faith with power? and how could the people believe and embrace it? But now the preacher offering mercy in the Gospel to sinners as they are sinners, here is way made for the word to be spoken in faith, because his hearers are sinners; yea, and encouragement also for the people to receive and close therewith, the understanding they are sinners: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

    from D. A. Carson’s “The Difficult
    Doctrine of the Love of God”. Page 73 – “The label “limited atonement”
    is singularly unfortunate for two reasons. First, it is a defensive,
    restrictive expression: here is the atonement, and then someone wants
    to limit it. The notion of limiting something as glorious as the
    Atonement is intrinsically offensive. Second, even when inspected more
    cooly, “limited atonement” is objectively misleading. Every view of
    the Atonement “limits” it in some way, save for the view of the
    unqualified universalist. For example, the Arminian limits the
    Atonement by regarding it as merely potential for everyone; the
    Calvinist regards the Atonement as definite and effective (i.e., those
    for whom Christ died will certainly be saved), but limits this
    effectiveness to the elect; the Amyraldian limits the Atonement in
    much the same way as the Arminian, even though the undergirding
    structures are different. It may be less prejudicial, therefore, to
    distinguish general atonement and definite atonement, rather than
    unlimited atonement and limited atonement.”

    Page 75-76 “If we adopt [a way of] talking about God’s love (viz.
    God’s peculiar and effective love toward the elect), and insist that
    this is the only way the Bible speaks of the love of God, then
    definite atonement is exonerated, but at the cost of other texts that
    do not easily fit into this mold and at the expense of being unable to
    say that there is any sense in which God displays a loving, yearning,
    salvific stance toward the whole world. Further, there could then be
    no sense in which the Atonement is sufficient for all without
    exception…Surely it is best not to introduce disjunctions where God
    himself has not introduced them. If one holds that the Atonement is
    sufficient for all and effective for the elect, then both sets of
    texts and concerns are accommodated.”

    Page 77 – “I argue, then, that both Arminians and Calvinists should
    rightly affirm that Christ died for all, in the sense that Christ’s
    death was sufficient for all and that Scripture portrays God as
    inviting, commanding, and desiring the salvation of all, out of love.
    Further all Christians ought also to confess that, in a slightly
    different sense, Christ Jesus, in the intent of God, died effectively
    for the elect alone, in line with the way the Bible speaks of God’s
    special selecting love for the elect.”

    Page 77-78 – This approach, I contend, must surely come as a relief to
    young preachers in the Reformed tradition who hunger to preach the
    Gospel effectively but who do not know how far they can go in saying
    things such as “God loves you” to unbelievers. When I have preached or
    lectured in Reformed circles, I have often been asked the question,
    “Do you feel free to tell unbelievers that God loves them?…Of course
    I tell the unconverted God loves them.”

    I hope that helps a bit more.

  12. Mr. Ferguson,

    I want to thank you for your interaction with my previous post. I suspect that you and I will probably disagree over Fuller’s position on the will of man. At this point I have been content to sit back and observe how the discussion was going to go.

    I have been interested in post #14 from MS. Spatol. I think she feels the tension between an atonement that actually atones and one that is hypothetical or potential. I would echo her request for quotes as I suspect your library is probaby far more extensive than mine. This would help me to see what the position was of the men you cite. It would be helpful to see if men whom have been regarded as consistently calvinistic have espoused the position you have taken.

    Karis kai Ereinei,
    Skylinerfan

  13. Good to hear from you again Karis – it is indeed an interesting, and I think – useful discussion.

    I hope some of the quotes above will be somewhat helpful in this regard. On top of that, I will be posting some extended quotes from Davenant in the near future. But to move ahead slightly more – I will paste in below a portion of a response to Ms. Spatol I made off line. I have hopes it will help clarify the issues some.

    PASTE

    Part of where the entire atonement discussion (in my view) gets off
    track, is that we speak of it in terms the Bible doesn’t. For
    instance, we can find plenty of passages that speak of Christ dying
    for His people, His Church etc. We can as well find passages that
    speak of the atonement more generally – (viz. propitiation for the
    sins of the world). In none of the passages of either kind does the
    word ONLY ever appear. So I’m growing increasing uncomfortable with
    saying Christ died either in “this sense” or that “sense”. He died.
    Period. What God DOES with that death is the issue when it comes to
    limitation. This is unquestionably clear. So it is in using limited or
    universal language when speaking of the atonement itself which I think
    brings muddiness to the topic. It isn’t the way the Bible speaks about
    it. And these categories of speech we use come from the system we’ve
    adopted, more than the Bible itself. That is not to say we cannot
    sometimes use other language to describe what the Bible teaches (viz.
    Trinity) but that where it does speak certain ways (or doesn’t) we
    ought to take that into account and not give way to the system.

    When I wrote the paper initially I continued to use the language I’d
    become more accustomed to in speaking about the atonement – but I fear
    I may have erred there. Bible language is neither “universal
    atonement”, nor “particular” or “limited atonement.” Bible language
    just speaks of atonement. Sin’s remedy only can be Christ’s death. The
    wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. All sin
    requires death. Jesus died – for sin. Who the gift of eternal life is
    given to is not a function of the atonement itself, but rather of
    God’s sovereign giving of the gift in applying the atonement to
    certain ones He personally and sovereignly designated before the world
    began. There is a unique and special love God has for the Elect, that
    without denigrating His love for the lost is nevertheless unique and
    special. In His love, He provided The Sacrifice of His Son. But the
    atonement just is what it is – an atonement for sin – THE atonement
    for sin which all the sacrifices typed and shadowed. God in GRACE,
    gives FAITH only to some, that they might receive it and be saved (we
    are saved by grace through faith – Eph. 2). If God had decreed to save
    all men, that one sacrifice is sufficient. On the basis of that
    sacrifice, He even grants certain benefits to mankind generally. But
    just as God is omnipotent, but does not exert all of His omnipotence
    everywhere at all times (lest He not be able to be gentle) so the
    infinite glory of Christ’s sacrifice made God propitious toward all
    (willing to receive them should they come) and yet in a divine
    mystery, He does not give the faith to all that they might come.

    This to me is simply closer to the Biblical model over the Dordtian
    one. It places the limitation its it more proper place, and allows
    (for me) the more natural use of certain texts, and the freedom to
    tell men that Jesus’ died for them, that atonement has been made, that
    God loves them – and that if they are not saved – the fault rests
    entirely with them. Or, as Calvin puts it, they are “doubly culpable.
    For how will they excuse their ingratitude in not receiving the
    blessing in which they could share by faith” (Sermons on Isaiah).

