Zanchi: For It Was the Blood of God

‘When therefore the fullnesse of time was come’, wherein the promise of redemption made unto the first man was to be accomplished by the second, God, the everlasting Father, sent his onely begotten Sonne and eternal and therefore true God, of the same nature with the Father, made of a woman alone, and without the seede of a man and therefore true man, but without sine and so true Christ, made subject to the lawe and therefore circumcised, that he in most perfect obedience might fulfill that law in the name of us all, made obedient to his Father even unto death, namely for us (for he, being without sinne, deserved not to die) that he might redeeme those which were under the law and all the elect even by his obedience, by his death and bloodshedding, that is, by a sacrifice of exceeding vertue (for it was the blood of God) and a most effectual antilutro, ransome, that he might, I saie, redeeme us from sinne to the old image of God and to perfect righteousness, yeah, from death to eternal life, and from the kingdome of Satan to the kingdome of God; and that we might receive adoption of children and so in the ende bee taken into full and perfect possession of the heavenlie inheritance as sonnes and lawfull heires.  And lastile, that he might gather together all thinges in heaven and in earth under one head and ioyne them to himselfe for the glorie of God the Father.

~ Confessions of the Christian Religion XI.1

Moderate Calvinism in England

The personal views of the Reformers are no less convincing. John Hooper (1495-1555) affirmed that Christ died “for the love of us poor and miserable sinners, whose place he occupied upon the cross, as a pledge, or one that represented the person of all the sinners that ever were, be now, or shall be unto the world’s end.” Hugh Latimer (1485-1555) could preach that “Christ shed as much blood for Judas, as he did for Peter: Peter believed it, and therefore he was saved; Judas would not believe, and therefore he was condemned.” Thomas Cranmer (1489- 1556) also says that Christ “by His own oblation… satisfied His Father for all men’s sins and reconciled mankind unto His grace and favour.” John Bradford (1520-55) explains these universalist statements with reference to election when he asserts that “Christ’s death is sufficient for all, but effectual for the elect only.”The Elizabethan Anglicans were no different in their understanding. John Jewel (1552-71) wrote that on the cross Christ declared “It is finished” to signify “that the price and ransom was now full paid for the sin of all mankind.” Elsewhere he proclaimed that “The death of Christ is available for the redemption of all the world” Richard Hooker (1553-1600) states an identical view when he says that Christ’s “precious and propitiatory sacrifice” was “offered for the ins of all the world.” Against this theological background, John Davenant (1570-1641) argued that, notwithstanding God’s secret decree of predestination, “The death of Christ is the universal cause of the salvation of mankind, and Christ himself is acknowledged to have died for all men sufficiently… by reason of the Evangelical covenant confirmed with the whole human race through the merit of his death.” This “evangelical covenant,” he adds is the basis on which “Christ sent his Apostles into all the world, (Mark 16:15, 16)… On which words of promise, the learned Calvin has rightly remarked, That this promise was added that it might allure the whole human race to faith.”

~ Alan Clifford Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640-1790 pg. 79-80

A few pages earlier he records Edmund Calamy’s words on the floor of the Westminster Assembly:

I am far from universal redemption in the Arminian sense; but that that I hold is in the sense of our divines in the Synod of Dort, that Christ did pay a price for all… that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving Christ, and Christ in giving himself, did intend to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do believe. (75)

When Calamy says “our divines” he has in mind folks like Davenant. This is important to remember when we talk about Westminster. The majority of delegates at Westminster considered themselves Anglicans. There were some independents, to be sure, but the general self-identification was with the Church of England. There was no notion that the historic Church of England was somehow opposed to Calvinism or Reformed Theology.

We have to understand that this “Moderate Calvinism” was very much the background for the Westminsterians, even though there was an incredible influence coming from Beza, Perkins, and finally John Owen. If we start adding to the list of Moderates Ussher, Polhill, Arrowsmith, Scudder, Sibbes, Charnock, Howe, and Bunyan the landscape becomes even clearer. In the 19th century, Dabney is critical of Amyraut and the “hypothetical universalists,” but what does he give us? Something very similar to what I’ve quoted above.

