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Archive for the ‘Common Grace’ Category

Common disgrace

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In a recent post, I argued that Klaas Schilder was wrong in rejecting the notion of common grace. Schilder writes in chapter 18 of his book Christ and Culture:

Certainly, it is true that sin is being “restrained” and that the curse has not been fully poured out upon the world. However, the same thing can be said about the obedience which in Christ Jesus was again permitted to become a gift of God’s free grace and which by the power of Christ’s Spirit also was able to become a gift of this favour. Whoever calls the restraining of the curse “grace” should at least call the “restraining” of the blessing “judgment.”

He goes on to argue that God’s plan both to judge and to save a certain number of men requires as its very precondition the prolonging of time. Thus he says, this patience of God in the case of unbelievers cannot be exercised for the purpose of showing grace, since it is solely for the purpose of showing judgment:

This prolongation and development are no grace. Nor are they curse or condemnation. That is to say, if one wants to use these terms in a serious way. They are the conditio sine qua non of both, the substratum of both.

As I argued earlier, and as D. A. Carson develops in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, the fallacy here is Schilder’s insisting that God cannot be doing two things at once. Intermediately, God is showing genuine love, kindness and patience toward unbelievers. Ultimately, God intends to judge them. The two of these are not inconsistent.

Returning to Schilder’s charge that we should have to speak of a kind of “common judgment,” I think there is actually a sense in which he is right, except we should adopt the term “common injustice” or “common disgrace.” By this I mean that there is a kind of injustice or disgrace when salvation, vindication and deliverance are delayed. With Job, the Psalmist and others, we have a real basis on which to ask God “how long?” However, like Job, we must be willing to accept the answer that God is doing something greater, beyond our understanding, that the vindication we are waiting for is delayed for some greater purpose.

So, then, we have a kind of “common grace” which is the present patience and longsuffering of God toward unbelievers who will one day suffer his wrath; and a kind of “common disgrace,” which is the present suffering of believers for Jesus’s sake, who will one day be completely vindicated in him.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 15, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Common Grace, Love of God

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Christ and Culture

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What follows are some thoughts on Klaas Schilder’s Christ and Culture (PDF).

I had been aware that there was some falling out between Schilder and followers of Kuyper, but wasn’t sure what the nature of the disagreements were. From this book, it seems at a minimum that there was disagreement over the possibility of common grace, and over the notion of presumptive regeneration of covenant children. Steven Wedgewords provides some additional background information.

I appreciate many of the points that Schilder stresses in this book. He reminds us that the work of individuals must be evaluated with respect to Jesus — our work is pleasing to God only to the degree that we receive things with thanksgiving and offer our work to him in faith and worship. There is a distinctively Christian way to eat a bowl of ice cream, paint a painting or mow the lawn. Or, to put it in other terms, even our working must undergo a sort of death and resurrection if it is to be pleasing to God. And by extension, if we are to speak with Kuyper of “spheres” of life, the church as the center of worship and the center of the Spirit’s out-breaking into the world, holds a central and formative position relative to all other spheres. Schilder offers all this as a criticism of Kuyper; I’m not familiar enough with Kuyper to know how well it sticks, but it is something with which I agree.

There are some areas where I disagree with Schilder. On the petty side, I disagree with some of his application of imagery from Revelation. More significantly, I question his suggestion that Christianity or that Calvinism should be expected to beget a single peculiar style. I don’t think this is a necessary consequence of his principles, although I do think that as Christianity develops in a nation one would expect to see the church and her worship fostering a more mature or “high” style throughout the culture. The kings who bring gifts to Jesus in Psalm 68, Revelation 21, etc. may be attired differently, but they will all be invested with glory of one sort or another.

