by William Cunningham
We proceed not to the third and last devision,—namely, the consideration of the peculiar views, in regard to the atonement, of those divines who profess to hold Calvinistic doctrines upon other points, but on this concur with, or approximate to, the views of the Arminians; and this, of course, leads us to examine the subject of the extent of the atonement,—a topic which is much discussed among theologians in the present day, and is, on this account, as well as from its own nature and bearings, possessed of much interest and importance.
There are now, and for more than two centuries,—that is, since the time of Cameron, a Scotehman, who became Professor of Theology in the Protestant Church of France,—there have always been, theologians, and some of them men of well-merited eminence, who have held the Calvinistic doctrines of the entire depravity of human nature, and of God's unconditional election of some men from eternity to everlasting life, but who have also maintained the universality of the atonement,—the doctrine that Christ died for all men, and not for those only who are ultimately saved. As some men have agreed with Arminians in holding the universality of the atonement who were Calvinists in all other respects, and as a considerable appearance of Scripture evidence can be produced for the doctrine that Christ died for all men, it has been generally supposed that the doctrine of particular redemption, as it is often called, or of a limited atonement, from the weak point of the Calvinistic system,—that which can with most plausibility be assailed, and can with most difficulty be defended. Now, this impression has some foundation. There is none of the Arminian doctrines, in favour of which so much appearance of Scripture evidence can be adduced, as that of the universality of the atonement; and if Arminians could really prove that Christ died for the salvation of all men, then the argument which, as I formerly intimated, they commonly deduce from this doctrine, in opposition to the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, could not, taken by itself, be easily answered. It is evident, however, on the other side, that if the Arminian doctrine of the universality of the atonement can be disproved, when tried upon its own direct and proper grounds and evidences, without founding upon its apparent inconsistency with the other doctrines of the Calvinistic system, then not only is one important principle established, which has been held by most Calvinists,—that, namely, of a limited atonement, that is, of an atonement limited as to its destination or intended objects,—but great additional strength is given to the general body of the evidence in support of Calvinism.
This is the aspect in which the arrangement we have followed leads us to examine it. Looking merely at the advantage of controversial impression, it would not be the most expedient course to enter upon the Arminian controversy, as we are doing, through the discussion of the extent of the atonement, since Arminians can adduce a good deal that is plausible in support of its universality, and found a strong argument against Calvinistic predestination on the assumption of its universality,—considerations which would suggest the policy of first establishing some of the other doctrines of Calvinism against the Arminians, and then employing these doctrines, already established, to confirm the direct and proper evidence against a universal, and in favour of a limited, atonement. But since we have been led to consider the subject of an atonement in general, in opposition to the Socinians, we have thought it better to continue, without interruption, the investigation of this subject until we finish it, although it does carry us into the Arminian controversy, at the point where Arminianism seems to be strongest. We have though it better to do this than to return to the subject of the extent of the atonement, after discussing some of the other doctrines controverted between the Calvinists and the Arminians. And we have had the less hesitation about following out this order, for these reasons: first, because we are not afraid to encounter the Arminian doctrine of a universal atonement, upon the ground of its own direct and proper evidence, without calling in the assistance that might be derived from the previous proof of the other doctrines of Calvinism; secondly, because the examination of the whole subject of the atonement at once enables us to bring out more fully the principle, which we reckon of fundamental importance upon this whole question,—namely, that the nature of the atonement settles or determines its extent; and, thirdly, because, if it can be really shown, as we have no doubt it can, that the Scripture view of the nature, and immediate object and effect, of the atonement, disproves its universality, then we have, in this way, what is commonly reckoned the weakest part of the Calvinistic system conclusively established, on its own direct and proper evidence; and established, moreover, by the force of all the arguments which have been generally employed not only by Calvinists, but by the sounder or un-Socinianized Arminians, in disputing with the Socinians on the truth and reality of an atonement.
In proceeding now to advert to the subject of the extent of the atonement, as a distinct, independent topic, we shall first explain the doctrine which has been generally held upon this subject by Calvinists, commonly called the doctrine of particular redemption, or that of a limited or definite atonement; and then, secondly, advert to the differences between the doctine of universal or unlimited atonement or redemption, as held by Arminians, and as held by those who profess Calvinistic doctrines upon other points.
The question as to the extent of the atonement, is commonly and popularly represented as amounting in substance to this: Whether Christ died for all men, or only for the elect,—for those who ultimately believe and are saved? But this state of the question does not bring out the true nature of the point in dispute with sufficient fulness, accuracy, and precision. And, accordingly, we find that neither in the canons of the Synod of Dort, nor in our Confession of Faith,—which are commonly reckoned the most important and authoritative expositions of Calvinism,—is there any formal or explicit deliverance given upon the question as stated in this way, and in these terms. Arminians, and other defenders of a universal atonement, are generally partial of this mode of stating it, because it seems most readily and obviously to give to their doctrine the sanction and protection of certain scriptural statements,—which look like a direct assertion,—but are not,—that Christ died for all men; and because there are some ambiguities about the meaning of the expressions, of which they usually avail themselves. I have no doubt that the controversy about the extent of the atonement is substantially decided in our Confession, through no formal deliverance is given upon the precise question, whether Christ died for all men, or only for the elect; and it may tend to bring out clearly the true state of the question, as well as contribute to the subsidiary, but still important, object of assisting to determine what is the doctrine of our Confession upon this subject, if we advert to the statements it contains regarding it, and the manner in which it gives its deliverance upon it. We have already had occasion to quote, incidentally, the principal declarations of the Confession upon this subject, in explaining the peculiar views of the Arminians, with regard to the atonement in general; but it may be proper now to examine them somewhat more fully. They are chiefly the following:* "They who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only."
There are two questions which may be, and, indeed, have been, started with respect to the meaning of these words; attempts having been made to show that they do not contradict or exclude the doctrine of a universal atonement, as it has been sometimes held by Calvinists. The first question is as to the import of the word "redeemed;" and it turns upon this point,—Does the word describe merely the impetration or purchase of pardon and reconciliation for men by the death of Christ? or does it comprehend the application as well as the impetration? If it be understood in the first or more limited sense, as descriptive only of the impetration or purchase, then, of course, the statement of the Confession clearly asserts a definite or limited atonement,—comprehending as its objects those only who, in fact, receive all other spiritual blessing, and are ultimately saved; whereas, if it included the application as well asthe impetration, the statement might consist with the universality of the atonement, as it is not contended, even by Arminians, that, in this wide sense, any are redeemed by Christ, except those who ultimately believe and are saved. Indeed, one of the principal uses to which the Arminians commonly apply the distinction between impetration and application, as they explain it, is this,—that they interpret the scriptural statements which seem to speak of all men as comprehended in the objects of Christ's death, of the impetration of pardon and reconciliation for them; and interpret those passages which seem to indicate some limitation in the objects of His dying, of the application of those blessings to men individually. Now, it seems very manifest that the word "redeemed" is to be taken here in the first, or more limited sense—as descriptive only of the impetration or purchase of pardon and reconciliation; because there is a distinct enumeration of all the leading steps in the great process which, originating in God's eternal, absolute election of some men, terminates in their complete salvation,—their redemption by Christ being evidently, from the whole structure of the statement, not comprehensive of, but distinguished from, their vocation and justification, which constitute the application of the blessing of redemption,—the benefits which Christ purchased.
The second question to which I referred, applies only to the last clause quoted,—namely, "neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only." Here it has been made a question, whether the concluding restriction, to "the elect only," applies to each of the preceding predicates, "redeemed," "called," "justified," etc., singly and separately, or only to the whole of them taken collectively; that is, whether it be intended to be here asserted that not any one of these things, such as "redeemed," can be predicated of any but the elect only, or merely that the whole of them, taken in conjunction, cannot be predicated of any others. The latter interpretation,—namely, that there are none but the elect of whom the whole collectively can be predicated,—would make the declaration a mere truism, serving no purpose, and really giving no deliverance upon anything, although the repetition of the general statement about the consequences of election, or the execution of God's eternal decree, in a negative form, was manifestly intended to be peculiarly emphatic, and to contain a denial of an error reckoned important. The Confession, therefore, must be regarded as teaching, that it is not true of any but the elect only, that they are redeemed by Christ, any more than it is true that any others are called, justified, or saved. Here I may remark by the way, that though many modern defenders of a universal atonement regard the word redemption as including the application as well as the impetration of pardon and reconciliation,—and, in this sense, disclaim the doctrine of universal redemption,—yet a different phraseology was commonly used in theological discussions about the period at which the Confession was prepared, and in the seventeenth century generally. Then the defenders of a universal atonement generally maintained, without any hesitation, the doctrine of universal redemption,—using the word, of course, to describe only the impetration, and not the application, of spiritual and saving blessings; and this holds true, both of those who admitted, and of those who denied, the Calvinistic doctrine of election. Of the first of these cases (the Calvinists) we have an instance in Richard Baxter's work, which he entitled, "Universal Redemption of Mankind by the Lord Jesus Christ;" and of the second (the Arminians) in Dr Isaac Barrow's sermons, entitled, "The Doctrine of Universal Redemption Asserted and Explained."
The other leading statements upon this subject in the Confession, are those which we have already had occasion to quote from the eighth chapter, secs. 5, 8: "The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the Eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him;" and again: "To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption" (that is, pardon and reconciliation), "He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them; and revealing into them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by His Spirit to believe and obey," etc. Now, this latter statement, as I formerly intimated, contains, and was intended to contain, the true status quaestionis in the controversy about the extent of the atonement. It is to be explained by a reference to the mode of conducting this controversy, between the Calvinists and Arminians, about the time of the Synod of Dort, and also to the mode of conducting the controversy excited in France by Cameron,* and afterwards carried on by Amyraldus in France and Holland, and by Baxter in England. The fundamental position of all who had advocated the doctrine of atonement against the Socinians, but had also maintained that it was universal or unlimited, was—that Christ, by His sufferings and death, purchased pardon and reconciliation for all men, without distinction or exception; but that these blessings are applied or communicated to, and, of course, are actually enjoyed by, those only who came, from whatever cause, to repent and believe. This, of course, is the only sense in which the doctrine of universal atonement, or redemption, could be held by any who did not believe in the doctrine of universal salvation. And the assertion or denial of this must, from the nature of the case, form the substance of the controversy about the extent of the atonement, whatever diversity of phrascology may be, at different times, employed in discussing it.