The liberals were the High Calvinists and the Arminians. Those two streams departed from the tradition, and however popular they may have become, and trust me, both became very popular, they must be understood as the aberrations.

On Dort, Again

I would like to offer a few observations about Dort that should make us question certain pop-Calvinism interpretations. Some of these may seem self-evident, but in my own personal experience, I found them enlightening, if not startling.

1)- The Canons of Dort do not actually give “5 points.” The Remonstrants had written 5 points, and Dort’s job was to respond to those points. Dort combines points 3 and 4 into one category, and thus when one reads the Canons, he will only cover four sections. Furthermore, S. Vandergugten states that the more important emphasis of the Canons were the individual articles, of which there were 93. Vandergrugten writes:

The chairs and tables of the Arminians were put away. Synod now began to examine their opinions from available writings, concentrating on the Five Articles of the Remonstrance of 1610. The reading of the various judgments of the eighteen committees concerning these Five Articles took place from March 7 to 21 and from March 25 to April 16. The Canons were formulated in ninety-three separate articles. These were signed by all the delegates on April 23, 1619, and solemnly promulgated in the Great Church on May 6 before a large congregation.

And so as one reads Dort, he really ought not look for the famous “5 points.” Rather, he ought to take careful notice of the individual articles, which use very careful wording.

2)- The Canons of Dort do not follow the order of TULIP. In fact, the acronym TULIP only even works in English! It has become a popular catechetical tool in North America, but this should not be allowed to distort our historical understanding. In fact, I have been unable to find an early usage of TULIP than Loraine Boettner.

The Canons of Dort are laid out in this order: i) Divine Election and Reprobation, ii) Christ’s Death and Human Redemption Through It, iii & iv) Human Corruption, Conversion To God and the Way It Occurs, and v) Perseverance of the Saints.

3)- Dort teaches that Reprobation is due to God’s decision to “to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice.” In other words, reprobation is a decision NOT to do something. The condemnation is due to personal guilt.

4)- Dort does not use the language of Christ simply dying “for” one group, but not “for” another. Instead, it treats his death as being “the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.” It presents the limitation in the sovereign, secret, and eternal decree to give the elect faith: “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.”

Faith is a receptive instrument. It leads you elsewhere. Thus, God’s decision to grant justifying faith to the elect is the vehicle which he then leads them to the sacrifice of Christ. That sacrifice is then applied, and the benefits of it become efficient.

This type of explanation is important because it does not limit Christ’s own value or worth. Him being divine, his merit was necessarily infinite.

It also does not make faith the ground of forgiveness. If that were so, we’d be right back into a form of Semi-Pelagianism. Faith is something we use to take us to Christ.

Predestination is not determinism or fatalism either. However mysterious it may be, we must confess that there is genuine human responsibility and the use of it has full integrity. We have the atonement applied in history, through God’s ordained means. The cross did not simply zap all the elect into the right-standing box. If this were so all missions would be mere appendices.

And finally, this understanding of the atonement is necessary to preserve the free offer of the gospel and the legitimate grounds to say to the unbeliever that it is his faithlessness that is at fault, and not God. It is pastorally essential. We must be willing to say to all men that God desires their salvation, according to His revealed will, and we must be willing to weep over those who reject the gospel. “What more could I have done for my vineyard?” the LORD says.

Ursinus on the Sufficient/ Efficient Distinction

Zacharius Ursinus explains what the Heidelberg Catechism means by its 37th question and answer in his fine commentary. The Catechism reads:

Question 37. What dost thou understand by the words, “He suffered”?

Answer: That he, all the time that he lived on earth, but especially at the end of his life, sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind: that so by his passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favor of God, righteousness and eternal life.