    The reason why the debate exists surrounding Calvin’s view – I think –
    is due to the fact that Calvin would not go beyond the Scripture
    language, accepted both species of Scriptures regarding Christ’s death
    as is, did not try to reconcile them, and thus seems somewhat
    ambiguous. Both sides want to cite him. I don’t want to be on either
    side. I just want the Bible to speak, and if I am left with a tension
    (like I think we are left with here) then I need to leave that to the
    Lord to sort out. I do realize this will leave me open to being
    misunderstood by both camps, and have resolved to endure it if so. My
    only goal is to be more Biblical in my understanding.

    I hope that helps some little more.

  14. Mr. Ferguson,

    In the light of the discussions generated by your post I thought you and MS Spatol would be interested in the following post from another blog.

    Karis kai Ereinei,
    Skylinerfan
    —————-

    LIFE AFTER CALVINISM

    by Jamey Bennett

    My friend, R. Heath McClure, casually said something in passing that was actually quite profound. Sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Franklin, Tennessee, he stated, “Calvinism, at least as a system of doctrine, wages war against the organic nature of the faith.”

    Wham! Slapped me silly in the face!

    I’m a Calvinist (I think), and have been one for quite some time (Heath assures me I’m actually a Lutheran, and others have accused me of being Catholic — so be it!). But over the last few years, my Calvinism has been in transition as I’ve tried to account for all of the Bible in all of life.

    And one area of life that my Calvinism has been both blessing and curse is in the area of suffering. So I’ve altered my thinking a bit. I suppose at this point, I’m best classified as a Post-Calvinist.

    Syllogisms are rarely comforting. But many Calvinists think they are. Nonsense. Syllogisms are tidy, soapy-fresh, and completely scum-free. But suffering (and life in general!) is bloody, painful, and full of tears. Moreover, Calvinism fails to speak accurately about the Sacraments, and about the language of the Scriptures.

    Calvinists must account for this if it is going to have any integrity to the church, the Bible, and to life – and if it is going to do justice to truth, beauty, and goodness.

    I’m not alone in my “Post-Calvinism.” There are many more like me. The following are a number of thoughts, affirmations, and denials on belief and worship that should spark some good discussion, particularly among those that are sympathetic to my Post-Calvinism. Some affirmations are pro “Calvinism” and some denials are pro “Calvinism.” Others are very anti-Calvinism. But they are all pro “fixing-Calvinism.” It is my hope that these musings will provide joy, anger, discussion, and further clarification in the future.

    On Belief
    A Post-Calvinist affirms John Calvin was a wise and learned man with a great intellect that should be studied, admired, and imitated. A Post-Calvinist denies that Calvinism, as a system,necessarily represents the nature of John Calvin’s theology accurately.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms the importance of Calvinism in history, theology, and the church today. A Post-Calvinist denies that Calvinism is identical with the universal faith believed always, everywhere, and by all.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that significantly deviating from the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” is asking for some trouble. A Post-Calvinist denies that deviating from the Five Points is heretical.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that the Five Points of Calvinism are a helpful expression of Biblical theology, and a safeguard to the free grace of God, especially in a polemical context. A Post-Calvinist denies that the Five Points are always helpful in each and every context.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that men are dead in trespasses and sins and do not seek after God. A Post-Calvinist denies that covenant-keepers are dead in trespasses and sins.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms we all are worse off than we could ever imagine or think. A Post-Calvinist denies Total Depravity is a comprehensive enough doctrine to engage human suffering.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms the secret things belong to the Lord, specifically election, which is based on the eternal and immutable decree of God fixed before the foundation of the world. A Post-Calvinist denies Calvinists know the mind of the Lord or can offer him any counsel.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms Jesus died to secure the salvation of a particular people, and actually accomplished that salvation in his life, death, and resurrection. A Post-Calvinist denies Limited Atonement teaches anything very helpful besides that, particularly in a pastoral context.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms the Effectual (and “irresistible”) Calling of the Holy Spirit. A Post-Calvinist denies that the Holy Spirit is irresistible (Acts 7:51).

    A Post-Calvinist affirms Scripture is the authority in faith and practice. A Post-Calvinist denies that proof-texting is always particularly helpful.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms the usefulness, clarity, and inevitability of the use of logic, reason, and syllogisms in understanding the Bible and its doctrine. A Post-Calvinist denies that God, his Word, and his ways are
    often willing to conform to syllogisms.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms the comforting words offered in the gospel of grace for those who are suffering under the weight of the world. A Post-Calvinist denies philosophical Enlightenment categories are the best way to offer the comfort of free and sovereign grace.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that elect infants, dying in infancy, are saved (and other stoic doctrines). A Post-Calvinist denies that is a helpful way to comfort ruddy-red, tear-stained cheeks.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that justification is by the imputed righteousness of Christ, appropriated by faith alone: indeed, a faith that works and is never alone. A Post-Calvinist denies that imputation is the only way to explain salvation apart from healing, sanctification, regeneration, liberation, cleansing, restoration, victory, and other “medicinal” words.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that qualifications are a must in the long run. A Post-Calvinist denies that qualifications are always necessary, nor always Biblical.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms the use of extra-Biblical language for the sake of clarity and avoidance of error (i.e., the Holy Trinity). A Post-Calvinist denies it is ever helpful to speak against the language of the Scriptures – God’s language! (Speaking like God is a must.)

    A Post-Calvinist affirms the Five Points are largely derivative from Scripture, and their language is a result of the historical context of the crisis at Dordt against the blasted Arminians. A Post-Calvinist denies the Five Points should ever be the interpretive grid of Scripture, filtering “problem texts” through a Five-Pointed machine.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms the Scriptures are organic, holistic, and dare we say, messy. A Post-Calvinist denies that Calvinism – as articulated today – comes close to capturing this.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms there are Scriptural texts difficult to understand, particularly in a systematic context. A Post-Calvinist denies there is such a thing as “problem passages” or “Bible difficulties.”

    On Worship
    A Post-Calvinist affirms that Calvinistic worship should be in the beauty of holiness. A Post-Calvinist denies that
    Calvinistic worship is usually done in the beauty of holiness.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that worship should bless, praise, hallow, honor, and glorify the Lord according to the standards of his Word. A Post-Calvinist denies the so-called “regulative principle” is very effective in doing this.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms Old Testament worship “rocked.” A Post-Calvinist denies New Testament worship should suddenly “suck.”

