Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Is This a Challenge to Your View?

This is a new thing I'm doing here. I'm posting a guest post. What follows was written by "Martin," who showed up at the Reformed Mafia recently, apparently concerned that we were not preaching the most faithful Calvinism in the world. Our initial interaction with Martin was a little rocky, but I think we've worked that part out. I invited him to supply me with a statement of his belief regarding the doctrine of Limited Atonement, and said I might then post it and use it to get a discussion started. That's what I'm doing here.

For readability, I'm knocking off the first two paragraphs, where Martin took some time to stress that this is not meant as a detailed defense of his view, but only a summary of it. He also stresses that he wants to remain teachable on this.

So, you Reformed folk out there, read this and see if it raises any hackles for you.

Briefly, what I believe is that: Jesus’ redemptive work was primarily for the elect but secondarily for the non-elect. I believe God’s intent was to make salvation certain for the former and possible for the latter, effectively to remove all excuse. Whosoever will may come, but only the elect will do so. We are to hold out the word of life to all men but their refusal to come is their own fault not due to lack of provision (see Cannons of Dort). The sufficiency of this provision, is not hypothetical, as Owen argued but real. Though Christ’s death and resurrection had special reference for the elect it was not exclusively for the elect.

A few scriptures in support:
God so loved the world (i.e wicked, apostate humanity not just the elect) that He gave His only Son (who was lifted up on the cross so) that whoever believes in Him may have everlasting life. (John 3:15-16)The ‘whoever believes’ is manifestly a sub-set of the world.

Jesus is “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. (John 1:29)I think John’s usage of ‘world’, as in ch.3 is sinful, apostate humanity not a euphemism for the elect.

and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Cor 5:15). Those who live are manifestly a subset of those for whom He died.

Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:1-6)

God “is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim 4:10)

Jesus “tasted death for everyone” (Heb 2:9)

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

In essence, I can read these scriptures according to their most natural reading, without having to re-interpret them through a limited atonement grid, and yet, at the same time, without undermining the glorious doctrines of predestination and election. However, in coming from a strict particularist position, I do admit it took a while to get my head round how that could be so. Aside from the questionable presuppositions that had to be rooted out, I had to get a better understanding of what scripture teaches about a number of related matters. Anyway, hopefully that is enough to whet the appetite for further exploration!


Pastor Bob Farmer said...

Dear Gordon,

Martin states that salvation is made possible for the non-elect by the atonement, but then he goes on to say that "whosoever will may come but only the elect will do so". PLEASE SOMEONE DEFINE FOR MARTIN THE ELECT, BECAUSE HE ALONG WITH MANY OTHERS DON'T SEEM TO KNOW THE MEANING OF THE WORD! This reminds me of my ordination council. Somehow this topic came up and I sat back and watched half the council argue with the other half over election. One pastor said, "you don't believe that only the elect are saved do you?" I wanted to respond "dugh". But I held my tounge and let some other pastors argue the point. Finally the cahairman of the council called the debate to a halt saying, "we've been arguing this for years and we're not going to resolve it today". I was unanimously confirmed by the council anyway. But why don't people get the word "elect"?

Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

Martin, where do you get your definition of the Greek word Kosmos....Where does it means the wicked whoa re non-elect.

Secondly, Christ need not offer atonement to the non-elect, for they will never accept this, and Christ knows this....the position really is absurd.

"Father, "I will die for those whom you have given men, and those you haven't. I know you haven't chosen them for salvation, but I am going to die for them anyway, even though I know their hearts will not be changed by the Spirit, and will never come to me, but I will die for them anyway." I know you chose a particular people, and the Spirit is calling a particular people to come to me, but I am going to die for even the ones you haven't chosen.."

In this view, you have Christ who is at odds with the Father and the Spirit, you have an inconsistent Triune God. If God has unconditionally chosen the elect, then that is the purpose of Christ's redemption is to purchase their salvation.

Strong Tower said...

Disclaimer: I am no Greek scholar.

Beside the inference wrongly made that kosmos is the world of men necessarily, or that it is all men exhaustively goes without saying, for this word is used indedpendent of reference to men in other places, and therefore must be interpreted based upon context.

John 3:16's kosmos does not need to carry the definition all men everywhere at anytime, it does not even need to carry the definition of men exclusively, but may only be in reference to the creation in general. Then too, the appeal to a universalist generalized love denies the very nature of God who is self-directing and selective. To make it necessarily binding upon God to love all equally denies the discriminatory nature of love itself, and the God is love love. Then also, so is not here a word of extent. The Greek is more exact than the English. The better translations have it "this way." Pas the word for whoever is a term of wide and varying use which can mean all or not. It does include the idea of a discrete, unique class, which can be the entirety of that class or only a complete portion of it. In 3:16, as was stated, the pas is exclusively the believing ones. Then pas takes on a perculiar definition and intead of meaning all, it means only. Rendering John 3:16: God loved the creation this way such that he gave his one begotten Son that only the believing ones have no potential of falling away but have instead eternal life.

This is followed with verses 17-21, the badly neglected context.

Now, accepting that kosmos can apply to men as in verse 17, where it means both it does not thereby necessitate that the potential whole is judged to then condemnation of it all. So then, nor does the propitiation spoken of in verse 16 mean that it is extensive in intent to the salvation of all; to save all that is, either. For the whole world will be saved, but only that which will remain. Such that, even though many are detroyed, a root will remain and the whole will be restored. But the whole world will be destroy and by that the world will be saved. You might think of it like the excision of a cancer. The removal is not intended for the cancer's survival, but the body's. The contrary is also true. The healthy tissue is not grafted in to provide for the possibility of the cancer to conform or grow to be healthy, but to make sure that it does not.

The curiousity of Christ's coming not to condemn the world, narrows the definition of world which is to be saved, to only believers in these versus by this fiat: Jesus in chapter 5:22 confirms that he has indeed come into the world to judge it in just this way as is in chapter 3. And therefore, we must pay particular attention to what world is referring in each verse and even within each verse.

What this means it that the particular atonement at once was given to the Father for the salvation of the elect alone, both extensively and particularly, though its power is sufficient for all. By giving his Son that some might be saved, he gave him at the same time for the judgement of those who would not. This in inherent in the propitiatory sacrifice, once and for all. And this all happened at Calvary at the appropriate time. It does not happen some where down the line. That would be Roman Catholocism that believes in perpetually mutilating Christ, a new sacrifice to satisfy God such that grace and mercy might flow anew. But in the atonement justification and condemnation are executed simutaneously. So that when the Son was given he came to save the world and in the following verses says that at that point he also condemned those who were not believing, already.

Hope this has not be two convoluted to understand, Martin.

Martin said...

Firstly, I want to thank Gordan for this opportunity.

Dear Pastor Bob,

Regarding the meaning of the word 'elect'. I certainly would not presume to know more than an ordained Minister of the Gospel and I stand ready to be corrected. Nevertheless, I hope I have sufficient understanding for the purposes of this discussion. Briefly, the elect are those whom God has chosen and predestined according to His own wise counsel without any regard to any works on their part. In fact, it is easier simply to say that I affirm Ch X of the WCF. Hopefully that assuages your fears? (I am taking it that the capitalisation reflects some significant concern on your part?).

I must admit I was a little surprised at the question since nothing I have said contradicts the doctrine of election and since, whilst I am certainly no scholar and would readily admit to a significant lack, both of knowledge on the subject and of capacity on my part, yet I would have hoped that the language used in the article demonstrated at least a rudimentary knowledge of basic reformed doctrines. I can only assume that some misunderstanding is at work here. Perhaps certain assumptions are operative in your thoughts that led you to make some connection that I cannot see? If so perhaps you could enlighten me please?

Many thanks,

TheoJunkie said...


(Disclaimer... I'm not an ordained pastor either)...

If the issue is whether you (versus the RM bloggers) hold to historic Calvinism, the answer is you do not.

Another issue is whether your views (and not historic Calvinism) are scripturally supported. That would seem to be for another conversation.

I will take your affirmation of the WCF Ch X to mean that you affirm the doctrine of Irresistable Grace. Perseverance is not an issue here. So, we are left with T, U, and L.

"L" seems to be at the center of conversation at the moment, but your views on "L" suggest to me that you have not settled on one or the other two (T or U).

I will assume for argument that your views on Election are scripturally correct-- that you affirm that those saved are elected to this salvation before time began, unconditionally (regardless of anything God might see in the person-- for indeed there is nothing unique for Him to see, and certainly nothing meritorious, that might set them apart in God's eyes from another who is not elect).

So this leaves us with "T". Because of your views on "L", it appears to me that you have not yet fully come to terms with the doctrine of Total Depravity.

The problem is in your proposal that Christ "died secondarily for the non-elect"... to "make the offer of salvation real".

Set aside for a moment scriptural warrant, and simply consider the need.

Total Depravity means that man is so corrupted by the fall that he will not EVER choose Christ on his own will. Left to our own natural devices (desires), if God did nothing, NO ONE would choose Christ. No matter how much Gospel was preached, no matter how much time was given for them to change their mind. Humans, due to the fall, naturally DO NOT WANT to be with God, and so they themselves choose against him.

This would seem to answer your first concern-- that man chooses against God "is their own fault not due to lack of provision."

Indeed it IS man's own fault that he does not come to Christ, and indeed it is NOT due to lack of provision. He just will not come.

Rather, see that this mandates the need for unconditional election, that ANY would come at all.

So, we have the situation where condemnation is entirely because of what Man does to himself... and salvation is entirely because of what God does to man. In salvation, God is undoing what man has done to himself. Condemnation (not salvation) is the default state. Salvation is the state that requires change. (But think about this critically. Everyone says that.. .but do they really mean it?)

If Christ came TO SAVE... and the only ones that will ever be saved are the elect of God... then what use is it for him to earn salvation "really" for those who would not be saved?

Secondly, if Christ had indeed EARNED SALVATION for those who never will be saved, then the doctrine of hell literally spits in the face of God's justice. If salvation is secured for all individuals, then NO individuals may justly be put in hell.

Note also: The doctrine of Limited Atonement (that Christ died for the Elect only), has no bearing on how many elect there are. Universalism is consistent with Limited Atonement (if taken alone). If God elected everybody, Limited Atonement would still be a valid doctrine.

