September 30, 2005

John Owen (1616–1683) on Meditation

I recently listened to John Piper's lecture on John Owen and heard the following quotation. It partially explains why so many of my posts are related to Calvinism, the Gospel and the atonement. An improper understanding of what God was doing in the death of his Son will eventually impact every other area of our thinking, even in the way we form our beliefs and interpret scripture. I am trying to think deeply about Christ as revealed in the gospel. Every doctrine is ultimately related to the revelation of God in Christ on the cross. The importance of thinking about these issues should be obvious, but John Owen in Meditations on the Glory of Christ says it well:
The revelation made of Christ in the blessed gospel is far more excellent, more glorious, and more filled with rays of divine wisdom and goodness, than the whole creation and the just comprehension of it, if attainable, can contain or afford. Without the knowledge hereof, the mind of man, however priding itself in other inventions and discoveries, is wrapped up in darkness and confusion.

This, therefore, deserves the severest of our thoughts, the best of our meditations, and our utmost diligence in them. For if our future blessedness shall consist in being where he is, and beholding of his glory, what better preparation can there be for it than in a constant preview contemplation of that glory in the revelation that is made in the Gospel, unto this very end, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory?
Even though I have profound disagreements with Owen on other matters, I concur with the above comments. I know I will err in many things, but I earnestly pray to God that I may get the gospel right! I pray that you will as well, so that the world can see the glory of Christ in the church and be saved to the praise of the Father by the Holy Spirit. This is the revealed will of God.

NKJ Psalm 119:99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation.

September 28, 2005

Neil Chambers on the Purchase of Faith

In Neil Chambers' critical examination of John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ , he deals with the argument that faith was 'purchased' by Christ's death stemming from Owen's overreliance on commercial, or 'debt payment' categories. Here is an insightful paragraph from the chapter on faith:
In fact, Owen's talk of 'purchase' could well be seen as having a distorting effect on the biblical idea of faith, by reifying it, making it a thing or object or commodity, instead of a relational response. The phrase 'purchase of faith' is a category confusion, for trust, like love, can only be given by the subject, not bought, and arises in the subject. While, of course, it is bought for us, and not from us, even that suggests a passivity that is not a feature of the New Testament's portrayal. While the trusting attitude itself can be conceptualised as passive and receptive in relation to the reception of righteousness, we are not passive but active in that trusting, we are those who believe. It is this active responsibility that talk of the purchase of faith has the potential to undermine, and which the New Testament's portrayal of faith in relation to the temporal realities of the preaching of the gospel and renewal by the Spirit do not. Nor does seeing faith as a gift of grace suggest passivity to the same extent, for the realisation of that gift again focuses on God's gracious work in history, on the preaching of Christ, whereas purchase emphasises determined causality. Gift continues to be the language of grace, but purchase moves into the language of rights.
Neil A. Chambers, A Critical Examination of John Owen's Argument for Limited Atonement in "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" (Th.M. thesis, Reformed Theological Seminary, 1998), 228–229. This thesis is well worth purchasing ($15 in e-doc version). It's 416 pages long.

Mental Alignment

If you've driven a car for any length of time, you have probably experienced bad wheel alignment. When the wheels of a car are not in proper alignment, the car tends to veer either to the right or to the left of your intended path. One struggles to hold the steering wheel straight to avoid an accident. A wise person will get the alignment fixed instead of continuing to fight with the steering wheel. Also, the tires will wear down much more quickly if the alignment problem is not corrected.

The Christian life may be compared to driving a car. Disciples are interested in moving toward God as revealed in Christ, so we steer our lives in that direction. Some are driving better than others, but each of us has Christ and his Kingdom as our aim.

There are some people who only want to drive. They don't want to be bothered by looking under the hood and checking the wires and gears. They neglect to check their tire alignment, but commend themselves for struggling to drive. After all, they are "practical." It's too much of a hassle to get into all the detailed analysis of what's going on under the hood and with the tires. "Leave that to the impractical theorists!" they might say.

Too many Christians disdain indepth theological reflection. This is somewhat understandable because of the opposite error. There are many who study theory and "doctrine" without it impacting their lives or affections. They have a kind of "dead orthodoxy." The error of dead orthodoxy is always a danger for the Christian church. We can easily delude ourselves into thinking that the tree of knowledge is the tree of life.

With that said, it seems to me that this is not the tendency today. The prevalent error in our evangelical culture is doctrinal apathy. The "practical" is thought to be antithetical to theology or systematics. Such thinking is unbiblical and foolish.

Scripturally, right thinking is prior to good actions. Paul exhorts believers to be humble and loving by encouraging them to do an indepth reflection on Christ's incarnation. Virtuous affections and actions are never seperated from correct thinking about God as specifically revealed in and through Christ. Right theory joined to the affections drove the Apostles to turn the world upside down for Christ's sake.

I cannot understand any Christian who is not taking time to renew their minds while striving to live to God's glory. The connection between right theory and right practice seems so obvious in the bible. An erroneous thought about God in our thinking can have a ripple effect into every sphere of life, hence the biblical warnings about worshipping God truthfully. The connections of our thoughts form a complete web of beliefs, and we move in life according to the alignment of the threads. We need to adjust our thinking to be in line with scriptural teaching so that we can move efficiently and wisely through life. Or, to return to the car analogy, we should be concerned about our mental alignment as we seek to move to glorify God by our actions.

NKJ Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

"To despise theory is to have the excessively vain pretension to do without knowing what one does, and to speak without knowing what one says." Fontenelle

"Temples have their sacred images; and we see what influence they have always had over a great part of mankind; but, in truth, the ideas and images in men's minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them; and to these they all pay universally a ready submission." Jonathan Edwards

"It is the habitual thought that frames itself into our life. It affects us even more than our intimate social relations do. Our confidential friends have not so much to do in shaping our lives as thoughts have which we harbor." J. W. Teal

September 27, 2005

More from R. L. Dabney (1820–1898) on Meditation

Time must be allowed in sacred seasons for divine truth to steep the heart with its influence. Our hurry and externality has impoverished our graces. Solitude is essential to the health of the soul. Is not our modern life far too hurried? Surely we are in too much haste to be rich; we are too strange to self-communion; our very education is too stimulating and mercenary; and while we degrade the heavenly minister, science, to material uses, we teach our young men to forget that the true, the beautiful, and the good are in themselves the happy heritage of the soul. The clangor of our industry and the dust and glare of our skill have repelled the heavenly Dove and exhaled the dews of his grace our of our life. How woeful is the waste of our holiness and happiness by this mistake! Let us, then, learn to commune with our own hearts and be still.

Sacred meditation explains the delight which every true believer takes in prayer and praise. These acts of worship are sweet to him, because they are simple and direct acts of communion with God; because they present his perfections as the immediate objects of adoring thought and love. And the indifference of the major part of men to these exercises shows how shallow and external is their religious life. Unless the acts of direct homage to God are rendered tolerable by the material charms of music, they are regarded as but irksome preludes, detaining men from the sermon (the only part of the service which concerns them), hinderances which they must endure as decently as they may. In these simple ascriptions to God of his known perfections, there is nothing to entertain them, nothing to pique their curiosity, nothing upon which the edge of their acumen can be whetted, nothing of which to prate after they withdraw. Had these men stood where Isaiah was when he heard the Seraphim proclaim, " Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory," while the temple was filled with smoke, and the solid pillars of its door vibrated with the thunder of their tones, they would only have said in their hearts, "Well, what of that? We knew it before." The triteness of such a doxology would quite have fatigued them!