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that Christians should not make an idol of worship out of anything. A Post-Calvinist denies that dismal sanctuaries, plexiglass pulpits, plain walls, Communion tables with wheels, business suits or Hawaiian shirts, brown and white color schemes, or ridiculous wall banners inherently avoid idolatry.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that worship is in spirit and in truth. A Post-Calvinist denies that worship should ignore any of our senses, particularly our senses of touch, taste and smell.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms Angels worship, kneel, move their wings and body, and bow before God’s glory. A Post-Calvinist denies sinful man should do anything different.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that baptism saves (regenerates?) in a real, true, and meaningful way. A Post-Calvinist denies that this threatens God’s eternal decrees.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that the Lord’s Supper is truly administered in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. A Post-Calvinist denies that cracker crumbs and thimbles of grape juice are even close to obeying the regulative principle of worship.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that the administration of the Supper (whether passing a plate or coming forward to receive) is largely unspoken of in the Bible. A Post-Calvinist denies that our choice of administration is neutral or lacking in symbolism.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms with Calvin, that the Sacrament is only effective when administered with the Word. A Post-Calvinist denies, with Calvin, that the Word is very effective without the Sacrament.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that forgiveness of sins, Jesus’ body and blood, and all the benefits of salvation are offered in the Lord’s Supper. A Post-Calvinist denies that ascending to the heavens to feast by faith in our hearts sounds Scriptural at all.

    A Post-Calvinist affirms that truth is clarified through syllogisms such as these. A Post-Calvinist denies that syllogisms such as these are always helpful or necessary.

  15. Thanks Skyliner – there is much to be agreed with and considered. We all Do grow don’t we? At least I hope we do. One of the saddest developments in all of this is the identification of Calvinism with the TULIP. As the writer points out, it can be helpful, but also misleading – and it certainly never entered Calvin’s mind that way. In fact, TULIP ought not to be called Calvinism, but merely a narrow response to the distinctives of Arminianism – or better – Remonstrantism. We’ve ended up letting our opponents ill-define us by this narrow scope.

    By the way – did you really RIDE the Skyliner? I certainly did. Many times.

  16. Well, it seems to be working now. Anyway, Reid, the comment by Calvin on the Lombardian Formula can be found in his comments on 1 John 2:2. He affirms the formula as true, but doesn’t use it to interpret that particular passage. It is also interesting to note the way he words it. He says that Christ SUFFERED sufficiently for all. It’s not as if he is affirming some bare internal sufficiency of the infinite GodMan. Rather, he is saying that Christ SUFFERING is (not might have been) sufficient for all. If that’s the case, it must be ordained of God.

  17. Thanks Tony – I have to agree. When the Father placed all judgment into the hands of the Son (John 5.21-29) there was a transition that required all men to be reconciled to the Father only THROUGH the Son. One must reckon with Christ Jesus. He satisfied the Father, so that the Father is not the one seeking to judge any more. Now, mercy and forgiveness must be obtained through the only mediator between God and man. It is then in His intercession (as Calvin taught it) that an individual is reconciled. He enters behind the veil for us. And while He was slain once and for all, He “ever lives to make intercession”. He is still interceding and bringing men to the Father through His once for all sacrifice. Had He only died, and the blood not been applied – if we are not sprinkled by the Spirit, the sacrifice remains ineffectual. God gives Christ Jesus the right to raise dead ones from the dead – to regenerate the lost. And the Father will receive all those He raises. The bare sacrifice of Christ has to be maintained, and sadly, having lost that element, we’ve collapsed salvation into some sort of automatic thing that just comes to pass now. We need to recover these truths.

    Good to hear from you.

  18. “Will there be men in Hell whom Christ died for? Yes. And the nature of their suffering will be finely attuned by the one who suffered for their sins at Calvary and who therefore knows exactly – by personal experience – what their punishment ought to be, the punishment He will personally exact from them. His payment, though full and free, did not expunge their guilt.”
    I read the above with great interest your take on the atoning work of Christ accomplished by his death and resurrection and was fascinated in that you seem to go a bit afield in developing a scenario to satisfy both Calvinist and Arminians on ‘limited atonement’. Let me respond by making a couple points stated much too briefly to give them complete justice but please indulge me anyway.

    The theological problem I have (and many other Calvinists) with this universal atonement/particular redemption concept is by its very definition contradictory. That is obvious on the surface; but also, it brings into question the very heart of the work of Christ in his vicarious atoning, expiatory, substitutionary sacrifice to satisfy or appease this God we worship. Either Christ dies a vicarious and substitutionary death for a people or he does not. May I state up front that the concept ‘universal atonement / particular redemption’ is not substitutionary atonement. It rips the very heart out the work of Christ in the intent and the extent and as such it depersonalizes the purpose of God. It ceases to be an act of love and an act of grace for a people he calls his own.

    To suggest that he died for the sins of all people (even the reprobate in hell and paid their debt), but, because their guilt remains in them, these same reprobates whose sins allegedly Christ dies for still end up in hell constitutes ‘double jeopardy’ in the court room of God. Also, it decimates the perfection in the atonement both in its intent and extent. What then comes into question is this – does the atonement accomplish all that it was intended to accomplish and was it applied perfectly and completely?

    If it is true that Christ died for all to accomplish ‘universal atonement’ then we have to throw out the meaning and work of ‘substitutionary’ and the ‘vicarious’ death of Christ because all reprobates will be able to say “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me.” This is a testimony of every one of the redeemed, but we may never teach that this is a statement that can be uttered by a ‘rebel God-hater’ in hell. You see, either the atonement/ redemption work of Christ is personal and applied or it isn’t personal and applied. And does it accomplish all that it means to accomplish or does it not.

    Or, as the above concept suggests, is the atoning work of Christ then not reduced to make all men savable as Arminian’s theology would have us believe? I would not like to think of unrepentant sinners in hell saying if Christ died for me; I guess he didn’t give me all that the cross had to offer and He really didn’t expiate the wrath of the Father on my behalf.

    Does not the perfection of the atonement include among other things the JUSTIFICATION of sinners He has died for? I rather think it does because Paul in Romans 4 says that He was raised for our justification. The unrepentant sinner can not lay claim to the doctrine of justification. This leaves no room for an impersonal redemption of unrepentant sinners in hell paying a debt that God himself has already made payment for. Justification in its most rudimentary form means declared ‘not guilty’ and the concept of universal atonement / particular redemption would also rip it of its intended forensic meaning.

