Saturday, September 13, 2008

Unlimited Atonement Clarification

I want to add a piece of clarification regarding yesterday's Unlimited Atonement rebuttal post. The clarification is this:

1) I realize that there are people who say that they hold to Unlimited Atonement who do not hold to Universal Redemption. How that is supposed to be a possible distinction is a fascinating study, but not the point of yesterday's post.

2) There is no reasonable argument that Universal Redemption is an acceptable view under any of the major Reformed confessions, but see (1). Incidentally, if Ponter or any of his gang disagree about (2), I'd be surprised, but interested to see how they think that position defensible.

3) Before the rise of Arminianism, there was much less need for Reformed writers to be careful to clearly distinguish their position from that as-yet-nonexistent position. So, it's not surprising that we don't see the early Reformers specifically distinguishing their position from the Arminian and Amyraldian positions (as we see with the next generation of Reformers, such as Turretin).

4) Among the many quotations alleged by Ponter and his gang as being relevant to the issue are statements by the Reformers that would seem to state Universal Redemption, if the other statements relied upon would state Universal Expiation, Universal Satisfaction, or Universal Propitiation (or the like). We leave aside, for the moment, whether the Sacrifice of Christ permits of severing of Expiation from Redemption in intended scope of effect.

5) Consequently, Ponter's attempts to wedge words of "Unlimited Atonement" into the mouths of the early Reformers by interpreting their words anachronistically in light of the later Arminian and Amyraldian controversies falls flat. Ponter cannot fairly take the seemingly universalistic interpretation only in those cases where the writer is not speaking of redemption, and - in fact - Ponter seems to rely (in the case of Bullinger) especially on such quotations.

6) A simpler explanation is simply that the Reformers, understanding the general (non-exhaustive) sense of the word "world" sometimes used it at one end of the semantic range and sometimes at another end of the semantic range, without feeling the need to clarify. After all, their biggest opposition was from folks who, through penance, indulgences, purgatory, and the mass sought to diminish the work of Christ - not those folks who sought to extend Christ's work to the reprobate.

7) I suppose there is an alternative thesis that states that the doctrine of the Atonement was simply poorly understood before the Synod of Dordt among the Reformers. But then John Knox (1510-1572) must stand as a beacon of Pre-Dordt (Dordt was held 1618-19) Reformation light, for he plainly declares:

The third thing to be noted is, That the love of God towards his Elect, given to Christ, is immutable. For Christ puts it in equal balance with the love by the which his Father loved him. Not that I wold any man should so understand me, as that I placed any man in equal dignity and glory with Christ Jesus touching his office. No, that must be reserved wholy and only to himself; that he is the only Beloved, in whom all the rest are beloved; that he is the Head, that only gives life to the body; and that he is the sovereign Prince, before whom all knees shall bow. But I mean, that as the love of God the Father was ever constant towards his dear Son, so is it also towards the members of his body; yea, even when they are ignorant and enemies unto him, as the Apostle witnesses, saying, "God specially commends his love towards us, that when we were yet sinners Christ died for us; much more being justified now by his blood, we shall be saved by him from wrath. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, we, being reconciled, shall be saved by his life."
To some these words may appear contrary to our purpose, for they make mention of a reconciliation, which is not made but where there is enmity and dissension. But if they be righteously considered, they shall most evidently prove that which we affirm, which is, that God loved the members of Christ's body even when they are ignorant, when they by themselves are unworthy and enemies. For this is his first proposition, That we being justified by Faith, have peace with God by our Lord Jesus Christ. Where he makes mention of peace, he puts us in mind of the dissension and war which was betwixt God's justice and our sins. "This enmity (says he) is taken away, and we have obtained peace." And lest that this comfort should suddenly vanish, or else that men should not deeply weigh it, he brings us to the eternal love of God, affirming that God loved us when we were weak. Where we must observe, that the Apostle speaks not universally of all men, but of such as were and should be justified by Faith, and had the love of God poured into their heartes by the Holy Ghost which was given unto them. To such, says he, If God did love us when we were weak, and his enemies, much more must he love us when we are reconciled, and begin, in Faith, to call him Father. The Apostle affirms, that our reconciliation proceeded from God's love, which thing Saint John more plainly does witness in these words: "In this appears the love of God towards us, that God has sent forth his only Son into the world, that we should live by him. In this, I say, is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and hath sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins." So that both those Apostles in plain words do speak that which before I have affirmed, to wit, that God loved the members of Christ Jesus even when they were enemies, as well touching their knowledge and apprehension, as also touching the corruption of their nature; which was not regenerate. And so I conclude as before, that the love of God towards his Elect is stable and immutable, as it which begins not in time, neither depends upon our worthiness or dignity; which truth is contrary to that which I perceive you hold and affirm.
(The Works of John Knox, vol. 5, pp.52-53, Spelling modernized by TurretinFan)

And furthermore, Knox identifies this interesting comment from an adversary of the Reformation (speaking of Knox): "Now, as touching the other sort whom you call Reprobates, you say they can by no means be saved, yea, and that Christ died not for them: then was Christ's death altogether in vain, for his death, you say, belongs not to the Reprobate, and the Elect have no need of it." (Id. at 248)

And when Knox replies, he simply reaffirms the traditional "sufficient for all" formulation, saying: "We do not deny but that Christ's death is sufficient for to redeem the sins of the whole world; but because all do not receive it with faith, which is the free gift of God, given to the chosen children, therefore abide the unfaithful in just condemnation." (Id. at 250) Thus, Knox does not deny the charge, but instead explains it (and, frankly, explains it much the way we have seen in other Reformed writers).

As brother Bridges pointed out in his own post (link) it would be a good time for those who have been making these mistaken historical claims to move on.


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