Yet is praise the occupation of heaven, and its words, if only the heart make melody along with them, are the noblest utterance of the human tongue. If they are level to a child, they are also the highest language of angels.
Robert L. Dabney, “Meditation A Means of Grace,” in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1982), 1:653.

September 26, 2005

R. L. Dabney (1820-1898) on Meditation

I just finished reading the article Meditation A Means of Grace by R. L. Dabney. The church needs to read Dabney's theological writings. This was a brilliant and godly man.

The following excerpt from his article describes some of the reasons why I named my Blog as I did. Deep meditation on theological truths should spark excitement and love for God, our neighbor, and for all of creation. When our affections are touched by true theological meditation, then we are ready to be used of God and we will have the right motives. If the church is infected by the desire to meditate on the divine being in Spirit and in truth, then it will once again "turn the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).

Dabney says:
"The strength derived from meditation has also been potent to bless. To this are due the evolutions of the greatest truths of philosophy and religious freedom which form the heritage of civilized man, as well as the noblest exploits of arms and policy. The authors of human progress have not been your self-styled "practical men," whose only notion of activity is change; whose only energy is restlessness; who see no end for truth save its immediate application to corporeal good. Let not these say that they can well resign to the man of meditation the shadowy glories of philosophy, since the arts are theirs which supply men's practical wants. They cannot even do this; even in their own poor, materialistic sense. But for the nobler dreamers, they could not have taught us to navigate ships, to spin calicoes, to compound drugs. Where would be your dexterous man of arts, your navigator, your chemist, your machinist, without the musings of a Kepler, a Bacon, a Newton? No; your merely practical man is not he who descends into the central caverns and primeval abysses of nature, to mine for us the golden ore of truth and right; he is but the trafficker, who circulates it from hand to hand, and who tarnishes and wastes it in his traffic.

The men who have changed the face of the world have been the reserved, the meditative; men of profound insight, wont to retire into the depths of their own consciousness; men who receive the beautiful and the good with a poet's intense appreciation, and hold them with unwavering grasp of mind and heart. See King David, warrior, conqueror, legislator, busy founder of a polity and dynasty; he, more than any other inspired author, delighted in holy musings, and satisfied his soul with midnight meditations, as with marrow and fatness. See the man from whose giant will proceeded, more than from that of any other man, that revolution of thought upon whose swelling tides we are still borne, after more than three centuries, whither, we know not. Luther burst upon Europe as teacher, preacher, critic, poet, musician, statesman, ecclesiastic, polemic, patriot and filled it with the din of his activity. It was amidst the musings of a convent and the reveries of his prison at Wartburg that the fires of this will were kindled. And this is what one should anticipate. Man feels as he sees, and acts as he feels. A great purpose is only formed when a great idea is kept in contact with the soul, by prolonged communion with it in the depths of its own conception. The mind which has basked long in the light of some quickening truth, like the tropic earth, bursts with the most vigorous and fruitful germs of purpose.
The habit of silent adoration is a fountain of happiness to the soul. "I will be glad in the Lord," saith the text. There is immediate pleasure in the sight of a material object of taste. We pause instinctively over a flower. We stand before a masterpiece of art, and crave leisure to enjoy it, deprecating analysis, criticism, and even converse, that the soul may silently imbibe the happiness of its perfection. When we look up, and see the moon walking in brightness, and the stars shooting their radiance from a stainless and unfathomable depth, we receive a spell of peaceful joy upon our hearts. But most happy are we when our meditations are charmed by the beauty of holiness and our eyes filled with the perfections of God; for there are the transcendent glory and symmetry to satisfy the intellect, the taste, and the conscience at once. What thought can be as sweet and grand as that of the Christian's God, infinite in being, in duration, in knowledge, in power, in holiness, directing his boundless kingdom with the calmness of infallible might, and yet with the beneficence of infinite love communicating himself as widely as his universe, and "opening his hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing," to creatures like us, tossed amid vanities, cares, and change? How full of calmness is the thought of a Being sufficient to himself, as unchangeably blessed as he is excellent? In this vision of God are merged our noblest conceptions of the stability of the spheres, the purity of the fields of azure, the duration of grandest cycles, the might of all elements, all creature beauty, all good, all power, all wisdom, all blessedness; all are in him, even as one drop is in the sea; and the more the soul expands towards the thought the more are we assured that everlasting intuition will never exhaust nor even comprehend its glories."
Robert L. Dabney, “Meditation A Means of Grace,” in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1982), 1:649-651.

September 22, 2005

Scripture Over System

"...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 Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 2:559.

September 20, 2005

Some Hate is Good

Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, drove out the moneychangers who polluted God’s temple by their lies and hypocrisy. The thieves were causing some to blaspheme and others to see religion as a way to financial gain and manipulation. The holy soul of Christ was stirred to godly hatred. His cleansing of the temple illustrates that some hate is good.

He was zealous for truth in religion, and hated that which caused others to stumble. Theological liberals despise this image of the angry Christ, but the faithful disciple knows Christ was filled with righteous indignation. The Word of God knew the law and the prophets, therefore he hated every false way. His love of the Father and his word compelled him to drive out sin.

When we love someone, we do not like others to misrepresent them. We hate those who tell lies about them or distort their words. When we love the truth, we cannot help but hate what is false. Loving truth necessitates hatred of lies, just as the love of plants necessitates the hatred of weeds.

When God plants the truth in our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit speaking through his word, we learn to hate what is false. We delight in those who honestly represent God’s pure word. We are naturally sickened by those who misuse and abuse the scriptures. Those keeping the path to the truth hate the snares that cause others to get trapped and stumble. In fact, one who loves the truth is particularly vexed by errors that seem very close to being true. These errors are very subtle and can easily ensnare the believer.

The saint who is learning holiness is also learning godly hatred. One cannot separate the two anymore than one can separate faith (turning to Truth in Christ) and repentance (away from falsehood and deception). Love rejoices in the truth (I Cor. 13:6), and this presupposes that it also hates lying and all sin.

Consider the following verses for meditation:

NKJ Psalm 119:104 Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.

NKJ Psalm 119:128 Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way.

NKJ Psalm 119:163 I hate and abhor lying, But I love Your law.

Spurgeon has some great comments on these verses in his The Golden Alphabet. He says,
v. 104 “Therefore I hate every false way.” Because he had understanding, and because of the divine precepts, he detested sin and falsehood. Every sin is a falsehood: we commit sin because we believe a lie, and in the end the flattering evil turns a liar to us, and we find ourselves betrayed. True hearts are not indifferent about falsehood, they grow warm in indignation: as they love the truth, so they hate the lie. Saints have a universal horror of all that is untrue; they tolerate no falsehood or folly, they set their faces against all error of doctrine or wickedness of life. He who is a lover of one sin is in league with the whole army of sins; we must have neither truce nor parley with even one of these Amalekites, for the Lord hath war with them from generation to generation, and so must we. It is well to be a good hater. And what is that? A hater of no living being, but a hater of “every false way.” The way of self-will, of self-righteousness, of self-seeking, of worldliness, of pride, of unbelief, of hypocrisy, of lustfulness – these are all false ways, and therefore not only to be shunned, but to be abhorred.