    This concept also empties the word ‘paid’ of its meaning. If someone pays my bill, I no longer owe that money, whether I am deemed guilty or not. Payment has been made. I am deemed ‘not guilty’. It would be a mockery of God’s work at Calvary to suggest the extent included those residing in hell.

    This is the courtroom of the Almighty and there is no room in this courtroom for double jeopardy. The double jeopardy is not, as you suggest, that no one suffers twice (in and of its self this is true); no, the double jeopardy is that Christ pays the debt of all sin and then the unrepentant sinner pays the debt again in hell. God punishes people in hell for their sin, which would be unjust if their sins were previously atoned for at Calvary. We cannot separate the sin from the sinner. To suggest that we can separate man from the sin (but not the guilt) and that the universal redemption aspect of the atoning work accomplished on the cross is without attaching itself with sinners would be contrary to scriptural teaching concerning the nature of man. Sin resides in the sinner; you can’t have one without the other. Again, God personalizes the work of Christ and we should keep it that way. That I have been crucified with Christ is very personal to me as it should be for all whom Christ died.

    And how can a truly propitiatory, substitutionary atonement not ‘save’. It does, in fact, secure those for whom he died, even you would agree. If God is, in fact, ‘satisfied by Christ on their behalf’ then what is left? Propitiation means “the sacrifice that brings forgiveness of sins and removes wrath”. If this is so why is the non-elect person lost for eternity if, in fact, the wrath of God was poured out on Christ in their place. We are left with an untenable conclusion that God extracts double payment for these sins. Is this beginning to sound like double jeopardy now? If His self-sacrifice puts away sin (Heb 9:26), so how can any man for whom Christ died be held accountable for those sins. Such involves ‘double jeopardy’ the punishment by Christ and the punishment of man for the same sins! This is not the intention of scripture.

    Also, what if God in his foreknowledge saw down through the annals of time that some men would die in unbelief by rejecting the gospel but God still had Christ die for their sins, would this not be considered a failure on the part of Christ’s work and thus the imperfection of the intent of the atonement, not to mention the extent of the atonement? You are left with another untenable conclusion that the work of redemption by Christ was an imperfect work. God forbid!!!

    But while many might think that the five points defines the Calvinist, and while this is certainly true, it is not the heart of the Calvinists’ thinking. The Five Points, in other words, are not the heart of Calvinism, but an outer perimeter for it. The five points (and not six) are an outworking of the plan of God before the universe was even formed. And while the above discussion does accurately portray, in my opinion, the Calvinists view of the atonement there is yet something else that defines Calvinist thinking even deeper. It is the character of this Almighty three in one God.

    We can see into the character by looking at what happened in the counsel of God before the foundation of the world? There were three persons who sat down and established the purpose of God. Were they not of one mind (how else could it have been), with one purpose? There was no separation or disunity in their thinking and planning. There was, more accurately stated, a UNITY within the trinity, or to be even more accurate it might be stated as a PERFECT unity, a perfect unity of PURPOSE. This is the heart of Calvinism. This is why Calvinism is defined as the Gospel because it is the only system that gets to the core of the gospel. The perfect unified trinity. This concept of the trinity truly defines all true from false religion; and also in my opinion, true from false theology within orthodox Christianity.

    To sum it up is to say that the set purpose of God within the Trinity is the plan of God that is demonstrated in the salvation of an elect people. God from all eternity set an eternal purpose and the working out of His purpose in a plan of salvation. This plan is personal and loving in its purposes, unified and absolutely perfect in its application.

    I believe that this unity is broken when you suggest that the work of Christ in somehow split between the purposes of God in the atonement for both the elect of God and; and oh by the way, you say that Christ has something in it too for the non-elect. If God the Father from all eternity has set aside a certain number of people for Himself in an unconditional election and the Holy Spirit has worked miracle of the new birth in the hearts of those same people that will come to Christ in regeneration, then the work of the Son of God in that great salvation plan MUST be applied to those people for whom God intended to save, those same people. He made satisfaction all their sins and theirs alone. All three are acting out the plan of God perfectly and with unity of purpose.

    He by declaring them ‘not guilty’ in the courtroom of God and securing their release from the clutches of the devil did so not for any other purpose but to make theirs and theirs alone an election secured from and to eternity. Any other purpose or intention of purpose would be outside the set counsel and plan set forth by a Trinitarian God before the foundations of the world. To suggest that the work of Christ is somehow fragmented by being universal yet particular is to rip the heart and mind of the Trinity; but even more importantly, it destroys the Trinity’s oneness of purpose in the salvific work of God that the Son accomplished on the cross. His work was perfectly accomplished and perfectly applied. Did He die for all? Yes, all the regenerate and regenerate only. Again a work accomplished by the set purpose and eternal plan of a Triune God worked out in time for all eternity.

    The Westminster of Faith sums it up the best where it says…”The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit. Once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father has given unto Him.”

    So let us glory in this, glory that our sins really were covered when Jesus tasted death for us. Glory in this too, that our guilt was removed when Jesus tasted death. And finally, let us glory in that the curse of the law was lifted and the wrath of God was removed. That the precious faith that unites with all these treasures in Christ was a gift purchased by the blood of Christ and for us and us alone. Christ tasted death for everyone who has been granted faith.

    Far be it for God to be capricious and whimsical with his purposes. The vicarious atoning work of Christ did actually save a people at the cross, fully and perfectly not to mention personally. Yes indeed, God did make his work personal because it was just for his people, a people He loved immeasurably.

    To God be the Glory

  19. Dear John – Thanks so much for taking the time to write. It does give opportunity to consider objections, ideas, and to make oneself clearer when possible. I doubt I’ll be able to satisfy you on a number of counts, but I do hope the dialog will be useful in our common goal of having a true Biblical theology, whether that squares entirely with our received systematic approaches or not.

    I’ll try to be as really brief as possible hitting the central concepts.

    To start off, let me state that I ma not trying to find anything like some sort of compromise between Calvinistic and Arminian thought. There are several issues on this point. 1. Historically, Reformed/Calvinistic views have varied greatly WITHIN the camp. I’ve done enough homework to know my own view is solidly within that tradition, though varying seriously from the Beza/Owen paradigm which is much more strict in this regard. I believe their view errs on several heads: Owen’s work on the Johannine use of the word “world” for instance will not stand up to scrutiny in passages like John 3.16. It is a tidy device, but exegetically unsupportable. I understand it would be more logically and rationally satisfying if it wasn’t the case – but it is. We need to deal with that. Beza a proposing a supralapsarian view uses the fact that only the elect ultimately get saved, as an indicator to deciphering the hidden counsels of God in regard to election. In one way it is true, but in another – it over-presupposes. It pretends to know “the” single intent of God in the atonement, and fails to consider that God might have revealed more than one intent, and more than He has even revealed in His Word. It tries to be omniscient in this regard. Calvin warned against it himself – saying it was an attempt to peer beyond revelation by means of extrapolation of logical deduction.