My most significant area of disagreement is with Schilder’s deduction (primarily in chapter 18, but appearing throughout) that we cannot speak of a “common grace” in the sense that Kuyper and others would have. He deduces this in a very hyper-Calvinistic manner from God’s eternal decrees: since God intends to condemn the reprobate, everything that they enjoy and do, and even the very lengthening of their life, is fitted for the purpose of their destruction and is not fit to be called grace. But Scripture reveals that God is always doing more than one thing at once; it is false to say that, because God intends to condemn someone, that what he is giving them now is not a genuine gift or an expression of of genuine love. As Mark Horne chides:

So the question arises: Did God love Adam and Eve? Were His good gifts to them a revelation of His love for them, or were they snares meant to hurt them? The answer must be that, though God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and ultimately causes all things, God’s gifts and offers of future reward are all genuine expressions of a genuine love. It may be difficult to conceive of how this objective revelation in history is to be reconciled with God’s eternal decrees, yet it is perverse to use the decrees to deny that God’s gifts and promises are motivated by love. The fact is, just as without God’s love there is no ground for God’s jealousy, so without God’s good gifts there is no ground for holding ingrates accountable for how they abuse and pervert these gifts. It was Satan’s strategy, after all, to deny that God loved Adam and Eve. If our inferences from God’s decrees put us in Satan’s camp, we need to rethink our position.

We know from passages like Romans 1:21 that unbelievers no less than believers have an obligation to give thanks to God for all they have. More than that, there is a history in the reformed tradition of recognizing that these gifts from God are in fact a spillover from the cross. While this is not saving grace, it is a gift none the less. This explains passages such as 1 Tim. 4:10. Consider Charles Hodge:

Augustinians do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that he died equally, and with the same design, for all men. He died for all, that He might arrest the immediate execution of the penalty of the law upon the whole of our apostate race; that He might secure for men the innumnerable blessings attending their state on earth, which, in one important sense, is a state of probation; and that He might lay the foundation for the offer of pardon and reconciliation with God, on condition of faith and repentance.

These are the universally admitted consequences of his satisfaction, and therefore they all come within its design. By this dispensation it is rendered manifest to every intelligent mind in heaven and upon earth, and to the finally impenitent themselves, that the perdition of those that perish is their own fault. They will not come to Christ that they may have life. They refuse to have Him to reign over them. He calls but they will not answer. He says, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Every human being who does come is saved.

This is what is meant when it is said, or implied in Scripture, that Christ gave Himself as a propitiation, not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. . . .

While I believe Schilder is wrong in saying that we cannot regard the abilities and work of unbelievers as a genuine gift from God, he is right to remind us that no working is neutral with respect to God. So there are multiple layers we must wrestle with — not only the permissibility of our enjoying the work, but also how we are to regard the worker. And yet there are a great many works of unbelievers that we can receive and enjoy with thanksgiving, and even offer to God in worship.

See also: Common grace.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 27, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Invictus

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The Westminster Confession of Faith reads:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

We confess that God ordains or decrees everything, but in a way that establishes individual freedom and responsibility. At one level this is simply a mystery to us, but it is possible for us to go a little deeper. Authorship and artistry — or, as Tolkien puts it, sub-creation — have been for me a helpful analogy for God’s sovereignty over creation[1]. It does not even occur to us to accuse Tolkien of tempting or causing Gollum to sin, or of any injustice or violence toward Gollum. Even recognizing Tolkien’s authorship, we do not doubt that Gollum did what he did of his own free will, or that he deserved his end. Philosophers call this compatibilist free will, but it just means that we do what we want to do. An author or artist’s decreeing or ordaining her work is categorically different from ordinary causation or compulsion within the world of the work itself. In fact, the author’s decrees are just what establishes and upholds a structure of causality and responsibility within the world of her work. Otherwise it would be utter chaos.

This also means that God’s very being and existence are categorically different from ours; to use the philosophical term, he is transcendent. This is perhaps the main reason that Anselm’s argument fails: we cannot induct our way outside of the story; we cannot build a ladder that jumps right off the page. We need God to reveal himself to us.

There are some fun ways to explore this creator-creature distinction in story and art. In simplest form, characters might speculate about or comically defy the author. Pushing the analogy to its limits, we end up with self-reference, a multiplicity of levels, and illusions. This gets us into the realm of what Douglas Hofstadter calls the “strange loop,” and as Hofstadter points out, Escher’s work is a great example of all this. But the analogy does break down: our stories are only shadows of reality, and Escher’s lizards and hands and birds only have the illusion of reality. Only God enters his creation in the flesh and allows it to act upon himself.