This final verse of the strophe marks a great advance in character, and shows that the man of God is growing stronger, bolder, and happier than aforetime. He has been taught of the Lord, so that he discerns between the precious and the vile, and while he loves the truth fervently he hates falsehood intensely. May all of us reach this state of discrimination and determination, so that we may greatly glorify God!

v. 128 “And I hate every false way.” Love to truth begat hatred of falsehood. He that prizes a robe abhors the moth which would devour it. This godly man was not indifferent to anything in the moral and spiritual world; but that which he did not love he hated. He was no chip in the porridge without flavour; he was a good lover or a good hater, but he was never a waverer. He knew what he felt, and he expressed it plainly. He was no Gallio, caring for none of these things. His detestation was as unreserved as his affection; he had not a good word for any practice which would not bear the light of truth. The fact that such large multitudes follow the broad road had no influence upon this holy man, except to make him more determined to avoid every form of error and sin. May the Holy Spirit so rule in our hearts that our affections may be in the same decided condition towards the precepts of the word! May we take our place on the side of God and righteousness, and never bear the sword in vain! We would not be pugnacious, but we dare not be sinfully indifferent. All sin we must hate; for any one of the whole tribe will be our ruin if it be indulged. To arms! To arms! ye soldiers of the cross.

v. 163 “I hate and abhor lying.” A double expression for an inexpressible loathing. Falsehood in doctrine, in life, or in speech, falsehood in any form or shape, had become utterly detestable to the Psalmist. This was a remarkable statement for an Oriental to make; for, generally, lying is the delight of the Easterns, and the only wrong they see in it is when their skill is at fault, so that the lie is found out. David himself had made much progress when he had come to this; for he, too, had practised guile in his day. He does not, however, alone refer to falsehood in conversation; he evidently intends perversity in faith and teaching. He wrote down all opposition to the God of truth as lying, and then he turned his whole soul against it with the intensest form of indignation. Godly men should detest false doctrine even as they abhor any other lie.

Curt Daniel on a Few Pitfalls Peculiar to Calvinists

In his book The History and Theology of Calvinism, Dr. Curt Daniel mentions a few pitfalls that are peculiar to Calvinists. He mentions 10 total pitfalls, so the audio lecture is worth listening to in order to hear the rest. Here are a couple:
D. The Calvinist should always see himself as a Christian first and only secondly as a Calvinist. We ridicule the Roman Catholic who sees himself as a Catholic first and a Christian second, but are not Calvinists prone to this as well? One way in which this evil disease crops up is in the "Calvinist Second Blessing." It is ironic that Calvinists usually denounce all theologies that promote a "second blessing", such as Pentecostalism. But we are too often guilty of it when we speak more of our coming to know the Doctrines of Grace than our coming to know Christ in salvation. We get more excited when we tell people how the grand truths of election and sovereign grace opened our eyes and we have never been the same. Some Calvinists describe it in almost mystical terms. But this ought never to outshine our personal testimonies of conversion. We should always be more moved to speak of how the Savior saved us from sin by sovereign grace than we are to describe how He later explained sovereign grace to us. Such a "second blessing" panders to pride and looks disparagingly on those "poor souls" who have not been so enlightened. Away with such a thing! We need no Reformed Gnosticism.

E. Then there is the pitfall of Calvinist intellectualism. Too often we Calvinists spend more time discussing the Doctrines of Grace than living the grace of the doctrines. We have already shown how this is done in the area of evangelism. To be more precise, Calvinists sometimes mistake knowledge for spirituality, as if one could somehow gauge spiritual growth by how much one knows about the finer points of Calvinism, such as the order of the decrees. But knowledge alone puffs up (I Cor. 8:1). Unless our Calvinism is put into practice, then even Reformed theology becomes staid and proud.
Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Springfield, Ill: Good Books, 2003), 468.

September 18, 2005

Did Christ Die for those who Perished in the OT?

Steve Costly, a friend of mine, wrote the following. He is addressing the question that some Calvinists raise with respect to Christ's death and those who perished in the time of the Old Testament. Did Christ die for those already in hell when he died? Here's his post:
The question is often asked by high Calvinists, "did Christ die for the sinners who went to hell before His crucifixion?" An example might be Cain or Nimrod or Old King Ahab or Judas for crying out loud.

Well, did Christ bear the penalty (appropos of your quote from the Job sermon, David) due to all poor sinners? If yes, then why would it exclude the OT sinners? Of course, the high Calvinist is going to say that the answer is obviously no, for those folks were already in hell and what's the use? But remember that in some way the benefits of Christ's atonement are applied retrospectively for the OT saints, and they were already in heaven. "Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world...." WCF VIII. vi. And add to this that the death of Christ purchased benefits for the non-elect, viz., the postponement of wrath (see Dabney), then why could we not answer the high Calvinist confidently? Of course Christ died for those poor sinners just like he did for me and you.

Sincerely,
Steve
I would add a qualification to Steve's words in the last sentence so that no one would misconstrue what is being said. The last sentence has the sense of: "Of course Christ died for those poor sinners just like he did for me and you, in terms of intending his death as a sufficient provision for the forgiveness of the sins of all mankind."

Curt Daniel says this in his The History and Theology of Calvinism:
...there is the argument, "Christ did not die for those already in Hell. Thus, He did not die for all men." Actually, this is a weak argument and should not be used. Norman Douty counters it effectively by turning it around. If Christ did not die for those already in Hell because their destiny had been reached, then He could not have died for those already in Heaven either. But if so, then they must have gone to Heaven other than through the blood of Christ, which is impossible. The truth lies between these arguments. Christ died in such a way that those before and after His atonement were saved because of it. Those who went to Heaven before Calvary were saved on the basis of what would later happen. This does not of itself deny that in some sense Christ died for those already in Hell. While on Earth, they could have been saved had they too believed in the still future atonement.
Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism (Springfield, IL: Good Books, 2003), 370.

Richard Baxter replies to the Crimination:
C. They cast that absurdity on Christ, as to die for those that were in Hell when he was dying for them, and to make a medicine for the dead and desperate.

B. 1. As you would state the supposition, it would be as liable to your charge of absurdity, to say, That he died for them that were long ago pardoned and saved, and to purchase Heaven for them that had possession of it long before. 2. But when we speak of Christ's Death as a sacrifice for the Sins of all the World, we mean no more, but that in esse cognito & volito, the undertaking was so far for all, as that all should have the conditional Promise or Gift of Life by the Merits of it. And so as all that were saved before Christ's Death, had actual Salvation by it before-hand, as undertaken; so all that perished had a Gift of conditional Pardon and Salvation, and perished for refusing it. But at the time when Christ was dying, we say that he was not then intending to offer the second Edition of his Covenant, either to those in Hell or in Heaven: But only that he purposed to do what he from the beginning undertook, for the undertaken ends.
Richard Baxter, Catholick Theology (London: Printed by Robert White, for Nevill Simmons at the Princes Arms in St. Pauls Church-yard, 1675), II.67. I have modernized some of the English.

See also Baxter on Christ's Death for Those Already in Hell.

Matthew 23:37 Calvinistically Considered

NKJ Matthew 23:37 " O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

The following is a modified version of a discussion that took place on a discussion board. The other person started out with a denial that Jesus wanted to gather the leaders in Matthew 23:37. He was using James White’s argument (and White got it from John Gill's hyper-Calvinistic book The Cause of God and Truth--he cites some of Gill's "exegesis" on this verse favorably in The Potters Freedom) that there is a distinction between "Jerusalem" (the leaders) and the "children". He said that the verse teaches that Jesus wanted to gather the children, not the leaders (Jerusalem). The leaders were unwilling.