So, it is total depravity that secures hell for everyone... and it is limited ELECTION (not limited atonement) that creates the emotional crisis leading to so much arguement.

I hope you see that you cannot affirm "TUIP" without affirming "L". If you affirm T, then you must affirm U and I. If you affirm TUI. P can be taken alone, but if you affirm TUI, you can't avoid P.

And finally... L stands utterly alone. From pelagianism to universalism and all stops in between, L is logical. All protestations against L, then, are really only protests against Unconditional Election (which may itself be a protest against Total Depravity).

So... examine your views on T and U, and then see if your views on L will change.

(Again, scripture support is another issue/discussion...)

TheoJunkie said...

er... slight correction... Pelagians probably cannot affirm L. But semi-Pelagians can.

Carry on, as you were.

Gordan Runyan said...

Martin, well, to use a football metaphor here, you seem to be at the bottom of a pile and bodies are still jumping on. Enough has been said to keep you busy arguing for a while. I hope that's what you were after! LOL

Briefly, let me just pick on this particular sentence of yours. You wrote: "In essence, I can read these scriptures according to their most natural reading, without having to re-interpret them through a limited atonement grid"

I don't think you're reading them according to their "most natural reading." See 1 John 2:2 for instance. The most natural reading would seem to demand universalism, since the "natural" reading seems to be saying that Christ has made a propitiation for everyone's sins, including, apparently, non-Christians. But you don't believe that. You're not a universalist. You insert a division into that text (as well you should) that maintains the antipathy between the saved and the lost. And good for you, I say! But that is not "the most natural reading" of it.

I assume you do the same with 1 Timothy 4:10. You read that so that you come away thinking something other than God is the actual Savior of all people. Again, I agree with that, but your little boast there about being able to read these things more "naturally" than we do seems a bit inflated to me.

You still read each of these verses "through a grid" that is constructed out of your views of how and when and why the atonement is not effective for all men universally. You still have a grid that limits the effects of the atonement to the elect: Yours is a little different than ours, that's all. But it's still a Limited, as opposed to an Unlimited Atonement.

Martin said...

Joshua said: Martin, where do you get your definition of the Greek word Kosmos....Where does it means the wicked who are non-elect

Martin: Josh, the short answer is I never said it did!:-) I said its sinful, apostate humanity which encompasses both elect and non-elect.

Joshua said: Christ need not offer atonement to the non-elect, for they will never accept this, and Christ knows this....the position really is absurd

Martin: Well, first, I have to say that there is no scriptural basis for saying what Christ "need not" do. But let me ask this: does Christ offer anything in the gospel for the non-elect? For, by the same logic, couldn't the offer of the gospel to the non-elect also be described as absurd? Or, couldn't we equally conclude that Jesus was being absurd when he lamented how he wanted to gather Jerusalem's children together - even though He knew they would be unwilling?

Joshua said: In this view, you have Christ who is at odds with the Father and the Spirit, you have an inconsistent Triune God.
If God has unconditionally chosen the elect, then that is the purpose of Christ's redemption is to purchase their salvation.

Martin: But that doesn't logically follow from the stated premises alone. It reads like if A has happened then the purpose of B is C. :-) More importantly though, we must reason from scripture. Besides, it assumes a single purpose of Christ's redemptive work. Also, I might question what you mean by redemption since I was speaking more specifically of Christ's death and resurrection.

I see no contradiction but I suspect this is down to, as yet unsurfaced, presuppositions that I don't share.

The Doulos said...

I'm not going to pile on here, nor offer any disclaimers. But the view that Martin seems to be fleshing out further here is the statement that I often here that "Christ's death was sufficient for the sin of all men, but efficient only for the elect." Which sounds wonderful, but seems to be logically flawed. And I think the way that Martin is trying to expand this here is further illogical. Not to mention somewhat hermeneutically inconsistent. As Gordan points out above, you cannot read many of these passages according to their "plain reading" while ignoring other passages without coming to the universalist conclusion, which is plainly wrong.

Martin seems to seek a middle position that is somehow less offensive. But in reality it seems to be more offensive, since it says that God purposed that Christ die for people that He knew and predestined would never come to faith.

Martin said...

Well, I see I have much to respond to! So far, it is apparent to me that my position is not really understood or at least that there are (in my opinion) unsupported presuppositions at work so please be patient with me as it will take some time.

I have to say though I do feel a little bit as though I'm the entertainment around here - though please understand I'm not trying to guess people's motives, just describing how I feel. I have said that I'm open to learn, so I hope that all can approach the discussion in that way. You know it could just be that my position doesn't appear to make sense because you don't actually understand it yet. :-) After all, I did say it was only a summary. It might be more helpful to ask questions than to jump too quickly to conclusions. It does seem to me that some of the language used is quite emotive. I know that it is directed at my position and not at me but please bear in mind how you would feel if, in short order, a group of people described your position as illogical, absurd and offensive when you yourself could see that they clearly hadn't understood it? I do pray that the Lord would keep me from sinning in response but I do ask you to help me please. A helpful check I try to use is to consider whether I would say things the same way face-to-face to a visitor to my church who had just tried to strike up a conversation with me.

Anyway, lets all just try to keep from guessing motives or passing judgement too early.

More later.

Grace and peace,

Rev. said...

Well, this is probably going to surprise everybody, but I'm climbing under the pile with Martin.


First, read the Reformed stalwarts - the Hodges, Berkhof, etc. They all speak about the design of the atonement being for the redemption of the elect while affirming that the atonement has application to the non-elect. One of those applications has to do with the proclamation of the Gospel being made to all and the excuse of being "non-elect" removed.

Second, the "sufficient for the world, efficient only for the elect" phrase comes straight out of the Canons of Dort.

I thought about posting on this very topic (e.g., 'limited atonement') a few weeks ago, but then got caught up in some other issues. I may yet do so. And no, I'm not about to turn my "Calvinist Card" in any time soon. ;)

Rev. said...

BTW, I disagree with you Martin on your use of Hebrews 2:9 and 1 John 2:2. Read Hebrews 2:9 in context - it has a "limited" application. As for 1 John 2:2, ask yourself, has the sin of non-believers been removed and God's wrath upon them been propitiated? So, while I agree with your premise, I think you need to work it out more fully.

Strong Tower said...

Rev., with reverance. If you do please take the time to define terms well. What the Reformed fathers meant and what Martin appears to mean are slightly different. Though I may be wrong, I think this is what Gordan was alluding to in the middle position which Martin was taking.

The sufficiency statement is found in the 1689. I don't think they meant it to mean univerally applied, but were making that reference to its efficacy in power to save.

I would agree, though many don't, that of the Mediatorial provisions of the atonement, one of them was the "free offer." However, different camps define that differently. Is it free to accept? Freely proclaimed? Freely given by God particularly.

In doing this though we will move away from what is really the issue of efficacy. That being, did the atonement actually or only theoretically secure salvation for anyone. Or, was it imperfect, securing salvation for no one?

Just questions Rev. I am still grow my hair out too.

Martin said...


Your rendering of John 3:16 is an unusual one that I haven't seen before. I'm not sure I'm following all you say but I'm afraid I just can't see how you can get all that from the text. You say it "may only be in reference to the creation in general" but nevertheless this general creation does of course include man, His image-bearer.

Incidentally, I can't see anything in what I have said that makes anything "binding on God" or that denies the nature of God. Note also that I have never claimed that God loves all "equally". I am more inclined to calvin's view of God's love when he says:
"It is true that Saint John says generally, that he loved the world. And why? For Jesus Christ offers himself generally to all men without exception to be their redeemer. It is said afterward in the covenant, that God loved the world when he sent his only son: but he loved us, us (I say) which have been taught by his Gospel, because he gathered us to him.
And the faithful that are nelightened by the holy Ghost, have yet a third use of God's love, in that he reveals himself more familiarly to them, and seals up his fatherly adoption by his holy Spirit, and engraves it upon their hearts. Now then, let us in all cases learn to know this love of God, & when we be once come to it, let us go no further.

Thus we see three degrees of the love of God as shown us in our Lord Jesus Christ. The first is in respect of the redemption that was purchased in the person of him that gave himself to death for us, and became accursed to reconcile
us to God his father. That is the first degree of love, which extends to all men, inasmuch as Jesus Christ reaches out his arms to call and allure all men both great and small, and to win them to him. But there is a special love for those to whom the gospel is preached: which is that God testifies unto them that he will make them partakers of that benefit that was purchased for them by the death and passion of his son.

And for as much as we be of that number, therefore are we are double bound already to our God: here are two bonds which hold us as it were straightened unto him. Now let us come to the third bond, which depends upon the third love that God shows us: which is, that he not only causes the gospel to be preached unto us, but also makes us to feel the power thereof, not doubting but that our sins are forgiven us for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake..."
Calvin, Sermons on
, Sermon, 28, 4:36-27, p., 167.

Unless I'm missing something I'm afraid I don't follow how it could be that John 3:16 is not talking about man but v17 is, or that the world in v17 is different to v16?? I'm also struggling to follow your logic. For example, you seem to be saying that just because the world that God did not send His Son to condemn includes men does not mean that all men deserve condemnation and that this is therefore the reason why v16 cannot speak of an intent to all???

I think you have other conclusions that just don't follow from the premises that precede them as far aws I can tell. It seems to me that there must be a whole world of assumptions in difference between us (if you 'll pardon the pun :-). Perhaps you could try to bring the assumptions that you are making to the surface so that I can better understand where you are coming from?

Martin said...

Theojunkie: If the issue is whether you (versus the RM bloggers) hold to historic Calvinism, the answer is you do not.

Martin: Well, from where do you get your opinion of what is historic Calvinism? From modern authors or from historical Calvinists themselves?

Theojunkie: your views on "L" suggest to me that you have not settled on one or the other two (T or U) ... this leaves us with "T". Because of your views on "L", it appears to me that you have not yet fully come to terms with the doctrine of Total Depravity.

Martin: To be fair that seems to me to be a certain amount of conjecture. But what if I have thought them through? What if I have come to terms with the doctrine of total depravity? Perhaps all is not as it seems? :-)

Theojunkie: Set aside for a moment scriptural warrant, and simply consider the need.