The doctrine of a universal atonement necessarily implies, not only that God desired and intended that all men should be benefited by Christ's death,—for this, in some sense, is universally admitted,—but that, in its special and peculiar character as an atonement,—that is, as a penal infliction, as a ransom price,—it should effect something bearing favourably upon their spiritual welfare. This could be only by its purchasing for all men the pardon of their sins and reconciliation with God, which the Scripture plainly represents as the proper and direct results or effects of Christ's death. The advocates of this doctrine accordingly say; that He impetrated or purchased these blessings for all men; and as many are never actually pardoned and reconciled, they are under the necessity, as I formerly explained, because they hold a universal atonement, both of explaining away pardon and reconciliation as meaning merely the removal of legal obstacles, or the opening up of a door, for God's bestowing these blessings, and of maintaining that these blessings are impetrated for many to whom they are never applied. Now this, of course, is the position which the statement in the Confession was intended to contradict, by asserting that impetration and application, though distinct, are co-extensive, and are never, in fact, separated,—that all for whom these blessings were ever designed or procured, do certainly receive them; or, conversely, that they were not designed, or procured, for any except those who ultimately partake of them. This, then, is the from in which the controversy about the extent of the atonement is stated and decided in our Confession of Faith; and, whatever differences of phraseology may have been introduced into the discussion of this subject in more modern times, it is always useful to ræur to this mode of stating the question, as fitted to explain the true nature of the points involved in it, and to suggest clear conceptions of the real import of the different topics adduced upon both sides. Those who are usually represented as holding the doctrine of particular redemption, or limited atonement,—as teaching that Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect,—contend for nothing more than this, and cannot be shown to be under any obligation, in point of consistency, to contend for more,—namely, that, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; and all who take the opposite side, and maintain that Christ died for all men,—that His atonement was universal or unlimited,—can, without difficulty, be proved to maintain, or to be bound in consistency to maintain,—if they really admit an atonement at all, and, at the same time, deny universal salvation,—that He purchased redemption—that is, pardon and reconciliation—for many to whom they are never applied, who never are put in possession of them.
We would now make two to three observations, suggested by this account of the state of the question. First, the advocates of a limited or definite atonement do not deny, but maintain, the infinite intrinsie sufficiency of Christ's satisfaction and merits. They regard His sufferings and death as possessed of value, or worth, sufficient to have purchased pardon and reconciliation for the whole race of fallen man. The value or worth of His sacrifice of Himself depends upon, and is measured by, the dignity of His person, and is therefore infinite. Though many fewer of the human race had been to be pardoned and saved, an atonement of infinite value would have been necessary, in order to procure for them these blessings; and though many more, yea, all men, had been to be pardoned and saved, the death of Christ, being an atonement of infinite value, would have been amply sufficient, as the ground or basis of their forgiveness or salvation. We know nothing of the amount or extent of Christ's sufferings in themselves. Scripture tells us only of their relation to the law, in compliance with the provision of which they were inflicted and endured. This implies their infinity, in respect of intrinsic legal worth or value; and this, again, implies their full intrinsic sufficiency for the redemption of all men, if God had intended to redeem and save them. There have been some Calvinists who have contended that Christ's sufferings were just as much, in amount or extent, as were sufficient for redeeming, or paying the ransom price of, the elect,—of those who are actually saved: so that, if more men had been to be pardoned and saved, Christ must have suffered more than He did, and if fewer, less. But those who have held this view have been very few in number, and of no great weight or influence. The opinion, however, is one which the advocates of universal atonement are fond of adducing and refuting, because it is easy to refute it; and because this is fitted to convey the impression that the advocates of a limited atonement in general hold this, or something like it, and thus to insinuate an unfavourable idea of the doctrine. There is no doubt that all the most emiuent Calvinistic divines hold the infinite worth or value of Christ's atonement,—its full sufficiency for expiating all the sins of all men.
A distinction was generally employed by the schoolmen, which has been often adverted to in this discussion, and which it may be proper to explain. They were accustomed to say, that Christ died sufficiently for all men, and efficaciously for the elect,—sufficienter pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis. Some orthodox divines, who wrote before the extent of the atonement had been made the subject of full, formal, and elaborate discussion,—and Calvin himself among the rest,—admitted the truth of this scholastic position. But after controversy had thrown its full light upon the subject, orthodox divines generally refused to adopt this mode of stating the point, because it seemed to ascribe to Christ a purpose or intention of dying in the room of all, and of benefiting all by the proper effects of His death, as an atonement or propitiation; not that they doubted or denied the intrinsic sufficiency of His death for the redemption of all men, but because the statement—whether originally so intended or not—was so expressed as to suggest the idea, that Christ, in dying, desired and intended that all men should partake in the proper and peculiar effects of the shedding of His blood. Calvinists do not object to say that the death of Christ—viewed objectively, apart from His purpose or design—was sufficient for all, and efficacious for the elect, because this statement in the first clause merely asserts its infinite intrinsic sufficiency, which they admit; whereas the original scholastic form of the statement,—namely, that He died sufficiently for all,—seems to indicate that, when He died, He intended that all should derive some saving and permanent benefit from His death. The attempt made by some defenders of universal atonement to prove, that a denial of the universality of the atonement necessarily implies a denial of its universal intrinsic sufficiency, has nothing to do with the settlement of the state of the question, but only with the arguments by which the opposite side may be defended; and, therefore, I need not advert to it.
Secondly, It is not denied by the advocates of particular redemption, or of a limited atonement, that mankind in general, even those who ultimately perish, do derive some advantages or benefits from Christ's death; and no position they hold requires them to deny this. They believe that important benefits have accrued to the whole human race from the death of Christ, and that in these benefits those who are finally impenitent and unbelieving partake. What they deny is, that Christ intended to procure, or did procure, for all men those blessings which are the proper and peculiar fruits of His death, in its specific character as an atonement,—that He procured or purchased redemption—that is, pardon and reconciliation—for all men. Many blessings flow to mankind at large from the death of Christ, collaterally and incidentally, in consequence of the relation in which men, viewed collectively, stand to each other. All these benefits were, of course, foreseen by God, when He resolved to send His son into the world; they were contemplated or designed by Him, as what men should receive and enjoy. They are to be regarded and received as bestowed by Him, and as thus unfolding His glory, indicating His character, and actually accomplishing His purposes; and they are to be viewed as coming to men through the channel of Christ's mediation,—of His sufferings and death.*
The truth of this position has been considered as affording some warrant for saying, in a vague and indefinite sense, that Christ died for all men; and in this sense, and on this account, some Calvinists have scrupled about meeting the position that Christ died for all men with a direct negative, as if they might thus be understood as denying that there was any sense in which all men derived benefit, from Christ's death. But this position does not at all correspond with the proper import of what Scripture means when it tells us that Christ died for men. This, as we prove against the Socinians, implies that He substituted Himself in their room and stead, that He put Himself in their legal position, that He made satisfaction to God's justice for their sins, or that He purchased redemption for them; and this, we contend, does not hold true of any but those who are actually at length pardoned and saved. The advocates of universal atonement, then, have no right to change us with teaching that none derive any benefit from Christ's death except those who are pardoned and saved; we do not teach this, and we are not bound in consistency to teach it. We teach the opposite of this; and we are not deterred from doing so by the fear lest we should thereby afford to those who are opposed to us a medium for proving that, in the proper scriptural sense, He died for all men, or that the leading and peculiar benefits which His death procured for men,—the benefits of salvation,—were designed or intended for all mankind.
There is no very material difference between the state of the question with respect to the extent of the atonement,—and to that at present we confine our attention,—accordingly as its universality is maintained by Arminians, or by those who hold Calvinistic doctrines upon other points. The leading distinction is, that the Calvinistic universalists are obliged to practise more caution in their declarations upon some points, and to deal somewhat more in vague and ambiguous generalities than the Arminians, in order to avoid as much as possible the appearance of contradicting or renouncing, by what they say upon this subject, their professed Calvinism upon other topics.
As the controversy with regard to the extent of the atonement does not turn,—though many of the universalists would fain have it so,—upon the question of the infinite sufficiency of Christ's sufferings and merits, it must turn upon the question of the purpose, design, or intention of God in inflicting sufferings and death upon His Son, and of Christ in voluntarily submitting to them. Universal atonement thus indicates and proves the existence, on the part of God and Christ, of a purpose, design, or intention, in some sense or other, to save all men. And for the Calvinistic universalists to assert the existence of such a purpose, design, or intention,—in combination and in consistency with the doctrine that God has from eternity elected some men to everlasting life, and determined to save them,—requires the introduction of a good deal of confusion and ambiguity into their mode of stating and arguing the case. They cannot say, with the Arminians, that Christ died equally for all men; for they cannot dispute that God's special purpose of grace in regard to the elect,—which Arminians, deny, but they admit,—must have, in some sense and to some extent, regulated or influenced the whole of the process by which God's purpose was accomplished,—by which His decree of election was executed. They accordingly contend for a general design or purpose of God and Christ—indicated by the alleged universality of the atonement—to save all men; and a special design or purpose—indicated by the specialty of the bestowal of that faith (which they admit—which the Arminians, practically at least, deny—to be God's gift)—to save only the elect. But this, again, belongs rather to the argument of the case than to the state of the question. The substance of the matter is, that they concur with the Arminians in denying the great truth laid down in our Confession of Faith, that redemption,—that is, pardon and reconciliation,—are actually applied and communicated to all for whom they were procured or purchased; and, to a large extent, they employ the very same arguments in order to defend their position.
It may be worth while briefly to advert to one of the particular forms in which, in our own day, the state of the question has been exhibited by some of the Calvinistic universalists. It is that of asserting what they call a general and a special reference of Christ's death,—a general reference which it has to all men, and a special reference which it has to the elect. This is manifestly a very vague and ambiguous distinction, which may mean almost anything or nothing, and is, therefore, very well adapted to a transition state of things when men are passing from comparative orthodoxy on this subject into deeper and more important error. This general reference of Christ's death,—its reference to all men,—may mean merely, that, in consequence of Christ's death, certain benefits or advantages flow to mankind at large, and in this sense it is admitted by those who hold the doctrine of particular redemption; or it may describe the proper Arminian doctrine of universal or unlimited atonement; or, lastly, it may indicate anything or everything that may be supposed to lie between these two views. It cannot, therefore, be accepted as a true and fair account of the state of the question about the extent of the atonement, as discussed between Calvinists, and may not unreasonably be regarded with some jealousy and suspicion, as at least fitted, if not intended, to involve the true state of the question in darkness or ambiguity. The universality of the atonement had been defended before our Confession of Faith was prepared, by abler and more learned men,—both Calvinists and Arminians,—than any who in modern times have undertaken the same cause. The authors of the confession were thoroughly versant in these discussions; and it will be found, upon full study and investigation, that whatever variety of forms either the state of the question, or the arguments adduced on both sides, may have assumed in more modern discussion, the whole substance and merits of the case are involved in, and can be most fairly and fully discussed by, the examination of their position,—namely, that "to all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same. "This position proceeds upon the assumption that He purchased redemption for men. The truth of this assumption is involved in the establishment of the doctrine of the atonement,—of Christ's death being a ransom price,—in opposition to the Socinians, and must be admitted by all, unless, while professedly holding the doctrine of the atonement, they virtually sink down to Socinianism, by explaining it entirely away. And this being assumed, the position asserts, that all for whom redemption was purchased, have it applied or communicated to them; and that, of course, Christ died for the purpose, and with the intention, of procuring or purchasing pardon and reconciliation only for those who ultimately receive them, when they repent and believe.