    2. The Arminian view proposes that Jesus had no particular intent in His death in regard to anyone. The Scripture clearly controverts this. There are abundant passages which demonstrate His intent to save particular people. Arminians reject predestination – which is at the root of their error. I do not. There is no question God elected certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world. Predestination must remain intact. But what most Calvinists as well as Arminians try to do, is arrive at THE intent in the atonement. And I believe the Biblical evidence is clear that there were multiple intents in Christ’s atoning work – He wasn’t doing just one thing. Dabney (no Arminian under any stripe) and many others who take your view have had to concede that reality as well. The multi-faceted pictures of atonement throughout the bible require a more complex view.

    3. WHile it is true Jesus was raised for our justification, it is also true that Scripture contends no one is actually justified, pronounced righteous with Christ’s righteousness, until we believe. Eph. 2, is both clear and uncontrovertable, even the elect are children of wrath as the rest until regeneration. Election is designation, not operation.

    4. The wages of sin is death. Jesus died only ONE death, not one death for each one saved. It is not a one-to-one ratio. That one death is applied to all who believe. His death was for sins. One blood shed. Applied to all our sins. Though He died at Calvary – you – were still born in your trespasses and sins, and were not saved until you came to faith. His once for all work was accomplished, but it was not yet accomplished IN YOU until you were sovereignly quickened by the Holy Spirit to believe. Our declaration of being just cannot anywhere in Scripture be found except after one believes.

    5. Your assertion: “universal atonement/particular redemption concept is by its very definition contradictory. That is obvious on the surface” is incorrect. It is no more contradictory than God being both three and one, Jesus being both human and divine, and the Word being both man’s labor and the Spirit’s work. These are both/and tensions contained throughout the Scriptures. That God has a salvific stance toward all men is evidenced by His calling upon ALL men EVERYWHERE to repent. Is He being disingenuous? Of course not. The why behind His not giving saving faith to all is a mystery which remains in Him alone – but that He both desires to save and yet does not is manifestly evident. This is not contradictory, simply higher than we are.

    6. Double-jeopardy has several problems. 1. It is not a product of the Bible, but of enlightenment juris prudence. 2. The does not present double jeopardy. For double jeopardy to be at issue, the SINNER would have to pay for his own sin twice. He does not. Christ’s sacrifice is not received on behalf of some because God does not give it to them. But that in no wise makes the sacrifice less than sufficient for their sins as well.

    7. Did God’s deliverance of the unbelieving Jews from Egypt – who then fell in the wilderness mark a failure on God’s part? Did the fact that an atonement was made each year for the national of Israel, while some perished unbelieving mark a failure on God’s part? Did the extra room in the Ark constitute a failure on God’s part to save all He could? Where sin did abound, why did grace much more abound? Wasn’t this a waste? Why feed 5,000 and have 12 baskets full left over? Waste? Why feed 4,000 and have 7 baskets full left? Waste? These are category errors in logic. Abundance is no more waste than God not exerting all of His omnipotence all the time in every place is. There is no waste to Christ’s blood. The eternally elect are all saved. And the rest have to answer for their rejection of it. Luke 7:30 “but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)” Was it God’s purpose for them to be baptized or not? If your answer is “no because they weren’t elect anyway” you destroy the verse. If you say yes, you have to wrestle with why God provided and INTENDED what did not come to pass. Is it God’s will that men not murder? Yes! It is written in stone by His own hand. Yet, in the outworking of providence, under the umbrella of His sovereign will, do not men murder? Is this contradictory? No. There is a both/and dynamic which must be taken seriously. One which encompasses the reality that God does not delight in the death of sinners, and offers them a full and free salvation, and yet does not save all and even prevents some from even hearing the Gospel itself. His REVEALED will is that all men repent (Acts 17.30) “26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.” Did He really INTEND that they might seek Him? Does He really “hope” so? Yes. And yet He does not save all. That is the mystery. A mystery the narrow view of the atonement seeks to erase – but which we are simply called to bow the knee to.

    OK – that’s it for now. But there is plenty to chew on for sure.

    Great discussion. Thanks for jumping in.

  20. Hi Reid. I found that very interesting and helpful. I wonder whether you’d say some more about Rom 5, if you think it’s worthwhile. I had “always” thought of man naturally being in Adam as their head, and in Christ only as believers….I’m very interested that I may be wrong here.

    I made this comment in my notebook yesterday, on which I hoped you’d comment…

    “If God hadn’t atoned for all sinners, then, not being propitiated towards them, He could never have put faith in the position it occupies as the vehicle by which sinners are incorporated into the merits of the atonement [redeemed], because it would be an invitation to them to come to Him as they are, while His non-propitiation shouts “stay away sinner!” In other words, the efficacy of the gospel and the salvation of the elect HANGS on the truth that God atoned for the whole world, because otherwise no-one could come to Him by an act of their (freed) will. If He didn’t atone for the whole world, the hyper-calvinist is dead right, in terms of logical consistency.

    Unless it can be said truthfully of me that Jesus died for me as an unsaved sinner, making atonement for me and satisfying all legal claims against me, then, if I’m conscientious and logically consistent enough to make it a problem, how can I believe without knowing for sure Christ has ACTUALLY died for me? Else I’m left to think that He may have done, if I’m elect, but not otherwise. And that leaves me examining myself endlessly and fruitlessly to see if I have saving faith, and can therefore consider myself to actually have been atoned for-everything is collapsed onto the (secret) decree of election-which, to me, is something I can never know of myself for sure, because the reality is that one is elect if he has saving faith, which one knows he has if he believes Christ atoned for him.

    The call to repent and believe is redundant when predicated of an atonement that may not have atoned, because, without the knowledge that Christ atoned for me, particularly, I cannot repent and believe. Therefore, a universal, definite atonement is an atonement upon which Christianity stands or falls.

    I wonder, too, that Shedd’s “cancelling of legal claims” doesn’t strengthen the argument against the necessity of the imputation of Christ’s “active” obedience? In that, satisfaction made, legal claims are ended, and so God cannot require other than “satisfaction of sin” to be said of the one baptized into Christ’s death…our right standing is not based on imputation of the law’s requirements, but the (just) cancelling of them, with respect to us, a la Col 2v14.