Ursinus explains:

Christ satisfied for all, as it respects the sufficiency of the satisfaction which he made, but not as it respects the application thereof; for he fulfilled the law in a two-fold respect. First, by his own righteousness; and secondly, by making satisfaction for our sins, each of which is most perfect. But the satisfaction is made ours by an application, which is also two-fold; the former of which is made by God, when he justifies us on account of the merit of his Son, and brings it to pass that we cease from sin; the latter is accomplished by us through faith. For we apply unto ourselves, that merit of Christ, when by a true faith, we are fully persuaded that God for the sake of the satisfaction of his Son, remits unto us our sins. Without this application, the satisfaction of Christ is of no benfit to us. (pg. 215)

He also takes up the specifics around Q&A 40 in regards to whom Christ died for. This is quite helpful in understanding the logic behind Ursinus’s view of penal substitution and limited atonement:

They affirm, therefore, that Christ died for all, and that he did not die for all; but in different respects. He died for all, as touching the sufficiency of the ransom which he paid; and not for all; but only for the elect, or those that believe, as touching the application and efficacy thereof. The reason of the former lies in this, that the atonement of Christ is sufficient for expiating all the sins of all men, or of the whole world, if only all men will make application thereof unto themselves by faith. For it cannot be said to be insufficient, unless we give countenance to that horrible blasphemy (which God forbid!) that some blame of the destruction of the ungodly results from a defect in the merit of the mediator. The reason of the latter is, because all the elect, or such as believe, and they alone, do apply unto themselves by faith the merit of Christ’s death, together with the efficacy thereof, by which they obtain righteousness, and life according as it is said, “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath everlasting life.” (John 3:36.) The rest are excluded from this efficacy of Christ’s death by their own unbelief, as it is again said, “He that believeth not shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36.) Those, therefore, whom the Scriptures exclude form the efficacy of Christ’s death, cannot be said to be included in the number of those for whom he died as it respects the efficacy of his death, but only as to its sufficiency; because the death of Christ is also sufficient for their salvation, if they will but believe; and the only reason of their exclusion arises from their unbelief.

It is in the same way, that is, by making the same distinction that we reply to those who ask concerning the purpose of Christ, Did he will to die for all? For just as he died, so also he willed to die. Therefore, as he died for all, in respect to the sufficiency of his ransom; and for the faithful alone in respect to the efficacy of the same, so also he willed to die for all in general, as touching the sufficiency of his merit, that is, he willed to merit by his death, grace, righteousness, and life in the most abundant manner for all; because he would not that any thing should be wanting as far as he and his merits are concerned, so that all the wicked who perish may be without excuse. But he willed to die for the elect alone as touching the efficacy of his death, that is, he would not only sufficiently merit grace and life for them alone, but also effectually confers these upon them, grants faith, and the holy Spirit, and brings it to pass that they apply to themselves, by faith, the benefits of his death, and so obtain for themselves the efficacy of his merits. (pg. 223)

Now it is important to keep a few distinctions in mind. Those communions who subscribe to the Heidelberg catechism are confessionally bound to teach that Jesus “sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind.” This much is simply a statement of fact.

They may turn to Ursinus’s commentary for an explanation of how to interpret this statement, of course, and that would be what any responsible student ought to do. Let us then review Ursinus’s logic.

First, Christ satisfied for all in regards to sufficiency. This has to do with the content of the actual death. The “stuff” of the cross, if we may be permitted to use such language for now. This satisfaction is objective and “enough” to remit the sins of the whole world if individuals would but apply the satisfaction. This satisfaction includes the merit of Christ’s death, grace, righteousness, and life. This is the content of Christ’s satisfaction, and it is rightly preached to be “for all” so that no one can complain or evade personal responsibility for not possessing it. The satisfaction is made, and all are invited to apply it by faith.

The limitation, according to Ursinus, occurs in the effectual call of the elect. Christ not only provides the satisfaction, but also “effectually confers these upon them [the elect], grants faith, and the holy Spirit, and brings it to pass that they apply to themselves, by faith, the benefits of his death, and so obtain for themselves the efficacy of his merits.”