IX.—Evidence as to the Extent of the Atonement
I do not intend to enter here into anything like a full investigation of the scriptural evidence upon the subject of the extent of the atonement. I can only make a few observations upon some of the points involved in it,—suggesting some of the things that ought to be kept in view in the study of the subject; and in doing so, I need not hesitate, from any fear of being misunderstood, after the full explanations I have given about the true state of the question, to use, for the sake of brevity and convenience, the expressions, universal and limited atonement,—universal and particular redemption,—and Christ's dying for all men, or only for the elect.
The advocates of universal atonement confidently aver that this doctrine is clearly and explicitly taught in Scripture,—so clearly and explicitly, that it is to be taken as a first principle, and ought to regulate and control the interpretation and application of other passages which may seem inconsistent with it; and they appeal, in support of this position, to those scriptural statements which speak of Christ's dying or making propitiation for all,—for the world, the whole world,—and even, it is alleged, for some who do, or may, ultimately perish. We contend that these statements do not necessarily, or even naturally, bear the construction which our opponents put upon them; and that there are other scriptural statements which clearly indicate a limitation as to the persons whose spiritual welfare,—whose actual possession and enjoyment of any spiritual blessings,—was contemplated or intended by the death of Christ, or by Christ in dying. Our opponents, of course, profess to show that these statements may be all interpreted in accordance with their doctrine of the universality of the atonement. We profess to be able to assign good reasons why a language of a general, indefinite, or unlimited signification should have been employed in speaking of the objects and effects of Christ's death, while no full and proper universality was intended; and they profess to be able to assign good reasons why, in some cases, some limitation should be indicated, while yet there was no intention of denying that Christ died for all men,—that is, for all the individuals of the human race, pro omnibus et singulis. This is a general description of the way in which the controversy is conducted by the opposite parties, in the investigation of the scriptural evidence bearing more directly and immediately upon the subject of the extent of the atonement. It may be said to comprehend three leading departments: First, The investigation of the exact meaning and import of the principal passages adduced in support of the two opposite doctrines, especially with the view of ascertaining whether we can lay hold of any one position upon the subject which is distinct and definite, and does not admit, without great and unwarrantable straining, of being explained away, and which may therefore be regarded as a fixed point,—a regulating principle,—of interpretation. Secondly, The comparative facility and fairness with which the passages adduced on the opposite side may be explained, so as to be consistent with the position maintained; it being, of course, a strong argument in favour of the truth of any doctrine, that the passages adduced against it can be shown to be consistent with it, without its being necessary to have recourse to so much force and straining as are required in order to make the opposite doctrine appear to be consistent with the passages that are adduced against it. Thirdly, The investigation of the question, which doctrine is most consistent with a combined and harmonious interpretation of all the passages bearing upon the subject,—which of them most fully and readily suggests, or admits of, the laying down of general positions, that, when combined together, embrace and exhaust the whole of the information given us in Scripture regarding it.
Now, I believe that under each of these three heads it can be, and has been, shown, that the doctrine of a definite or limited atonement,—limited, that is, as to its destination and intended objects,—has a decided superiority over the opposite one, and is therefore to be received as the true doctrine of Scripture. It has a clearer and firmer support in particular statements of Scripture, that do not, plausibly or fairly, admit of being explained away. More obvious and satisfactory reasons can be assigned why indefinite and general language should be employed upon the subject, without its being intended to express absolute universality,—to include the whole human race, and all the individuals who compose it,—than can be adduced in explanation of language which indicates a limitation, if Christ died for all men. And, lastly, it is easier to present a combined and harmonious view of the whole information given us in Scripture upon the subject, if the doctrine of a limited or definite atonement be maintained, than if it be denied.
The materials of the first of these divisions consist exclusively of the examination of the meaning and import of particular text; and this is the basis and foundation of the whole argument. A very admirable and masterly summary of the direct scriptural evidence will be found in the first part of Dr candlish's recently published book on the atonement. I shall only make a few observations upon the topics comprehended in the other two heads.
No scriptural statements are, or even appear to be, inconsistent with the doctrine of a limited atonement, which merely assert or imply that Christ's sufferings were sufficient, in point of intrinsic worth and value, for the redemption of the whole human race; or that all men do, in fact, derive some benefits or advantages from Christ's death, and that God intended that they should enjoy these. We have already shown, in explaining the state of this question, that the advocates of a limited atonement do not deny, and are under no obligation in point of consistency to deny, these positions. Neither is it inconsistent with our doctrine, that God's sending, or giving, His Son should be represented as resulting from, and indicating, love to the world or to mankind in general,—φιλανθρωπια. If God intended that all men should derive some benefits and advantages from Christ's mediation, this may be regarded as indicating, in some sense, love or kindness to the human race in general, though He did not design or intend giving His Son to save every individual of the human family, or to do anything directed to that object. There is another race of fallen creatures under God's moral government, for whose salvation,—for the salvation of any of whom,—He made no provision. And God may be truly said to have loved the world, or the human race, or the family of man, as distinguished from, or to the exclusion of, the fallen angels; and as the result of this love, to have sent His Son, although He had no purpose of, and made no provision for, saving them all. On the other hand, it should be remembered, that Christ's dying for all men necessarily implies that God loved all men individually, and loved them so as to have, in some sense, desired and intended to save them; and that everything which proves that God did not desire and intend to save all men, equally proves that Christ did not die for them all; and that everything which must be taken in, to limit or modify the position that God desired and intended, or purposed, the salvation of all men, must equally limit or modify the position that Christ died for all. The scriptural evidence of these two positions is usually produced indiscriminately by the advocates of universal atonement, as equally proving their doctrine. And if, on the one hand, they afford each other some mutual countenance and support, so, on the other, they must be burdened with each other's difficulties, and must be both exposed to the explanations or modifications which each or either may suggest or require.
A favourite passage of our opponents is, "Who will have all men to he saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;" and again, "Who gave Himself a ransom for all."* Now, independently altogether of the clear evidence which the context furnishes—that the "all men" must mean men of all sorts, without any distinction of kinds or classes, and not all men, the whole human race, singly and individually,—it is plain that God will have all men to be saved, in the same sense, and with the same limitations and modifications, under which Christ gave Himself a ransom for all, and vice versa. And it is further evident, that God will have all men to be saved, in the same sense, and to the same extent only, in which "He will have all men to come to the knowledge of the truth." Now, we know that God does not, in any strict and proper sense, will all men (omnes et singulos) to come to the knowledge of the truth, though He has imposed upon all men who hear the truth an obligation to receive it; and it is proof sufficient that He does not will all men,—that is, understanding thereby all the individuals of the human, race,—to come to the knowledge of the truth, that there are, and have always been, very many of the human race from whom He has withheld the means and the opportunity of knowing it. And from all this taken together, it plainly follow, that these statements contain no warrant whatever for the doctrine, that God desired and intended the salvation of all the individuals of our race, or that Christ gave Himself a ransom for them all.
There is one great and manifest advantage which the doctrine of a limited atonement possesses over the opposite doctrine, viewed with reference to the comparative facility with which the language of Scripture can be interpreted, so as to accord with it; and this is, that it is much more easy to understand and explain how, in accordance with the ordinary sentiments and practice of men, general or indefinite language may have been employed, when strict and proper universality was not meant, than to explain why limited or definite language should ever have been employed, if there was really no limitation in the object or destination of the atonement. The fair principle of interpretation is, to make the definite and limited statements the standard for explaining the general and indefinite ones, and not the reverse; especially as Scripture furnishes many examples in which all the unlimited expressions that are applied to the death of Christ, viewed in relation to its objects,—the world, the whole world, all, every, etc.,—are used, when no proper and absolute, but merely a relative or comparative, universality was intended.
In addition, however, to this general consideration, which is evidently of great weight and importance, the defenders of a limited atonement assert, and undertake to prove, not only that there are scriptural statements which cannot, by any fair process of interpretation, be reconciled with the doctrine of universal atonement, but also, that in all the passages in which Christ is spoken of as dying for the world, or fur all, there is something in the passage or context which affords sufficient evidence that the all is not to be understood literally and absolutely as applicable to each and every individual of the human race, but with some restriction or limitation, according to the nature and relations of the subject treated of, or the particular object for which the statement is made. This position is thus expressed by Turretine in his chapter on the object of Christ's satisfaction:* "Nuspiam Christus dicitur in Scriptura pro omnibus mortuns, quin ibidem addatur limitatio, ex quâ colligitur hoc non universaliter, de omnibus et singulis esse intelligendum, sed restricte pro subjectâ materiâ." And though this position may, at first sight, seem a bold and startling one, I have no doubt it can be established by an examination of ALL the particular passages referred to; and I have always regarded the ease and certainty with which, in most cases, this limitation can be pointed out and proved, and the fair and reasonable evidence that can be adduced of it, in all cases as affording a very strong general corroboration of the truth of our doctrine. In many of these general and unlimited statements, the object is manifestly to indicate merely that those for whom Christ died are not confined to any one nation, class, or description of men,—the world, or the whole world, evidently meaning mankind at large, Gentiles as well as Jews,—a truth which it was then peculiarly necessary to enforce, and to bring out in the fullest and strongest terms, in consequence of the abuse made of the selection of the Jews as God's peculiar people. In not a few, a limitation is plainly indicated in the context as implied in the nature, relations, or characteristics of the of the general subject treated of; and, in several instances, a careful examination of passages which, when superficially considered and judged of merely by the sound, seem to favour the idea of a universal atonement, not only shows that they afford it no real countenance, but furnishes strong presumptions, if not positive proofs, against it. I am persuaded that most men who had not examined the subject with care, and had had pressed upon their attention the collection of texts usually adduced by the defenders of a universal atonement, would be somewhat surprised to find how quickly they evaporated before even a cursory investigation; and how very small was the residuum that really involved any serious difficulty, or required anything like straining to bring out of them a meaning that was perfectly consistent with the doctrine of particular redemption.