While talking with the men from my small group this week, it struck me that this analogy of sub-creation gives literary references to God a double or ironic meaning. When an unbelieving author’s characters rail against or reject God’s authority, they are in one sense railing against him, and so he is undermining his own argument. In his very attempt to boast in human autonomy, he reveals the absurdity of that rebellion. He cannot escape his dependence on and submission to God any more than his characters can escape their obvious dependence on and submission to him.

This gives us an alternate reading of the poem Invictus. Instead of seeing it as the poet’s raising his fist against God, we can equally see it as the character within the poem’s raising his own fist against the poet. In that light, the poem becomes childish and petty.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

The idea that we could transcend the boundary between ourselves and our author, or somehow cast off a dependence on him that is fundamental to our very existence, is absurd. Far better to humble our hearts and enjoy where he has set us.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

The analogy of authorship might prove instructive to us in other ways, too. The fact that God’s sovereignty is what establishes causality and responsibility rescues us from futile determinism. And seeing God as an author certainly emphasizes his power over his creation. It is a small thing for him to write of the weaving of his world in seven days, or of a world-wide flood rather than a regional flood: we don’t have to wring our hands over miracles that are hard for our creaturely minds to conceive. And as much as there may be degrees of fellowship with or separation from God, this also suggests that it is misguided to divide creation and our experience into the natural and the supernatural, secular and spiritual, nature and grace. Because of God’s intimate and personal involvement in his story, the overlap between the natural and supernatural is entire and complete. You cannot possibly escape God’s sovereignty, lordship, or grace. That in turn lays the foundation for a robust common grace.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?

Finally, this analogy also suggests that, while there is great value in a reductionist approach to understanding God’s world, there is comparatively greater value in seeking to understand God’s word and world holistically, to grasp the sweep of story and persons.

See also: Proof of the non-existence of God.


[1] Yes, this does contradict the WCF quote on the face of it. See John Frame’s distinction between what you might call a proximate and an ultimate sense of authorship, which is what I’m getting at by distinguishing between decree/ordination and causation/compulsion.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 27, 2011 at 9:19 am

Redeemer

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It would be difficult to call a single book my best theological purchase ever, because of the different ways that books can come to us at just the right time and can interact with and build upon each other. Lewis was a particular help to me because I was in a season of doubt. If Van Til hadn’t taught me to be a conscious Calvinist, I would never have needed Carson to steer me out of the hyper-Calvinist ditch, nor would I have been willing to work hard enough at Vos to learn more. And Middle-earth and Narnia are clearly in the running. Plus, I just haven’t read enough to be making such lofty pronouncements.

But realizing this, and even though I’m only partway into it, in my own small way I think the James Jordan audio collection will stand as my best theological purchase ever. Jordan has really incredible insights into the Bible. There are many books worth of material here; five months in and I have only made it through his Genesis lectures and partway into Exodus. But I am hooked, and if nothing else, I feel much better prepared and much more excited for family Bible reading. Jordan has the ability to illuminate many of the “weird” parts of the Bible so that they begin to make sense, and I’m having to give up some patronizing attitudes toward parts of history. It’s exciting to see someone wrestling with why God gave us particular details or obscure passages, even if we don’t have yet have enough information to answer that in every case. Jordan is constantly drawing out vast connections throughout Scripture, including rich symbolism and typology. Here’s a small but surprising example: combining Genesis 39:1, 39:20-23, and 41:10, we see that Joseph never left Potiphar’s house in his imprisonment! It is not clear whether the “keeper of the prison” is Potiphar himself or another of Potiphar’s servants. Regardless, Potiphar seems to have recognized that God blessed him through Joseph, and perhaps even recognized Joseph’s innocence (which would heighten the injustice of Joseph’s imprisonment).

