Calvin’s View on the Atonement

What did John Calvin believe concerning limited Atonement? Many say that Calvin did not. Dr. Nicole addresses this question with great care.

This topic has received considerable attention in the recent past, perhaps in view of R. T. Kendall’s very controversial book Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649.1 An effort is made here to summarize the debate and to provide a brief evaluation.
It is often stated—and with considerable propriety—that Calvin did not write an explicit treatment concerning the extent of the atonement, in fact did not deal with this precise issue in the terms to which Reformed theology has been accustomed. It must be owned, of course, that the question had received some attention before Calvin. Notably Gottschalk in the ninth century had given express support to definite atonement2 and the scholastics had discussed the topic and advanced a partial resolution in asserting that Christ’s death was “sufficient for all men and efficient for the elect.” 3 Calvin alludes to and endorses this distinction but views it as insufficient for a proper analysis of 1 John 2:2. 4 Nevertheless a full discussion of the scope of the atonement is not found in Calvin’s writings, and the assessment of his position in this area has been varied.

Certain other Reformed theologians, contemporaries of Calvin or flourishing in the late sixteenth or the beginning of the seventeenth century, expressed a clear endorsement of definite atonement: e.g. Peter Martyr, H. Zanchius, T. Beza, J. Piscator, W. Ames, R. Abbot. 5 As far as we know, they did not assert that they were conscious of differing with Calvin on this score, nor did Calvin take issue in writing with any of those who formulated the view during his life-time.

One of the earliest writers to claim that Calvin espoused universal atonement was Moyse Amyraut (1596–1664) who in his Eschantillon de la doctrine de Calvin touchant la predestination6 quoted certain passages from Calvin’s commentaries in support of his own position on universal atonement. Amyraut’s friend and supporter Jean Daillé (1594–1670) later published some 43 pages of excerpts from Calvin’s works which he deemed in line with universal grace. 7 A number of these excerpts relate to the design of the atonement, but it is really amazing to observe how most of these quotations are lacking in cogency with respect to the precise status questionis. Some, indeed, appear actually counterproductive, especially if replaced in their original context. 8 Amyraut’s opponents, notably Pierre DuMoulin (1568–1658), 9 André Rivet (1573–1651), 10 and Frederic Spanheim (1600–1649) 11 did not fail to respond with explanations of Calvin’s texts which showed them to be compatible with particularism. Furthermore they quoted other texts of Calvin, especially from his Traité de la predestination,12 in which the design of the atonement and God’s elective purpose are seen as inextricably related. Continue reading

The Case for Definite Atonement

Article: Dr. Roger Nicole on the subject on the limited or definite atonement of Jesus Christ.

Introduction:

It is with special joy that I accept this invitation to present a brief paper sketching the case for definite atonement. A professor of Systematic Theology in an interdenominational conservative school must naturally feel constrained to afford a fair representation not only to his own convictions but to the various views to which some evangelicals are committed. Under those circumstances I seldom have occasion to make a direct plea for particular redemption. At this time, however, the case for universal atonement is in the hands of two scholars who hold to it and set it forth in two papers appearing in the present issue of B.E.S.T. With zest, therefore do I undertake the task to express and vindicate the doctrine of definite atonement.

I. Precise Point at Issue

In order to dispel misunderstanding frequently prevailing in spite of clear and emphatic statements (which inexplicably remain unheeded), it may be wise at the outset to specify precisely what is in view here.

The doctrine is not concerned with the intrinsic value of the sacrifice of Christ. It is freely granted by all parties to the controversy, and specifically by the Reformed, that the death of our Lord, by virtue of His divine nature, is of infinite worth and therefore amply sufficient to redeem all mankind, all angels and the whole world, even a thousand worlds besides, if He had so intended. Rather the point at issue here concerns the chief purpose of the Father in sending the Son and the chief intention of Christ in laying down His life in sacrifice.

The Reformed as well as others admit, yea are eager to acknowledge, that there are certain blessings short of salvation, which are the fruits of the work of Christ, which may terminate upon any and all men, and which do in fact benefit substantially some who will never attain unto salvation. The point which is here in view, however, is whether salvation itself, involving all its integral elements, reconciliation, forgiveness, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc., has been actually secured and purchased by Christ for all men, or for the elect only.