    I get the feeling it all fits well with the newness of the New Covenant…judgement committed to the Son, judgement by his words, a cancelling of the Law at the cross, the Spirit of life mediating God’s law through the believer, “the new way of the Spirit” as contrasted with the external mediation against him before…

    Just some rambling thoughts.

    Phil

  21. One more thought on assurance for a conscientious Christian with a solely particular, efficacious view-the only way he can have confidence he was atoned for is examining his faith subjectively to see whether it’s real and hence blood-bought . Whereas the Christian with a universal view knows for sure Christ atoned for him, and that is the sure, objective focus and basic source of his faith.

  22. Hey Phil – Good to hear from you. Sorry for the delay in responding, I’ve been out ill with some sort of flu bug.

    Let me just briefly that I think you are correct in your major thoughts here. As Bunyan said, if Christ did not die for all, we have to warrant to call all to believe. Believe in what? That MAYBE Christ’s blood has atoned for their sin? The Cross is the warrant. The finished work. The problem of so much of this, is that it is talked about in pecuniary terms instead of penal terms. I sinned $20.00 worth and Jesus died to handle my $20.00 and the $20.00 each of the elect owes, but no more. It is the satisfying of a debt, but sin cannot be thought of in this dollar and cents mode exclusively without doing further damage. In effect, it actually puts a very limited price and value on Christ’s death. It was only worth X numbers of $$. If the Classic 5 pointer then argues no, we do not limit it that way, it is of infinite value – then they actually make the same argument they accuse others of – that Jesus’ blood IS sufficient payment for all, but is still limited in SOME way. Whereas men like Dabney spent much time reminding us that a penal view is better. Sin required death. Jesus died. Once for all. Irrespective of how many that would ultimately be applied to. This is much more useful. Or, if the C5P argues that even one death required and infinite sacrifice because of who it was who was offended, then they have led themselves into their own trap again. One infinite death is sufficient for all infinite deaths. But the limitation is not in the objective atonement itself – but rather in its application. Even Owen has to concede at one point that God has made an instrumentality whereby one may become a partaker of the merits of Christ and that is faith. Yet it gets lost in most of the conversation. One lamb was slain on the day of atonement for all. Regardless of what the census showed that year. Higher or lower. That made no difference in the sacrifice itself.

    Your second note sounds another issue which must be faced by the C5P clan. Here, Calvin excelled. For he told his readers the only way to gain assurance, was nto to examine oneself, but the Cross. To look to Christ. As long as one is looking to Christ, all is well. The moment one looks anywhere else, doom is at hand. For Christ alone is the Savior.

    One more thing, ultimately, the real question here is intentionality. What God intend to do in sending Jesus to the Cross? C5P’s must admit they have all of God’s intentionality worked out. We say we do not. We know Christ died for sin – not His own. We know there are an elect to be saved. We know He commissioned us to preach forgiveness to all on the basis of that death. We know that men are to pleaded with as though it were God Himself saying: Be reconciled to God. Is there no hint of intentionality in that? Or in God’s appointed the times and habitation of all men that they “might happily feel after Him”? Yes, there is a conundrum. I do not know how it is God can call all, and desire all and still not save all – but that is His problem, not mine. Mine is to call them all to come on the basis of the Cross.

  23. Thanks for replying, Reid. I’m sorry you’ve been unwell, but I’m glad your better.

    I think you’re dead right. I don’t understand and grasp these things as clearly as you, and my ‘conscience apparatus’ has not yet fully caught up with where my head’s going, but I still think you’re right. And your comment on assurance was personally very helpful.

    It stands out to me that Christ died one death, His own, on the behalf of sinners. I have fallen into the trap of making logic my master, rather than servant, in viewing the atonement as payment of equal worth to the long list of sins. I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t understand the atonement very well….I suppose I sort of assumed a kind of transfer of my sin to Christ on the cross(in what amounts to some sort of mystical scheme), without really understanding the real HOW. Was it not (in basic) that Christ died one death as the last Adam, making a sacrifice of infinite worth and provision…on faith in repentance the sinner is baptized into that death such that God counts Christ’s as his own, and hence Christ’s resurrection as his own, in whom he now stands, alive in the second Adam, His Living Head? I still don’t REALLY understand much of the HOWS.

    That book you recommended, G. Michael Thomas’ “The Extent of the Atonement – A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to Consensus” came in the post this morning 😉

  24. Sounds right to me Phil. I know I was bound up in that very logic for a very long time. There are other arguments that seem that compelling too, until you wrestle with them a bit. I just read someone’s monograph last evening and he begins by saying those who do not hold to a strictly limited atonement, believe in an atonement that does not pardon, a redemption that does not save, a propitiation that does not satisfy. I understand the fear, that we make all of this entirely subjective. But they forget the need to balance both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in a Biblical fashion. They in effect make the atonement function “ex opera operato” – as the Romanists do baptism. In the Roman scheme of baptism, or the Lord’s supper, faith is not a necessary component. The act does the work – ex opera operato. This is the view our C5P’s take of atonement. Forgetting that the elect are NOT saved, until they actually believe. This of course is contrary to passages like Eph. 2.1 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in othe passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Their view would make this statement to be nonsense in the case of the elect.

    Salvation is NOT ex opera operato, or the need to repent and believe would be off the table.

    We are not here discussing HOW one comes to believe. We understand the sovereign work of God in that process, the Word producing faith in us. But we dare not leave that out, lest we make all evangelism a mere show, a sham. Lest we be bound up in our thinking, and fail to call men to faith in sincerity.

    Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
    The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (2 Co 5:20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

    If we are already reconciled, what is this ambassadorship doing?
    If God is not actually appealing to all who hear our message, then how do we understand this passage at all?
    If this is not an example of God’s desire toward all men, what is it?
    If God is commanding all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17) and yet there is no provision for them – on what basis is that call at all genuine?

    On a side note – you will begin to get a real sense of the breadth of this controversy WITHIN the Calvinistic camp when you read Thomas’ book. My former days of thinking this was all monolithic are gone. And as Calvinists need to own this.

    Good talking to you!

  25. I think a proud desire for “orthodoxy” and “knowledge” and desire to demonstrate it, coupled with a certain veneration for people (it’s there in protestant circles, isn’t it?) has been a sin of mine. I think maybe there are many far more learned and cleverer than I who are stuck in that to some degree and don’t know it.