The case is widely different with the attempt of our opponents to harmonize with their views the passages on which our doctrine is more immediately founded. The more carefully they are examined, the more clearly will they be seen to carry ineradicable the idea of a limitation in the purpose or destination of the atonement, and of a firmly established and indissoluble connection between Christ's dying for men, and these men actually enjoying, in consequence, all spiritual blessings, and attaining ultimately to eternal salvation. And then, on the other hand, the attempts of our opponents to explain them, so as to make them consistent with the doctrine of universal atonement, are wholly unsuccessful. These attempts are commonly based, not on an examination of the particular passages themselves, or anything in their context and general scope, but upon mere indefinite and far-fetched considerations, which are not themselves sufficiently established to afford satisfactory solutions of other difficulties. Arminians commonly consider the passages which seem to indicate a limitation in the object of the atonement, as referring to the application, as distinguished and separated from the impetration or purchase of the blessings of redemption; while Calvinistic universalists usually regard them as referring to God's special design to secure the salvation of the elect, which they hold in combination with an alleged design or purpose to do something by means of a universal atonement, directed to the salvation of all men.
Now, independently of the consideration that these views of the two different classes of universalists are not themselves proved to be true, and cannot therefore be legitimately applied in this way, their application of them in this matter is liable to this fatal abjection, that in Scripture it is the very same things which are predicated of men, both with and without a limitation. The state of the case, is, not that the indications of limitation are exhibited when it is the application, and the indications of universality when it is the impetration, of spiritual blessings that is spoken of; nor, the one, when something peculiar to the elect, and other, when something common to mankind in general, is described. It is the same love of God to men, the same death of Christ, and the same ransom price paid for men, that are connected both with the limited and the unlimited phraseology. God loved the world, and Christ loved His church; Christ died for all, and He died for His sheep; He gave Himself a ransom for all, and He gave Himself a ransom for for many; and there is no warrant whatever for alleging that, in the one case, the love, and the death, and the ransom are descriptive of totally different things from what they describe in the other. The very same things are predicated of the two classes, the all and the sheep, the all and the many; and, therefore, the fair inference is, that they are not really two different classes, but one and the same class, somewhat differently described, and, of course, regarded under somewhat different aspects. The universalists, whether Arminians or Calvinists, do not predicate the same, but different things, of the two classes,—the all and the sleep, the all and the many,—while the Scripture predicates the same, and not different things, of both; and this consideration not only refutes the method of combining and harmonizing the various scriptural statements upon this subject adopted by our opponents, but shows the soundness and sufficiency of that which we propose. We say that Christ died, and gave His life a ransom for some men only,—those whom the Father had given Him; and not for all men,—that is, not for all the individuals of the human race, without exception,—but that those for whom He died are indeed all men, or mankind in general, without distinction of age or country, character or condition,—no class or description of men being excluded,—a sense in which we can prove that "all men" is often used in Scripture. And this combines in harmony the different statements which Scripture contains upon the subject: whereas the universalists are obliged, in order to harmonize scriptural statements, either to reject altogether the fair and natural meaning of those which represent Him as dying for some only, or also to maintain that He died for some men in one sense, and for all men, without exception, in a different sense; while they cannot produce, either from the particular passages, or from any other declarations of Scripture, evidence of the different senses in which they must understand the declarations, that He died for men, and gave Himself a ransom for them.*
X.—Extent of Atonement and Gospel Offer
Without dwelling longer upon this topic of the mode of interpreting particular passages of Scripture, I would now advert briefly to some of the arguments for, and against, the doctrine of universal atonement, which are derived from more general considerations,—that is, from its consistency or inconsistency with other truths taught in Scripture, and with the general scheme of Scripture doctrine, or what is commonly called the analogy of faith.
By far the most important and plausible of the scriptural arguments in support of it, and the only one we mean to notice, is the alleged necessity of a universal atonement, or of Christ's having died for all men, as the only consistent ground or basis on which the offers and invitation of the gospel can be addressed indiscriminately to all men. We fully admit the general fact upon which the argument is based,—namely, that in Scripture, men, without distinction and exception, have salvation, and all that leads to it, offered or tendered to them,—that they are invited to come to Christ and to receive pardon,—and assured that all who accept the offer, and comply with the invitation, shall receive everything necessary for their eternal welfare. We fully admit that God in the Bible does all this, and authorizes and requires us to do the same in dealing with our fellow-men. Very few Calvinists have ever disputed the propriety and the obligation of addressing to men, indiscriminately, without distinction or exception, the offers and invitations of Gospel mercy; and the few who have fallen into error upon this subject,—such as Dr Gill, and some of the ultra-Calvinistic English Baptists of last century,—have usually based their refusal to offer to men indiscriminately pardon and acceptance, and to invite any or all to come to Christ that they might receive these blessings, upon the views they entertained, not about a limitation of the atonement, but about the entire depravity of human nature,—men's inability to repent and believe. This topic of the consistency of a limited atonement with the unlimited offers and invitations of Gospel mercy, or of the alleged necessity of a universal atonement as the only ground or basis on which such offers and invitations can rest, has been very fully discussed. We can only suggest a few hints in regard to it.
There are obviously two questions that may be entertained upon this this subject: First, Is an unlimited atonement necessary in order to warrant ministers of the gospel, or any who may be seeking to lead others to the saving knowledge of the truth, to offer to men, without exception, pardon and acceptance, and to invite them to come to Christ? And, secondly, Is an unlimited atonement necessary in order to warrant God in addressing, and in authorizing and requiring us to address, such universal offers and invitations to our fellow-men? The neglect of keeping these two questions distinct, has sometimes introduced error and confusion into the discussion of this subject. It is the first question with which we have more immediately to do, as it affects a duty which we are called upon to discharge; while the second is evidently, from its very nature, one of those secret things which belong unto the Lord. It is very evident that our conduct, in preaching the gospel, and in addressing our fellow-men with a view to their salvation, should not be regulated by any inferences of our own about the nature, extent, and sufficiency of the provision actually made for saving them, but solely by the directions and instructions which God has given us, by precept or example, to guide us in the matter,—unless, indeed, we venture to act upon the principle of refusing to obey God's commands, until we fully understand all the grounds and reasons of them. God has commanded the gospel to be preached to every creature; He has required us to proclaim to our fellow-men, of whatever character, and in all varieties of circumstances, the glad tidings of great joy,—to hold out to them, in His name, pardon and acceptance through the blood of atonement,—to invite them to come to Christ, and to receive Him,—and to accompany all this with the assurance that "whosoever cometh to Him, He will in no wise cast out." God's revealed will is the only rule, and ought to be held to be the sufficient warrant for all that we do in this matter,—in deciding what is our duty,—in making known to our fellow-men what are their privileges and obligations,—and in setting before them reasons and motives for improving the one and discharging the other. And though this revelation does not warrant us in telling them that Christ died for all and each of the human race,—a mode of preaching the gospel never adopted by our Lord and His apostles,—yet it does authorize and enable us to lay before men views and considerations, facts and argument, which, in right reason, should warrant and persuade all to whom they are addressed, to lay hold of the hope set before them,—to turn into the stronghold as prisoners of hope.
The second question, as to the conduct of God in this matter, leads into much greater difficulties,—but difficulties which we are not bound, as we have no ground to expect to be able, to solve. The position of our opponents is, in substance, this,—that it was not possible for God, because not consistent with integrity and uprightness, to address such offers and invitations to men indiscriminately, unless an atonement, which is indispensable to salvation, had been presented and accepted on behalf of all men,—of each individual of the human race. Now, this position bears very manifestly the character of unwarranted presumption, and assumes our capacity of fully comprehending and estimating the eternal purposes of the divine mind,—the inmost grounds and reasons of the divine procedure. It cannot be proved,—because there is really not any clear and certain medium of probation,—that God, by offering to men indiscriminately, without distinction or exception, through Christ, pardon and acceptance, contradicts the doctrine which He has revealed to us in His own word, as to a limitation, not in the intrinsic sufficiency, but in the intended destination of the atonement. And unless this can be clearly and conclusively proved, we are bound to believe that they are consistent with each other, though we may not be able to perceive and develop this consistency, and, of course, to reject the argument of our opponents as untenable. When we carefully analyze all that is really implied in what God says and does, or authorizes and requires us to say and do in this matter, we can find much that is fitted to show positively that God does not, in offering pardon and acceptance to men indiscriminately, act inconsistently or deceptively, though it is not true that the atonement was universal. And it is easy to prove that He does no injustice to any one; since all who believe what He has revealed to them, and who do what he has given them sufficient motives or reasons for doing, will certainly obtain salvation. And although difficulties will still remain in the matter, which cannot be fully solved, it is easy to show that they just resolve into the one grand difficulty of all religion and of every system of theology,—that, namely, of reconciling, or rather of developing, the consistency between the supremacy and sovereignty of God, and the free agency and responsibility of man. In arguing with Calvinistic universalists, there is no great difficulty in showing that the principles on which they defend their Calvinistic views, upon other points, against Arminian objections, are equally available for defending the doctrine of a limited atonement against the objection we are considering; and that the distinction which they attempt to establish between the two cases are either altogether unfounded, or, if they have some truth and reality in them (as, for instance, that founded on the difference between natural and moral inability,—a distinction which seems to have been first fully developed by Cameron, and with a special view to this very point), do not go to the root of the matter,—do not affect the substance of the case,—and leave the grand difficulty, though slightly altered in the position it occupies, and in the particular aspect in which it is presented, a strong and formidable as ever.
Though the advocates of a universal atonement are accustomed to boast much of the support which, they allege, their doctrine derives from the scriptural statements about God's loving the world,—Christ's dying for all; yet many of them are pretty well aware that they really have but little that is formidable to advance, except the alleged inconsistency of the doctrine of a limited atonement with the unlimited or indiscriminate offers of pardon and acceptance,—the unlimited or indiscriminate invitations and commands to come to Christ and to lay hold on Him,—which God address to men in His word, and which He has authorized and required us to address to our fellow-men. The distinction between the ground and warrant of men's act, and of God's act, in this matter, not only suggests materials for answering the arguments of opponents, but it also tends to remove a certain measure of confusion, or misconception, sometimes exhibited upon this point by the defenders of the truth. Some of them are accustomed to say, that the ground or warrant for the universal or unlimited offers of pardon, and commands to believe, is the infinite intrinsic sufficiency of Christ's atonement, which they generally hold, though denying its universal intended destination or efficiency; while others profess to rest the universal offers and commands upon the simple authority of God in His word,—making them Himself, and requiring us to proclaim them to others.