It should be well understood that among evangelicals there is no major contention as to whether all will in fact be saved. With deep sorrow at the thought of the destiny of the lost, all parties here in presence confess that the Scripture makes it patently plain that ultimately some men will be saved and others will be lost. Thus it is important to emphasize at the outset that even those who assert a universal intent for the death of Christ do not go so far as to say that all men will in fact attain unto salvation.

The point at issue here is simply this, whether the Father is sending the Son and the Son in offering Himself did intend to, provide salvation for all men and every man, or whether they intended to secure the salvation of all those and those only who will in fact be redeemed. The Reformed position unapologetically asserts the latter. Continue reading

Three Days and Three Nights

Article by TurretinFan: Three Days and Three Nights – Hebrew Idiom for Three Consecutive Calendar Days (original source here)

Jonah’s use of “three days and three nights” repeated by Jesus in prophesying his own death, burial, and resurrection has led to some confusion. As you may recall, in Jonah, it is written:

Jonah 1:15-17
So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Similarly, Jesus states:

Matthew 12:38-41
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

Some people have taken this expression as expressing emphasis on both daylight and and dark periods, instead of understanding the expression as simply meaning three consecutive calendar days.

Interestingly enough, the same expression is found in one other place, where it is fairly clear that three calendar days is meant:

1 Samuel 30:1 & 11-14
And it came to pass, when David and his men were come to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the south, and Ziklag, and smitten Ziklag, and burned it with fire; … And they found an Egyptian in the field, and brought him to David, and gave him bread, and he did eat; and they made him drink water; and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins: and when he had eaten, his spirit came again to him: for he had eaten no bread, nor drunk any water, three days and three nights. And David said unto him, To whom belongest thou? and whence art thou? And he said, I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite; and my master left me, because three days agone I fell sick. We made an invasion upon the south of the Cherethites, and upon the coast which belongeth to Judah, and upon the south of Caleb; and we burned Ziklag with fire.

The point of “three days and three nights” is just that the Egyptian had been continuously without food and water for three calendar days. The point is not the day and light portions, but the continuity. We see that from the fact that David returned “on the third day” (vs. 1) and from the fact that the Egyptian had only fallen sick “three days agone.”

The way that “on the third day” worked for the Hebrew way of counting days can be seen from Jesus’ own use:

Luke 13:32 And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.

Similarly, in Leviticus:

Leviticus 19:6 It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow: and if ought remain until the third day, it shall be burnt in the fire.

Even in 1 Samuel, we see the same way of counting:

1 Samuel 20:5 And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even. Continue reading

Never Mess with the Gospel of God

Text: 1 Cor. 15:1-7

The essentials of the Gospel are crystal clear, as is the response God requires from us. It is God’s gospel and as heralds of that good news, we have no right to change, adjust, dilute or add to it in any way at all.

What Do Expiation and Propitiation Mean?

This excerpt is adapted from The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul

When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I’m often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don’t use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren’t sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words.

Expiation and Propitiation

Let’s think about what these words mean, then, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means “out of” or “from,” so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. By contrast, propitiation has to do with the object of the expiation. The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him.

In a certain sense, propitiation has to do with God’s being appeased. We know how the word appeasement functions in military and political conflicts. We think of the so-called politics of appeasement, the philosophy that if you have a rambunctious world conqueror on the loose and rattling the sword, rather than risk the wrath of his blitzkrieg you give him the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia or some such chunk of territory. You try to assuage his wrath by giving him something that will satisfy him so that he won’t come into your country and mow you down. That’s an ungodly manifestation of appeasement. But if you are angry or you are violated, and I satisfy your anger, or appease you, then I am restored to your favor and the problem is removed.

The same Greek word is translated by both the words expiation and propitiation from time to time. But there is a slight difference in the terms. Expiation is the act that results in the change of God’s disposition toward us. It is what Christ did on the cross, and the result of Christ’s work of expiation is propitiation—God’s anger is turned away. The distinction is the same as that between the ransom that is paid and the attitude of the one who receives the ransom.

Christ’s Work Was an Act of Placation

Together, expiation and propitiation constitute an act of placation. Christ did His work on the cross to placate the wrath of God. This idea of placating the wrath of God has done little to placate the wrath of modern theologians. In fact, they become very wrathful about the whole idea of placating God’s wrath. They think it is beneath the dignity of God to have to be placated, that we should have to do something to soothe Him or appease Him. We need to be very careful in how we understand the wrath of God, but let me remind you that the concept of placating the wrath of God has to do here not with a peripheral, tangential point of theology, but with the essence of salvation.