    When do some of us leave off faith, and make, as I’ve seen JGR say, doctrine perform the same function as the decisionist’s “decision?” Surely it must be dead orthodoxy. And surely, when doctrine is REALLY good, it must not evangelize with a “come to Christ” while inside there’s a “I know something you don’t know…you may not be one of the elect and so the invitation I’m sending out to you as an “ambassador for Christ” is really, if you did but know, just a testimony against you so that you reject it to your appointed doom…which, by the way, was appointed logically BEFORE God considered you a sinner. I’m an ambassador to God’s secret decrees, which Christ is subordinate to, and which are most definitely contrary to His revealed character.”
    Isn’t God’s sovereignty just another name for the perfect, congruent exercise of all His attributes?And surely, a good grasp of God’s grace in Christ should be the best motivator to the best evangelism, even when people’s brains are not perfectly logically consistent? I wonder how many “calvinists”, if there were such a thing as levels of rewards in heaven, would (I speak as a man!) be happy to come some way behind a Wesley or an early Berridge?

    I saw this earlier…according to Phil’s definitions, would you call yourself (if we have to use human labels with all their problems) , Amyraldian? It seems to me labels mean differnt things to different people somewhat!

    http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/sup_infr.htm

  26. Your call Reid, it’s your board…but I think I may be happier if you removed my post above. The tone is not very good, I don’t know much about what I’m talking about, and it doesn’t seem like a very satisfactory “last bite” of the thread. If you think otherwise, then may this be the qualifier…

    Phil

  27. Hey Phil – Really, no problem here at all. I thought your point about our tendencies both toward a form of hero worship, and of setting doctrine virtually in the place of actual faith in Christ very necessary cautions for the Reformed camp today. These are serious and prevalent defects among us.

    Would I call myself an Amyrauldian? No. While I share a common point with with Amyrault in terms of not strictly limiting the atonement, the leading feature of Amyrauldian thought – that of hypothetical universalism – I reject. In his system, it is was hypothetically possible for men to be saved by virtue of natural revelation alone. This is what got him into trouble the most, and rightly so. Even though he defended himself by saying it had never happened and never would happen, he left it as a hypothetical possibility.

    Right now I am calling myself a six point Calvinist, holding that there we dual intentions in the atonement. A strict 5 is too little. But I am slowly modifying that, in that I fear we are committing a category error over and over. That is, there is nothing in the atonement itself which is limited. As I mentioned in my last post, the atonement did not function ex opera operata. Even if I take a strictly limited view, I still have to reckon with the fact that a man is not saved until he believes. The atonement is the provision – but salvation itself (for the creature) is in the application. This I still hold occurs within a strict unconditional (in the creature) sovereign election/sovereignly bestowed gift of saving faith paradigm. This would be most in line with say John Bunyan & Albert Barnes and close to John Davenant and Bishop Ussher.

    For an excellent lecture on this, I would highly recommend that by my friend and Calvin scholar, Curt Daniel. You can find that lecture here – along with some other extremely valuable lectures on the entire history and theology of Calvinism.

    [audio src="http://faithbibleonline.net/MP3s/The%20History%20and%20Theology%20of%20Calvinism/11%20-%20Amyraldism.mp3" /]

  28. Reid, what you’ve said and outlined sounds right to me. I think we’d be better off leaving the reductionist acronyms alone really, knowing how they tend to function in my mind as a template through which God’s truth must be forced. I agree with the other 4 points of the “TULIP” (though I’m starting to think a lot of “perseverence” teaching, and my own sense of it, has a semi-pelagian, nomistic “works” tone that’s not consistent with being not under law, but under grace, delivered from the bondage of the law in one’s conscience, and resting in Christ…and I think there’s such a thing as resistible grace, too). However, I can’t say, even while arguing it, that I’ve never felt that “limited atonement” is a logical deduction, that, without strict exegetical proof, is the one that “closes the system”. Now I know what a “category error” is, I agree with you…

    …Would you say then, that this would be a reasonable logical order of the decrees?;

    1)Create
    2)Permit Fall
    3)Elect some, pass over rest
    4)Provide salvation fully sufficient/provisional for all
    5)Call all(general call), call elect effectually.

    I can’t help thinking, too, that there’s a bit of impious, anthropomorphic probing often going on with that sort of thing, especially considering God’s thoughts are way above ours, and our logic runs on the same track as our chronology as time-bound creatures. Still, God’s revealed things for us according to our mental capacities, and it kinda reveals whether we have the stresses where God puts them.I have another question…why is there a tendency to bifurcate God’s decretive will, so-called, from his will of desire, his hidden will from his revealed? ‘Cos when there is, everything tends to be drily collapsed onto a hidden will that ultimately rules, and may even run counter to the revealed, in a hyper-esque, fatalistic fashion.Is my comment correct, that God’s sovereign control is but another name for the perfect,purposeful,congruous exercise of all his attributes, according to his unchanging nature? Which congruity we obviously cannot discern. And too, in reality, God has but one will.
    Lastly(!) does Romans 5 teach Adam’s actual sin of disobedience in eating from the the tree was imputed to each of us following, or that it just brought total depravity, and, by way of our own sin, death for all those “once born only”?

    I’ll give you a break now, if you like. Be as short as you like. I could talk a lot, but I know your busy.Thanks for the mp3.

    Phil

  29. I question the interpretation that faith is a gift which God grants to a very small number of persons previously elected. The Bible teaches us that all men are sinners, without exception and without distinction . And so too, all men everywhere, without exception, are called upon to accept God’s gracious offer of being saved , by volitionally putting their trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Salvation is the gracious gift of God ; not faith. Faith is man’s humble consent and obedient response to and fervent trust in what God has said. Unbelief is the knowing and willing rejection by a person of the light God has given us. Scripture exhorts us always to choose to put our trust in the Lord , and not choose to to harden our hearts through unbelief. It is a personal moral choice.

  30. thanks for stopping by Gordon. I appreciate the comment. I am afraid that your theory of faith however would have to reckon with certain passages of Scripture which seem to contradict it. For instance, 2 Thess. 3:2 states simply that “not all have faith.” What need is there for faith to come by hearing, and “hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17) if it is innate in all? The devils believe – and shudder (James 2:19), yet this is not counted faith. And I would argue that exegetically, Eph. 2:8 requires that both faith and salvation are gifts. The problem with man’s inability is his will. He cannot love what he hates, or hate what he loves. Something must initiate a change in that condition. And since the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit: 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is vhostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; windeed, it cannot. The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ro 8:7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

    while appeals are made everywhere to Scripture to the will of man, there is nevertheless a fallen un-willingness which renders it so that apart from God’s Spirit men cannot overcome their own wills TO believe. 43 xWhy do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot ybear to hear my word. 44 zYou are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. aHe was a murderer from the beginning, and bhas nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. cWhen he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 dWhoever is of God hears the words of God. eThe reason why you do not hear them is that fyou are not of God.” The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 8:42-47). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

    These are the types of passages your theory would have to overcome.