Now, it is evident that these two things are not, as the language of some orthodox divines might lead us to suppose, contrasted with, or opposed to, each other. The sole ground or warrant for men's act, in offering pardon and salvation to their fellow-men, is the authority and command of God in His word. We have no other warrant than this; we need no other; and we should seek or desire none; but on this ground alone should consider ourselves not only warranted, but bound, to proclaim to our fellow-men, whatever be their country, character, or condition, the good news of the kingdom, and to call upon them to come to Christ that they may be saved,—the Bible affording us sufficient, yea, abundant materials for convincing them that, in right reason, they ought to do this, and for assuring them that all who do, shall obtain eternal life. But this has manifestly nothing to do with the question, as to the ground or warrant of God's act in making unlimited offers, and in authorizing us to make them.
In regard to the allegation often made by orthodox divines, that this act of God is warranted by, and is based upon, the infinite intrinsic sufficiency of Christ's atonement, we would only remark,—for we cannot enter into the discussion,—that we are not aware of any Scripture evidence that these two things,—namely, the universal intrinsic sufficiency and the unlimited offers,—are connected in this way,—that we have never been able to see how the assertion of this connection removed or solved the difficulty, or threw any additional light upon this subject,—and that, therefore, we think it best while unhesitatingly doing ourselves, in our intercourse with our fellow-men, all that God's word authorizes and requires, to be contented with believing the general position,—that God in this, as in everything else, has chosen the best and wisest means of accomplishing all that He really intended to effect; and to be satisfied,—so far as the objection of opponents is concerned,—with showing, that it cannot be proved that there is any inconsistency or insincerity, that there is any injustice or deception, on God's part, in anything which He says or does in this matter, even though the intended destination of the atonement was to effect and secure the forgiveness and salvation of the elect only,—even though He did not design or purpose, by sending His Son into the world, to save any but those who are saved.
XI.—Extent of Atonement, and its Object
We must now notice the arguments against the doctrine of universal atonement derived from doctrines or principles taught in Scripture, as distinguished from particular scriptural statements bearing immediately upon the precise point; leaving out of view, however, in the meantime, and in the first instance, for reasons formerly stated, the arguments derived from its inconsistency with the doctrine of election, or any of what are commonly reckoned the peculiarities of Calvinism. The leading scriptural arguments against the doctrine of universal atonement, in the sense and with the limitation just explained, are these: First, that it is inconsistent with the scriptural account of the proper natural, and immediate objects and effects, of the sufferings and death of Christ, as a vicarious atonement; and, secondly, that it is in consistent with the scriptural account of the invariable and certain connection between the impetration or purchase, and the application to men individually, of all spiritual blessings. The second general argument admits of being broken down into several different divisions, or distinct positions, each of which can be established by its own appropriate scriptural evidence,—as, first, that "the oblation or sacrifice and intercession of Christ are one entire means respecting the accomplishment of the same proposed end, and have the same personal object,"—a proposition elaborately established by Dr Owen, whose words I have adopted in stating it:* and secondly, that the operation of the Holy Spirit, in producing faith and regeneration in men individually, and faith and regeneration themselves viewed as the gifts of God, are the fruits of Christ's satisfaction and obedience, and are conferred upon all in whose room He suffered and died. If these doctrines be true, they manifestly preclude the idea of an atonement that was universal, unlimited, or indefinite in its destination or intended objects and effects. But I will not dwell upon any of this class of topics, though they are very important,—and will only make some observations upon the inconsistency of the doctrine of an unlimited atonement, with scriptural views of the proper nature and immediate objects and effects of Christ's death, in further illustration of the important principle, which has been repeatedly adverted to,—namely, that the nature of the atonement settles or determines the question of its extent.
The plan usually adopted by the universalists in discussing this fundamental department of the subject, is to lay down an arbitrary definition of what atonement means in general, or in the abstract, and this definition of theirs usually amounts, in substance, to something of this sort,—namely, that an atonement is an expedient, or provision,—any expendeint or provision,—whereby the great ends of law and government may be promoted and secured, without its being necessary to inflict the penalty of the law upon those who had incurred it by transgression; thus removing obstacles and opening a door to their being pardoned. If this definition really embraced all that the Scripture makes known to us concerning the nature and immediate objects of the atonement of Christ, then it might possibly be universal or unlimited; for, according to this view, it was fitted and intended only to make the pardon and salvation of sinners possible,—to leave it free and open to God to pardon any or all of them, as He might choose.
Now, we do not say that this definition of an atonement, as applied to the death of Christ, is false; though some of the terms in which it is usually embodied—such as an expedient—are not very suitable or becoming. It is, in substance, a true description of the death of Christ, so far as it goes,—just as the Socinian view of it, as a testimony and an example, is true. The definition to which we have referred is really suggested by some scriptural views of what the death of Christ was, and of what it was intended to effect. And it accords also with some of the analogies suggested by human government and laws. What we maintain upon this point is, that it does not present a full and complete definition or description of the nature and immediate objects of the death of Christ, as they are represented to us in Scripture; and that therefore it is altogether unwarrantable to lay it down as the definition of an atonement, by which we are to judge—for this is practically the application the universalists make of their definition—of what an atonement must be, and of what views we ought to take of Christ's death. The analogies suggested by the principles of human government, and the applications of human laws,—though they are not without their use in illustrating this matter,—must be very imperfect. The death of One, who was at once a possessor of the divine nature, and at the same time a perfectly holy and innocent man, and whose death was intended to effect the salvation of men who, by transgression, had become subject to the wrath and curse of God, must necessarily be altogether unique and sui generis, and must not be estimated or judged of by any antecedent conception, or comprehended in any arbitrary definitions of ours. We can comprehend it only by taking in the whole of the information which Scripture communicates to us regarding it; we can define and describe it aright only by embodying all the elements which have scriptural warrant or sanction. An atonement is just that, be it what it may, which the death of Christ was; and the proper definition of an atonement is that which takes in all, and not only some, of the aspects in which the death of Christ is actually presented to us in Scripture. That it was a great provision for securing the ends of government and law, even while transgressors were pardoned and saved,—that it embodies and exhibits most impressive views of the perfections of God, of the excellence of His law, and of the sinfulness of sin,—that it affords grounds and reasons on which transgressors may be pardoned and saved, while yet the great principles of God's moral government are maintained, and its ends are secured;—all this is true important, but all this does not exhaust the scriptural views of the death of Christ, and therefore it should not be set forth as constituting the definition of an atonement. The Scripture tells us something more than all this, by giving more definite and specific information concerning the true nature of Christ's death, and the way and manner in which, from its very nature, it is fitted to effect, and does effect, its immediate intended objects. These considerations may be of some use in leading us to be on our guard against the policy usually pursued by the universalists, in paying the way for the introduction of their views, and providing for themselves a shield against objections, by laying down an arbitrary and defective definition of an atonement.
The two leading ideas, which are admitted to be involved in the doctrine of the atonement by almost all who repudiate Socinian views, are—as we formerly explained at length—substitution and satisfaction. And the substance of what we maintain upon the subject now under consideration is just this,—that these two ideas, when understood in the sense in which Scripture warrants and requires us to understand them, and when clearly and distinctly realized, instead of being diluted and explained away, preclude and disprove the doctrine of a universal atonement. Substitution—or taking the place and acting in the room and stead of others—naturally and obviously suggests the notion, that these others, whose place was taken—in whose room or stead something was done or suffered—were a distinct and definite class of persons, who were conceived of, and contemplated individually, and not a mere indefinite mass indiscriminately considered. Mediation, or interposition in behalf of others, understood in a general and indefinite sense, without any specification of the nature or kind of the mediation or interposition, may respect a mass of men, viewed indiscriminately and in the gross; but mediation or interposition, in the form or by means of substitution in their room, or taking their place, naturally suggests the idea that certain particular men were contemplated, whose condition and circumstances individually were known, and whose benefit individually was aimed at. This idea is thus expressed by Witsius:* "Neque fieri nobis ullo modo posse videtur, ut quis Christum pro omnibus et singulis hominibus mortnum ex animi sententia cotendat, nisi prius enervata phrasi illa pro aliquo mori, quâ substitutionem in locum alterins notari nuper contra Socinianos evicimus." Witsius thought that no man could honestly and intelligently contend for the truth of the doctrine, that Christ had died for all men, until he had first enervated or explained away what was implied in the phrase, of dying in the room and stead of another; and there is much in the history of theological discussion to confirm this opinion.
This extract, however, from Witsius, reminds us that the doctrine of the atonement, as maintained against the Socinians, includes the idea, not only of substitution, but also of satisfaction; and the examination of this notion affords clearer and more explicit evidence that Christ did not die for all men, or for any who ultimately perish. If anything be really established in opposition to the Socinians upon this subject, it is this,—that Christ not only took the place, or substituted Himself in the room and stead of sinners, but that He suffered and died in their room and stead,—that is, that He suffered what was due to them, and what, but for His sufferings it in their stead, they must have endured. Of course we do not found upon the idea,—for, as we have already explained, we do not believe it to be true,—that Christ's sufferings, in point of amount and extent, were just adequate to satisfy for the sins of a certain number of persons. We have no doubt that He would have endured no more, though many more had been to be saved. Still, His sufferings were the endurance of a penal inflication. And they were the endurance of the penalty which me had incurred,—of that penalty itself, or of a full equivalent for it, in point of legal worth or value, and not of a mere substitute for it, as the universalists commonly allege. The law, which men had broken, appointed a penalty to each of them individually,—a penalty to the infliction of which each was individually liable. And unless the law was to be wholly relaxed or set aside, there must, for each individual who had transgressed, be the compliance with the law's demands,—that is, the infliction of this penalty, either upon himself, or on a substitute acting—qualified to act—and accepted as acting, in his room and stead. The transgression was personal, and so must be the infliction of the penalty. If the transgression, and the corresponding infliction of the penalty, were in their nature personal, and had respect to men individually, so, in like manner, must any transactions or arrangements that might be contemplated and adopted with a view to the transference of the penalty: so that, it being borne by another, those in whose room He bore it might escape unpunished, the law being satisfied by another suffering the penalty which it prescribed in their stead.