Martin: Well ok, but, if there is scriptural warrant, why would we set that aside? And, does scripture speak to your view of the 'need'?

Theojunkie: Total Depravity means that man is so corrupted by the fall that he will not EVER choose Christ on his own will. Left to our own natural devices (desires), if God did nothing, NO ONE would choose Christ. No matter how much Gospel was preached, no matter how much time was given for them to change their mind. Humans, due to the fall, naturally DO NOT WANT to be with God, and so they themselves choose against him.

Martin: Sure, but nevertheless, God still sincerely offers man salvation, calls him to repentance and faith and holds him accountable when he refuses to believe. It is a real human choice that man is called to, even though his corrupt will is ever set against God's purposes.

Theojunkie:This would seem to answer your first concern-- that man chooses against God "is their own fault not due to lack of provision."

Not really. I am speaking about things on God's side so-to-speak.

Theojunkie: Indeed it IS man's own fault that he does not come to Christ, and indeed it is NOT due to lack of provision. He just will not come.

Martin: Of course. But I do not say that man does not come to Christ due to lack of provision. I was speaking of the question of guilt before God. Man cannot stand before God and say "I knew I could not save myself and sincerely felt my need of a savior but I could not come to you because you had not provided a substitute for me". The issue goes to the heart of the free offer of the Gospel and God's sincerity therein.

Theojunkie: If Christ came TO SAVE... and the only ones that will ever be saved are the elect of God... then what use is it for him to earn salvation "really" for those who would not be saved?

Martin: I would say it grounds the free offer of the Gospel, and demonstrates God's sincerity and desire that none perish and sets forth in even greater light the wonders of His justice, mercy, and compassion towards sinful, rebellious man.

Theojunkie: Secondly, if Christ had indeed EARNED SALVATION for those who never will be saved, then the doctrine of hell literally spits in the face of God's justice. If salvation is secured for all individuals, then NO individuals may justly be put in hell.

Martin: Why not?? Dabney, for example, says:
"Nor would we attach any force to the argument, that if Christ made penal satisfaction for the sins of all, justice would forbid any to be punished. To urge this argument surrenders virtually the very ground on which the first Socinian objection was refuted, and is incompatible with the facts that God chastises justified believers, and holds elect unbelievers subject to wrath till they believe. Christ's satisfaction is not a pecuniary equivalent, but only such a one as enables the Father, consistently with His attributes, to pardon, if in His mercy He sees fit. The whole avails of the satisfaction to a given man is suspended on His belief. There would be no injustice to the man, if he remaining an unbeliever, his guilt were punished twice over, first in his Savior, and then in Him. See Hodge on Atonement, page 369."
Dabney, Lectures, p.521

Theojunkie: I hope you see that you cannot affirm "TUIP" without affirming "L". If you affirm T, then you must affirm U and I. If you affirm TUI. P can be taken alone, but if you affirm TUI, you can't avoid P.

Martin: I'm afraid I don't see this at all. I'm not sure you have taken account of the fact that I affirm particular redemption?
It would probably be helpful if you could set out for me the assumptions you are making so that I can understand where you are coming from.


Martin said...

Welcome to the bottom of the pile Rev! :-) I'll have a look at your suggestions later. I know I definitely need to sharpen up on several things. At the moment I feel like a small boy at the bottom of a pile of 7 foot football players!


You said:
I don't think you're reading them according to their "most natural reading." See 1 John 2:2 for instance. The most natural reading would seem to demand universalism, since the "natural" reading seems to be saying that Christ has made a propitiation for everyone's sins, including, apparently, non-Christians.Ok, this is where we need to get into the presuppositions. I agree with your assessment of what the natural reading says but not with your asessment of what it demands. So, can you explain to me why an unlimited reading of "whole world" "demands" universalism?


Rev. said...


I'm glad to be at the bottom of the pile, yet I'll probably end up taking you to task for saying that Christ died to make salvation "possible" for the non-elect. ;)


Point well taken, my friend. I plan on doing just that (but over on my blog, so stay tuned). :)

Strong Tower said...


No you will not find a rendering such as mine,

My main point about the world was to show that it is not co-extensive. You have rightly stated and I would not reject what Calvin has said, that love has different directedness, particularity. And in using that I do not mean particular atonement alone. But, paricular application to particular circumstances or persons. Hopefully Rev will explain this clearer than I do. The atonement is sufficient in all things that it provides. Particular atonement refers to, usually, the L in TULIP. But, it has definition other than that. The blood is particularly applied to the elect alone. But, in the atonement the particularities of the Gospel are also provided for, those include preaching of it and the condemnation that goes along with its rejection. So when God so loves the world it has general application, part of which is a general appeal which is proven earnest by those it saves and by those it condemns.

When John says that God loves the world this way, it does not exclude the provision of judgment, was the point that I was making. It is true that God loves all men generally as Calvin stated and sent the son generally. And Calvin is clear to explain what that means. (Calvin did not just write one tiny commentary on Deuteronomy). The winning of the unconverted is inherent in the call, but so is the special love, and the condemnation that goes with its rejection.

I do not conclude with you that there is some provision in the atonement that could save men if they so chose. If that is what you are saying (one of my assumptions). The provision of the Gospel proclamation is made through the Mediatorial office of Christ and is proven sincere by it efficaciousness. Now, that efficacy does more than just save. The blood atonement is another issue, as I asked Rev. to carefully define. In the humiliation propitiation was made. But also in the humiliation, judgement was rendedered. It is proclaimed in the Gospel such that when John says that those who are not believing are condemnded already, it is the Gospel that condemns them because they did not believe his testimony.

Re-read Calvin with the eyes a particularity of application of the work of Christ in its entirety. On the one hand his blood was shed for us, on the other is was a witness against the world.

The reason again that I mentioned the world is so that it would not be taken rigidly and applied in all places to mean all men of any kind. So I labored to show that the rigid definition cannot always be applied. World means many things. So that when, as Calvin says, the world is love by God, it is far more reaching than the saints or the reprobate, but reaches the entire kosmos. God was the one who said to the kosmos let there be light. Yet he is going to destroy it all. And early on in John the apostle begins to make distinctions. (The idead of God making distinctions begins in Genesis, see Exodus and God making a distinction between the Hebrews and Eqyptians) By 1.12-13 he has said that the receivability of the adoption is an act of creation, not given generally to all creation, i.e. not of nations (bloods), or of men, or of the will of men, but born of God. So that, just as each was made according to its kind, also the particular "those" in John 3:16 are the only ones who are born of the blood of God.

Check the tenses. Again you will find that the Son was given and the unbelieving had already unbelieved. The reason for his coming was the separation of the kinds. So that, only the believing ones might be saved. It was not, nor has it been since the beginning of the Kosmos, the will of the creature that the kosmos or any portion of it exists, including the abilities of faith.
Faith is of a particular kind. It only hears one voice, that of its kind. So that the shepherd is both the Lamb and the Shepherd. His sheep hear is voice because he is the Ram caught in the thicket, a proptiation not for just any, but for one.

Look at the prophecy about Christ when he came into the world. What was he set for? The rising and falling of many. This is the reason he came; so that out of the world some might be save so that though the world is destroyed the world might be saved; some to eternal life others to eternal death. That is the thrust of John and moves from chapter one thoughout. In the finality Jesus prays not for the world but for those who have been given to him out of it.

Don't pick apart Calvin base upon your presupposition that the efficacy of the atonement is openly applicable to all, in all senses equally, because some of the means of salvation spill out upon the world that is condemned as a function of the Gospel. You might look at it like this: At the judgment it will be the Word that separates. So also, the Gospel preached separates eventhough it may not be obvious to us now. What was made available through he cross the the ministry of the Gospel. But we know that it was no new Gospel. It was the same Gospel that Moses knew, the same Gospel the disciples preached before Calvary, before the passion. That mediation, the ministry of reconciliation reconciles the world through the Mediatorial office of Christ slain before the foundations of the world. Part of that reconciliation is the subjugation of all things and includes the condemnation. It is by the act of Preaching that men are saved, and its rejection when it is preached is that by which men are condemned.

Finally understand that love necessitates perfect justice, it is also particular, as Calvin explains, in many ways. To say of God that he has not particularly loved is to bind him to the caprice of the creature. God is love and therefore must judge with right judgment. His judgement is his will to chose perfectly particularly the ones who will believe and by that pass over the ones who will not.

Martin said...

Hi Rev,
I'm glad to be at the bottom of the pile, yet I'll probably end up taking you to task for saying that Christ died to make salvation "possible" for the non-elect. ;)

Martin: It seems then that we are, in reality, in two different 'piles' and, when you've gotten everyone off the top of you, you're gonna come and jump on top of the pile on top of me! LOL :-)

Ok, so I'm just thinking quickly about Hebrews 2:9 and I'm aware of the arguments that take the 'everyone' of v9 to be the 'sons' of v10, the 'brothers' and 'congregation' of v12 and so on. However, I do not believe this follows the flow of the text. It seems to me that we cannot just infer the meaning of a text from what follows without looking carefully at what precedes it and at the overall flow of the arguments used. Remembering how the writer contrasts angels with the Son of God in ch. 1, he then uses Ps. 8 to contrast angels and man and it seems fairly clear to me that he is speaking of the human race. He is emphasising the Gospel - this great salvation that we dare not neglect. If anything he is emphasising its unique all-encompassing nature as the only means by which man may be saved. (Why else would there be any need to speak of what happens to those who neglect it?) It is then apparent, having spoken of the need for all mankind to pay attention to this message, that he applies the language of Ps. 8 to Jesus, who tasted death on our behalf. I see nothing going on here then to suddenly limit the word 'everyone' in v9 when it is part of an argument that is talking about the human race. And, whilst there is a undeniably a narrowing of scope in subsequent verses, again there is no reason to read that back in here since they are talking about different things.