This week I am listening to Jordan’s comments on Exodus 21. While drawing connections to related passages elsewhere in the Pentateuch, he observes that Hebrew uses a single word, goel or ga’al, to convey both the idea of the kinsman redeemer and the avenger of blood. So the word conveys a person’s status as next-of-kin as much as it does these distinct responsibilities attached to it. Jordan has several valuable observations to make on the blood avenger; in particular, he distinguishes it from a mere family feud by showing it to be a real civil responsibility to guard against bloodguilt (Numbers 35:30-34). Otherwise the land itself will rise up to serve as avenger instead (as in Genesis 4:10-12, Leviticus 20:22, Leviticus 26:18-20). Considering the cities of refuge, Jordan points out that the death of the high priest’s cleansing the land (Numbers 35:28) is another type of Jesus.

Jordan also makes the fascinating offhand remark that this dual use for goel lends further support for the doctrine of particular redemption (or limited atonement). First, it is not possible to identify Jesus as redeemer in the abstract: he is the redeemer of particular individuals who share a kinship with him. Second, we cannot separate the office of redeemer from that of avenger: as a redeemer there are others estranged from him who will suffer his vengeance. Like so many other things, it comes back to adoption.

I’m not trying to prove the doctrine of particular redemption in offering this, and if I were I would take pains to guard against the hyper-Calvinist idea that there is simply no sense in which Jesus shows kindness to those who perish, or in which he died for the sins of the whole world. But as someone who holds to particular redemption, this is a neat confirmation, as well as a great example of the sort of depth that Jordan routinely offers even in passing comments.

Picture source: Rembrandt.

Kuyper on Calvinism

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Following are some notes and quotes from Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism.

  • A key element of Christian revolutions (Dutch, American) was a gradual undermining of kings, not by lowering esteem, but by raising it; not by opposing God but by worshipping Him (through p. 28)
  • 3 fundamental measures of unique world views (p. 31)
    • relationship to God – immediate fellowship through Christ + HS
    • relationship to man – divine image, intrinsic worth, equality of men
    • relationship to world – curse restrained by grace; “discover treasures and develop potencies hidden by God in nature and in human life.”
  • common grace – do we define things, relative to power of sin or power of God?  Which is more potent: pollution of sin or redemptive movement?
  • Kuyper strikes me as being exceptionally enamored with progress (pp. 32, 34, 35, 40)
  • God’s authority over, and necessary glorification in, all spheres of life (p. 53)
    • “Coram Deo”, no such thing as private religion, … one-ness of all human life
    • C.f. Mark Horne, “public relationship with Jesus Christ”
  • Importance of Church in God’s redemptive plan; covenant = church
  • God’s supreme sovereignty flowing down in sovereignty given to state/society/church (p. 79)
  • Assumes one-world gov’t is best in absence of sin (p. 80) … some logic given to this
    • “God has instituted the magistrates, by reason of sin.” (p. 81)  Nations exist for God (p. 81)
  • Calvin regarded republic as best, but not categorically so; others will work.  Commends gratitude for privilege of electing magistrates (pp. 83-84)
  • Contrasts God’s sovereignty w/ false ideas of popular sovereignty or state sovereignty (as rejection of God) (pp. 85ff)
  • Calvinism “makes it easy for us to obey authority, because, in all authority, it causes us to honor the demand of divine sovereignty.” (p. 90)
  • “Principal characteristic” of gov’t is “the right of life + death” (p. 93)
    • Sword for -> justice, war, order
  • Much discussion of self-organization of spheres, natural leadership of “masters” in spheres
  • Political sphere should not rightfully interfere in natural God-given operation of these other spheres (family, art, science, education, business) (p. 96)
  • The state interferes to (p. 97)
    • Mediate clashes between spheres
    • Defend the weak against abuse of power in other spheres
    • Coerce all to bear personal + financial burdens of maintaining unity of the state
  • Government may not take on absolute authority, nor may other spheres overstep their bounds into arena of government
  • Pp. 99ff — admission of the propriety of a plurality of churches
    • Against the state church (even as expressed by Calvin)
    • Proper Calvinism promotes plurality, and understands the government’s role as protecting it.
  • Pp. 103ff — magistrates’ duty
    • to God – acknowledge and confess authority, rule by God’s ordinances, restrain blasphemy
      • magistrate understands God’s law personally, not under authority (strictly speaking) of church
      • blasphemy addressed not for religious reasons but as undermining God’s establishment of law and state
      • “The sphere of the state is not profane.  But both church and state must, each in their own sphere, obey God and serve His honor.” (p. 104)
    • to church – may not exercise judgment as to true and false churches
    • to individual
      • some individual sovereignty exists, but conscience is not entirely liberated from state, church, word, family (p. 107)
      • magistrate respects liberty of conscience, ensures church does so (particularly regarding those outside church)
  • Science
    • p. 118, “A dualistic conception of regeneration was the cause of the rupture between the life of nature and the life of grace.”
    • p. 125, “Not only the church, but also the world belongs to God.”
    • p. 132, is the world normal, or abnormal seeking regeneration?  fundamental distinction striking at the heart of the scientific conception