The Scripture, however, not only represents Christ, in suffering and dying, as substituting Himself in our room,—as enduring the penalty which we had incurred, and must otherwise have endured,—and as thus satisfying the divine justice and law in our stead; but also as thereby reconciling men to God, or purchasing for then reconciliation and pardon. This, the direct and immediate effect of the death of Christ, in its bearing upon men's condition, naturally and necessarily suggests the idea of a distinct and definite number of persons in whose behalf it was effected, and who are at length certainly to receive it. It is not reconciliability, but reconciliation, that the Scripture represents as the immediate object or effect of Christ's death: and this implies a personal change in the relation of men individually to God. And it is no sufficient reason for explaining this away, as meaning something far short of the natural and obvious import of the words, that men individually were not reconciled when Christ died, but receive reconciliation and pardon individually during their abode upon earth, according as God is pleased effectually to call them. We assume,—as we are fully warranted in doing,—that reconciliation with God and forgiveness of sin, where ever they are possessed and enjoyed, in any age or country, stand in the same relation to the death of Christ, as the reconciliation and pardon which the apostles enjoyed, are represented by them as doing; and that is, that they were immediately procured or purchased by it, and that their application, in due time, to all for whom they were purchased, was effectually secured by it. If this be the relation subsisting between the death of Christ and the reconciliation and pardon of sinners, He must, in dying, have contemplated, and provided for, the actual reconciliation and pardon of men individually,—that is, of all those, and of those only, who ultimately receive these blessings, whatever other steps or processes may intervene before they are actually put in possession of them.
The leading peculiar view generally held by Arminians,—at least those of them who bring out their views most fully and plainly,—are, as we formerly explained, these: first, that they do not regard Christ as suffering the penalty due to sinners, nor even a full equivalent—an adequate compensation—for it, but only a substitute for it; secondly, that there was a relaxation of the law in the forgiveness of sinners, not merely in regard to the person suffering, but also the penalty suffered, since it was not even in substance executed; and, thirdly, that the direct immediate effect of Christ's death was not to procure for men reconciliation and pardon, but merely to remove legal obstacles, and to open a door for God bestowing these blessings on any men, or all men. These views they seem to have been led to adopt by their doctrine about the universality of an atonement; and as the universality of the atonement naturally leads to those methods of explaining, or rather explaining away, its nature,—its relation to the law, and its immediate object and effect,—the establishment and application of the true scriptural views of substitution, satisfaction, and reconciliation, as opposed to the three Arminian doctrines upon these points stated above, exclude or disprove its universality,—or its intended destination to any but those who are ultimately pardoned and saved. Substitution, satisfaction, and reconciliation may be so explained,—that is, may be wrapped up in such vague and ambiguous generalities,—as to suggest no direct reference to particular men, considered individually, as the objects contemplated and provided for in the process; but the statements of Scripture, when we carefully investigate their meaning, and realize the ideas which they convey,—and which they must convey, unless we are to sink down to Socinianism,—bring these topics before us in aspects which clearly imply that Christ substituted Himself in the room of some men, and not of all men,—that all for whose sins He made satisfaction to the divine justice and law, certainly receive reconciliation and pardon,—and that, when they do receive them, they are bestowed upon each of them on this ground that Christ suffered in his room and stead, expiated his sins upon the cross, and thereby effectually secured his eternal salvation, and everything that this involves.
It has been very ably and ingeniously argued, in opposition to the doctrine of universal atonement, and especially in favour of the consistency of the unlimited offers of the gospel with a limited atonement, that the thing that is offered to men in the gospel is just that which they actually receive, and become possessed of, when they individually accept the offer; and that this is nothing vague and indefinite,—not a mere possibility and capacity,—but real, actual reconciliation and pardon. This is true, and very important; but the process of thought on which the argument is based, might be carried further back, even into the very heart and essential nature of the atonement, in this way. What men receive when they are individually united to Christ by faith,—that is, actual reconciliation and pardon,—is that which is offered or tendered to them before they believe. But that which is offered to them before they believe, is just that which Christ impetrated or purchased for them; and what it was that Christ impetrated or purchased for them depends upon what was the true nature and character of His death. And if His death was indeed a real satisfaction to the divine justice and law in men's room, by being the endurance in their stead of the penalty due to them,—and in this way affording ground or reason for treating them as if they had never broken the law, or as if they had fully borne in their own persons the penalty which it prescribed,—we can thus trace through the whole process by which sinners are admitted into the enjoyment of God's favour, a necessary reference to particular men considered individually, a firm and certain provision for the reconciliation and pardon of all for whom, or in whose stead, Christ died, for purchasing redemption only for those who were to be ultimately saved, and, of course, for applying its blessings to all for whom they were designed.
Those more strict and definite views of substitution, satisfaction, and reconciliation, which thus exclude and disprove an unlimited or indefinite atonement, that did not respect particular men, viewed individually, while clearly sanctioned by scriptural statements, can also be shown to be necessarily involved in the full and consistent development, even of those more defective views which the universalists would substitute in their room. The death of Christ, according to them, operates upon men's relation to God and their external welfare, not by its being an endurance of the penalty of the law in their room, and thus satisfying divine justice, but merely by its being suffering inflicted vice pœnœ, as we saw in Limborch, or as a substitute for the penalty; and as thus presenting certain views of God's character, government, and law, which, when impressed upon men's minds, would prevent any erroneous view, or any injurious consequences, arising from their sins being pardoned. Now,—not to dwell again upon the serious objection to this principle, when set forth as a full account of the doctrine of the atonement, from its involving no provision whatever for the actual exercise, but only for the apparent outward manifestation, of the divine perfections,—it is important to notice, that it is not easy to see how the death of Christ is fitted to produce the requisite impressions, unless it be really regarded in the light in which Scripture represents it, as the endurance, of the penalty of the law in our room and stead. In order to serve the purposes ascribed to it, as an expedient of government, by producing certain impressions upon men's minds, it must unfold the holiness and justice of God,—the perfection and unchangeableness of His law,—and the exceeding sinfulness and infinite danger of sin. Now, it is not merely true, as we contend, in opposition to the Socinians, that these impressions can be produced, and the corresponding results can be accomplished, only by an atonement,—only by substitution and satisfaction, understood in some vague and indefinite sense,—but also that, in order to this, there must be true substitution, and real and proper satisfaction. The justice and holiness of God are very imperfectly, if at all, manifested, by His inflicting some suffering upon a holy and innocent person, in order that sinners might escape, unless that person were acting, and had consented to act, strictly as the surety and substitute of those who were to receive the benefit of His sufferings.
There is certainly no manifestation of the excellence and perfection of the divine law, or of the necessity of maintaining and honouring it, if in the provision made for pardoning sinners, it was relaxed and set aside,—if its penalty was not inflicted,—if there was no fulfilment of its exactions, no compliance with its demands. It is only when we regard the death of Christ in its true scriptural character, and include, in our conceptions of it, those more strict and definite views of substitution and satisfaction, which exclude the doctrine of universal atonement, that we can see, in the pardon of sinners, and in the provision made for effecting it, the whole combined glory of God's moral character, as it is presented to us in the general statements of Scripture, and that we can be deeply impressed with right conceptions of the perfection of the divine law, and of the honour and reverence that are unchangeably due to it. The notion, then, that the atonement operates upon the forgiveness of sinners, merely by its being a great display of the principles of God's moral government,—and this is the favourite idea in the present day of those who advocate a universal atonement,—is not only liable to the fatal objection of its giving defective, and, to some extent, positively erroneous views of the nature of the atonement, as it is represented to us in Scripture, but is, moreover, so far from being fitted to be a substitute for, and to supersede the stricter views of, substitution and satisfaction, that it cannot stand by itself,—that nothing can really be made of it, unless those very views which it was designed to supersede are assumed as the ground or basis on which it rests.
I had occasion to mention before, that there was a considerable difference in the degree to which the Arminians allowed their doctrine of the extent of the atonement to affect their representations and dilutions of its nature and immediate object, and that they usually manifested more soundness upon this subject when contending against the Socinians, than when attacking the Calvinists. It has also generally held true, that Calvinistic universalists have not gone quite so far in explaining away the true nature of the atonement as the Arminians have done. They have, however, generally given sufficiently plain indications of the perverting and injurious influence of the doctrine of universal atonement upon right views of its nature, and never perhaps so fully as in the present day. Therw are men in the present day, who still profess to hold Calvinistic doctrines upon some points, who have scarcely left anything in the doctrine of the atonement which a Socinian would think it worth his while to oppose. I do not now refer to those who are popularly known amongst us by the name of Morisonians; for though they began with merely asserting the universality of the atonement, they made very rapid progress in their descent from orthodoxy; and through of but a very few years' standing under this designation, they have long since renounced everything Calvinistic, and may be justly regarded as now teaching a system of gross, unmitigated Pelagianism. There are others, however, both in this country and in the United States, who, while still professing to hold some Calvinistic doctrines, have carried out so fully and so far their notion of the atonement being not a proper substitution or satisfaction, but a mere display, adapted to serve the purpose of God's moral government, that it would really make no very essential difference in their general scheme of theology, if they were to renounce altogether the divinity of our Saviour, and to represent His death merely as a testimony and an example.
Perhaps it is but just and fair to be somewhat more explicit and personal upon this point, and to say plainly whom, among the defenders of a universal atonement in our own day, I mean,—and whom I do not mean,—to comprehend in this description. I mean to comprehend in it such writers as Dr Beman in America, and Dr Jenkyn in this country; and I do not mean to comprehend in it Dr Wardlaw and Dr Payne, and writers who agree in defending, in their way, the doctrine of a universal atonement. Dr Beman and Dr Jenkyn both teach, that the death of Christ was a mere substitute for the penalty which the law had prescribed, and which men had incurred; and that it operates upon the forgiveness of men's sins, not by its being a proper satisfaction to the divine justice and law, but merely by its being a display of principles, the impression of which upon men's minds is fitted to promote and secure the great ends of God's moral government, while they are receiving the forgiveness of their sins, and are admitted into the enjoyment of God's favour. Dr Wardlaw, on the contrary, has always asserted the substance of the scriptural doctrine of the atonement, as involving the ideas of substitution and satisfaction; and has thus preserved and maintained one important and fundamental branch of scriptural truth, in the defence of which, indeed, against the Socinians, he has rendered important services to the cause of scriptural doctrine. The injurious tendency of the doctrine of universal or unlimited atonement upon his views of its nature (for it will be recollected, that I at present leave out of view the connection between this doctrine and the peculiarities of the Calvinistic system), appear chiefly in these respects: first, the exaggerated importance which he sometimes attributes to the more manifestation of the general principles of the divine moral government, as distinguished from the actual exercise of the divine perfections, and the actual fulfilment and enforcement of the divine law, in the great process adopted for pardoning and saving sinners; and, secondly, in occasional indications of dissatisfaction with some of the more strict and definite views of substitution and satisfaction, without any very distinct specification of what it is in these views to which he objects.* It is not, indeed, to be supposed, that these statements bring out the whole of the perverting influence of the doctrine of universal atonement upon Dr Wardlaw's views on this subject, for, while this is the whole extent to which he has developed its effects upon his views of the proper nature and immediate effect of the atonement, he of course supports the important error (as every one who holds and unlimited atonement must do), that Christ, by dying, did not purchase or merit faith and regeneration for His people; and that, consequently, so far as depended upon anything that the atonement effected or secured, all men might have perished, even though Christ died to save them. But it must be recollected, that this department, too, of the subject I set aside, as one on the discussion of which I should not enter, confining myself to some illustration of the inconsistency of the doctrine of universal atonement, with right views of the nature and immediate effect of the atonement, and of its powerful tendency to lead men who, in the main, hold scriptural views upon these subjects, to dilute them or explain them away.