Since you mention the Hodges I am reminded of this by Charles:

"In like manner, the express declarations that it was the incomprehensible and peculiar love of God for His own people, which induced Him to send His Son for their redemption, that Christ came into the world for that specific object; that He died for His sheep; that He gave Himself for his Church; and that the salvation of all for whom He thus offered Himself is rendered certain by the gift of the Spirit to bring them to faith and repentance, are intermingled with declarations of good will to all mankind, with offers of salvation to everyone who will believe in the Son of God, and denunciations of wrath against those who reject these overtures of mercy. All we have to do is not to ignore or deny either of these modes of representation, but to open our minds wide enough to receive them both, and reconcile them as best we can. Both are true, in all cases above referred to, whether we can see their consistency or not."
Hodge, C. Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, 561

I am trying to follow the spirit of this advice and avoid reading a particular system into a text but rather to try to assemble all the texts on both sides of this issue first before I try to see whether or not they are consistent.

Of course, I recognise that we can never be entirely free of presuppositions but that shouldn't stop us trying as hard as we can to be self-aware, self-critical, etc. Anyway, I'm happy to be shown where I've got this wrong but that's the way I see the flow of this text at the moment.


Martin said...

I can't hope to respond to everything, in fact I'm not sure I'll even understand everything, and its already making my brain ache and I'm running out of time. Consequently, I'm just going to concentrate on a couple of key things that have been said in order to try to surface the differing presuppositions that I think are at work. Hopefully that'll then indirectly address some of the other points (especially the ones I don't understand he says hopefully! :-).

So, I'd like to pick up on 1 John 2:2 which Rev mentioned as I think other posts seem to have made the same assumption.
My question is: why should I take "the propitiation" as a verb? Isn't it a noun?

I think this speaks also to one of your points Gordan.


Martin said...

Oh, one more thing. Rev said:
"I'll probably end up taking you to task for saying that Christ died to make salvation "possible" for the non-elect"

This isn't the first time this objection has been raised and I'm wondering: what exactly is going on in people's thinking that makes this seem so bad? I guess it is thought to be a contradiction. But then I could ask why isn't it just as contradictory, if not more so, to argue that Christ earnestly calls men to believe in Him (as the only atoning sacrifice for their sins) even though he withheld His blood from them?
Surely God's offer in the Gospel is sincere and well-meant?

(Just trying to root out those presuppositions...)

Gordan Runyan said...


For me, there is maybe too much weight on this pile. :)

I agree with the following two statements. I think you do, too. But I don't think we mean the same things by saying them.

1. The atonement, though sufficient for the whole world, is only efficient for the elect. And,

2. The Gospel is a well-meant offer, wherever it is proclaimed. There is nothing dishonest or "hedged" about it.

Now, here is a brief statement of what I mean by those:

1. The virtue of Christ's sacrifice is as unlimited as His deity. He could by the one sacrifice wipe clean forever all the sins of the whole world, every individual throughout time. But that is not what God has chosen to do with the blood of Jesus. For His own inscrutible reasons, He is pleased to apply the virtue of that sacrifice only to the elect.

2. The terms of the Gospel offer are honest. You come and repent and trust in Christ, and you will be saved. No caveats. No fine print. It is therefore well-meant and sincere, and ought to be preached with enthusiastic pleading in all places.

Martin, I don't think this is what you mean when you use these sorts of phrases, especially 2 above.

You could help me a lot by specifying what you do mean.

Gordan Runyan said...

Martin, also, if the language is to mean anything, I don't see how Christ can be my protitiation if He didn't actually do the action required to propitiate. Just like it would be ludicrous to call some woman my Mother that I have never had any sort of relationship with: she didn't birth me nor did she raise me. The title implies the action. I think you reduce the title to nonsense when you try to separate it from that which it means. I'm not understanding how it is right to call someone the Propitiation for my sins if that someone did not in fact propitiate them.

TheoJunkie said...


I was careful to state your views "as they appeared to me". That means what it means. I was not inserting words in your mouth attempting to suggest anything about your study habits.

As for scripture (and lack thereof), I didn't get into it because of 1) time, and 2) the particular question posed in the post.

Please note: I do not deny that Christ's life and death gained something for the unelect. One glaring example is that they are not already struck down. Not only that, but all humans receive common grace to varying (and sometimes unbelieveable) degrees. All this was earned by Christ's work.

It just didn't gain salvation (even potentially) for them.

"Make an atonement for it, and it shall be forgiven" (repeated throughout Leviticus). That pretty much seals the deal. There is no such thing as provisional atonement. Something is either atoned for, or it is not.

Regarding chastizement of believers: There is a difference between eternal just punishment for sin, and chastizement. Believers are chastized not in punishment, but as a teaching tool (I think you would agree, based on Hebrews 12).

I won't do a point by point on your comment. Just a few thoughts (no need to respond).

Rev. said...

For those of you who are curious, tomorrow's edition of "Theology on Thursday" will touch upon this subject.

Strong Tower said...

"why should I take "the propitiation" as a verb? Isn't it a noun?"

I don't know why you should but it is used of Jesus in both ways.

But, to be more specific, this word is used of not just an act, but as an object, both nouns. In the second case it refers to a covering, specifically the reconciliation of a specific thing by drawing over it an intercessor. In the temple it is the mercy seat. Christ hisself. Unless Christ covers the unbeliever he cannot be their propitiation. The idea of the mercy seat is that it was a seal that could not be removed once put in place. Sacrifice was made, and as Hebrews says at once sanctifying Christ (the mercy seat) and the people. Follow the reasoning here. The blood was not sprinkled on all the world but that world within the parameters of the temple and no one else. In the case of Christ it was spinkled once and for all. And not for the world, but for our propitiation. The ark had two parts. The ark itself where the manna, staff, and law were placed. The ark was made of gopher wood, that is, it was the earthly man and covered over with gold that which is from above. This is symbolic of Christ's earthly ministry, but also of the believer in whom the symbols of Christ are placed and interestingly they are a trinity, see John 17, he in us they in him we in them, they in us, et cetera. The Mercy Seat itself represents the throne of hearven where God meets with his priests, it also represents Christ since he is our propitiation (hilasterion = mercy seat). But we cannot enter there because the cloud that covers it forbids us. Like the veil it is taken away in Christ so that we might sit upon the throne with him. It is only when we are in the High Priest that we can approach the seat. That however, happened only once, see Ephesians, and it was by the perfect sacrifice of the blood, which was spinkle only upon those for whom it was designated and no others. That propitiation was applied at a specific time and place, once, such that the adoption is executed, an adoption promised before time and now consumated forever for those now seated with Christ in the heavenlies. It was perfectly applied to the objects of God's affections (Christ and his brothers). None of it was wasted and none of those it was intended for have been lost (the holy ones will not see corruption).

Now to propose that it is a sacrifice that is liberally used by commoners and applied to themselves at their will is to deny the revelation of it perfect particularity of it and the propriety of the High Priest Mediatorial role of sacrificer and applier. In otherwords Hebrews ten tells that the sanctifying blood is not a common thing that may or may not sanctify. Instead it proposes that the blood is perfect in its propiatory power. It cannot lose anyone such that they might fall away, otherwise it is not fit for sanctifying anyone, even Christ. That is the meaning of "what then will you be sanctified with seeing as you have made it a common thing and trodden underfoot the blood of Chrit".

Far from that. The Lord knows those who are his, and at the appropriate time the sacrifice was applied to the sealed ark. By this promise and the nature of God he has saved his people whom he was forknowing, past present and future. No blood is wasted and the object of his affection, the people without the Holy of Holies but within the promise parmeters that are brought near are represented by that lower portion of the ark, which is the Son of man made like his brothers and his brothers made like the son of man. It is the mercy seat that we must contend with. For we cannot say that it was not there before the blood was applied, and we cannot say that it was not perfect, but the mercy seat represents the propitiation which is from all time the lamb of God slain before the foundations of the world who sealed his promise, by the propitiation of himself; that which has covered forever those under his wings. But that was in place before the blood and that blood was established for the perfected ark before the foundation of the world.

Have I lost you yet. Part of what you are doing is making the blood of Christ a common sacrifice. Very dangerous ("what exactly is going on in people's thinking that makes this seem so bad?).

Another note: the context of 1 John 2.2 does not need to be extended to the world of unbelievers, does it? John's immediate believing audience and those believers in the world outside that audience is an appropriate view of what he says, especially when he has already written in his Gospel that the salvation is not for the whole world. He remarked that Jesus did not pray for them all, but restricted his prayer to only believers in the world by not of the world.

An final note: 1 Tim 4:10 pistos is an adjective not a noun. The question has to be asked, just what does it modify. It must be referring to all men and that would make it "Savior of all especially believing men." Again, this would make malista (especially) take on the meaning of special. Or, as I said before, in John 3:16 "only" the believing ones.

Martin said...


As you say, I can agree with those two statements but it seems you may be a little surprised to learn that I can agree with your clarifications of them - at least as far as they go. There are differences but they're not really covered in those statements, although there are some terms I would want to clarify. I hope to cover this when I respond to your next question but unfortunately I won't have time to do that today. I just thought that at least I'd let you know that I have seen your questions and hope to respond soon, Lord willing. Your last one is a good question and I need to allow time to answer it properly.

Another thing that might help us (me at least!) surface and understand the differences is if you could answer my question as to why an unlimited reading of "whole world" in 1 John 2:2 "demands" universalism?

Many thanks,
Grace and peace to you in Christ Jesus,

Gordan Runyan said...

Hey, Martin,

I await your clarifications. It would be most helpful if you could distinguish the view you're espousing from the view that you perceive most five-pointers hold.

I'm sorry about that with 1 John 2:2. I thought I spoke to that above, by mentioning that calling Jesus the "propitiation" is rather meaningless if you're going to suggest He didn't actually propitiate.

I'm not sure what you mean in this last comment of yours about an "unlimited" reading? Originally, the issue was your assertion that you hold to the "natural" reading of verses like 1 John 2:2.

It's my assertion, then, that if 1 John 2:2 is taken "on its own," it seems to teach universalism. I'm not saying that universalism is "demanded" in any way. Quite the contrary. But such a reading does strike me as "natural" especially for the biblical neophyte.

My point is that you assert your view allows you to take the "natural" reading, but we could argue all day long about what that "natural" reading might be, especially if the unregenerate ("natural") men among us were allowed to cast a vote.

Your reading is natural only if you hold your view, is what I'm suggesting. While you rail on us about presuppositions, I think your foot is caught in the same trap. It's your theology that makes your reading of those verses seem more natural.

Thereby, your claim that a strength of your view is the ability to accept the "natural" reading is really a small bit of circular reasoning.