I replied:
How do you know that Jesus did not want to gather the leaders, i.e. "Jerusalem"? Why did God send prophets and wise men to the leaders from generation to generation? After all, verse 34 says:

NKJ Matthew 23:34 "Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city,

Was God's motive exclusively to judge them? Or was it to also to give them his revealed will that they may be saved? It seems like both to me, and thus their guilt is compounded since they sin against God's well-meant sending of the prophets. The rejection of Jesus by the leaders in that generation was typological of the rejection of Christ in the prophets in all the previous generations. It seems more reasonable to think that Jesus wanted to gather all of the people THROUGH the leaders, but the leaders were a hinderance rather than a help, therefore they were judged as wicked since they despise well-meant goodness. The same principle is in Romans 2:4-5:

Romans 2:4-5 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,

Underlying your interpretation are two assumptions:

1) Jesus did not want to gather the leaders.
2) The "Children" are the elect from within Israel.

These two assumptions exist because the passage is viewed through a decretal lense. I addressed problems with the 1st assumption, but I would also ask the following: Why was Jesus rebuking them? What's the point of the rebuke? Is it only to reveal judgment? Or is it also to reveal the will of God that they would repent? Jesus was speaking to both the crowd and his disciples (23:1). Jesus wanted the disciples to fear God and obey. He wanted all of those in the crowd to do the same, including the leaders. God's patience was finished, and judgment was revealed. Is there not a sense of grief along with anger expressed in this passage? If so, don't these things presuppose a sincere desire for the obedience of all of them, including the leaders? After all, these were men of great influence in the land. God wants leaders to repent with a view to their subjects repenting. God works through authority structures according to scripture, and this passage is consistent with that principle.

I asked who the "children" were, and the other person states that the "children" were the elect in the city who were under the authority of the Jewish leaders (Jerusalem).

I said:
This deals with your second assumption. I don't see any warrant to leap from the term "Children" to "the elect within the city." I think it's clear that your theological system is driving your interpretation to unwarranted conclusions here. Please pause and consider that rather than immediately dismissing it.

I asked if the "children" were gathered, and how he might know this based on what the text says. He replied with a statement about other passages showing that Jesus will save all the elect. He also said that "gather" might refer to a desire on Jesus’ part to fellowship with his elect in the city, rather than meaning "to save them."

I replied:
Yes, we know that Jesus will save all of his elect, but why must Jesus' desire to "gather" here necessarily have that efficacious sense? The term "children" seems very general like his audience here. I don't see any need to give the term "gather" a decretal connotation. You hint at some uncertainty in your response when you say it "might mean a desire on Jesus' part to fellowship with his elect in the city." It seems more like a decretal stretch to give it that sense. Jesus is rebuking the leaders for hindering his message to go freely out to all of Israel. They were acting as false and corrupt shepherds of Israel. The undershepherds should have opened the door for the Chief Shepherd to minister to Israel, but they acted to the contrary, therefore they were judged. That's the point of this passage.

It's true that the term "gather" has intimate connotations of fellowship, but it also carries soteriological force. God has always wanted to gather disobedient Isreal in order to be their Father and Rock of Salvation. It was God motivating Paul to desire the same thing:

NKJ Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.

and God says :

NKJ Romans 10:21 But to Israel he says: "All day long I have stretched out My hands To a disobedient and contrary people."

This stretching out of the arms to a disobedient and contrary people is what went on in Jesus' day, particularly at the leadership level. Was God only stretching out his arms to the children but not to the leaders in every generation? I think it's to both, and I think the bible is clear on that. I would also add that God wants to gather the children THROUGH the leaders since he normally works through authority structures scripturally.

The other person admits that there is some sense in which God desires the salvation of every person without exception. Ezekiel 33:11 is said to prove this, contrary to some who deny common grace and the free offer of the gospel. However, it is claimed, one cannot use Matthew 23:37 to argue that God desires the salvation of every person, nor could one argue the opposite position.

I replied:
I am glad to see that you say the above. Many on this board have fought against the principles that you state above. All I am contending for in this passage is that God is seen to desire the salvation of people who were not ultimately saved. I am not saying that this passage teaches that God desire the salvation of every person on the face of the earth. That may be an implication of the sense and principles in the passage, but I don't think that is explicitly stated here. I am just contended that the revealed will of God is in view here, and not merely the decretal. It's not one or the other, but both are seen in this passage. According to God's revealed will, he wanted the leaders and the children to obey his commandments, particularly the commandment to believe in his Son. Ultimately, it's the Son of God speaking in and through the prophets from generation to generation that was rejected. When he was manifested in the midst of the leaders, they showed themselves for what they really were, liars and false shepherds. Nevertheless, God's arms were outstretched to all of them, leaders and children alike in the revealed will of God. Therefore, I conclude that there is a sense in which an inefficacious will is presented in the text regarding those people who finally perished. The Arminian uses this passage to argue that this (what the Calvinists call the revealed or preceptive will) is the only will of God. God is viewed as equally desiring the salvation of every man, but it's left to their free will decision. That's a major error. Since Arminians harp on this text to underline an inefficacious will (as understood from within their own paradigm), some "Calvinists" seek to make it conform to a decretal sense in reaction. They end up stretching the language of the passage to fit a preconceived system. In the back of their minds they know that this passage does not undermine God's ultimate decree, but they are reluctant to admit any inefficacious will here. That's also a mistake, and the result is that the High Calvinists and the Arminians speak past one another since they represent half-truths. Their respective theological paradigms warp the sense of the text. I'll explain further. Both God's decretive and preceptive will are seen in the context. One motive in God does not nullify the genuineness of the other. Jesus, as the perfect image of God in his person, really desired to gather those people who were not gathered. This is no threat to historic Calvinism, nor does it prove the Arminian scheme. As you say, Jesus will in fact save his elect, and this is the case because God has decree to do so. However, God has not decreed everything he, in some sense, really wills. God really wills for everyone to obey his commandments, but that is not always done. Jesus really willed that the leaders obey him, even though it was not the decree that they do this. Still, they owned their own disobedience. God did no violence to their wills by his decree.

I asked the other person the following question: What in the text would disallow the interpretation that Jesus desired to gather the children through the leaders (i.e. that he wanted to gather both parties), but that the context stresses judgment on the leaders for being disobedient and false shepherds of Israel (unfit instruments for gathering) who blocked others from coming? He replied that he didn’t think there was any evidence for this kind of interpretation. Jesus only says that he wanted to gather the children. He claimed that there is no suggestion that He wanted to gather the leaders too.

I replied:
I gave some arguments above for the interpretation. The text doesn't merely say that the leaders just stood in the way. It says that Jesus was really angry with them for their disobedience (this presupposes a desire for their obedience). He warned them over and over and over, and this passage is the climaxing rebuke to them. Were his warnings and exhortations to repentance well-meant or sincere? If so, then this text implies much more than you are saying, i.e. that they were just standing in the way. If their standing in the way is faulted, doesn't that presuppose disobedience to God's command? Of course it does. We see both the secret and revealed will of God in display here. There is, then, no problem with admitting an inefficacious sense of "gather" here. Your position presupposes that Jesus did not want to gather the leaders. It's because you are looking at the text through a decretal grid, therefore you see "children" as having an elect sense. Pause and look at the passage through God's revealed will in the Calvinstic sense. It does not entail anything like Arminianism, and it will help you to see the language normally. "Children" does not mean the elect within the nation. It means the people of Israel, whoever they are. The leaders are disguished from the rest in this passage because of the degree of their guilt in suppressing the prophetic wooing of the masses. Not only that, but their hinderance was coupled with the propogation of a works based system. Also, they prided themselves in being the chosen ones, and that they would be saved no matter what.