Written by Scott Moonen

May 12, 2007 at 7:14 pm

Common grace

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Introduction

There is a danger when engaged in any argument, even a just one, that we become so entranced with the rightness of our position and the wrongness of others, that we lose sight of our own unique tendencies to error. I believe the doctrines of grace to be true — I am, as Piper puts it, as 7-point Calvinist. But when we approach God’s sovereignty in a purely systematic or argumentative fashion, we can be at risk of forgetting things such as God’s love and kindness, or failing to allow God’s sovereignty to produce the worship and adoration that he deserves.

Perhaps this is a problem only for me. But I see in me a tendency to understand God’s sovereignty in such a way that his personality, emotion, and love are diminished in my mind, and this is not good. This particularly shows up in how I think of unbelievers. I believe God is sovereign in both election and reprobation. But if God predestines the reprobate to disobedience and destruction, can we honestly say that he truly loves them? After all, 1 Peter 2:7-8 says that:

for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Approaching Scripture with this kind of wooden philosophical presupposition can cause us to do damage to the text, to our understanding of God, and to our application of his word. With this in mind, I will briefly visit the topics of common grace, the love of God, and the cross; and touch on several related points in conclusion.

Common Grace

John Murray defines common grace as “every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.” This is the sun and the rain that all the world enjoys in Matthew 5, which reads:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Matthew 5:43-48

The text commands us to love unbelievers in the same way that God does. But if we hold to the doctrines of grace in a wooden way, as a hyper-Calvinist, then we will be inclined to say that this common grace is not a mark of God’s love, since he plans to punish unbelievers in the end.

In fact, there is a frequent hyper-Calvinist argument (see, for example, [1]) that common grace, rather than being a token of God’s love and compassion, is nothing more than an entrapment by which God hardens unbeliever’s hearts and gradually builds up an overwhelming judicial case against them. Now this is true in one sense — God’s kindness is often lost on the unbeliever, and often serves to harden hearts. And certainly an unbelieving response to God’s kindness is storing up future judgment. But can we say that God has no love for the unbeliever?

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. — 2 Peter 3:9

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. — 1 John 4:14

Now it is true that not all the world is saved. But these and other verses speak powerfully of God’s heart, not just to mankind in general, but even to individual unbelievers specifically. It can be tempting to look at all the world through the lens of God’s eternal decrees, peering into questions whose answers are not given to us — who is saved and who is not? But then we will see God’s love only as it relates to salvation and destruction. We will be forced to interpret words like “world” in stilted ways, and we will miss an important aspect of God’s loving disposition toward the lost. God’s eternal decree of reprobation does not lessen his goodness, kindness, and love in giving gifts to unbelievers, individually, and to mankind in general. God is sovereign and God is holy, but he is also love; all of his attributes and perfections are in complete harmony.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. — 1 John 4:8

Mark Horne writes:

Did God love Adam and Eve? Were His good gifts to them a revelation of His love for them, or were they snares meant to hurt them?