Martin said...

Gordan said: While you rail on us about presuppositions

Martin: To be honest that was not at all what I was doing and I am sorry if in some way I had created that impression. The only reason for the frequent mention of presuppositions is because I was trying to get folks to expose their thought processes so that instead of just seeing the conclusion (typically a charge against my position) I could see where they were coming from and we could then start to examine those presuppositions to see if they are biblical. That is where I believe the differences will lie and that’s all I was trying to do. Hope that clarifies things.

Regarding 1 John 2:2, I know you think you answered it but I think there’s still something else going on because the ‘natural reading’ I am claiming does not teach universalism. Hopefully this will become clearer below. But please bear with me. I am sorry if this is becoming frustrating. Also, there seems to be a little confusion, when I said “unlimited reading” and “demands” I was actually quoting something you had said in an earlier post but no matter now - let’s just see what you make of the rest of this post.

Oh, one more thing, regarding my claim of a “natural reading”, whilst I still believe its largely true (and bear in mind as I said above that I still think there’s a misunderstanding (my fault for not being clear enough)), I know that nobody can claim to be perfect in this regard and therefore it would have been better if I had said ‘more natural’ or perhaps hadn’t even said it at all. But please don’t misunderstand it as a boast which was not my intention. I’m getting the impression that it might have come across that way so it might be easier to forget I said it if you can?

Gordan said: if the language is to mean anything, I don't see how Christ can be my propitiation if He didn't actually do the action required to propitiate. Just like it would be ludicrous to call some woman my Mother that I have never had any sort of relationship with: she didn't birth me nor did she raise me.

Martin: I'm not sure the analogy really fits how you seem to want to use it for Mother refers to a role, not an action. Of course, someone carrying out a role does do the actions that go with the role and therefore yes, of course, Christ's sacrifice did 'do' the act of propitiating. But two things here: firstly propitiation doesn't 'birth' you. The propitiation refers to the sacrifice as the means by which God is pacified - His anger is 'propitiated'. Secondly, in using the noun it is referring to Christ’s role. He is the ONLY propitiatory sacrifice by which men may have God’s wrath toward them pacified, right? There is a difference between saying Christ propitiated which is describing the act, which other scriptures do say, and in 1 John 2:2 where it says Christ is the propitiation. It is pointing to His role. If any man needs a propitiation, Christ is the One, if you will. Perhaps it will help to think of it like this: John is the chef in the company restaurant. He cooks all the meals for staff. Does that mean that everyone ate a meal cooked by John on Tuesday? No, yet he IS still the chef.

I think Dabney has the sense of this verse right (I've included a bit which comes before 1 John 2:2 for free :-):

“But there are others of these passages, to which I think, the candid mind will admit, this sort of explanation is inapplicable. In John 3:16, make “the world” which Christ loved, to mean “the elect world,” and we reach the absurdity that some of the elect may not believe, and perish. In 2 Cor. 5:15, if we make the all for whom Christ died, mean only the all who live unto Him—i. e., the elect it would seem to be implied that of those elect for whom Christ died, only a part will live to Christ. In 1 John 2:2, it is at least doubtful whether the express phrase, “whole world,” can be restrained to the world of elect as including other than Jews. For it is indisputable, that the Apostle extends the propitiation of Christ beyond those whom he speaks of as “we,” in verse first. The interpretation described obviously proceeds on the assumption that these are only Jewish believers. Can this be substantiated? Is this catholic epistle addressed only to Jews? This is more than doubtful. It would seem then, that the Apostle’s scope is to console and encourage sinning believers with the thought that since Christ made expiation for every man, there is no danger that He will not be found a propitiation for them who, having already believed, now sincerely turn to him from recent sins.”
Dabney, Lectures, 525.

Similarly, Romans 3:25 speaks of Christ as being displayed as a propitiation. It was a public display of God's righteousness so that in His great mercy He would still be Just and yet the justifier of the one who has faith. Propitiation itself, as a sacrifice, does not itself effect (birth) God's pacification, it must be applied at the time of faith, and then God is actually pacified toward the believing penitent.

Gordan: The title implies the action

Martin: Hopefully then you can see that I agree but the question is to what action does the noun refer? Note that it does not say atonement, a word which originally referred to reconciliation, but now, in modern usage, tends to confuse things. It refers to the action of making a propitiatory sacrifice. It points us to the cross as the altar, where the victim was slain. It does not point directly to God's being reconciled. Not here.

Gordan: I think you reduce the title to nonsense when you try to separate it from that which it means. I'm not understanding how it is right to call someone the Propitiation for my sins if that someone did not in fact propitiate them.

Martin: I don't separate it, I am just trying to avoid reading something extra into the verse that's not there. Yes, Jesus is the propitiation because He did propitiate but, if I'm understanding you aright, you seem to read something into propitiate that goes beyond what it means. Propitiation is not reconciliation.

Maybe some more Dabney will help here since he says things so much better than I can (emphases mine):
"Now Christ is a true substitute. His sufferings were penal and vicarious, and made a true satisfaction for all those who actually embrace them by faith. But the conception charged on us seems to be, as though Christ's expiation were a web of the garment of righteousness to be cut into definite pieces and distributed out, so much to each person of the elect, whence, of course, it must have a definite aggregate length, and had God seen fit to add any to the number of elect, He must have had an additional extent of web woven. This is all incorrect.
Satisfaction was Christ's indivisible act, and inseparable vicarious merit, infinite in moral value, the whole in its unity and completeness, imputed to every believing elect man, without numerical division, subtraction or exhaustion. Had there been but one elect man, his vicarious satisfaction had been just what it is in its essential nature.

Had God elected all sinners, there would have been no necessity to make Christ's atoning sufferings essentially different. Remember, the limitation is precisely in the decree, and no where else. It seems plain that the vagueness and ambiguity of the modern term "atonement," has very much complicated the debate. This word, not classical in the Reformed theology, is used sometimes for satisfaction for guilt, sometimes for the reconciliation ensuing thereon; until men on both sides of the debate have forgotten the distinction. The one is cause, the other effect. The only New Testament sense the word atonement has is that of katallage , reconciliation. But expiation is another idea.

Katallage is personal. Exhilasmos is impersonal. Katallage is multiplied, being repeated as often as a sinner comes to the expiatory blood. exhilasmos is single, unique, complete; and, in itself considered, has no more relation to one man's sins than another. As it is applied in effectual calling, it becomes personal, and receives a limitation.But in itself, limitation is irrelevant to it. Hence, when men use the word atonement, as they so often do, in the sense of expiation, the phrases, "limited atonement," "particular atonement," have no meaning. Redemption is limited, i.e., to true believers, and is particular. Expiation is not limited."
Dabney, Lectures, p., 528.

Do you see how Dabney can separate Christ’s expiation (which functions to propitiate God) from the application of it (through faith)?

Hope that helps,

Strong Tower said...

Reviewers of Dabney said this: "We might quibble, however, with Dabney's interpretation of 1 John 2:2. It's one thing to say that Christ's death is sufficient to expiate a world of guilt. It is quite another to imply (as Dabney's use of 1 John 2:2 does) that propitiation has been made—and thus God's wrath has actually been satisfied—on behalf of the whole world. , Again, it is our opinion that Dabney spoke carelessly here." One error in statment, cannot negate all the rest that Dabney has said even in this small portion of all that he taught on this matter.

Martin said...

Just a couple of points of clarification. The Dabney review posted above doesn't relate to the material I posted but to an entirely different article by Dabney called The Five Points of Calvinism. It doesn't detract from the point I was making. Also It isn't anonymous (nor the product of multiple reviewers) but I believe was written by Phil Johnson in some footnotes he posted on his site here: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/dabney/5points.htm.

In Christ,

Strong Tower said...

That's right, and the point being? Who is Dabney? While he was definitely accurate and deeply thoughful about the atonement, he was, after all, a fallible man.

You try to make too much out of him. As I said, and as you did with Calvin and Scripture, to take part and not the whole makes it a pretext. When taken as a whole, Dabney's statement appears out of concert with what he has written elsewhere, as was understood by Phil. Frankly, I would trust Phil, especially now that I have had a chance to read Dabney elsewhere first hand.

So to finish Dabney, stating the (your) Arminian position:

"Common Sufficient Grace
2. This leads us to their next point: God having intended all along to repair the fall, and having immediately thereafter given a promise to our first parents, has ever since communicated to all mankind a common precedaneous sufficient grace, purchased for all by Christ's work. This is not sufficient to effect a complete redemption, but to enable, both naturally and morally, to fulfil the conditions for securing redeeming grace. This common grace consists in the indifferency of man's will remaining notwithstanding his fall, the lights of natural conscience, good impulses enabling unregenerate men to do works of social virtue, the outward call of mercy made, as some Arminians suppose, even to heathens through reason, and some lower forms of universal spiritual influence. The essential idea and argument of the Arminian is, that God could not punish man justly for unbelief, unless He conferred on him both natural and moral ability to believe or not. They quote such Scripture as Ps. 81:13; Isa. 5:4; Luke 19:42; Rev. 3:20; Rom. 2:14; Jn. 1:9. So here we have, by a different track, the old conclusion of the semi-Pelagian. Man, then, decides the whole remaining difference, as to believing or not believing, by his use of this precedent grace, according to his own free will. God's purpose to produce different results indifferent men is wholly conditioned on the use which, He foresees, they will make of their common grace. To those who improve it, God stands pledged to give the crowning graces of regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. To the heathen even, who use their light aright, (unfavorable circumstance may make such instances rare), Christ will give gospel light and redeeming grace, in some inscrutable way.

Grace in Regeneration Vincible
3. Hence, the operations of grace are at every stage vincible by man's will; to be otherwise, they must violate the conditions of moral agency. Even after regeneration, grace may be so resisted by free will, as to be dethroned from the soul, which then again becomes unrenewed.

Redemption General
4. The redeeming work of Christ was equally for all and every man of the human race, to make his sins pardonable on the condition of faith, to purchase a common sufficient grace actually enjoyed by all, and the efficient graces of a complete redemption suspended on the proper improvement of common grace by free will. Christ's intention and provision are, therefore, the same to all. But as justice requires that the pardoned rebel shall believe and repent, to those who, of their own choice, refuse this, the provision remains forever ineffective."