Here is an excerpt from John Murray's The Free Offer of the Gospel regarding this passage:

Matthew 23 :37; Luke 13:34. In this passage there should be no dispute that the will of Christ in the direction of a certain benign result is set in contrast with the will of those who are contemplated as the subjects of such blessing. These two stand in opposition to each other—I have willed (or wished), ye have not willed (or wished).

Not only so. The will of Christ to a certain end is opposed to that which actually occurred. Jesus says he often wished the occurrence of something which did not come to pass and therefore willed (or wished) the occurrence of that which God had not secretly or decretively willed.

That which Jesus willed is stated to be the gathering together of the children of Jerusalem, as a hen gathers together her chickens under her wings. This surely means the gathering together of the people of Jerusalem under his saving and protecting grace. So we have the most emphatic declaration on the part of Christ of his having yearned for the conversion and salvation of the people of Jerusalem.

It might be said that Jesus is here giving expression simply to his human desire and that this would not indicate, therefore, the desire or will of God. In other words, it might be said that we are not justified in transferring this expression of his human desire to the divine desire or will, either in respect of Jesus' own divine consciousness or the divine consciousness of the other persons of the Godhead.

Christ was indeed truly human and his human mind and will operated within the limitations inseparable from human nature. His human nature was not omniscient and could not in the nature of the case be cognisant of the whole decretive will of God. In his human nature he wrought within limits that could not apply to the specifically divine knowledge, desire and will. Hence it might be argued that on this occasion he gave expression to the yearnings of his truly human will and therefore to a will that could not be aware of the whole secret purpose of God. Furthermore, it might be said that Jesus was speaking of what he willed in the past before he was aware, in his human consciousness, of the judgment that was to befall Jerusalem, stated in verses 38, 39. A great deal more might be said along this line that would lend plausibility to such an interpretation.

We are not able to regard such an interpretation of our Lord's statement as tenable. It is true our Lord was human. It is true he spoke as human. And it is true he spoke these words or gave utterance to this lament through the medium of his human nature. The will he spoke of on this occasion was certainly one that engaged the total exercise of his human desire and will. But there is much more that needs to be considered if we are properly to assess the significance of this incident and of Jesus' utterance. Jesus is speaking here in his capacity as the Messiah and Saviour. He is speaking therefore as the God-man. He is speaking of the will on his part as the Messiah and Saviour to embrace the people of Jerusalem in the arms of his saving grace and covenant love. The majesty that belongs to his person in this unique capacity shines through the whole episode and it is quite improper to abstract the divine aspect of his person from the capacity in which he gives utterance to this will and from the prerogative in virtue of which he could give expression to the utterance. What needs to be appreciated is that the embrace of which Jesus here speaks is that which he exercises in that unique office and prerogative that belong to him as the God-man Messiah and Saviour. In view of the transcendent, divine function which he says he wished to perform, it would be illegitimate for us to say that here we have simply an example of his human desire or will. It is surely, therefore, a revelation to us of the divine will as well as of the human. Our Lord in the exercise of his most specific and unique function as the God-man gives expression to a yearning will on his part that responsiveness on the part of the people of Jerusalem would have provided the necessary condition for the bestowal of his saving and protecting love, a responsiveness, nevertheless, which it was not the decretive will of God to create in their hearts.

In this connection we must not fail to keep in mind the principle borne out by Jesus' own repeated declarations, especially as recorded in the Gospel of John, namely, the perfect harmony and coalescence of will on the part of the Father and of the Son (cf. John 12:49,50; 14:10, 24; 17:8). To aver that Jesus in the expressed will of Matt. 23:37 is not disclosing the divine will but simply his own human will would tend towards very grave prejudice to this principle. And, viewing the matter from the standpoint of revelation, how would it affect our conception of Jesus as the supreme revelation of the Father if in this case we were not to regard his words as a transcript of the Father's will as well as of his own? We can readily see the difficulties that face us if we do not grant the truly revelatory significance of our Lord’s statement.

In this lament over Jerusalem, furthermore, there is surely disclosed to us something of the will of our Lord as the Son of God and divine Son of man that lies back of, and is expressed in, such an invitation as Matthew 11:28. Here we have declared, if we may use the thought of Matthew 23:37, his will to embrace the labouring and heavy laden in the arms of his saving and loving protection. And it is an invitation to all such to take advantage of that will of his. The fulness and freeness of the invitation need not now be argued. Its character as such is patent. It is important, however, to note that the basis and background of this invitation are supplied by the uniqueness of the relation that he sustains to the Father as the Son, the transcendent commission that is given to him as the Son, and the sovereignty, coordinate with that of the Father, which he exercises because of that unique relationship and in that unique capacity. We should not fail to perceive the interrelations of these two passages (Matt. 23:37; 11:28) and to recognize that the former is redolent of his divine prerogative and revelatory of his divine will. Verses 38 and 39 confirm the high prerogative in terms of which he is speaking, for there he pronounces the divine judgment. And in this connection we cannot forget John 5:26,27, "For as the Father hath life in himself, even so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself. And he hath given to him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man."

September 16, 2005

Consistency, Calvinism and Paradigm Shifts

Here is yet another excerpt from an informal online discussion. The other person spoke about sticking with interpretations that are consistent and "contextual." My reply was as follows:

We should avoid contradictions, but that can be problematic also. We often reject things that are contradictory to our preconceived theological grids and systems without critically evaluating our system in the first place. Take your Double Jeopardy argument for instance. It's probably not the case that another Calvinist has pointed out to you the problems with that argument. You're used to knocking Arminians over the head with it, without knowing that your opening doors to antinomianism in doing so. The argument backfires, and entails many anti-biblical positions. One can reject it and still be Calvinistic.

If my reply to that Double Jeopardy argument caused you some confusion, then take some time to slowly work through your system again. Examine what's going on in your thinking. Why are you adopting a Higher view than Calvin did? Calvin is not the standard of truth, but he was no Arminian. He didn't take the High Calvinist interpretation on a number of things, so that should give us some pause to consider what we are doing in going higher. Calvin's system is much older. It wasn't until the time of Beza and the rest that men went higher in their decretal reading of things. Even though it may seem like there is a standard "Calvinistic" orthodoxy, modern views are really the product of the proliferation of Puritan and Protestant Scholastic writings since the 1960's. It becomes difficult for people who are immersed in this Protestant Scholastic paradigm to understand other Calvinistic alternatives, such as the perspective of C. Hodge, R. L. Dabney and W. G. T. Shedd. This is why I quoted them for you in my reply to the Double Jeopardy argument.

So then, something may seem internally consistent to us from within a particular paradigm, but we need to test our overall paradigm to begin with. This can scare us no matter who we are. Adopting a new paradigm impacts our entire vision of things. Most of the High Calvinists make ad hoc adjustments to their system, rather than adopting another Calvinistic paradigm. If they can tweak "world", "all", and "children" etc. to imply elect, then their system is safe, and it seems to have explanatory power. The result, however, is a stretching of the language of God's word. This becomes even more astonishing when presuppositionalists do this. They, of all people, should know how powerful our underlying philosophical and theological presuppositions are. Presuppositionalists should be the most epistemologically self-aware, but sometimes this is not the case with respect to their "Calvinism."

Consistency is a good test for truth, but God's word is a better test of truth. Our views should be consistent with God's word, and not merely be consistent with our own theological constructs and systems. We should believe God's word, whatever it says, and then wait on him to give us the understanding of it's consistency. We should believe in order to understand.