The answer must be that, though God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and ultimately causes all things, God’s gifts and offers of future reward are all genuine expressions of a genuine love. It may be difficult to conceive of how this objective revelation in history is to be reconciled with God’s eternal decrees, yet it is perverse to use the decrees to deny that God’s gifts and promises are motivated by love. The fact is, just as without God’s love there is no ground for God’s jealousy, so without God’s good gifts there is no ground for holding ingrates accountable for how they abuse and pervert these gifts. It was Satan’s strategy, after all, to deny that God loved Adam and Eve. If our inferences from God’s decrees put us in Satan’s camp, we need to rethink our position.

The Love of God

D. A. Carson addresses God’s love in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. This book is an outstanding treatment of God’s love and I highly recommend it. It is a short and accessible read. Carson distinguishes 5 major aspects of God’s love. This is certainly not an exhaustive list:

  1. God’s intra-Trinitarian love, between the members of the Godhead.
  2. God’s providential love for all his creation.
  3. God’s compassionate love toward fallen mankind.
  4. God’s particular, elective, saving, transforming love toward his people.
  5. Finally, Carson speaks of a sort of conditional love God has for his people, being careful to distinguish this from saving love. While our salvation is secure, our disobedience nonetheless grieves God and brings his fatherly discipline.

Carson is concerned that we embrace the full counsel of God concerning God’s love. Neglecting any one of these aspects of God’s love, or emphasizing some at the expense of others, will lead us into various errors. His chief concerns for us as reformed believers are, first, that we do not deny the reality of God’s love as a genuine and personal emotion; and second, that we do not deny the reality of God’s compassion for the lost.

The Cross

Calvinists hold to limited atonement, also definite atonement or particular redemption — the idea that Jesus’s death accomplished salvation for specific, elect individuals. We hold to particular redemption for several reasons. First, the benefits of Jesus’s atonement are frequently described in definite terms, suggesting that Jesus’s death was in itself wholly sufficient to accomplish and secure forgiveness, propitiation, righteousness, redemption, salvation; therefore his death cannot have been effective for those who perish in the same way that it is savingly effective for believers. Second, Jesus is often described as having died specifically for his people or his church. While he is also described as having died for the whole world, it is clear from this that believers benefit from his death in a way that the whole world does not. Lastly, and of less importance, John Owen made a famous reductio ad absurdum argument for the doctrine of particular redemption.

But again, if this doctrine is understood woodenly, we can fall into error. While Jesus’s death secured the atonement only of the elect, it is not true that Jesus did not die for all men. Again, it is wrong in many cases to artificially read “world” to mean only those who are saved. Charles Hodge writes of Jesus’s death:

In answer to this question, it may be remarked in the first place that Augustinians do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that he died equally, and with the same design, for all men. He died for all, that He might arrest the immediate execution of the penalty of the law upon the whole of our apostate race; that He might secure for men the innumnerable blessings attending their state on earth, which, in one important sense, is a state of probation; and that He might lay the foundation for the offer of pardon and reconciliation with God, on condition of faith and repentance.

These are the universally admitted consequences of his satisfaction, and therefore they all come within its design. By this dispensation it is rendered manifest to every intelligent mind in heaven and upon earth, and to the finally impenitent themselves, that the perdition of those that perish is their own fault. They will not come to Christ that they may have life. They refuse to have Him to reign over them. He calls but they will not answer. He says, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Every human being who does come is saved.

This is what is meant when it is said, or implied in Scripture, that Christ gave Himself as a propitiation, not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. He was a propitiation effectually for the sins of his people, and sufficiently for the sins of the whole world. Augustinians have no need to wrest the Scriptures. They are under no necessity of departing from their fundamental principle that it is the duty of the theologian to subordinate his theories to the Bible, and teach not what seems to him to be true or reasonable, but simply what the Bible teaches. — Charles Hodge, ”Systematic”, vol, 2, pp. 558-9.