That which is conferred is the same in content as that which is made by Christ. The distinction is in the application.

This is important for a number of reasons. It provides a basis for the free offer of the gospel, as well as the ability to state that all are without excuse if they do not make application of Christ’s satisfaction.  This reading is consistent with Dort, and thus explains how Dabney could claim his position as the Reformed position centuries later.

Limited Atonement

As Dabney points out, the very term “atonement” is unclear. What do we mean by this word? It comes from the older English, literally at-one-ment, which would imply reconciliation. We can also recall various “atonement models,” which include Christus Victor, the ransom theory, and penal substitution. Dabney, as well as Warfield, also include postmillennialism in many of their understandings of the “world” passages, and thus we could add the cosmic eschatological atonement to our list.

Most people, however, (at least in Reformed circles) usually mean “expiation” when they say atonement. If this is the definition, then we most certainly do not hold to “limited atonement.” Dort is clear on this matter:

Since, however, we ourselves cannot give this satisfaction or deliver ourselves from God’s anger, God in his boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction for us.

It continues:

This death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

And it gives a reason for this infinite value. It is not due to an amount of deeds, but rather the value of the single divine person:

This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is–as was necessary to be our Savior–not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God’s anger and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved.

This is, consequently, one reason why we need to have proper Christology prior to engaging in the question over the “extent of the atonement.” Christ’s “merit” or his “worth” ultimately stems from his deity, a fact that Calvin was keenly aware of (see here and here).

This infinite satisfaction is to preached to the whole world:

Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

Notice that the call is to believe in Christ crucified. The Marrow Men of a later period would implore people to believe that “Christ is dead for you.” Similarly, Luther, Calvin, and the vast majority of the Reformed orthodox taught that to believe the gospel was to believe that you were forgiven. Faith is a particular thing. To doubt is not to believe, and thus the inclusion of assurance within the definition of faith by the early Reformed and Continental Confessions is fully consistent with their understanding of the free offer of the gospel. It really was for everyone.

Dort squarely places the blame for damnation on the unbelievers:

However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault.

At this point is important to review the 1st head of doctrine. So far I’ve been in the 2nd, but at this point we need the context. Dort initially begins with this:

Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin. As the apostle says: The whole world is liable to the condemnation of God (Rom. 3:19), All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

It then gives the message of God’s love:

But this is how God showed his love: he sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And again, Dort states the free offer:

In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).

We must note once more that the faith is in Christ crucified. That is what, or perhaps who, sinners are called to put their trust in. The very fact that you are preaching to them gives the implication that the message is for them.

And to prevent any impious and blasphemous doctrine from cropping up around the truth of particular election, which all Calvinists and Augustinians affirm, Dort adds this qualifier:

The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man.


The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decision. For all his works are known to God from eternity (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen. And in this especially is disclosed to us his act–unfathomable, and as merciful as it is just–of distinguishing between people equally lost. This is the well-known decision of election and reprobation revealed in God’s Word. This decision the wicked, impure, and unstable distort to their own ruin, but it provides holy and godly souls with comfort beyond words.

Dort adds more:

Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God’s eternal election– those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision: to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice. And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.

In the later section on “rejecting the gospel,” Dort states:

The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life’s cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).

Let us clearly note that Dort says that Christ is offered through the gospel. Christ is the gospel. And reprobation is a way of describing the truth that certain people will reject the gospel (or never hear it- in the absence of preacher, in which case their sin is ample ground for condemnation).

When dealing with assurance it is worth noting that Dort begins with the the promises of God. The gospel is the primary ground of assurance:

Accordingly, this assurance does not derive from some private revelation beyond or outside the Word, but from faith in the promises of God which he has very plentifully revealed in his Word for our comfort, from the testimony of the Holy Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children and heirs (Rom. 8:16-17), and finally from a serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works. And if God’s chosen ones in this world did not have this well-founded comfort that the victory will be theirs and this reliable guarantee of eternal glory, they would be of all people most miserable.