I would encourage you to read my post on Paradox and Mystery. It may help you to see what I am trying to say on the consistency principle as a test for truth:

A Third Pair of Magic Glasses

After discussing Matthew 23:37 with some High Calvinists online, the third pair of glasses in the Magic Glasses Series is definitely needed.

Matt 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!


You, too, can leap to astonishing conclusions and call it "exegesis"!

September 14, 2005

The Positive Side of Egoism

On another blog (2), it's reported that a Christian teacher said these words regarding our future state in heaven:
I will be a person with no stain or calculation of self-interest.
I commented on one of the blogs with these words:
Does he mean we will have no self-interest at all? Or does he mean that self-interest will be properly placed beneath our interest and motive to glorify God? Isn't it the case that most Christians think of virtue in the sense that all self-interest is bad? I think that's a mistake. I would argue that self-interest is good and necessary, but needs to be placed beneath interest in God's glory issuing in love to our neighbor. Heaven will be a world of love, as Edwards says. We will have self-interest, but we will not be selfish, correct?
I think that it's frequently the case that we think in false dilemmas. It's not a case of either self-interest or God-interest, but self-interest under God-interest (I assume that the reader understands that genuine God-interest also presupposes that we will have neighbor-interest). Our motives are complex, and we need to arrange and prioritize them according to the teaching of scripture, and according to wisdom that fits life's circumstances (see Ecclesiastes chapter 3). Seeking the glory of God does not eliminate self-interest, but put's self-interest in it's proper place. Jesus, in all of his ethical perfection as a man, had self-interest but he put his own interests under his motive to glorify God first and foremost. Also, some of God's righteous commandments are associated with our self-interest.

NKJ Ephesians 6:2 "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: 3 "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth."

That certainly sounds like obedience is connected to self-interest, but it's prioritized under God's glory.

The quote on the blog also brought to mind Steve Wilkins' treatment of Ethical Egoism. In his book, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics: An Introduction to Theories of Right and Wrong, he says that there is a positive side to ethical egoism, even though it has serious problems as a theory. He writes:
The Positive Side of Egoism

The initial response many have to the phrase ethical egoism is that it sounds like an oxymoron. How can one be both ethical and egoistic? Moreover, attacking altruism is kind of like attacking mom, apple pie and the flag. Who wants to advocate selfishness? However, if considered honestly, egoism has attractive elements. First, egoism forges a strong link between personal responsibility and self-esteem. Egoism stresses that individuals are responsible for what they do and should receive the benefits of their actions. Moral agency assumes that we accept responsibility for our own actions. If this is not the case, people will depend on others to solve their problems, and this soon becomes habit. Dependency, in turn, has negative consequences for those who are dependent because it is difficult to respect oneself when what is received is undeserved. It also has negative consequences for those who meet the needs of dependent people. Providers cannot focus their efforts on what which is most naturally their concern. Energy which could have been devoted to their interests and needs is now divided and diminished. We do not run as fast when we carry someone.

Second, after some reflection, most will likely agree that self-preservation and self-interest have a valid role in ethics. We can recognize the impulse toward self-preservation on both the biological and rational level. Our biological life is protected in numerous ways. We have built-in temperature, hunger and thirst controls to protect us. Each body comes with its own infection-fighting armies of cells as standard equipment. Adrenaline is pumped into our system in response to danger and gives us extra bursts of strength and speed. Nature tells us through our physical functions that life is important. Even where our natural defense systems are not sufficient protection, our mental processes work to keep us safe. Decisions are made daily that minimize potential dangers. We consider it rational to avoid certain areas of town, put on seat belts and watch our diets. In short, physically and mentally, we have a number of systems that protect our lives. Except in rare circumstances, we confirm these natural impulses in ethics by making preservation of our lives a moral duty.

Moreover, we can agree that the selfishness of others benefits us. As Nathaniel Branden states,
[Do] we want our lover to caress us unselfishly, with no personal gratification in the doing, or do we want our lover to caress us because it is a joy and a pleasure for him or her to do so? And let us ask ourselves whether we want our partner to spend time with us, alone together, and to experience the doing as an act of self-sacrifice. Or do we want our partner to experience such time as glory?
This makes the point that relationships would be unfulfilling if others received no benefit themselves, and this can be extended into other areas of life. People tend to do best at what they like. If they are free to follow their interests, we all share in the benefits of their productivity.

Finally, ethical egoism warns us that actions are not justified simply because they are unselfish. Altruism cannot be good solely because our actions are of no benefit to us. Otherwise Rand's diagnosis that the self becomes the standard of evil in altruism is correct. We have all seen situations in which a person's unselfishness was destructive for themselves or others. At times, I have given money to people who said they needed to buy food, only to see them minutes later with liquor but no food. People have given so much time at church for good purposes that their own families have disintegrated for lack of attention. Thus if altruism is going to work as an ethical perspective, something must be added to it that allows us to determine when an unselfish act is also a good act.
Steve Wilkins, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 1995), 54–56.

Jeremiah Whitaker (1599–1654) wrote:
Austin answers, that truly there was no need of any commandment for man to love himself, God had imprinted it upon his nature: if when God commands thee to love thy neighbor as thy self, and makes the love of thy self the rule of loving another, it implies that a man should love himself; and if a man did truly love himself, all the exhortations Ministers bring to you would be received with joy and gladness for all we desire, and beg at your hand in the name of the Lord Jesus, is, that you would be wise for your selves, and lay up a good foundation for your selves against the time to come, that you may lay hold of eternal life. Now I entreat you, when I speak of self-love, Remember, your bodies are not your selves, much less your corruptions; and the world is not your selves, for all things are either the things above us, and that is God; and things without us, the world; and the things within us, and that is our soul: the soul of man is the man: now love but your souls, and then surely this self-love is so far from being condemned, it is commanded, and God makes admirable use of it, and no man can be wise for another, and merciful for another, that is cruel to himself: every man is bound to love himself: and it is a dispute the School-men handle, Whether any man can truly love another, that truly loves not himself? and they argue, no man can truly love another, till he love himself; and no man truly loves himself, till he loves Jesus Christ, that is the author of this eternal life.
Jeremiah Whitaker, The Christian's Great Design on Earth (London: Printed by G. Miller for John Bellamie at the Sign of the three golden Lions in Cornhill near the royal-Exchange, 1645), 33–34.

Another thought for your meditation:

I once heard a preacher say something like this:
The truly telling thing about a person is not so much the particular values that he or she has, but the order in which they put those values.
I think that idea points to a profound biblical principle. While we obey God with the motive of self-interest, it should almost fade out of view when we consider our motive to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Putting self-interest over God-interest is idolatry. I think that's why so many Christians overreact and dismiss any self-interest in their idea of what it means to live a virtuous life.

The human heart is an idol factory, and the last idol destroyed is selfishness. We will gladly rid ourselves of other idolatrous affections before we dismiss our perverted self-interest. I think that this is why Jesus commanded us to take up our cross and follow him. The idolatrous veneration of ourselves needs to die.

Paul said that in the last days, "men shall be lovers of themselves." He's speaking about the sinful self-elevation that displaces God's rightful place as Lord. Christians need to properly understand the issue of self-interest, and proclaim the biblical doctrines in the midst of this "crooked and perverse generation."

NKJ Philippians 2:15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

September 13, 2005

Future Posts on John Davenant

I see that I have recently received a number of hits on my blog from people doing searches for material on John Davenant, an english delegate to the Synod of Dort. I posted some of his comments regarding John 3:16 already, but I may type more from his Dissertation on the Death of Christ in the future. I wish this entire work was online. Be sure to check back for more.

