Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Limiting the Atonement, Part I: The Bible Speaks

“Spurgeon’s comments as to whether it is the Calvinists or the Arminians who limit the Atonement, are to the point. ‘We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, ‘No, certainly not.’ WE ASK THEM THE NEXT QUESTION---DID CHRIST DIE SO AS TO SECURE THE SALVATION OF ANY MAN IN PARTICULAR? THEY ANSWER, ‘NO. CHRIST HAS DIED THAT ANY MAN MAY BE SAVED IF’---AND THEN FOLLOW CERTAIN CONDITIONS OF SALVATION. NOW, WHO IS IT THAT LIMITS THE DEATH OF CHRIST? WHY, YOU. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, ‘No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.’ We say Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement: you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it” [Quoted from James I. Packer, ‘Introductory Essay,’ in “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” by John Owen (London: Banner of Truth, 1959), page 14. Quoted in “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, Second Edition” by David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, page 41).

Arminians have been accused of many things throughout church history. They have been accused of being “man-centered” in their theology, Pelagian, heretical, false teachers, etc...but I never thought I’d see the day when Arminians would be accused of limiting the atonement. I read this argument somewhere several months (maybe a year) ago, but didn’t pay the argument much attention. I’ve learned that sometimes, in the Calvinism-Arminianism debate, one has to “shut off” one’s eyes from some arguments. Some arguments are good and worthwhile to debate; but others are just illogical arguments posed by Calvinists in order to “prop” up their system.

I decided to take up the Charles Spurgeon quote above because, first, let me make it known that EVERYONE I know pretty much adores the great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Here at Southeastern, Spurgeon is hailed as one of the greatest preachers of all time. I believe the man did great things in his time, and I praise God that Baptists have such a historical figure to look to for pride in their religious heritage.

At the same time, however, this post will attack and criticize Spurgeon’s quote above. Why? because Spurgeon’s quote is a logical attack with little Scriptural backing.

First, he states, “our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, OUR OPPONENTS LIMIT IT: WE DO NOT” (41).

Calvinists hold to limited atonement; first off, note that it is called “limited” for a reason---because it “limits” the atonement to a select group of the mass of humanity. According to Calvinism, God only died for “the elect,” those individuals He handpicked for salvation. The fact that Spurgeon would deny how the Calvinist view of the atonement “limits” it is appalling indeed.

Next, Spurgeon calls the Arminians on “consistency,” which is a good word to use: “Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer, ‘No.’ THEY ARE OBLIGED TO ADMIT THIS, IF THEY ARE CONSISTENT” (41).

I’m glad Spurgeon used the word “consistent” and stated that Arminians are “obliged” to answer in the negative regarding secured salvation. In response, I would respond, “Okay, Mr. Spurgeon; so if Arminians are to be consistent in their theology, let’s question Calvinists.” Then, I would ask the question, “How are Calvinists consistent in their theology if they hold to Jesus dying for everyone (“unlimited atonement”), yet insist that God handpicks certain individuals for salvation and bypasses others (“unconditional election”)? How can God offer Himself on behalf of every single person in the world, if He only draws a few through “irresistible grace”?

Chances are, Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers of Baptist history, probably could not answer this one. He often felt as if the doctrine of supralapsarianism was a harsh one---yet, it is consistent, if God only handpicks a few people to be saved (for where will the rest of humanity go but to Hell?). Spurgeon said the following about God unconditionally reprobating a mass of humanity to Hell:

“Do you believe that God created man and arbitrarily, sovereignly---it is the same thing---CREATED THAT MAN, WITH NO OTHER INTENTION, THAN THAT OF DAMNING HIM? Made him, and yet, for no other reason than that of destroying him forever? Well, if you can believe it, I PITY YOU, THAT IS ALL I CAN SAY: YOU DESERVE PITY, THAT YOU SHOULD THINK SO MEANLY OF GOD, WHOSE MERCY ENDURETH FOREVER” (Charles Spurgeon, “Jacob and Esau,” page 118; quoted by Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 145).

Spurgeon admits via the quote above that he is infralapsarian; however, his infralapsarianism is itself inconsistent:

“To genuinely embrace the concept of permission would require the infralapsarian to abandon some of the key tenets of Reformed theology. Berkhof recognized this when he warned, ‘Infralapsarianism really wants to explain reprobation as an act of God’s justice. It is inclined to deny either explicitly or implicitly that it is an act of the mere good pleasure of God. THIS REALLY MAKES THE DECREE OF REPROBATION A CONDITIONAL DECREE AND LEADS INTO THE ARMINIAN FOLD.’ INFRALAPSARIANS HAVE A CHOICE. IF THE DECREE TO REPROBATION IS CONDITIONAL, THEN IT IS NOT ACCORDING TO GOD’S MERE GOOD PLEASURE. IF IT IS UNCONDITIONAL, THEN IT IS NOT ACCORDING TO GOD’S PERMISSION. Infralapsarianism wants to teach that God damns the reprobate in response to their sins, but THIS WOULD ABANDON THE CLASSIC REFORMED VIEW OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY, WHICH IS WHY CALVIN REJECTED THE CONCEPT OF PERMISSION OUT OF HAND” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 146).

If Charles Spurgeon was to be consistent, he needed to hold on to supralapsarianism (the unconditional reprobation of the damned), which is something he could not do. Funny though, wasn’t he trying to “school” the Arminian camp about being “consistent”? But how could he hold on to the “conditional” reprobation of the damned while arguing “unconditional” election of the saved? Sounds a bit inconsistent to me...

What about Spurgeon’s attack on Arminianism itself? I will get into his attack on Arminianism’s “limited” atonement in my next post...


The Seeking Disciple said...

Excellent points once again. Thanks for being such a wonderful sister in the Lord full of wisdom and grace!

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Thank you...you are a true encouragement to me. Your support to the blog means so much. Continue to pray for me as I seek to please the Lord and live for His glory.

Unknown said...

Catholics believe God gives everyone sufficient Grace to make him/her, using his/her freedom, turn to God and be saved. One way to explain it is using Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).

In the parable the Master gave different number of talents to his three servants according to their abilities.

The Master obviously had the right to decide how many talents each servant received. The servant with only one talent was later condemned.

Yet his Master did not intend to condemn him by giving him only one talent. Had he deposited it in the bank he would be fine like the other two.

The servant was condemned for his own wrong action, i.e. hiding the single talent entrusted to him.

Thus Catholics believe that condemnation of the Reprobate always involves their freedom to reject God’s Grace – in other words they are responsible for their damnation.

Catholic’s view on Reprobation is called as Positive Conditional Reprobation – when God created the world He, being omniscience, foresaw the Reprobate’s rejection to His Grace and let them use their freedom to do so.

Yet God still wants them to be saved and still gives them sufficient Grace.