So while Jesus’s death does not secure reconciliation for the unbeliever, it nonetheless has a gracious effect for the unbeliever. Jesus’s death will in fact secure the redemption of creation itself. And as an expression of God’s love and grace, our holy God is able to restrain the sin of unbelievers and temporally withhold his judgment. Even in the face of sin and rebellion, he is righteously able to pour out great gifts of common grace upon unbelievers and mankind. And most importantly, Jesus’s death secures the offer of salvation to all men. He is a sure and certain savior, and no one who comes to him will be cast out (John 6:37). While the hyper-Calvinist may deny that God’s offer of salvation to the lost is “well-meant”, it is clear from scripture that God lovingly invites and commands all men to believe and be saved.

We see this clearly in passages that describe the work of the cross in expansive terms. Jesus is described as one who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29); one who brought salvation for all people (Titus 2:11); the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2); the savior of the world (1 John 4:14); and as the savior of all people, especially those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10). Other scripture would forbid us from affirming universalism, so it is clear from this that unbelievers are beneficiaries of the cross in some sense short of true salvation.

Conclusion

So we see that the balance of Scripture requires us to affirm both the doctrines of grace, but also God’s genuine love toward the lost. Carson writes:

In recent years I have tried to read both primary and secondary sources on the doctrine of the Atonement from Calvin on. One of my most forceful impressions is that the categories of the debate gradually shift with time so as to force disjunction where a slightly different bit of question-framing would allow synthesis.

He is saying that we can come to understand the doctrines of grace in such a wooden way that God’s love for unbelievers is diminished in our minds. We ought to guard against this.

I have in mind three other concerns for us as reformed believers that I don’t have time to address at length, but I do want to mention them briefly.

The first has to do with God’s love for the lost. If God has such a loving disposition to unbelievers, as his people we are to have the same love for unbelievers! This ought to energize our evangelism and service to the lost. When we invite unbelievers to salvation, we do not invite them on the condition that they are elect. We invite them unconditionally. In Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray writes that:

From whatever angle we may view [the offer of the gospel], it is full, free, and unrestricted. The appeals of the gospel cover the whole range of divine prerogative and of human interest. God entreats, he invites, he commands, he calls, he presents the overture of mercy and grace, and he does this to all without distinction or discrimination. . . .

When Christ is presented to lost men in the proclamation of the gospel, it is as Savior he is presented, as one who ever continues to be the embodiment of the salvation he has once for all accomplished. It is not the possibility of salvation that is offered to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect. There is no imperfection in the salvation offered and there is no restriction to its overture — it is full, free, and unrestricted. And this is the warrant of faith. (107ff)

In his lectures on the Marrow controversy, Sinclair Ferguson makes the point that God does not offer salvation to sinners as some abstract and conditional transaction — we believe, and from a distance, God will deal with our sin and dispense to us the benefits of the gospel like some kind of mail-order pharmacy. Rather, Jesus himself is offered as a personal and loving savior to all men. The benefits of the gospel come only as we are united with him.

The second concern has to do with God’s immutability. God never changes, and systematic theologians describe him as impassible, or without passions. But this does not mean that God is without emotion, or that his love is impersonal and mechanical. Carson writes that God’s impassibility is best understood as “trying to avoid a picture of a God who is changeable, given over to mood swings, dependent on his creatures” (49). God is not fickle or temperamental. Carson labors to communicate that God’s impassibility does not diminish the reality and personality of his emotions, including his love. Carson talks of people who would make God’s love to be nothing more than an anthropopathism, a crude human picture of something that is not really true of God. Carson makes this memorable appeal: “Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14-21)” (59). God’s love is a real and perfect love!

The third concern is that we must progress from understanding and even experiencing God’s love to gratefulness and worship. How amazing it is that a holy God would love us! And how more amazing still as we discover more and more the greatness and depth of his love!

Bibliography

See also Monergism‘s collection of links on grace.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 3, 2006 at 5:33 pm

Redemption Accomplished and Applied

with one comment

murrayMurray, John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984.