I have posted the following quotes in other forums. These are cited in J. C. Ryle's commentary on John 3:16. The first one is probably my favorite:
"The general love of God toward mankind is so clearly testified in Holy Scripture, and so demonstrated by the manifold effects of God's goodness and mercy extended to every particular man in this world, that to doubt thereof were infidelity, and to deny it plain blasphemy." - Davenant's Answer to Hoard, p. 1.

"God hateth nothing which Himself created. And yet it is most true that He hateth sin in any creature, and hateth the creature infected with sin, in such a matter as hatred may be attributed to God. But for all this He so generally loved mankind, fallen in Adam, that He hath given His only begotten Son, that what sinner soever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. And this everlasting life is so provided for man by God, that no decrees of His can bring any man thither without faith and repentance; and no decrees of His can keep any man out who repenteth and believeth. As for the measure of God's love exhibited in the external effect unto man, it must not be denied that God poureth out His grace more abundantly on some men that on others, and worketh more powerfully and effectually in the hearts of some men than of others, and that out of His alone will and pleasure. But yet, when this more special love is not extended, His less special love is not restrained to outward and temporal mercies, but reacheth to internal and spiritual blessings, even such as will bring men to an eternal blessedness, if their voluntary wickedness hinders not." - Davenant's Answer to Hoard, p. 469.

"No divine of the Reformed Church, of sound judgment, will deny a general intention or appointment concerning the salvation of all men individually by the death of Christ, on the condition if they believe. For the intention or appointment of God is general, and is plainly revealed in Holy Scripture, although the absolute and not to be frustrated intention of God concerning the gift of faith and eternal life to some persons, is special, and limited to the elect alone. So I have maintained and do maintain." - Davenant's Opinion on the Gallican Controversy.
Dr. Curt Daniel has a few of Davenant's books available for purchase at Good Books

Davenant, John. Animadversions . . . Upon a Treatise Intitled God’s Love to Mankind. 1641. 536 pp. Defends the Reformed doctrines of unconditional election and reprobation. A major Puritan, Anglican bishop and delegate to the Synod of Dort. 1592. $35.

Davenant, John. A Dissertation on the Death of Christ, As to Its Extent and Special Benefits. 1832. 276 pp. A major work. Says Christ died for all, but especially the elect. Exegesis, historical survey, answers to objections. 1593. $25.

Davenant, John. A Treatise on Justification. 1844. 2 vols: 508, 554 pp. One of the largest Reformed works on justification. 1594. $75.

September 10, 2005

Magic Glasses

Arthur Pink's The Sovereignty of God -- $6.37

John Owen's The Death of Death -- $13.58

A pair of High Calvinist Magic Glasses...

PRICELESS!!!

September 9, 2005

Double Jeopardy?

[11-10-09 Note: In retrospect, the title of this post should be "Double Payment?," since there is a technical difference between that argument and "Double Jeopardy." Also, the reader should be sure to read the comments section of this post, since many other primary sources are quoted. Or one visit my index on "Double Payment" and see many of the references.]

I am weary of so many people repeating John Owen's double jeopardy arguments without thinking it through critically. Contrary to popular opinion among "Calvinists" (they are really more Owenic than Calvinistic), Owen's double payment argument has very serious problems. Here's one of my lastest online interactions:

MD said:
Tony, I'm reading your arguments and the same problem of Double Jeopardy comes to mind with those who hold to unlimited atonement. If we take your arguments and interpretations as true (I'll agree that the word "world" by itself or even in some contexts allows for multiple definitions to be applied), then we have the problem of double jeopardy come up.

...if Jesus actually paid for the sins of everyone, you have double jeopardy if anyone suffers hell, as God exacted payment first from Jesus and THEN from the person. What is more incredible, I think, if it is a possibility for no one to have accepted Christ's sacrifice, then you have the Father exacting punishment on a perfectly just and holy person, this makes God unrighteous for punishing someone who did not break the law. For these reasons I never preach unlimited atonement, I preach Christ paid for the sins of believers.
My reply:

You're confusing a pecuniary payment with a judicial satisfaction, as R. L. Dabney, A. A. Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd and Charles Hodge seek to correct below.

1) If your position is correct, then on what basis are Christians subject to the wrath of God prior to faith? After all, your sins were paid for as one of the elect.

2) How then can God hold you subject to his wrath even as the others? Christ paid for your sins when he died.

3) What kind of double jeopardy is in your own system?

Do not deny that you, as one who professes to be one of the elect, are really subject to divine wrath and judgment prior to your faith. If you do so, then you're speaking contrary to scripture.

NKJ Ephesians 2:3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

Dabney, the Hodge's, and Shedd, who were solid 5-point Calvinists themselves, have the solution. We must distinguish between a pecuniary and judicial satisfaction. Also, we must look at the covenantal nature of the satisfaction, i.e. there are important conditions and agreements in the terms of this judicial satisfaction or transaction(s).

R. L. Dabney said:
Nor would we attach any force to the argument, that if Christ made penal satisfaction for the sins of all, justice would forbid any to be punished. To urge this argument surrenders virtually the very ground on which the first Socinian objection was refuted, and is incompatible with the facts that God chastises justified believers, and holds elect unbelievers subject to wrath till they believe. Christ’s satisfaction is not a pecuniary equivalent, but only such a one as enables the Father, consistently with His attributes, to pardon, if in His mercy He sees fit. The whole avails of the satisfaction to a given man is suspended on His belief. There would be no injustice to the man, if he remaining an unbeliever, his guilt were punished twice over, first in his Savior, and then in Him. See A. A. Hodge on Atonement, page 369.
A. A. Hodge said:
5. The doctrine of the Reformed Church is that there is no limit whatsoever in the Redemption of the Lord Jesus except that which resides in the eternal purpose of God to save thereby the elect and none others. A divine person suffered the penalty due to human sin, and obeyed that law obedience to which was made the condition of man’s well-being. He did this because of his divinity exhaustively and without limit as to intrinsic sin-expiating and justice satisfying sufficiency. If the work itself, therefore, be viewed separately from the intention [Tony's comment: I would qualify this like his father Charles Hodge does by saying "special intention"] with which it was undertaken, it plainly stands indifferently related to the case of each and every man that ever lived and sinned. It is not a pecuniary solution of debt, which, ipso facto, liberates upon the mere payment of the money. It is a vicarious penal satisfaction, which can be admitted in any case only at the arbitrary discretion of the sovereign; and which may have a redemptive bearing upon the case of none, of few, of man, or of all; and upon the case of one and not of another, and upon the elect case at whatsoever time and upon whatsoever conditions are predetermined by the mutual understanding of the Sovereign and of the voluntary substitute. The relations of the Atonement as impersonal and general or as personal and definite do not spring from considerations of the degree, duration or kind of suffering or acts of vicarious obedience which Christ rendered, but solely from the purpose he had in rendering them.
A. A. Hodge, The Atonement (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1867), 368–369.