It is very common for men who hold loose and erroneous views in regard to substitution and satisfaction, to represent the stricter and more definite views of these subjects, which are necessarily connected with the doctrine of a limited atonement, as leading to Antinomianism. But there is no great difficulty in defending them against this objection; for it is easy enough to show that the highest and strictest views upon these points, which have received the sanction of Calvinists, do not afford any ground for the general position that the law is abrogated or set aside, even in regard to believers,—and are perfectly consistent with the truth that they are still subject to its obligation, as a rule of life, though they are not under it "as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned;"* while it can also be easily shown that they afford no countenance to the notions of some men—who approximate to Antinomianism—about the eternal justification of the elect, or their justification, at least, from the time when the sacrifice of Christ in their room was first accepted,—notions sufficiently refuted by these general positions; first, that the substitution and satisfaction of Christ form part of a great and consistent scheme, all the parts of which are fitted to, and indissolubly linked with, each other; and, secondly, that it is one of the provisions of this great scheme, that, to adopt the language of our Confession† though "God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect; and Christ did, in the fulness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification; nevertheless they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them."
XII.—Extent of Atonement, and Calvinistic Principles
We have considered that subject of the extent of the atonement solely in connection with the scriptural statements bearing upon this particular point,—and in connection with the views taught us generally in Scripture with regard th the nature, objects, and effects of the atonement itself,—without much more than merely incidental allusious to the connection between this and the other doctrines that are usually controverted between the Calvinists and the Arminians. We have adopted this course, because we were anxious to show that the doctrine of particular redemption,—or of an atonement limited in its destination, though not in its intrinsic sufficiency,—which is commonly reckoned the weakest part of the Calvinistic system, and seems to be regarded by many as having no foundation to rest upon except its accordance with the other doctrine of Calvinism,—is quite capable of standing upon its own proper merits,—upon its own distinct and independent evidence,—without support from the other doctrines which have been commonly held in combination with it. It is proper, however, to point out more distinctly, as a not unimportant subject of investigation,—though we can do little more than point it out,—the bearing of this doctrine upon some of the other departments of the Calvinistic or Arminian controversy.
The Arminians are accustomed to argue in this way: Christ died for all men,—that is, with a, purpose, design, or intention of saving all men; leaving it, of course, to the free will of each man individually to determine whether or not he will concur with this purpose of God, embrace the provision, and be saved. And if Christ died for all men, then it follows that there could not be any eternal decree by which some men were chosen to life, and others passed by and left to perish. Thus, upon the alleged universality of the atonement, they founded a distinct and independent argument against the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination; and this argument, as I formerly had occasion to mention, is strongly urged by Cureellæus and Limborch, and others of the ablest Arminian writers. The Calvinists meet this argument by asserting that Christ did not die for all men, but only for some, in the Sense in which I have had occasion to explain these statements; and by establishing this position on its own proper evidence, they not only refute the argument against predestination, but bring out an additional confirmation of its truth. All this is plain enough, so far as the general sequence and connection of the argument is concerned. But the question occurs, What do the Calvinistic universalists make of it? They believe that Christ died for all men, and they also believe in the eternal, absolute election of some men to salvation. Of course they are bound to maintain that these two things are consistent with each other, and on this particular point,—namely, the consistency of these two doctrines—they have both the Arminians and the great body of the Calvinists to contend against; for Calvinists, in general, have admitted that, if the Arminians could establish their position, that Christ died for all men, the conclusion of the falsehood of the Calvinistic doctrine of election could not be successfully assailed.
The way in which this matter naturally and obviously presents itself to the mind of a believer in the doctrine of election is this,—and it is fully accordant with Scripture,—that God must be conceived of as, first, desiring to save some of the lost race of men, and electing or choosing out those whom He resolved to save,—a process which Scripture uniformly ascribes to the good pleasure of His will, and to no other cause whatever; and then,—that is, according to our mode of conceiving of the subject, for there Can be no real succession of time in the infinite mind,—decreeing, as the great mean in order to the attainment of this end, and in consistency with His perfections law, and government, to send His son to seek and save them,—to suffer and die in their room and stead. The mission of His Son, and all that flowed from it, we are thus to regard as a result or consequence of God's having chosen some men to everlasting life, and thus adopting the best and wisest means of executing this decree, of carrying this purpose into effect. If this be anything like the true state of the case, then it is plain that God never had any real design or purpose to save all men,—or to save any but those who are saved; and that His design or purpose to saving the elect continued to exist and to operate during the whole process,—regulating the divine procedure throughout, and determining the end and object contemplated in sending Christ into the world, and in laying our iniquities upon Him. This view of the matter, Calvinists, in general, regard as fully sanctioned by the statements of Scripture, and as fully accordant with the dictates of right reason, exercised upon all that we learn from Scripture, or from any other source, with respect to the divine perfections and government. The course which the Calvinistic universalists usually adopt in discussing this point,—in order to show at once against the Arminians, that, notwithstanding the admitted universality of the atonement, the doctrine of election may be true, and to show, against the generality of Calvinists, that, notwithstanding the admitted doctrine of election, the universality of the atonement may be true,—is this, they try to show that we should conceive of God as first decreeing to send His Son into the world to suffer and die for all men, so as to make the salvation of all men possible, and to lay a foundation for tendering it to them all; and then, foreseeing that all men would reject this provision, if left to themselves, decreeing to give to some men, chosen from the human race in general, faith and repentance, by which their salvation might he secured.
Now, the discussion of these topics involves an investigation of some of the most difficult and abstruse questions connected with the subject of predestination; and on these we do not at present enter. We would only remark, that the substance of the answer given to these views of the Calvinistic universalists, may be embodied in these positions,—leaving out the general denial of the universality of the atonement, which is not just the precise point at present under consideration, though sufficient of itself, if established, to settle it,—First, that the general will or purpose to save all men conditionally is inconsistent with scriptural views of the divine perfections,—of the general nature and operation of the divine decrees,—and of the principles by which the actual salvation of men individually is determined; and really amounts, in substance, to a virtual, though not an intentional, betrayal of the true Calvinistic doctrine of election into the hands of its enemies. Secondly, and more particularly, that this method of disposing and arranging the order of the divine decrees,—that is, according to our mode of conceiving of them, in making the decree to send Christ to die for men, precede the decree electing certain men for whom He was to die, and whom, by dying, He was certainly to save,—is inconsistent with what Scripture indicates upon this subject. This is, indeed, in substance, just the question which used to be discussed between the Calvinists and the Arminians upon the point,—whether or not Christ is the cause and foundation of the decree of election—the Arminians maintaining that He is, and the Calvinists that He is not,—a question of some intricacy, but of considerable importance, in its bearing upon the subject of election generally, which will be found discussed and settled in Turretine,* on the decrees of God and predestination. I may also observe, that, in the last Quæstio of the same Locus,† under the head of the order of the decrees of God in predestination, there is a very masterly exposure of the attempts of Calvinistic universalists to reconcile their doctrine, in regard to the extent of the atonement, with the doctrine of election, by deviating from what Calvinists have generally regarded as the right method of arranging the order of the divine decrees,—according to our mode conceiving of them,—by representing atonement as preceding election in the divine purpose; and, what is very interesting and instructive, his arguments fully meet and dispose of all grounds taken by the best writers on the opposite side in our own day. In the portion of this Quæstio to which I more immediately refer, he is arguing, of course, with the school of Cameron and Amyraldus,—the hypothetic or conditional universalists, as they were generally called by the divines of the seventeenth century. Of the various and discordant parties composing the defenders of unlimited atonement in our own day, Dr Wardlaw is the one whose views most entirely concur with those of the founders of the school. His views, indeed, exactly coincide with theirs,—he has deviated no further from sound doctrine than they did, and not nearly so far as most of the modern defenders of an unlimited atonement. Accordingly, the statement which Turretine gives of the views and arguments of those who defended universal atonement, in combination with election, embodies the whole substance of what Dr Wardlaw has adduced in defence of his principles, in his work on the nature and extent of the atonement,—and the argument is put at least as ably and as plausibly as it has even been since; while Turretine, in examining it, has conclusively answered all that Dr Wardlaw has adduced, or that any man could adduce, to reconcile the doctrine of an unlimited atonement with the Calvinistic doctrine of election.*
I think it useful to point out such illustrations of the important truth, that almost all errors in theology,—some of them occasionally eagerly embraced as novelties or great discoveries when they happen to be revived,—were discussed and settled by the great theologians of the seventeenth century.
