Monday, December 29, 2008

Amyraldianism and the Canons of Dordt

Someone raised the question of why I would think that the Amyraldian position is at odds with the teachings of the Synod of Dordt. The following hopefully explains.

The Amyraldian position, per Dabney, is that "God decreed from eternity, to create the human race, to permit the fall; then in His infinite compassion, to send Christ to atone for every human being’s sins, (conditioned on his believing); but also foreseeing that all, in consequence of total depravity and the bondage of their will, would inevitably reject this mercy if left to themselves ... ." (source)

The relevant parts of the Canons of Dordt are as follows (all references are within the topic of the Second Main Point of Doctrine):
Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ's Death

For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son's costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God's will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit's other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.
(emphases are my own)

Also, Rejection of Errors 1 states as the error:
Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ's death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.
and provides as the answer:
For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For the Savior speaks as follows: I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says concerning the Savior: When he shall make himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand (Isa. 53:10). Finally, this undermines the article of the creed in which we confess what we believe concerning the Church.


Further, Rejection of Errors 3 states as the error:
Who teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them.
and provides as the answer:
For they have too low an opinion of the death of Christ, do not at all acknowledge the foremost fruit or benefit which it brings forth, and summon back from hell the Pelagian error.


Further, Rejection of Errors 6 states as the error:
Who make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ's death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves.
and provides as the answer:
For, while pretending to set forth this distinction in an acceptable sense, they attempt to give the people the deadly poison of Pelagianism.


Analysis

The issue created by Amyraldianism is its making the atonement universal, by placing it before the decree of election in the order of decrees. It's impossible, under the Amyraldian scheme (as it is presented by Dabney) for the atonement to be particular, because the election of people is logically subsequent to the decree of atonement. Accordingly, Christ dies for all mankind universally in an undifferentiated way, on the condition of faith. However, God recognizes that no one can fulfill this condition and consequently God elects to give some grace to fulfill the condition. Consequently, while the atonement itself (in the Amyraldian scheme) is universal, the application of that atonement is particular (as also in the Arminian scheme, although the way in which it becomes particular is different in the Arminian scheme).

Article 8 of Heading 2 of the Canons of Dordt is inconsistent with this view of the atonement. Article 8 states that "In other words, it was God's will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father ... ." (emphases my own) This statement limits the scope of the atonement to the elect, through the explicit use of "only those."

I realize that an Amyraldian who wished to agree with Dordt, for whatever reason, might try to latch hold of the word "effectively" and/or "redeem" to try to find a way to agree with Dordt without sacrificing their own view of the atonement. With respect to "redeem" the argument would amount to arguing that redemption is one thing, and presentation is another thing. Thus, the atonement was presented to God for all, but only the elect were redeemed by it. The argument with respect to "effectively" would be similar: only the elect are effectively redeemed, all the rest are ineffectively redeemed.

Each of these attempted end-runs are problematic. First, it should be obvious that the Arminian/Remonstrant should be able to say the same thing, and yet it is apparent from the historical context that the heading was opposed to the errors of the Remonstrants. Second, we see further clarification via the Rejection of errors sections.

The synod described, as an error, the position that "God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ's death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual." Nevertheless, if the Amyraldian position were held, it would be the case that God so appointed his Son, and the worth of what Christ's death obtained could have stood whole even if the obtained redemption was never applied to any individual. Indeed, since - in the Amyraldian position - the atonement is suspended on the hypothesis of faith, if no one has faith, the atonement is perfect with zero scope.

Error 3 is less directly relevant to Amyraldianism, but is still illustrative: "[It is an error to] teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them." Again, if Amyraldianism is correct, the atonement merely enabled faith as the condition of salvation. Now, perhaps Amyraldians would deny that faith is a condition of salvation in their system (and perhaps they are right in that denial), but the practical result of their system is that they make the atonement merely a doorway, and not the definite purchase of salvation for the elect. On the other hand, they make election the definite application of the atonement for the elect. In other words, an Amyraldian might be able to distinguish themselves from this precise error, but they could not do so in the way described, namely by asserting that the atonement was specifically for the elect.

Error 6 is probably the least relevant of the errors I've identified, but I think it helps to provide a last piece of the puzzle: "[It is an error to] make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ's death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves."

The Amyraldians would distinguish themselves from this error by denying that man's own free choice applied to indiscriminately offered grace is what effectively works in them the grace of the atonement. Instead, the Amyraldian would say that it is grace that causes man to have faith that effectively works in the elect the grace of the atonement. Nevertheless, the Amyraldians would tend to use the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to argue that Christ died for all on the hypothesis of faith.

There is a real distinction between the obtaining of the redemption and the applying of the redemption, but the difference is not one of scope. The redemption is obtained for those to whom it is to be applied. Article 8 tries to make that clear by providing a chain (much like that found in Romans 8):

  • [It] was God's will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant)
  • should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father;
  • that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit's other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death);
  • that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith;
  • that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and
  • that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.


It's worth noting one final point that sinks the Amyraldian ship (at least as defined by Dabney's presentation of it): the article states that faith was acquired for the elect by Christ's death ("faith (which ... he acquired for them by his death)"). It would seem absurd to say that Christ universally acquired faith for all conditioned on faith.

-TurretinFan

8 comments:

Mike Burgess said...

Speculative orders of decrees are the root of the problem.

Turretinfan said...

I would think the entire body of scholasticism would tend to disagree with you, if by "speculative" you simply mean that careful thought is required. If you mean "speculative" in the usual sense, none of the proposed orders of decrees are "speculative."