What Is Salvation?

Let me ask a very basic question: what does the term salvation mean? Trying to explain it quickly can give you a headache, because the word salvation is used in about seventy different ways in the Bible. If somebody is rescued from certain defeat in battle, he experiences salvation. If somebody survives a life-threatening illness, that person experiences salvation. If somebody’s plants are brought back from withering to robust health, they are saved. That’s biblical language, and it’s really no different than our own language. We save money. A boxer is saved by the bell, meaning he’s saved from losing the fight by knockout, not that he is transported into the eternal kingdom of God. In short, any experience of deliverance from a clear and present danger can be spoken of as a form of salvation.

When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment. Here are a few of His warnings concerning the judgment: “‘I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’” (Matt. 5:22); “‘I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment’” (Matt. 12:36); and “‘The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here’” (Matt. 12:41). Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology. The Greek word crisis means “judgment.” And the crisis of which Jesus preached was the crisis of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.

Therefore, Christ’s supreme achievement on the cross is that He placated the wrath of God, which would burn against us were we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ. So if somebody argues against placation or the idea of Christ satisfying the wrath of God, be alert, because the gospel is at stake. This is about the essence of salvation—that as people who are covered by the atonement, we are redeemed from the supreme danger to which any person is exposed. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God Who’s wrathful. But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about.

The Crucifixion and Old Testament Prophecy

Sproul-rc9by Dr. R. C. Sproul

This excerpt is adapted from The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul.

If we look at the intricacy of the drama of the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, we see that some amazing things took place so that Old Testament prophetic utterances were fulfilled to the minutest detail. In the first instance, about it the Old Testament said that the Messiah would be delivered to the Gentiles (“dogs” or “congregation of the wicked”) for judgment (Ps. 22:16). It just so happened in the course of history that Jesus was put on trial during a time of Roman occupation of Palestine. The Romans allowed a certain amount of home rule by their conquered vassals, but they did not permit the death penalty to be imposed by the local rulers, so the Jews did not have the authority to put Christ to death. The only thing they could do was to meet in council and take Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, asking him to carry out the execution. So Jesus was delivered from His own people to the Gentiles—those who were “outside the camp.” He was delivered into the hands of pagans who dwelt outside the arena in which the face of God shone, outside the circle of the light of His countenance.

Second, the site of Jesus’ execution was outside Jerusalem. Once He was judged by the Gentiles and condemned to be executed, He was led out of the fortress, onto the Via Dolorosa, and outside the walls of the city. Just as the scapegoat was driven outside the camp, Jesus was taken outside Zion, outside the holy city where the presence of God was concentrated. He was sent into the outer darkness.

Third, whereas the Jews did their executions by stoning, the Romans did them by crucifixion. That determined the method of Jesus’ death: He would hang on a tree—a cross made of wood. The Bible doesn’t say, “Cursed is everyone who is stoned.” It says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”

Fourth, when Jesus was put on the cross, there was an astronomical perturbation. In the middle of the afternoon, it became dark. Darkness descended on the land. By some method, perhaps by an eclipse, the sun was blotted out. It was as if God had veiled the light of His countenance. Continue reading

The Design and Scope of the Atonement

sproul78Article by Dr. R. C. Sproul.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine. (Original source it seems almost suicidal, like facing the open floodgates riding a raft made of balsa wood, to appeal to a seventeenth-century theologian to address a pressing theological issue. Nothing evokes more snorts from the snouts of anti-rational zealots than appeals to sages from the era of Protestant Scholasticism.

“Scholasticism” is the pejorative term applied by so-called “Neo-Orthodox” (better spelled without the “e” in Neo), or “progressive” Reformed thinkers who embrace the “Spirit” of the Reformation while eschewing its “letter” to the seventeenth-century Reformed thinkers who codified the insights of their sixteenth-century magisterial forebears. To the scoffers of this present age, Protestant Scholasticism is seen as a reification or calcification of the dynamic and liquid forms of earlier Reformed insight. It is viewed as a deformation from the lively, sanguine rediscovery of biblical thought to a deadly capitulation to the “Age of Reason,” whereby the vibrant truths of redemption were reduced to logical propositions and encrusted in dry theological tomes and arid creedal formulations such as the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The besetting sin of men like Francis Turretin and John Owen was their penchant for precision and clarity in doctrinal statements. As J. I. Packer observed in his introduction of John Owen’s classic work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

“Those who see no need for doctrinal exactness and have no time for theological debates which show up divisions between so-called Evangelicals may well regret its reappearance … . Owen’s work is a constructive broad-based biblical analysis of the heart of the gospel, and must be taken seriously as such … . Nobody has the right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness of the atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen’s proof that it is part of the uniform biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text.”