It seems that Dort understands the testimony of the Holy Spirit to be directly associated, if not fully identified, with the revealed Word of God, since it excludes private revelation. Thus we are not relying on how we feel the Spirit to be working, but rather in the Spirit’s objective testimony in the Word.

This is why assurance is included in the definition of faith. Dort later acknowledges that believers can fall into times of doubt, but assurance is still objective, and it is part of what doubters are called back to. Believe it because it is the case.

This understanding of the atonement is consistent with Dabney’s teaching which I posted yesterday, and I think it is of immense importance that we understand this today.  The decree to call specific individuals is limited, but the expiation provided by Christ’s death is unlimited.  Since Christ’s death infinitely satisfies God’s wrath and the decree is secret, thus we have no access to it, we should point all men to Christ crucified.  We should ask them to believe that Christ is for them.  They must repent and believe, and the thing that they are to believe is that Christ has brought them salvation.  Whenever doubt arises, the gospel is there to combat it.  Just say no to hyper-Calvinism.

Dabney on Unlimited Expiation

Dabney is certainly sympathetic to the Amyraldians. He doesn’t agree with Hodge’s criticisms, though he does believe that the Amyraldian solutions fail to achieve what they set out to do. For Dabney, the “limitation” of the atonement (this is a word he doesn’t much care for either) comes in the covenant of redemption and not in the content of Christ’s expiation. Dabney critiques the Amyraldians for failing to affirm that Christ purchases effectual calling for the elect, but I have to admit that I’m having trouble understanding how the purchase of effectual calling relates with the expiation, of which Dabney admits is unlimited. It seems to me that the covenant of redemption is wholly bound up in God’s secret will, and thus we ought not say too much about how it comes about. I think that Dabney comes out pretty close to “hypothetical universalism,” whatever that actually is. Perhaps Flynn will enlighten us all.

To begin with, he notes the genuine offer of the gospel to all, stating that God really does desire, in a true sense of that word, that even the reprobate would be saved, even though He has not decreed it to come about. Dabney says that limited atonement is analogous to election, but is quick to state, “redemption is limited precisely by the decree, and by nothing else” (Systematic Theology pg. 527).

Dabney gets into the more specific question of the content of Christ’s death, and his distinctions are very helpful:

Now Christ is a true substitute. His suffereings were penal and vicarious, and made a true satisfaction for all those who actually embrace them by faith. But the conception charged on us seems to be, as though Christ’s expiation were a web of the garment of righteousness, to be cut into definite pieces, and distributed out, so much to each person of the elect; whence, of course, it must have a definite aggregate length, and had God seen fit to add any to the number of elect, He must have had an additional extent of web woven. This is all incorrect. Satisfaction was Christ’s indivisible act, and inseparable vicarious merit, infinite in moral value, the whole in its unity and completeness, imputed to every believing elect man, without numerical division, subtraction or exhaustion.

Dabney also adds, “Remember, the limitation is precisely in the decree, and no where else.” He states the the real limitation is in the personal relationships decreed to come about. His conclusion is of vast importance:

The only New Testament sense the word atonement has is that of katallage, reconciliation.  But expiation is another idea.  Katallage is personal.  Exilasmos [expiation] is impersonal.  Katallage is multiplied, being repeated as often as a sinner comes to the expiatory blood: exilasmos is single, unique, complete; and, in itself considered, has no more relationship to one man’s sins than another.  As it is applied in effectual calling, it becomes personal, and receives a limitation.  But in itself, limitation is irrelevant to it.  Hence, when men use the word atonement, as they so often do, in the sense of expiation, the phrases, “limited atonement,” “particular atonement,” have no meaning. Redemption is limited, i.e., to true believers, and is particular. Expiation is not limited.

Now Dabney’s discussion is wholly concerned with penal substitution. There is no mention made of Christus Victor, which, were such written today, would be a glaring omission, but in Dabney’s day the neglect was standard and can perhaps be forgiven.