-TurretinFan

Mike Burgess said...

Really? The entire body of scholasticism? Or just the Reformation body of scholasticism would disagree with me? Or bits and pieces of pre-Reformation scholasticism, so-called?

I should have specified that I was referring to theoretical Reformation orders of decree. That would have helped, but your reply is intriguing. Do elaborate.

As to my point, with my caveat, I mean that double predestinarian varieties of lapsarianism (infra- and super-) as well as those other orders of decree which are not d/p are at the root of your (your = Protestant) problems here. And since you all appeal to Scripture and its plain meaning, and since there's no golden key by which to unlock any interpretive grid at a starting point, the starting point is in fact moved back. Interestingly, back into scholasticism, and ultimately further, but that's for another time.

Turretinfan said...

Yes, the whole body is what I meant. But, of course, that was when you used that word "speculative" as an apparent synonym for "involved" or "complicated."

Now, I see that it was just a word for expressing your disagreement. You opinion is noted.

-TurretinFan

natamllc said...

From the beginning of the article: "The Amyraldian position, per Dabney, is that "God decreed from eternity, to create the human race, to permit the fall; then in His infinite compassion, to send Christ to atone for every human being’s sins, (conditioned on his believing); but also foreseeing that all, in consequence of total depravity and the bondage of their will, would inevitably reject this mercy if left to themselves ... ."

This article is deep and I went at it last night then had to go.

I am back today and betwixt two, am waiting to head off to a meeting so I will comment on the first bit for now.

The Amyraldian position pasted above makes it clear to me their problem. They just don't get it.

I just cannot accept the inclusiveness in these words "....to create the human race,...." when we read this in Scripture:

Gen 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

Granted, the origin of all things rests in the Eternal Godhead. God dealing with His creatures creations is handled well in Scripture.

After that, well, there are some mysteries that only His Faith can lay to rest in one's soul as we contend earnestly for it when we should.

Not everyone has Faith. Our Faith is from God, not ourselves.

Why is election such a difficult task for some to accept?

When I read Words of Scripture like these, I find "rest". The word I want noted is the Word "River", Ps. 72:8 and Ps. 80:11,...:::>


Psa 72:8 May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!
Psa 72:9 May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust!
Psa 72:10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!
Psa 72:11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!

and

Psa 80:7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!
Psa 80:8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
Psa 80:9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
Psa 80:10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches.
Psa 80:11 It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.

natamllc said...

TF, I'm back and going over this article.

I wish to make a comment and point regarding these words:

"....Indeed, since - in the Amyraldian position - the atonement is suspended on the hypothesis of faith, if no one has faith, the atonement is perfect with zero scope."

Consider something about "Faith".

Luk 16:16 "The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.

Hmmmmm, "....and everyone forces his way into it."

Then Jesus goes on and makes a startling observation of a conversation between Abraham and a rich man.

Luk 16:22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried,....

....Luk 16:29 But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'
Luk 16:30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
Luk 16:31 He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"

Ok, question, "who doesn't have faith in these stories told by Jesus"?

So, when you read above about the Amyraldian position suspending "Faith", I guess you have to conclude Amyraldians, granted that they must have "faith", are "forcing their way into the Kingdom". And sadly, we know what happens if you are at the wedding without proper attire! Ouch!!

natamllc said...

Ok, TF, good work here!

One final issue, a question for you.

At Error 6, concluding remarks just before the point in the article about Article 8, there, we read:

".....The redemption is obtained for those to whom it is to be applied."

This is a horse pill to large for Arminians to swallow, right?

So, are you saying that Amyraldians tend to congregate there some, too? Would they argue that after God has done His part, they now have something to do about it?

Clearly, "redemption" was obtained and I had nothing to do about it.

In fact, it is a surprise to me!

I did not "choose" God, nor was I particularly or deeply in love or involved in this Elect Love Affair before He showed up!

Can't say I am dissatisfied. Can't say God has given me free passes to go off doing whatsoever I darn well please, for God, you know?

Mostly, I come to the Sacraments, weekly in my Church, and I love to hear those words: "I forgive you for all your sins, of thought, word and deed, both known and unknown"! Ah!

What can I say? I am not ashamed of the Gospel anymore, like I use to be and I too, have come to understand that it is the power of God unto Salvation to everyone who believes!

When you get it out of order, Atonement, then Election, would you say you got nothing pulling the cart?

Turretinfan said...

"One final issue, a question for you.

At Error 6, concluding remarks just before the point in the article about Article 8, there, we read:

".....The redemption is obtained for those to whom it is to be applied."

This is a horse pill to large for Arminians to swallow, right?"

Apparently so ... or at least ... they don't like the idea that the redemption was not obtained for the others.

"So, are you saying that Amyraldians tend to congregate there some, too? Would they argue that after God has done His part, they now have something to do about it?"

No. They acknowledge that God elects some undeserving sinners, but they argue that Christ died equally for all men (as though he did not specifically lay down his life for his sheep).

"Clearly, "redemption" was obtained and I had nothing to do about it."

Amen!

"When you get it out of order, Atonement, then Election, would you say you got nothing pulling the cart?"

Yes - not only that - but the Bible tells us that Jesus died "for the great joy that was set before him." This seems to me to be clearly a reference to Christ dying with the elect particularly in mind: he died so that he could intercede - his work as sacrificial victim and high priest being bound up in one person.

Recall what Abraham told Isaac? God will provide the lamb - and God has - and so we like Isaac are spared, while the lamb of God is crucified in our place.

-TurretinFan