    Blessings: Reid

  31. Thanks for taking the time to reply. I am glad to know that you incline toward being a 6 point Calvinist, rather than a 4 pointer ! I reckon I can be called a 10 point Calvinist, or rather a sort of combined Cal-minian. I believe that for every point of TULIP there is a corresponding and equally correct teaching which enlarges our understanding of the Scriptures. I would not wish to deny clear portions of Scripture for the sake of the guidelines of logic, if a choice had to be made.

    1. Total Depravity is a statement concerning the true sinfulness of man. But,to me, TD does insufficient justice to the common grace that God has given to his creatures and which often finds expression in willing and outstanding acts of heroism , self-sacrifice, generosity, arts, skills, wisdom , scientific discoveries,engineering,communications, etc., all done for the benefit of mankind by people who are not part of the elect. Many persons also choose to live faithfully and to deal honestly in their family and business affairs. They show kindness, gentleness and humor, more than can be found sometimes even in parts of spiritual Israel to-day. (Matt.8:10). We acknowledge that these good people are still sinners in need of salvation, but they are not so totally depraved and in such mental and spiritual bondage that they are absolutely incapable of exercising their wills to do the good deeds we observe and appreciate in their lives. Nor would they be incapable of becoming as little children, willingly and humbly putting their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, at the point when they are cut to the heart on hearing the Gospel(Acts 2).
    It seems to me the human cry for spiritual help and salvation is as much a God-given survival instinct as is the desperate cry of one in great physical danger ( Ps. 107). Man is sinful by nature and by choice. The Gospel gives him a free, full and correct diagnosis, prognosis and remedy for his condition. But he still has to be willing to take the medicine by putting his faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Belief involves knowledge and assent, followed by persevering trust, willing obedience (repentance)and confession with the mouth. All the peaching by Jesus and by the Apostles was in anticipation of the possibility and hope of such a personal, volitional response from the hearers. The offer of everlasting life implies the ability to exercise the mind and will to choose either to receive or to reject the offer. This cannot make the recipient the author of the gift of salvation but rather the grateful beneficiary of God’s grace. To me, it seems the proponents of TB need to modify their limiting views of the bondage of the will to accommodate the Savior’s injunctions to exercise the will to seek diligently, to knock , to ask, to believe, to love, to follow, to go. The Kingdom of God is for those who diligently and energetically apply their hearts and mind to acquiring it (Matt. 11:12)

    With regard to the word “faith”, it is not generally used as an abstract noun but as a transitive verb which requires an object, stated or implied. So, for example, “Abram believed IN THE LORD and He counted it to him for righteousness ” (Gen.15:6). Again, “Believe ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST and you will be saved “(Acts 16:31). Anyone can have, and does have, innate faith of the abstract sort. But the important question is , what is the object of your faith; in what do you put your faith for salvation ? In idols, in the Law, in religious rituals, in the stars….. or in the person and work of Jesus Christ ? ( John 20:31). In all the references to people not having faith ( in Jesus Christ,implied) the situation is so, not because God has chosen not to grant them faith but because they will not believe in Him. God does not save anyone against his/her will.(John 5:40; 8:45; Matt 23:37 )

    Eph 2:8 The gift of God: saved..by grace..through faith
    1. It is possible the neuter form of “that” embraces the entire sense of all three elements of the clause.
    2. It is more probable the word “that” refers to the act of being saved in Christ because this is the theme and context of the verses. “You have been saved” is the predicate of the sentence, while “by grace” and “through faith” are subordinate adverbial clauses of manner, telling us how the gift of salvation is acquired. Christ is the salvation gift and this must take precedence over the manner in which we receive the gift.
    3. To limit the “that” to faith as being the gift of God, is the least likely of the interpretations because nowhere else in Scripture do we find a verse to support the view that faith in Jesus Christ is a gift sovereignly bestowed on the elect.

    That is all for the moment. May I at a later stage take up the other points of TULIP ?

    Thanks again for your fellowship in the Gospel.

    Gordon Batt

  32. Thanks for the comments Gordon, I’ll try to make some pretty brief replies so as to not overwork this.

    1. Re: TD & Common grace. Two things. 1 I think it is a category error to put them into this kind of relationship. That there is common grace is (to me) without dispute. But that says nothing about the basic state of fallen man’s soul any more than the sun shining brighter has any effect on the blindness of one born without eyes. 2. TD is by most sound Calvinistic theologians I read virtually ALWAYS explained so as to defray the notion that man is as sinful as he can be – and simply stating that man’s fallen condition is in every point corrupted by sin, and renders it impossible for him to reverse his own condition. In fact, he doesn’t want to apart from God working something in him. No one denies fallen men do noble and wonderful things. There are still amazing flashes of the image of God he was created in. But it is shattered, and beyond human repair. But every act is tainted with sin. Every motive is still coming from a soul severed from God’s Spirit. The human heart is desperately wicked and self-deceived says the Scripture. We do not want to imagine ourselves truly worthy of an eternal Hell.

    2. When we speak of the inability of man to believe and be saved, we are not speaking of a natural inability – but of a moral inability. Many a man knows he is empty inwardly. Many a man wants to be freed from his pain. But no man desires God naturally as God. It takes the Spirit to work the love for God into our hearts. Since the Fall, we have demonstrated universally we love ourselves above God in our present state. I have no argument that Gospel appeals are aimed at the will, and that man is under a duty to believe. He is also under a duty to “be holy even as I am holy.” And he can no more do that than the other. Why? Because in Adam we fell so as to make our fall irreversible by the same will that brought on. Like a man willing to leap from an airplane without a parachute may certainly wish to – and may in fact truly reverse his will afterward. but he finds his will powerless in this regard. He has made one decision which precludes his freedom to make the other. In fallen man it is worse. We do not want to reverse our decision, until the Holy Spirit works within us.

    3. With regard to faith – we disagree. Faith works by love. And in Jesus’ assessment – men love darkness more than the light. Hence, we do not listen. Men do not believe why? At least part of the answer is – 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of tthe Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 10:25-30). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

    Write anytime!

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