As you can see, through this and other discussions by Dabney he makes it clear that Christ's sacrifice did not expiate, atone for, the sins of the whole world. But, it was sufficient to do so if God had so chosen. It is this fact of its universal power, not it universality of application that vindicates God's justice in condemning the "free-will" exercise of fallen man. Therefore God has mercy upon whom he wills, and no man can say, then why has God condemned seeing as no one can resist his will.

When trying to play men off against themselves as many have done with Calvin and failed, and now Dabney with like result, it pays not to read into them your Arminian presuppositions or you will necessarily consign to the garbage can the gold and keep the dross.

So my quoting Dabney from another citation is appropriate seeing as, like with those who neglect the Confessions of Augustine, if portions are read absent the context of the whole, anything might be said about what a man believed.

Martin said...

Dear Strong Tower,

It saddens my heart to see that, for reasons unknown, this discussion appears to be provoking an adverse emotional reaction from you. It is unfortunate that you seem quick to throw out accusations especially when it is apparent to me that you have not really understood. I had hoped to be able to carry out this discussion as brothers in a Christ-honoring way but it seems as though you want to label, if not treat me as an enemy. Under the circumstances, I am finding it difficult to believe that you are really interested in earnest discussion in this matter. There is usually little point in discussion when views are so strongly held. I do not want to lead either of us in to sin so I think it would be better if we did not continue this conversation with each other. Nevertheless I do pray that the Lord will bless you richly with the light of His countenance and the riches of His Glory.


Strong Tower said...

Martin, I appreciate your concern, but let me assure you that nothing short of love was intended in my response. All that I had to say was true. There seems to be for you a need to read into texts what does not belong there. The grid that you said is typical of others you most certainly apply. I have pointed that out. Context is everything and your claim that presuppositions were clouding my and others understanding is gravy for both goose and gander. To say that kosmos must necessarily apply to the propitiation as it relates to regeneration is not necessarily true, as I explained, and in doing so agreed in part with you. I did not go where you went with it, however. You included defenses made from writers that would seem to vindicate your postition. They do not, they are either taken out of context or out of balance and do not support your case. I will refer you, if you did not avail yourself to read Rev's post at Two Worlds Collide. There you will find why I would say that you have adopted a position that is not novel nor is it right. Pay particular attention to the BB Warfield discussion in the comments. Because you will see that in part you are perceiving something that is not articulated well by many Calvinists and that is why there is confusion about the extent and meaning of the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. You are quite right when you say that there is a sense that you see that others do not. I am saying that you see it, you just do not understand it.

I do not find myself in danger of sinning against you or God in answering to the best of my ability the truth of the hope that is within me. It was my impression that this was a free-for-all, and that you were willingly offering yourself as fodder. I do not know you, nor is it even necessary that you are a real person. The men of old though they are dead still offer contest. It is their arguments and not them with which we duel and if they had done what you did, I would have said the same thing irrespective of their stature. I will bow out of this also seeing as it will not progress to the eurika which was what I thought was you were after.

I do commend you, and thank you. You made me go and read and reread. For that I am greatly indebted.

My apologies to Gordan, for it appears that I offended one of his friends.

Flame off,

the torch

Gordan Runyan said...

No need for apology here.

I don't think you were harsh. If you had seen Martin's two initial comments on this blog, you would probably be less concerned about having offended him. He came here looking for a fight, and throwing out some fairly strong accusations.

Martin, I don't have a problem with you personally, and am also sorry if you have felt attacked on a personal level here.

Martin said...

Well, I've certainly learnt a few things through this interaction – mainly about myself - and I thought I would post a few thoughts since others also may benefit.

One thing is that discussing areas of disagreement is far more difficult online than face-to-face! One reason is that I think we can't see the body language or hear the tone of voice. This means that the normal checks and controls aren't operating. I vaguely recall some research that concluded that the actual words used are a very low proportion of the total message being communicated. In electronic communication, especially amongst strangers, the person at the other end of the 'wire' becomes depersonalised as the normal social interaction and basic relationship building steps are skipped. After all, we don't talk to people in a face-to-face setting about theology without knowing anything about them. This makes it even easier to forget that they too are made in the image of God and loved by Him and that we are to treat others as we ourselves want to be treated. This is made worse by the absence of the visual and audible clues that hint at people's motives and demeanour towards us. Thus we can readily mis-interpret their motives and their intentions towards us. I have certainly been guilty of this. All of this is then further exacerbated because of remaining sin. Our motives are never pure. When we want to do good, evil is right there with it.

One of the things I have been trying to learn about recently, and which is related to this, is a gospel-centred approach to sanctification. I think it is a significant feature of much of puritan piety but not so much in our day, although thankfully, people like Gerry Bridges and Timothy Keller are helping to recover it. In essence it argues that motivation (i.e. what "comes out of the heart") is what determines whether something is sin. Too much of modern 'piety' if we can call it that, looks only at the external sins that are visibly in violation of the law, the "outside of the cup", if-you-will. A gospel-centred approach teaches us to examine the motives behind all that we do and therein we begin to find what C. John Miller calls the 'root' sins of unbelief, pride and lust. An example will probably help here: As a typical western white middle-class person, much as I know it to be a sin (contra Jas. 2:1-13), it seems to come naturally to me to look down on someone from a different socio-economic/ethnic background. The natural pride of man seems so great that many of us can often do this without even being conscious that we are sinning in this way. Even when we are conscious of it, typically all we do is confess that we have sinned. However, by learning to examine the motive it can be most instructive. So it might go something like this:
why did I just look down on that person? What was it I was looking for that I thought I would get by comparing myself favourably to that person? Was it to get a sense of worth? Am I not worth so much more than two sparrows that my Father gave His Son for me? Furthermore, am I not so sinful that I do not deserve anything anyway? Or, was it some kind of sense of peace of conscience, in effect, of feeling justified? Am I not justified by faith? Am I now trying to appease my insatiable thirst for righteousness by imagining that there is something inherently better about me, about my culture, my ethnicity, my way of doing things that makes me more acceptable to God so that God will have to bless me? Is not all this a denial of the Gospel that I am justified through faith alone in what Christ has done? Have I forgotten and am now returning to the beggarly elements, to another gospel which is really no gospel at all? Oh Lord! Help me in my unbelief! Help me to remember always that I am not accepted because I am better than anyone else, for I too am a wicked sinner, rather I am accepted because of what Christ has done for me!"

Hopefully that makes sense? Such an approach, I find, offers far greater hope of making progress in the matter of sanctification than just repenting of the ‘bad fruit’ without understanding what caused it.

I have been trying to apply that thinking to our discussion and wondering why does it provoke strong emotional reactions in us? Why can't we examine alternate claims with detachment? Why do we seem to automatically look for weaknesses in what is said to us rather than examine it objectively? (I assume we recognise that we can all do this?) Any ideas? As far as I can tell when I see this in myself it is because, at a 'functional' level, my heart is seeking something elsewhere than in Christ that it ought to seek only in Christ. Probably things like getting a sense of trust in what I believe rather than the One to whom it all should point and gaining a sense of comfort from belonging to a defined group. I’m thinking “out loud” here. Make sense?

Another thing I've come to realise is that we build up what we believe over time and can forget the process we went through to get there. Kind of like, we know that the answer is 4 but we've forgotten that originally we had to add 2 + 2 to get 4. Or, quite often, we learn '4' from somewhere else without ever realising that it is comprised of 2 + 2. Thus when someone turns up saying "no, the answer's 5", all we can do is say "its 4" or, at best, "you can’t get 5 from 2 + 2!". But when did we ever test the ‘2’s against scripture in all that?

The final thing I have observed is that it can be easy to jump ahead and try to figure out the direction of a line of questioning, and provide what is perceived to be the ultimate answer without realising that the answer still assumes the '2' on which it was originally based. Well, that's the presupposition thing that we all do, but now I realise that the harder and more important question is why do we feel the need to jump ahead? What are we afraid of if we just worked through things one step at a time?

So, putting all the above together, and by examining our motives, we can start to ask ourselves questions like: is some part of my sense of assurance based on the perceived rightness of what I believe so that, subconsciously, a threat to what I believe becomes a threat to me personally and I'm then driven to defend myself - as though I have to earn the right to God's favour? These are the difficult questions I am trying to ask of myself so I don't know whether this is helpful for anyone else???

Oh and, of course, on top of all that there is the problem of presuppositions which lead us all to filter what we read through a pre-determined grid and make simple mistakes, such as the fallacy of the excluded middle, that can be blindingly obvious to others yet completely hidden from our own eyes.

It seems to me then, with so much going on ‘behind the scenes’, that the only way that this kind of difficult discussion can prosper is:
1. by making an effort to build relationships as members of the same body, united to each other through our invisible union in Christ, and striving, through the collective efforts of the community, to have the highest standards of godliness in interaction - NOT so much by censure but by lovingly guiding each other back to walking in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal 2:14);
2. by people consciously striving to detach themselves from the personal implications of what is being discussed and examine things more objectively, in simple, small steps at-a-time
3. by keeping only to what is in focus without following things through too quickly to their perceived conclusions (or, at least, recognising that there just might be a tertius quid and therefore only asking questions about why such-and-such isn't the implication of what is being said rather than assuming that there are only two options).
4. by keeping all references to the person out of the discussion to avoid feeding those sinful desires that we surely all have to vindicate ourselves, etc

Just my musings. What do you think?

Soli Deo Gloria!

Martin said...