The “monster” created by Calvinistic logic to which Packer refers is the doctrine of limited atonement. The so-called “Five points of Calvinism” (growing out of a dispute with Remonstrants (Arminians) in Holland in the early seventeenth century) have been popularized by the acrostic T-U-L-I-P, spelling out the finest flower in God’s garden:

T — Total Depravity
U — Unconditional Election
L — Limited Atonement
I — Irresistible Grace
P — Perseverance of the Saints.

Many who embrace a view of God’s sovereign grace in election are willing to embrace the Tulip if one of its five petals is lopped off. Those calling themselves “four-point Calvinists” desire to knock the “L” out of Tulip.

On the surface, it seems that of the “five points” of Tulip, the doctrine of limited atonement presents the most difficulties. Does not the Bible teach over and over that Jesus died for the whole world? Is not the scope of the atonement worldwide? The most basic affirmation the Evangelical recites is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world … .”

On the other hand, it seems to me that the easiest of the five points to defend is limited atonement. But this facility must get under the surface to be manifested. The deepest penetration under that surface is the one provided by Owen in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

First, we ask if the atonement of Christ was a real atonement? Did Jesus really, or only potentially, satisfy the demands of God’s justice? If indeed Christ provided a propitiation and expiation for all human beings and for all their sins, then, clearly, all persons would be saved. Universal atonement, if it is actual, and not merely potential, means universal salvation. Continue reading

God’s Intention in the Atonement

allen Dr. James White responds:

Let’s think about Dr. Allen’s claim here: there is an obvious presupposition that needs to be exposed and challenged. First, not those who are not His sheep. The once-for-all (temporal, not distributive use) sacrifice perfects those for whom it is made. The Father gives a specific people to the Son, the Son’s death brings about the salvation of each and every one of them, without fail (John 6:39). So there is harmony and consistency between the intention and will of the Father in the salvation of the elect, and the work of the Son in being personally united to the elect so that His death is their death, His resurrection their resurrection. Of course, if such a harmony exists, there is no room for the centerpiece of the synergistic universe: the autonomous will of the creature, man. So this consistency, this harmony, must be denied.

Next, note the assertion “is not adequate to save those for whom it was not made.” See the poorly hidden assumption? Why would the atonement have an intention other than that which is consistent with the actions of each of the members of the Godhead in their work of redemption? Why would the atonement have a different scope and purpose than that redemptive will of the Father? (Which is why synergists must assert a universal *redemptive* will of the Father and deny the specificity of the elect). In other words, why would the Father make personal, effective provision through union with the Son for those who will remain justly under His wrath? The assumption here is that there is some kind of justice issue involved *in the extension of grace* and that if the Father does not make *equal salvific provision* for each and every person, He is unjust. So make sure to note what this means: grace cannot be free, cannot be specific, cannot actually save—this is the watchword of the synergist, whether Roman or non. james-white031

Allen is playing on the discussion of term “adequacy” in reference to the atonement, confusing, as almost all synergists and universal atonement advocates do, the fact that there is no inherent limitation upon the *efficacy* of the atonement with the reality that the atonement is purposeful and harmonious with the election of the Father and the application of the Spirit (harmonious action of the Triune God). The idea is to place in the mind of the reader the false suggestion that by making the atonement consistent with the decree of election and the application by the Spirit we are introducing a fundamental *flaw* or *weakness* or *limitation* in the atonement’s power, when in reality, just the opposite is the case. Once we realize what the atonement is (a true propitiatory sacrifice) and once we realize how the Son is doing the will of the Father in the salvation of the elect, we see not only the atonement’s great power and perfection, we also see the grave dangers that flow necessarily from the synergistic viewpoint that renders the atonement potential, impersonal, and theoretical.