There is only one point in the representations and arguments of Calvinistic universalists, to which I can advert more particularly. It is the practice of describing the atonement as intended for, and applicable to, all; and representing the whole specialy of the case, with reference to results, as lying, not in the atonement itself, but merely in the application which God, in His sovereignty, resolved or decreed to make, and does make, of it; and then calling upon us, with the view of giving greater plausibility to this representation, to conceive of, and to estimate, the atonement by itself, and wholly apart from its application,—or from the election of God, which, they admit, determined its application, to individuals. Now, this demand is unreasonable,—it implies misconception, and it is fitted to lead to greater misconception. Our duty, of course, is just to contemplate the atonement, as it is actually presented to us in Scripture, in all the connections and relations in which it stands. We know nothing of the atonement but what the Bible makes known to us; and, in order to know it aright, we must view it just as the Bible represents it. The scheme of salvation is a great system of purposes and actings, on the part of God, or of truth and doctrines which unfold to us these purposes and actings. The series of things, which are done and revealed with a view to the salvation of lost men, constitute a great and harmonious system,—devised, superintended, and executed by infinite wisdom and power, and complete in all its parts, which work together for the production of glorious result. And when we attempt to take this scheme to pieces, and to separate what God has joined together, we are in great danger of being left to follow our own devices, and to fall into error, especially if we do not take care to base our full and final conclusion, in regard to any one department of the scheme, upon a general survey of the whole. We admit that the atonement, viewed by itself, is just vicarious suffering, of infinite worth and value, and of course, intrinsically sufficient to expiate the sins of all men. There is on dispute about this point. This admission does not satisfy our opponents, and does not in the least incommode us. The question in dispute turns upon the destination or intended object, not the intrinsic sufficiency, of the atonement. We cannot conceive of anything intermediate between intrinsic sufficiency on the one hand, and actual or intended application on the other. The actual application of the atonement extends to those only who believe and are forgiven. And Calvinists,—although they may think it convenient, for controversial purposes, to argue for a time, as Dr wardlaw does, upon the supposition of atonement without election—must admit that this actual application of the atonement was, in each case, foreseen and fore-ordained. There could be no intended application of the atonement, contrary, or in opposition, to that which is actually made, and made because it was intended from eternity. The doctrine of the atonement may be said to consist of its intrinsic sufficiency and of its intended application. These two heads exhaust it: and when men hold up what they call the atonement, per se, viewed by itself and apart from its application, and yet will not admit that description corresponds to, and is exhausted by, its infinite intrinsic sufficiency, they must mean by this,—for there is no medium,—an intended application of the atonement different from the application that is in fact made of it, in actually pardoning and saving men. But this is manifestly not theatonement, per se, viewed by itself, and apart from its application; so that the supposition on which they are fond of arguing has really no meaning or relevancy, and tends only to perplex the subject, and to involve in doubt and obscurity the sovereign election of God in the salvation of sinners.
The truth is, that the atonement, apart from its application, actual or intended, cannot be conceived of in any other sense than with reference merely to its intrinsic sufficiency; and the question truly in dispute really amounts, in substance, to this,—whether, besides the actual application of the atonement to some men, in their actual pardon and acceptance,—which, of course, our Calvinistic opponents must admit to have been intended and fore-ordained,—there was a different intended, though never realized application of it to all men,—some design, purposes, or intention, on God's part, of saving all men through its means. And it was just because the question really turned, not upon anything we know, or can know, about the atonement viewed in itself, and apart from its application, but upon the purposes or design of God in giving His Son, and of Christ in giving Himself, for men, that the whole subject was frequently discussed, in the seventeenth century, under the head of universal grace,—that is, the universal love or kindness of God, in designing and providing, by sending His Son into the world, for the salvation of all men; and I am persuaded that it is chiefly from overlooking the consideration, that the whole question does, and must, turn upon the purposes, or design, of God and Christ in the matter, and the consequent destination of what they did,—and from getting themselves entangled in the consideration of what they call the atonement per se,—that any men who hold the doctrine of election have succeeded in persuading themselves of the universality of the atonement. The investigation of the will or decree—the purpose or design—of God, in the matter, belongs properly to the head of predestination; and under that head Calvinistic divines have fully proved that no such will, purposes, or design, to save all men, as the doctrine of universal atonement necessarily implies, can be reconciled with what is taught in Scripture, and confirmed by right reason, with respect to the divine decrees.
The history of theology affords abundant evidence of the tendency of the doctrine of universal atonement to distort and pervert men's views of the scheme of divine truth, though, of course, this tendency has been realized in very different degrees. There have been some theologians in whose minds the doctrine seemed to lie, without developing itself, to any very perceptible extent, in the production of any other error. With these persons, the doctrine, that Christ died for all men, seems to have been little or nothing more than just the particular form or phraseology in which they embodied the important truth of the warrant and obligation to preach the gospel to every creature,—to invite and require men, without distinction or exception, to come to Christ, and to embrace Him, that they might receive pardon, acceptance, and eternal life. In such cases, the error really amounts to little more than a certain inaccuracy of language, accompanied with some indistinctness or confusion of thought. Still it should not be forgotten that all error is dangerous, and that this is a point where, as experience shows, error is peculiarly apt to creep in, in subtle and insidious disguises, and to extend its ravages more widely over the field of Christian truth, than even the men who cherish it may, for a time, be themselves aware of.
The first and most direct tendency of this doctrine is to lead men to dilute and explain away—as I have illustrated at length—the scriptural statements with respect to the true nature and import of the substitution and satisfaction of Christ, and their bearing upon the redemption and reconciliation of sinners. And this introduces serious error into a most fundamental department of Christian truth. There are men, indeed, who, while holding the doctrine of universal atonement, still make a sound profession in regard to the true nature and immediate effects of Christ's death. But this is only because they do not fully comprehend their own principles, and follow them out consistently; and, of course, their tenure even of the truth they hold rests upon a very insecure foundation. But the progress of error in many cases does not stop here. The idea very naturally occurs to men, that, if Christ died for all the human race, then some provision must have been made for bringing within all men's reach, and making accessible to them, the privileges or opportunities which have been thus procured for them. And as a large portion of the human race are, undoubtedly, left in entire ignorance of Christ, and of all that He has done for them, some universalists have been led, not very unnaturally, to maintain the position,—that men may be, and that many have been, saved through Christ, or on the ground of His atonement, who never heard of Him, to whom the gospel was never made known, though Scripture surely teaches—at least in regard to adults—that their salvation is dependent upon their actually attaining to a knowledge of what Christ has done for men, and upon their being enabled to make a right use and application of the knowledge with which they are furnished. It is very easy and natural, however, to advance a step further, and to conclude that since Christ died for all men, He must have intended to remove, and have actually removed, not only some, but all, obstacles to their salvation; so that all, at least, to whom He is made known, must have it wholly in their own power to secure their salvation. And this naturally leads to a denial, or at least a dilution, of the doctrine of man's total depravity, and of the necessity of the special supernatural agency of the Spirit, in order to the production of faith and regeneration; or—what is virtually the same thing—to the maintenance of the doctrine of what is called universal sufficient grace—that is, that all men have sufficient power or ability bestowed upon them to repent and believe, if they will only use it aright.
Calvinistic universalists can, of course, go no further than universal grace in the sense of God's universal love to men, and design to save them, and universal redemption, or Christ dying for all men. The Arminians follow out these views somewhat more fully and consistently, by taking in also universal vocation, or a universal call to men,—addressed to them either through the word, or through the works of creation and providence,—to trust in Christ, or at least in God's offered mercy, accompanied, in every instance, with grace sufficient to enable them to accept of this call. In like manner, it is nothing more than a consistent and natural following out of the universal grace and universal redemption, to deny the doctrine of election, and thus to overturn the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners; and it is not to be wondered at, that some have gone further still, and asserted the doctrine of universal salvation,—the only doctrine that really remove any of the difficulties of this mysterious subject, though, of course, it does so at the expense of overturning the whole authority of revelation. Men have stopped at all these various stages, and none are to be charged with holding anything which they disclaim; but experience, and the nature of the case, make it plain enough, that the maintenance of universal grace and universal atonement has a tendency to lead men in the direction we have indicated; and this consideration should impress upon us the necessity of taking care lest we should incautiously admit views which may, indeed, seem plausible and innocent, but which may eventually involve us in dangerous error.
I must now terminate the discussion of this whole subject, and proceed to consider the other leading doctrines involved in the controversy between the Calvinists and the Arminians. I have dwelt longer upon this doctrine of the atonement than upon any other. The subject is of fundamental importance, both theoretically and practically; both in its bearing upon a right comprehension of the scheme of Christian truth, and upon the discharge of the duties incumbent upon us, viewed either simply as men who have souls to be saved, or as bound to seek the salvation of others. And there is much in the present condition of the church, and in the existing aspects of our theological literature, to enhance the importance of thoroughly understanding this great doctrine,—having clear and definite conceptions of the principal points involved in it,—and being familiar with the scriptural evidence on which our convictions regarding it rest. The atonement forms the very centre and keystone of the Christian system. It is most intimately connected, on the one side (or a priori), with all that is revealed to us concerning the natural state and condition of men, and concerning the nature and character of Him who came in God's name to seek and to save them; and, on the other hand (or a posteriori), with the whole provision made for imparting to men individually the forgiveness of their sins,—the acceptance of their persons,—the renovation of their natures,—and, finally, an inheritance among them that are sanctified; and it is well fitted to guard against defective and erroneous views upon the subject of the atonement, that we should view it in its relation to the whole counsel of God, and to the whole scheme of revealed truth. The atonement is the great manifestation of God,—the grand means of accomplishing His purposes. The exposition of the true nature, causes, and consequences of the sufferings and death of the Son of God,—the unfolding of the true character, the objects, and effects, of His once offering up of Himself a sacrifice,—constitutes what is more strictly and peculiarly the gospel of the grace of God, which, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, is to be proclaimed to all nations for the obedience of faith. The only legitimate herald of the cross is the man who has been taught by God's word and Spirit to understand the true nature and application of this great provision,—who, in consequence, has been led to take his stand, for his own salvation, upon the foundation which has been laid in Zion,—and who is able also to go round about Zion, to mark her bulwarks, and to consider her palaces,—to unfold the true nature and operation of the great provision which God has made for saving sinners, by sending His own Son to suffer and die for them. And with special reference to the peculiar errors of the present time, there are two dangers to be jealously guarded against: first, the danger of attempting to make the cross of Christ more attractive to men,—to make the representations of the scheme of redemption better fitted, as we may fancy, to encourage and persuade men to come to Christ, and to trust in Him, by keeping back, or explaining away anything which God has revealed to us regarding it,—by failing to bring out, in its due order and right relations, every part of the scheme of revealed truth; and, secondly, the danger of underrating the value and the efficacy of the shedding of Christ's precious blood, of the decease which He once accomplished at Jerusalem, as if it were fitted and intended merely to remove legal obstacles, and to open a door for salvation to all, and not to effect and secure the actual salvation of an innumerable multitude,—as if it did not contain a certain provision—an effectual security—that Christ should see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; that He should appear at length before His Father's throne, with the whole company of the ransomed,—with all whom He washed from their sins in His own blood, and made kings and priests unto God, saying, "Behold, I and the children whom Thou hast given Me!"
Source: Historical Theology, by William Cunningham