As I understand it, the “limited” only applies to the secret will of God and the covenant of redemption. Being secret, it seems a hard doctrine to preach directly to people, and I think Dabney admits as much. The entire issue is basically one of the via negativa. Given that it was a rejection of a contrary proposal, this makes good sense.

The gospel is part of God’s revealed will though, and as such I think we are free to speak of it to all. Dabney is more reserved on what this looks like, although I can’t see wherein he and I would really disagree, especially if broader atonement models are figured in. That Christ has satisfied God’s wrath and in him is peace and reconciliation ought to be the very object of our faith. That is what we are to believe. In Christ, we are reconciled to God.

How Can God Both Desire Your Salvation and Condemn You?

R L Dabney answered this question by an analogy:

The direction in which the answers are conceived to lie may be best indicated by an analogical instance. A human ruler may have full power and authority over the punishment of a culprit, may declare consistently his sincere compassion for him, and may yet freely elect to destroy him. A concrete case will make the point more distinct. Chief-Justice Marshall, in his Life of Washington (Vol. 4., Chap. 6.), says with reference to the death-warrant of the rash and unfortunate Major André “Perhaps on no occasion of his life did the commander-in-chief obey with more reluctance the stern mandates of duty and of policy.” In this historical instance we have these facts: Washington had plenary power to kill or to save alive. His compassion for the criminal was real and profound. Yet he signed his death-warrant with spontaneous decision. The solution is not the least difficult either for philosophy or common sense. Every deliberate rational volition is regulated by the agent’s dominant subjective disposition, and prompted by his own subjective motive. But that motive is a complex, not a simple modification of spirit. The simplest motive of man’s rational volition is a complex of two elements: a desire or propension of some subjective optative power, and a judgment of the intelligence as to the true and preferable. The motive of a single decision may be far more complex than this, involving many intellectual considerations of prudence, or righteous policy, and several distinct and even competing propensions of the optative powers. The resultant volition arises out of a deliberation, in which the prevalent judgment and appetency counterpoise the inferior ones. To return to our instance Washington’s volition to sign the death-warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned; but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments and propensions of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation. Let us suppose that one of André’s intercessors (and he had them, even among the Americans) standing by, and hearing the commanding general say, as he took up the pen to sign the fatal paper, “I do this with the deepest reluctance and pity,” should have retorted, “Since you are supreme in this matter, and have full bodily ability to throw down that pen, we shall know by your signing this warrant that your pity is hypocritical.” The petulance of this charge would have been equal to its folly. The pity was real; but was restrained by superior elements of motive. Washington had official and bodily power to discharge the criminal; but he had not the sanction of his own wisdom and justice. Thus his pity was genuine, and yet his volition not to indulge it free and sovereign.

Certainly aware of objections, Dabney proceeded to answer them in this lengthy essay. One of the more interesting aspects of the essay is Dabney’s criticism of Thomistic versions of divine simplicity. Hodge agreed with him in this respect, though it seems a historical oddity.

Here is his response to that issue:

The attempt to illustrate the action of the divine will from the rise of rational volition in man, has doubtless been prejudiced by the scholastic explanations of God’s absolute simplicity. They would have us believe, not only that this excludes all composition and aggregation of quantitative parts, but all true distinction of essence and attributes. They would have the idea of God as absolutely devoid of construction in thought as his substance is of construction in reality. We must, in his case, identify essence and attributes. God is actus purus [pure impulse]. Any attribute is God; and hence one attribute is differentiated from another only by our apprehension of it. With him cognition and effectuation are identical. It does not satisfy them to say that God is an infinite monad, as the rational human soul is a finite monad; and that his attributes, like man’s essential powers of intelligence, sensibility, and will, are not limbs or parts attached to the spirit, but essential modes of functions with which it is endued. They require us to identify God’s attributes with his essence in a way inconceivably closer than we do man’s essential powers with his essence. Now, if this speculation be correct, the attempt to apprehend the action of the divine will by the human must be wholly erroneous. There could be no such distinction, as is true of man, between motive and volition, or between the optative powers and the power of choice. Nor could there be any sense whatsoever in which God’s subjective motive could be complex.
    But we deny that the speculation is correct, susceptible of proof, or possible to be valid to the human mind. Evidently the cognition of such a being is inaccessible to man’s intelligence. The only way he has of knowing substance is through its attributes; and the only cognition we have of it is as the intuitive notion, which the reason necessarily supplies, of the subjectum to which the attributes perceived must be referred. Hence, to require us to think substance as literally identical with each attribute rationally referred to it, is to forbid us to think it at all. Again, reason forbids us to think different attributes as identical. We intuitively know that thought is not conation, and conation is not sensibility; it is as impossible to think these actually identical in God as in ourselves. Last, this speculation brings us too near the awful verge of pantheism. Were it true, then, it would be the shortest and most natural of steps to conclude that God has no other being than the series of activities of the several attributes with which they seek to identify the being. Thus we have the form of pantheism next to the gulf of nihilism. If the attributes are identical with the being of God and with each other, and if it be thus shown that God’s thought makes the object thereof, then, since God is eternally, necessarily, and infinitely intelligent, these results must rigidly follow: That all objective being known to God must be also as eternal and necessary as God; and that it must be as infinite as he is. What more would Spinoza have desired to found his mathematical proof of pantheism? The speculation is not true any more than it is scriptural. The Bible always speaks of God’s attributes as distinct, and yet not dividing his unity; of his intelligence and will as different; of his wrath, love, pity, wisdom, as not the same activities of the Infinite Spirit. We are taught that each of these is inconceivably higher than the principle in man which bears the corresponding name; but if the Scriptures do not mean to teach us that they are distinguishable in God, as truly as in man, and that this is as consistent with his being an infinite monad as with our souls’ being finite monads, then they are unmeaning.

A great essay if you’ve got the fortitude. Dabney should be read more often!

Believing the Promise

Saying “postmillennialism is the gospel” strikes many as an exaggerated rhetorical statement.  And on some levels it may be.  However, the basic sentiment that goes by the term “postmillennialism” today is that all of the nations of the world will be made holy prior to the consummation of the current time-space situation ie. before Jesus comes back.

In other words, the gospel message is that in Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ, all of the nations will be blessed.

This is what Abraham was called to believe in, and it is what the apostles preached all throughout the book of Acts.  What the New Perspective on Paul has sometimes failed to do is connect the Jew and Gentile relations in Pauline literature with the larger Old Testament promises.

It was always God’s plan to have a glorified creation.  This is, after all, why he created Eve.  The fact that God did not abandon his creation is testified to in the incarnation, and the fact that He will not discard his creation and start anew is testified to in the resurrection of Jesus.

And so away with invisible remnant religions!  Away with anti-cultural quietists!    Away with forensomonism!

Give us back the gospel!

Muller on Dort and “L”

In a second chapter, the Canons treat of the problem of the relationship of Christ’s sacrifice to the salvation of the elect. Because the form of the Canons is so closely related to the forms of the Remonstrance it is incorrect to argue that the Synod derived a concept of limited Atonement from the decrees. The second chapter of the Canons follows logically not upon the first chapter but upon the second chapter of the Remonstrance. The Remonstrance stated that the universal sufficiency of Christ’s death was available to all those men who chose faith in Christ. Dort affirms the infinite value and sufficiency of Christ’s death. It affirms also the universality of the call of the Gospel. The benefits of Christ, however, are available only to those chosen by God in eternity. No man is able to accept the promise of the Gospel without the gift of God’s grace. The Remonstrants might have accepted these declarations had it not been for their concept of election. Arminian theology like Calvinist restricted the actual efficacy of Atonement to the faithful. It set the limit in man’s rejection of God’s grace: the elect are those foreseen by God as faithful. The Calvinists denied the doctrine that election was based on foreknown faith. They thereby placed the limit of the efficacy of the Atonement in the will of God. The underlying issue addressed by the Calvinist response is the sovereignty of God’s grace in the work of salvation.