The late John Murray presents a brief overview of Jesus’s work of redemption. This book is divided into two parts: Redemption Accomplished, which describes our need of a savior, God’s provision of a savior, and what Jesus accomplished on the cross; and Redemption Applied, which describes how all of redemption is worked out in the life of the believer.

This book was a helpful overview of Jesus’s work on the cross and of God’s work in bringing me to salvation.

Of all of the chapters, the one that was most provocative to me was the chapter on faith and repentance. Murray presents a wonderful reminder of where our assurance of salvation is located — nowhere other than Jesus himself.

Following are this and some other quotes I’ve collected from the book.

On Assurance (pp. 107ff)

Murray reminds us that our assurance does not consist in peering into the secret decrees of God to discern whether he loves us or has elected us unto salvation (see also The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God), nor does it consist of our subjective sense of nearness to God. It consists in placing our trust here and now wholly in Jesus for mercy:

What warrant does a lost sinner have to commit himself to Christ? How may he know that he will be accepted? How does he know that Christ is able to save? How does he know that this confidence is not misplaced? How does he know that Christ is willing to save him? . . .

From whatever angle we may view [the offer of the gospel], it is full, free, and unrestricted. The appeals of the gospel cover the whole range of divine prerogative and of human interest. God entreats, he invites, he commands, he calls, he presents the overture of mercy and grace, and he does this to all without distinction or discrimination. . . .

When Christ is presented to lost men in the proclamation of the gospel, it is as Savior he is presented, as one who ever continues to be the embodiment of the salvation he has once for all accomplished. It is not the possibility of salvation that is offered to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect. There is no imperfection in the salvation offered and there is no restriction to its overture — it is full, free, and unrestricted. And this is the warrant of faith.

The faith of which we are now speaking is not the belief that we have been saved but [it is] trust in Christ in order that we may be saved. And it is of paramount concern to know that Christ is presented to all without distinction to the end that they may entrust themselves to him for salvation. The gospel offer is not restricted to the elect or even to those for whom Christ died. And the warrant of faith is not the conviction that we are elect or that we are among those for whom, strictly speaking, Christ died but [it is] the fact that Christ, in the glory of his person, in the perfection of his finished work, and in the efficacy of his exalted activity as King and Saviour, is presented to us in the full, free, and unrestricted overture of the gospel. It is not as persons convinced of our election nor as persons convinced that we are the special objects of God’s love that we commit ourselves to him but as lost sinners. We entrust ourselves to him not because we believe we have been saved but as lost sinners in order that we may be saved. It is to us in our lost condition that the warrant of faith is given and the warrant is not restricted or circumscribed in any way. In the warrant of faith the rich mercy of God is proffered to the lost and the promise of grace is certified by the veracity and faithfulness of God. This is the ground upon which a lost sinner may commit himself to Christ in full confidence that he will be saved. And no sinner to whom the gospel comes is excluded from the divine warrant for such confidence.

On Union With Christ (pp. 162-163)

Murray presents an excellent summary of what it means to be in union with Christ. He writes that “if we did not take account of [union with Christ], not only would our presentation of the application of redemption be defective but our view of the Christian life would be gravely distorted. Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ” (p. 161). He goes on to enumerate what it means to be united with Christ:

The fountain of salvation itself in the eternal election of the Father is “in Christ.” . . . The Father elected from eternity, but he elected in Christ. . . .

It is also because the people of God were in Christ when he gave his life a ransom and redeemed by his blood that salvation has been secured for them; they are represented as united to Christ in his death, resurrection, and exaltation to heaven. . . .

It is in Christ that the people of God are created anew. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. 2:10). . . .

But not only does the new life have its inception in Christ; it is also continued by virtue of the same relationship to him. It is in Christ that Christian life and behavior are conducted. . . .

It is in Christ that believers die. They have fallen asleep in Christ or through Christ and they are dead in Christ (1 Thess. 4:14, 16). . . .

Finally, it is in Christ that the people of God will be resurrected and glorified. It is in Christ they will be made alive when the last trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:22). It is with Christ they will be glorified (Rom. 8:17).

Written by Scott Moonen

June 20, 2005 at 3:52 pm