I’ve been thinking some more. In the context of having ‘exposed’ a little more of myself in my previous post I think I should say something about my motives. I did not come here to win arguments, but to share something that I have personally been blessed by. It is a natural product of us benefitting from something that we want to share that blessing with others. However, as you will gather from what I have written above, I am honest enough to admit that other, sinful motives can get mixed in with it. Nevertheless, I think it will be helpful for you to understand something: I once did hold to limited atonement. I am therefore not coming to this from a position of complete ignorance. I believe I know the arguments and have reasons why I reject them. Therefore, to convince me, you would have to show me where MY presuppositions are wrong, not assume I accept yours. Unfortunately though, it has proved difficult to get people to examine and expose their own presuppositions which is what I was trying to do with my questions. Because I previously held to limited atonement and believe I am aware of most of the presuppositions upon which it relies, this is what is behind my approach and the reason for the frequent mention of presuppositions. I realise now that my approach could have been perceived as pride and ignorance of how I do the same thing myself so I just thought I should point out that I am more self-aware than you might realise. At the same time though, please understand that I am NOT claiming to know better than anyone or have it all boxed off - I am well aware of my own lack of ability and knowledge. Rather, therefore, treat me as a ‘weaker brother’ as I will strive to do in return. Nevertheless, bear in mind that, having once held to limited atonement I am more familiar with the arguments than one who has not, which you might have imagined me to be, and will therefore not be so easily persuaded – unless, of course, some hidden presupposition of my own gets rooted out and shown to be unbiblical.

One other thing to bear in mind when a discussion turns to what others have said on this matter, as it already has, is that, in my experience, the very presuppositions I reject may lead people, unbeknown to them, to misread the authors I cite. To understand what others really said we have to do it on their own definition of terms, not what we think they must have said so that we can still reconcile it with our own beliefs. (yes, I realise I can make the same mistake but, again, remember that, since I am aware of the arguments of both sides, I can justifiably claim to say I am aware of more of the presuppositions and therefore likely to do this less).

To summarise, I hope I have demonstrated in this and the preceding post that I am self-aware enough not to be utterly deceived nor operating out of blind pride as may have been thought. Thus I hope you will see that I have not been ‘reining’ on people for their presuppositions whilst ignorant of my own – though I now realise it must have seemed that way. (of course, I’m not denying that I will still doubtless have some untested presuppositions of my own I’m just saying that I think I understand the ones that previously led me to believe in a strict “limited atonement”. Obviously yours may or may not be the same and that is exactly what I was trying to establish). Because I previously believed what I now reject, I do think I can say that the matter is more nuanced than you may currently understand and that there are more options than just black and white, Calvinist or Arminian (which I am most definitely NOT), etc. So, please reconsider more carefully what I have already posted trying to be more self-aware in terms of all the things I have said above and trying to expose and test in your own thinking:
- the definitions you attach to certain critical terms (such as atonement) compared to what has been posted
- the reasons why you see something I say having a certain logical conclusion

And let us all endeavour by faith to take captive those thoughts that lead us to try to find chinks in the others arguments and vindicate ourselves rather than examining things more objectively. I realise now that it might have helped if I had mentioned all this sooner. It probably made my frequent references to presuppositions appear as prideful so I am sorry I never thought of mentioning it sooner.

After thinking all these things through myself I can now say that I am happy to carry on the discussion if we can agree just to stick to the topics and questions at hand and keep personal comments and questions of motives out of it henceforth. I realise I helped create this situation in part by my claim to a natural reading which I now realise will seem arrogant unless and until my position is clearly understood so I withdraw that claim.

Oh, one other thing that might help is to know that I am English, which means I do use the ‘English’ language differently to you Americans (since we invented it :-) – anyway, feel free to blame on that what you will. :-)

Ok, this all ended up much longer than I expected. I hope some of it was of some use.
But above all, may nothing come between us as brothers and co-heirs in Christ and may God bless you richly in your studies and may grace, peace and joy in Christ Jesus be yours in abundance, for Christ’s sake and honour, to whom be all glory, honour and praise for evermore!

Gordan Runyan said...

Martin, thank you for your honesty and zeal. You are welcome here...until you really get under our skin. :)

Martin said...

Ok, so I thought I'd just try to deal with one idea at a time to keep it simple (for me at least!):

Just concentrating on 1 John 2:2 initially. Do you understand what I am saying about the use of a noun? It is speaking of Christ’s role as the only available propitiation for the whole world’s sins. (This speaks to the ‘sufficiency’ of Christ’s work for all). To say that Christ is the propitiation for the whole world is not the same as saying that God has actually been pacified towards every person in the world – after all, even the elect remain as children of wrath until they believe. Thus one doesn’t need to force a Jews vs. Gentiles reading on to it in order to achieve a restriction in the meaning of ‘world’. So, there is nothing in 1 John 2:2 that teaches “limited atonement” but neither is there anything that teaches universalism.

Hope that helps.

Strong Tower said...

Martin- If you will go back in my comments you will notice that I did not force an interpretation of Jews vs Gentiles, rather, immediate audience and the others as well. And the context is assurance through sanctification. Again, there is the contrast that is Jesus was the propitiation for sin, and not just ours but others, the power of the propitiation is sufficient for all the sin, from Adam's to ours and not just initial sanctification but full sanctification. This is John's view. We do not consider the propitiation to be limited in sufficiency, but in application. It is in the intent of application that the sufficiency is limited. We (I and see Rev's exposition) do not see it as limited is all its effects, which I have tried to make clear. What we are saying is that it had definite, actual propitiation only for the elect salvifically. There is no theoretical, potentiality to the atonement as it superintends in bringing those it was made for to salvation.

Further 1 John 2:2, as I explained earlier does not contain anything within it that necessitates the scope as being universal in sufficiency for salvation (sanctification) of anyone outside. In fact 1 John is clear as to what it is appealing, and that is the assurance of salvation and the full and perfect work of Christ on behalf of believers and no others, 1 John 1:7; 2:1; 2:28; 3:1-3; 4:4-6; 4:18; 5. I have listed these, but you could just read the whole book. The point is the contrast between the world that denies the sufficiency of Christ for the fullness of salvation, both our justification and sanctification. There were those within that went out, and their problem is not unlike that which Paul confronted in Peter and James, namely, that the blood of Christ was not sufficient for all sanctification but something must be added to it, like your will and obedience. To this effect John explodes that false teaching in comparison by making the blood of Christ more than just toward the individuals near, but to the entirety of the body of Christ; he says that, not only our sins but the sins of the whole world. This is like the tongue being a world of fire, its power set a small blaze without is the same as that which consumes everything within and vice versa. The sanctifying effects of the blood of Christ transcends the experience locally and is universally sufficient in the believer by the same power that makes it available to all believers. It is not bound by time and space, the depths or heights, nor the failings of men, for if anyone sins we have an advocate. To deny that we as individuals do have an advocate for all sins is to deny that Jesus' blood is sufficient. John takes the opportunity to say that this is not how the beliver should look at it. If it saves us it saves others and not just us, then its power within us knows no boundary, either.

Along with this was mentioned 1 Timothy 4:2. And, as I said 'especially believers' is an adjectival phrase. What this verse says is 'all very believing men'. Or to paraphrase, 'those who true believers'. It is exclusive, not inclusive. I make mention again just to show that the translations do not necessarily give us the correct nuance. 1 John 2:2 says that the propitiation is made for the whole world. The limit is inherent not in the extent of its effect but in the extent of who is the propitiation. That is, as I went to lengths to explain, there is no difference between the act, the actor, nor the object; the sacrificing, the sacrifice, the person for whom it is intended. It is by virtue of the blood that the Mercy Seat is santified, but the seat is one with the sacrifice for it is the blood that sits upon it. The seat is seal of the covenant and covers those who are sanctified by it. Christ's blood is not separate from him as you will note, it is both body and blood that atone, both bread and wine that must be consumed. We do not take it away from him but it is given to us to be in us, Him, who is the Life; and the blood is the Life, and it was He who was sanctified by it. The propitiatory sacrifice of atonement is only to those for whom it was shed, though the atonement purchases all things external also. That is, the kingdom is his and his rule also includes all creation. But, as far as the blood, it is not apart from him, for it sanctifies not other except the be in Him. Though it purchased all as the fulfillment of the covennant with the Father, what it means to be Mediator of the Covenant, it purchased at the time it was shed a particular people and no others. It was applied at the time of the sacrifice to all who would believe, and no others by fiat of being applied to Christ and Him alone. What we see is the working out of that through the preaching of the Gospel; those for whom the blood was shed are called into the kingdom.

In the end, the blood either secures salvation or it does not. If it secures salvation then those who are washed in it will as John says be cleansed because the propitiation knows no boundaries but is perfect in what it was intended to do.

Sorry again for the long post. But consider this. I have not spoken of but one thing, the noun, but the propitiation is not a thing, it is a person. As I said however, it is an error to put the blood beside Christ. Instead, Christ sanctified himself by his own blood. We take communion, not just the blood, but also the body. The Scripture is clear that the body of Christ is the whole world of believers who have lived or will live. Jesus in the Gospel of John, verse 17:19, said, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth." The rest of the chapter expounds that the sanctification is not for the world but only for those given to Jesus by the Father. Therefore we do not see the blood of Christ as the propitiation salvifically for the whole of humanity, in any way, but only for those in his body, he being the Seed, we being the fruit of his body. Or, we might say, the blood is the life of the body of believers, and does not extend beyond it. Also, John 6:53-54 iterates the fact that without the blood there is no body, and without the body there is no blood. Since the blood shed now resides in the church universal we see Christ risen with holes that do not bleed. This body cannot be killed again. The blood has been shed, the sacrifice made, the purchase price paid and the redeemed purchased. They now, his flesh and bone, his bride, have his life, his blood. Just as a man and a woman beget children who have the same blood (kind) so too the children of the kingdom share in that. John earlier has said of Jesus in dealing with Nicodemus, that it is those who are anothen gennao, born from above, who are of the kingdom. It is without exception that his sheep hear his voice because they are of the same kind, He is the lamb who is also sheperd of his own offspring, he the Firstfruit, we the firstfruits. I will stop belaboring this point. The blood of Christ is limited by the extent of his body for whom it was intended to give life. That life is forbidden to be given to any other; 'For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.' The blood was shed, and applied to Christ, and him alone, whose body we are, if in deed we abide in him.

Martin said...

In order to refute somebody it is of course necessary to understand their position and refute what they actually hold to rather than a straw man. I have been remembering how these ideas made little sense to me when I first encountered them and so I thought I’d try to post a little more info to help and ask some questions of my own. Differing starting presuppositions will inevitably lead to confusion and misunderstanding and this may, in part, be due even to different meanings being associated with some of the language used so I think we also need to define terms used.