W. G. T. Shedd said:
Vicarious atonement without faith in it is powerless to save. It is not the making of this atonement, but the trusting in it, that saves the sinner: “By faith are you saved (Eph. 2:8); “he that believes shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). The making of this atonement merely satisfies the legal claims, and this is all that it does. If it were made but never imputed and appropriated, it would result in no salvation. A substituted satisfaction of justice without an act of trust in it would be useless to sinners. It is as naturally impossible that Christ’s death should save from punishment one who does not confide in it as that a loaf of bread should save from starvation a man who does not eat it. The assertion that because the atonement of Christ is sufficient for all men therefore no men are lost is as absurd as the assertion that because the grain produced in the year 1880 was sufficient to support the life of all men on the globe therefore no men died of starvation during that year. The mere fact that Jesus Christ made satisfaction for human sin, alone and of itself, will save no soul. Christ, conceivably, might have died precisely as he did and his death have been just as valuable for expiatory purposes as it is, but if his death had not been followed with the work of the Holy Spirit and the act of faith on the part of individual men, he would have died in vain. Unless his objective work is subjectively appropriated, it is useless so far as personal salvation is concerned. Christ’s suffering is sufficient to cancel the guilt of all men and in its own nature completely satisfies the broken law. But all men do not make it their own atonement by faith in it by pleading the merit of it in prayer and mentioning it as the reason and ground of their pardon. They do not regard and use it as their own possession and blessing. It is nothing for them but a historical fact. In this state of things, the atonement of Christ is powerless to save. It remains in the possession of Christ who made it and has not been transferred to the individual. In the scriptural phrase, it has not been “imputed.” There may be a sum of money in the hands of a rich man that is sufficient in the amount to pay the debts of a million debtors; but unless they individually take money from his hands into their own, they cannot pay their debts with it. There must be a personal act of each debtor in order that this sum of money on deposit may actually extinguish individual indebtedness. Should one of the debtors, when payment is demanded of him, merely say that there is an abundance of money on deposit, but take no steps himself to get it and pay it to his creditor, he would be told that an undrawn deposit is not a payment of a debt. “The act of God,” says Owen (Justification, chap. 10), “in laying our sins on Christ, conveyed no title to us to what Christ did and suffered. This doing and suffering is not immediately by virtue thereof ours or esteemed ours; because God has appointed something else [namely, faith] not only antecedent thereto, but as the means of it.” (See supplement 6.2.7)

The supposition that the objective satisfaction of justice by Christ saved of and by itself, without any application of it by the Holy Spirit and without any trust in it by the individual man, overlooks the fact that while sin has a resemblance to a pecuniary debt, as is taught in the petition “forgive our debts,” it differs from it in two important particulars. In the instance of pecuniary indebtedness, there is no need of a consent and arrangement on the part of the creditor when there is a vicarious payment. Any person may step up and discharge a money obligation for a debtor, and the obligation ceases ipso facto. But in the instance of moral indebtedness to justice or guilt, there must be a consent of the creditor, namely, the judge, before there can be a substitution of payment. Should the Supreme Judge refuse to permit another person to suffer for the sinner and compel him to suffer for his own sin, this would be just. Consequently, substitution in the case of moral penalty requires a consent and covenant on the part of God, with conditions and limitations, while substitution in the case of a pecuniary debt requires no consent, covenant, or limitations. Second, after the vicarious atonement has been permitted and provided, there is still another condition in the case, namely, that the sinner shall confess and repent of the sin for which the atonement was made and trust in the atonement itself.
W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing 2003), 726–727.

Again, Shedd explained:
Supplement 6.2.7

The expiation of sin is distinguishable from the pardon of it. The former, conceivably, might take place and the latter not. When Christ died on Calvary, the whole mass, so to speak, of human sin was expiated merely by that death; The claims of law and justice for the sins of the whole world were satisfied by the “offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10); but the sins of every individual man were not forgiven and “blotted out” by this transaction. Still another transaction was requisite in order to this, namely, the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner working faith in this expiatory offering and the declarative act of God saying “your sin is forgiven you.” The Son of God, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, “sat down on the right hand of God” (10:12); but if the redeeming work of the Trinity had stopped at this point, not a soul of mankind would have been pardoned and justified, yet the expiatory value of the “one sacrifice” would have been just the same.
Ibid., 758.

Read what Charles Hodge said as well. This is why I posted him.

Some Wisdom from Charles Hodge

Some of those who are holding to a strictly limited atonement are not adequately studying the issues. They are picking up Owen's arguments through popular Calvinistic books, and no one is questioning the assumptions and reasoning processes. It's a major problem among those who adhere to the doctrines of grace. If you think that the Arminian resistance to the doctrines of grace is strong and persistent, then I dare you to try to correct the unbiblical and bad thinking among the High Calvinists. It's at least as bad.

For critical comments on Owen's Triple Choice argument, go to Chambers on "Unbelief as a Sin Atoned For"

A brief word of clarification:

I am not associating High Calvinism with so-called 5-point Calvinism necessarily. I would say that those who hold the L in the strict sense are high, but not every 5-point Calvinist holds the strict view of L in TULIP. Not every 5-pointer holds to a STRICTLY LIMITED atonement view. Those that do I am calling "High." There are other ingredients that go along with High Calvinism, but this strict view is one of them. This strict view is built on limited imputation assumptions, i.e. that only the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ when he died. The High Calvinist thinks that Christ only bore a legal relationship to the elect when he died because his work is exclusively filtered through the grid of the covenant of redemption. This is called limited imputation.

One may be a 5-pointer (or in agreement with Dort's teaching on redemption) and not agree with the strictly limited or Owenic view. I am of this variety (even though some of the strict advocates will seek to bias the discussion and call me a "4-pointer" of some sort). Others at the Synod of Dort held my views, but there were differences of opinion present (High's and Low's, etc.). However, all were in agreement that the Remonstrants were wrong, and the delegates all signed the Canons.

UPDATE: I've posted many more relevant quotes in the comment section, so be sure to read those.

September 8, 2005

William Gurnall (1617–1679) on Holding Truth in the Face of Danger

III. HOLD YOUR PROFESSION OF TRUTH IN THE FACE OF DANGER AND DEATH

We have the truth at a cheap rate now; but how soon the market may rise we do not know. Truth is not always available at the same price. We must buy it at any cost but sell it on no terms.

There has always been, and always will be to the end of the world, a spirit of persecution in wicked hearts. And even as Satan researched Job before he laid his hands on him, persecution is working now in the spirits of the ungodly. Engines of death continually grind out the thoughts of Satan against professing believers of truth. They already know exactly what they will do if power and opportunity are provided for them to carry out their sinister desires.

Satan comes first with a spirit of error and then of persecution; he poisons men's minds with error and then fills their hearts with anger against believers. It is impossible for error to bring any kind of peace; it is a brat of hell that must favor its father. Whatever comes from below can be neither pure nor peaceable. God has let this sulfureous spirit of error remain but He has given us a girdle of truth for protection.

But not everyone who applauds truth will follow it when it leads him to prison. And not everyone who preaches it is willing to suffer for it. Arguments are harmless things - blunt weapons which bring no blood. But when we suffer we are called to fight with the enemies of truth. And this requires more than a sharp tongue and logical brain. Where will disputers be then? They will appear like cowardly soldiers, who, in basic training when no enemy was in sight, seemed to be as brave as decorated heroes. To be on truth's side then meant only recognition and reward, not danger and death. But God has chosen the foolish to confound the wise in his service - the humble Christian, by his faith, patience, and love for truth - to shame men of high standing and no grace.
William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 2:36.

Bio:

September 3, 2005

The Divine Purpose

After some pressure and begging from me, Believers Chapel has uploaded The Divine Purpose series by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson in MP3 form :-) This is probably Dr. Johnson at his best. He investigates the history, theology and distinctive features of Covenantal and Dispensational theology, and then he exegetes the crucial passages in light of the various theological approaches. Eventually, I hope to type the outlines and notes for these lectures. I highly recommend this entire series.