~ Richard Muller Predestination and Christology in Sixteenth Century Reformed Thought pg. 424, 425

Note that it is election that is limited. The value and sufficiency of Christ’s death is infinite. The reception is conditioned upon faith, and the creation of that faith is limited in God’s plan. This arrangement is key because it allows for a true offer of the gospel to all and places the blame of damnation on man’s rejection of God.

Calvin on the Godman

He has more to say than you might expect:

It deeply concerned us, that he who was to be our Mediator should be very God and very man. If the necessity be inquired into, it was not what is commonly termed simple or absolute, but flowed from the divine decree on which the salvation of man depended. What was best for us, our most merciful Father determined. Our iniquities, like a cloud intervening between Him and us, having utterly alienated us from the kingdom of heaven, none but a person reaching to him could be the medium of restoring peace. But who could thus reach to him? Could any of the sons of Adam? All of them, with their parents, shuddered at the sight of God. Could any of the angels? They had need of a head, by connection with which they might adhere to their God entirely and inseparably. What then? The case was certainly desperate, if the Godhead itself did not descend to us, it being impossible for us to ascend. Thus the Son of God behoved to become our Emmanuel, the God with us; and in such a way, that by mutual union his divinity and our nature might be combined; otherwise, neither was the proximity near enough, nor the affinity strong enough, to give us hope that God would dwell with us; so great was the repugnance between our pollution and the spotless purity of God. Had man remained free from all taint, he was of too humble a condition to penetrate to God without a Mediator. What, then, must it have been, when by fatal ruin he was plunged into death and hell, defiled by so many stains, made loathsome by corruption; in fine, overwhelmed with every curse? It is not without cause, therefore, that Paul, when he would set forth Christ as the Mediator, distinctly declares him to be man. There is, says he, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2: 5.) He might have called him God, or at least, omitting to call him God he might also have omitted to call him man; but because the Spirit, speaking by his mouth, knew our infirmity, he opportunely provides for it by the most appropriate remedy, setting the Son of God familiarly before us as one of ourselves. That no one, therefore, may feel perplexed where to seek the Mediator, or by what means to reach him, the Spirit, by calling him man, reminds us that he is near, nay, contiguous to us, inasmuch as he is our flesh. And, indeed, he intimates the same thing in another place, where he explains at greater length that he is not a high priest who “cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb. 4: 15.)

This will become still clearer if we reflect, that the work to be performed by the Mediator was of no common description: being to restore us to the divine favour, so as to make us, instead of sons of men, sons of God; instead of heirs of hell, heirs of a heavenly kingdom. Who could do this unless the Son of God should also become the Son of man, and so receive what is ours as to transfer to us what is his, making that which is his by nature to become ours by grace? Relying on this earnest, we trust that we are the sons of God, because the natural Son of God assumed to himself a body of our body, flesh of our flesh, bones of our bones, that he might be one with us; he declined not to take what was peculiar to us, that he might in his turn extend to us what was peculiarly his own, and thus might be in common with us both Son of God and Son of man. Hence that holy brotherhood which he commends with his own lips, when he says, “I ascend to my Father, and your Father, to my God, and your God,” (John 20: 17.) In this way, we have a sure inheritance in the heavenly kingdom, because the only Son of God, to whom it entirely belonged, has adopted us as his brethren; and if brethren, then partners with him in the inheritance, (Rom. 8: 17.) Moreover, it was especially necessary for this cause also that he who was to be our Redeemer should be truly God and man. It was his to swallow up death: who but Life could do so? It was his to conquer sin: who could do so save Righteousness itself? It was his to put to flight the powers of the air and the world: who could do so but the mighty power superior to both? But who possesses life and righteousness, and the dominion and government of heaven, but God alone? Therefore, God, in his infinite mercy, having determined to redeem us, became himself our Redeemer in the person of his only begotten Son.

Institutes 2.12.1-2