We are discussing limited atonement. Some who hold this view argue that Christ in no sense died for any other than the elect. Such a view is easily refuted and that does not appear to be the position held here. The position that I think is held here is that, whilst there were multiple purposes/intents in the design of Christ’s sacrifice, the only salvific intent was with regard to the elect. If this be a fair summary then I would ask two things:
1. In offering up His Son as a sacrifice was there any sense in which you would say that God’s purposes in doing this were related to His will that the Gospel be preached to all and is a well-meant offer to all, as He says in Isa 45:22 “"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other”?
2. How do you define ‘limited atonement’ as it relates specifically to Christ’s death and what are the main (2 – 3?) scriptures that you think teach it?

It may also be worth re-stating that what is not at issue here is the question of who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation. All agree that only the Elect will savingly believe. Whatever we may believe was accomplished at the cross the redemption thereby procured will only be applied to those who were, according to God’s inscrutable will, predestined to receive it. Only the elect will be granted the gift of faith and be truly reconciled to God to whom all glory and honour is due. Furthermore, the elect are not chosen according to anything foreseen in man but only because God in love predestined those upon whom He chose to have mercy. Thus all ground for boasting is removed. Finally let it be clearly understood that in no way do I hold to what those who hold to ‘limited atonement’ would call ‘unlimited atonement’ or to ‘universal atonement’, ‘universal salvation’ nor even to what some call ‘hypothetical universalism’.

Now, returning to 1 John 2:2, some might argue that, since the scope of John’s audience is all believers and the context is to “console and encourage sinning believers”, as Dabney says, then it can only be believers whom he has in view when he extends Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the “whole world”. Some immediate observations we might make here are that firstly such a view doesn’t really do justice to the qualifier ‘whole’ and secondly we weren’t believers when John wrote that and the future tense is not being used. So, to conceive of 'propitiation' as referring to more than Christ's role, as I already pointed out that some do, would be stretching John's language when he wrote that Jesus “is the propitiation … for the sins of the whole world” to say that it refers to those who weren’t even born. But, more importantly, to argue that John is saying that He is the propitiation (in the sense that some are taking it) for those who will believe is really just another way of saying that John is speaking only of the elect - but this cannot be demonstrated directly from the text and its context. Of course the doctrine of election is clearly taught elsewhere in scripture and this might still be a valid inference. But, let us be clear here, to argue that, when John said ‘whole world’ he meant ‘all the elect in the whole world’ cannot be argued from the text alone but only by reference to the doctrine of election (which is clearly taught elsewhere in scripture). What needs to be understood is that such an interpretation proceeds on a misunderstanding as to what John means when he says that Christ is ‘the propitiation’ as I have tried to show.

Now before we look again at propitiation in 1 John 2:2, I think we should briefly consider the meaning of ‘whole world’ in a little more detail just in case some still think that it can be argued to be the elect from the text alone. Now the normal way is to derive meaning from context and usage. John nicely summarises his purpose for writing for us in v. 1a – so that believers would not sin – and, within this context, since this might then prompt some, conscious of recent sins, to be worried that they are deceived and their claim to fellowship with God is in fact a lie (1 John 1:6), his purpose in vv. 1b -2 seems to be, as Dabney says, to “console and encourage sinning believers” by reminding them that they need not fear God’s wrath since Jesus is our advocate (v1) and the propitiation for our sins (v2). In that context it could be argued that that alone should be sufficient consolation and encouragement for us but John then expands it to the ‘whole world’. Dabney’s interpretation therefore makes perfect sense that if Christ is the light of the world, the one and only provision God has made by which any man may be saved then “there is no danger that He will not be found a propitiation for them who, having already believed, now sincerely turn to him from recent sins””. Its an a fortiori argument, he argues from the greater to the smaller scope. Next we look briefly at the usage of the phrase “whole world”, 'holos kosmos’. It appears in only one other place in 1 John in v. 5:19 where it clearly refers to unbelievers as opposed to believers who are “of God”. This provides a useful point of comparison with 2:2 which likewise refers to both believers and then to unbelievers.

Now, I imagine that, by now, this may be provoking a strong reaction from some so it may be worth a reminder of my comment on the need for objectivity and self-awareness. The point I am making is simply that nothing within the context and usage of “whole world” in 1 John leads us to define it as anything other than the world of unbelievers. Any interpretation which restricts it must rely on importing theological concepts from elsewhere and/or an incorrect understanding of ‘propitiation’. We will consider the second reason shortly but as to the first, the objective observer who is able to step back from any emotional attachment to a particular position must surely concede this much. Now, I realise that such a reader may nevertheless argue that if that restricted reading can be supported from elsewhere in scripture then the ‘analogy of scripture’ could apply and we might then have just cause to limit “whole world”. But my purpose so far has just been to show that from context and usage alone we have no reason to think that “whole world” refers to anything other than the world of unbelievers. I know that may ‘set a few hares running’ for some but let’s just deal with it one step at a time. It is through jumping to erroneous conclusions about things I haven’t actually said based on what are thought to be the logical consequences of what I have said that there have been several misunderstandings already. So, can a restriction to ‘whole world’ be justly applied through the ‘analogy of scripture’? Obviously it would not be enough simply to argue that the word ‘world’ is restricted elsewhere, nor even that the phrase ‘whole world’ is restricted elsewhere, to have any force such a restriction would either have to come from John’s own writings or be clearly expressed in relation to the same topic, namely, that of Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. This cannot be done. Now, some might believe that it can but I maintain that this claim can only proceed on the basis of an incorrect understanding of the word ‘propitiation’ and it is to this that I shall now turn.

At this point we recall, as I said earlier, that propitiation, as a noun, does not speak directly of God being actually pacified (i.e. propitiated), only of Christ’s role as the means by which He may become pacified. Thus 1 John 2:2 is not saying that God has actually been propitiated or appeased for all the sins of the whole world, only that Christ is the one who was sacrificed to become the means by which God will be pacified towards any man who does believe. And we know that only the elect will believe and so we can agree that God will only actually be propitiated for the sins of the elect. I think that the problem for some may be that they conceive propitiation to be simply another word for atonement and think that it has power in itself. To make matters worse, many use the word atonement with a much broader meaning than its original intention.

Others may be more aware and know that whilst God’s wrath cannot be said to have been propitiated until we believe, yet they also know that this propitiation is necessary on account of our sins and may proceed only on the basis of Christ having expiated (covered or removed) our sins. That’s fine but it needs to be seen then that, to continue to limit ‘whole world’ in 1 John 2:”, must proceed on the assumption that Christ’s expiatory sacrifice is necessarily co-extensive with the scope of those who will believe. This moves us on to the next presupposition to be discussed but I think I have posted enough for now!

So, to summarise so far, it ought to at least be clear that to maintain that 1 John 2:2 is consistent with limited atonement requires ideas outside of the text to be imported, which may not necessarily in itself be wrong, but, included within those ideas is either a misunderstanding of propitiation which turns it into a verb which would mean that Christ must have actually propitiated for the sins of the whole world and/or an assumption that Christ, in making an expiatory sacrifice, only covered the sins of the elect and therefore that Christ could not in any sense be said to be the propitiation for those whom God has not elected, since no provision was made for them by which God could be pacified toward them. Hopefully I have made things clear enough by now that people can start to see their presuppositions and can start to think about the scriptural basis for them. In fact, it ought to be clear enough by now that this last option is the only one that remains at this point since context and usage have been ruled out and, by itself, the noun cannot be converted to an action that has taken place. But I realise this may be a lot to take in so feel free to mull it over for a while.

Grace and peace,

Strong Tower said...

it ought to at least be clear that to maintain that 1 John 2:2 is consistent with limited atonement requires ideas outside of the text to be imported

As you said, this context is about keeping oneself from sin, that is sanctification, and not salvation. So, it is your presuppositions, and not others that are being imported.

As I explained, but you simply reject out of hand, though the term is a noun, it is not alone, it must also include, not just what it does, but who it is, and what he has done. The propitiation is not simplistic as you make it to be to make your point.

You have failed to isolate the meaning because you have failed to remove the propitiation from the person of Christ. And, and for the final time, it is not some thing that is in a bucket that anyone might dip into and apply to themselves. It was applied to Christ and by that applied only to his body, the Church, an no others.

Martin said...

To continue, I will begin by expanding a little further on the concepts of atonement, expiation and propitiation. Many use atonement today to refer to all that is involved in redemption – from Christ’s death through to the reconciliation of an individual believer. However, this is not the original or true meaning. Atonement, literally at-one-ment, refers to our reconciliation with God. Expiation refers to Christ’s sacrifice by which our sins are covered and removed. Propitiation refers again to Christ’s sacrifice but this time in relation to God as the means by which he is pacified towards us on account of the sins which had separated us. Now of course all these terms are bound up with each other: there is no reconciliation without the problem of guilt being dealt with, justice being satisfied and God being pacified. And of course they are all the result of what Christ has done for us. Nevertheless these different concepts can be distinguished in scripture. Consequently we must take account of the different aspects of what is often collectively referred to as “atonement” to ensure we don’t confuse one aspect with another. Again this is not to say that each stands on its own independently, just rather that they bring out different emphases and concepts which are helpful for us to understand more of God’s glorious work of redemption on behalf of wilful sinners.

Now it is clear from scripture that Christ suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust, and that, by this, God was satisfied. Also we see that His justice was satisfied and vindicated before man, as it can be seen as the reason why He had left former sins unpunished and indeed is the reason why He continues to do so. Consequently even the unbelieving are benefitting from this stay-of-execution so-to-speak. Yet, even the elect remain as children of wrath until they believe. Though God has accepted Christ’s finished work on the cross and exalted Him to the highest place, yet it avails no man savingly until he believes. The unbelieving sinner remains estranged from God until they believe and only then may they be said to have been reconciled to God, at one with Him. Thus we can only say that God has been truly pacified when the repentant sinner, enabled solely by Gods’ grace, turns to Him and trusts in Christ. God, in turn, embraces Him and makes Him to know the joy of this reconciliation. Now, this is not to say that they are not connected, but nevertheless, we must guard against losing this distinction between what Christ did two thousand years ago and what happens when any one individual believes. Otherwise we can end up with that hyper-calvinistic doctrine whereby the elect are said to have been justified at the cross which renders faith irrelevant to salvation.

More to follow (but hopefully nothing controversial so far?) :-)