October 11, 2006

John Bunyan's (1628–1688) Reprobation Asserted and the Death of Christ

Here is an interesting quote from John Bunyan's work Reprobation Asserted.

Whether God would indeed and in truth, that the gospel, with the grace thereof, should be tendered to those that yet he hath bound up under Eternal Reprobation?

To this question I shall answer,

First, In the language of our Lord, 'Go preach the gospel unto every creature' (Mark 16:15); and again, 'Look unto me, and be ye saved; all ye ends of the earth' (Isa 45:22). 'And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely' (Rev 22:17). And the reason is, because Christ died for all, 'tasted death for every man' (2 Cor 5:15; Heb 2:9); is 'the Saviour of the world' (1 John 4:14), and the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

Second, I gather it from those several censures that even every one goeth under, that doth not receive Christ, when offered in the general tenders of the gospel; 'He that believeth not, - shall be damned' (Mark 16:16); 'He that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his son' (1 John 5:10); and, Woe unto thee Capernaum, 'Woe unto thee Chorazin! woe unto thee Bethsaida!' (Matt 11:21) with many other sayings, all which words, with many other of the same nature, carry in them a very great argument to this very purpose; for if those that perish in the days of the gospel, shall have, at least, their damnation heightened, because they have neglected and refused to receive the gospel, it must needs be that the gospel was with all faithfulness to be tendered unto them; the which it could not be, unless the death of Christ did extend itself unto them (John 3:16; Heb 2:3); for the offer of the gospel cannot, with God's allowance, be offered any further than the death of Jesus Christ doth go; because if that be taken away, there is indeed no gospel, nor grace to be extended. Besides, if by every creature, and the like, should be meant only the elect, then are all the persuasions of the gospel to no effect at all; for still the unconverted, who are here condemned for refusing of it, they return it as fast again: I do not know I am elect, and therefore dare not come to Jesus Christ; for if the death of Jesus Christ, and so the general tender of the gospel, concern the elect alone; I, not knowing myself to be one of that number, am at a mighty plunge; nor know I whether is the greater sin, to believe, or to despair: for I say again, if Christ died only for the elect, &c. then, I not knowing myself to be one of that number, dare not believe the gospel, that holds forth his blood to save me; nay, I think with safety may not, until I first do know I am elect of God, and appointed thereunto.
John Bunyan, "Reprobation Asserted," in The Works of John Bunyan (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 2:348.


Several things are to be observed in this quote from Bunyan:

1) Christ is to be indiscriminately offered or “tendered” to “every creature” because he died for all. When Bunyan says Christ died for “all,” tasted death for “every man,” and is the propitiation for the sins of “the whole world,” he clearly does NOT mean merely the elect by these terms (see his comment about "every creature" toward the end). The free offer is grounded on Christ’s unlimited expiation of sin. This is his first point.

2) The “heightened” damnation of some of the finally impenitent who heard the call as recorded in scripture underlines the fact that they were sincerely offered Christ. The completely sufficient remedy of Christ’s death was “extended” to them through the gospel call, but they refused it. If there is no real sufficient remedy for them in Christ’s death, then the aggravation against their sin would not be increased.

3) The free offer of the gospel is related to the extent of Christ’s satisfaction. Since his satisfaction is unlimited, we may freely offer him. If his satisfaction itself were limited, then we could not freely offer him, nor would grace really be extended to reprobates for the taking. In effect, they (the non-elect) wouldn’t be hearing “good news” (the gospel). Hyper-Calvinists reason from a limited expiation in Christ’s satisfaction to either 1) limited offers or 2) no offers of grace. Bunyan seeks to refute their first faulty premise by arguing that Christ died for every creature. He grants that it would follow that if the expiatory death be limited to the elect alone, then we couldn’t sincerely offer Him to all. It’s just the case that the bible teaches that Christ died for all, and sincerely offered to all on that basis. There are some “Calvinists” today who maintain both a limited expiation and unlimited offers. Bunyan would think they’re inconsistent, and he’s right. By limiting the expiation in their theology, they're opening the door to a "limited offer" or "no offers of grace" (Joseph Hussey) type of theology, even though they vehemently deny it.

4) The warrant for sinners to believe in Christ is not merely in God’s command that they do so, but also in the fact that God, through the gospel call, “holds forth his [Christ's] blood to save me.” Anyone, whether elect or not, can be assured through the revealed will of God in the gospel that He has an interest in saving “me” in particular (whoever you are), because God has given Christ to die for all, not merely the elect. If it were the case that Christ died only for the elect, Bunyan thinks that one would be left in despair, wondering whether or not they are one of the elect to whom God is offering Christ. One would be left without warrant to believe, and trapped in an endless labyrinth of introspection/subjectivism.


David Ponter said...

Ive found 2 or 3 more from Bunyan through a secondary source. I will type them out tonight. They validate your reading of Bunyan.


Jon Unyan said...

"For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (Heb.4:2). In other words, unbelievers heard the word but did not profit by it because it was not heard with faith--not because Christ's death was not sufficient to save them. God made the provision, they did not believe. I love Bunyan. Tony--what else are you reading these days? I see that you must have quite the library at home....

YnottonY said...

Hi Jon,

You said:

"In other words, unbelievers heard the word but did not profit by it because it was not heard with faith--not because Christ's death was not sufficient to save them. God made the provision, they did not believe."

Are these your words or a quotation of Bunyan? I'm just curious. If they happen to be from Bunyan, I would like to know the source. I did a Google search on them and found nothing.

My library is probably around 1700 volumes and I've been building it since I was converted in 1990. I also have copies of alot of theological journal articles. At the moment, I am still slowly working through some of John Howe's writings. After I'm done with reading and posting what I find from Howe, I will probably return to reading Robert Oliver's History of the English Calvinistic Baptists and through some sermons by James Ussher. I still have yet to finish Hans Boersma's doctoral thesis on Richard Baxter. I have piles and piles of things to read that pertain to the subjects I mainly post about on my blog. I feel as if I am doing reading and research for a doctoral thesis, even though I am not. I also feel as if I am a research assistant to David Ponter hahaha. We are both building a treasure house of material that reveals a stream of moderate Calvinistic thought from the time of John Calvin to the present day, and even John Bunyan is on our side.

I'm not posting quotes from these men because I think we arrive at truth by counting noses, but because people need to know that you can believe what I do and still be considered a Calvinist. One of the reasons that people call me an Amyraldian is because they distinguish that from Calvinism or the teachings of Dort. When people call me an Amyraldian, I feel like saying, "Why don't you just call me authentically Calvinistic? After all, Calvin believed what I believe. If you've gone higher than him, then just be honest enough to admit it. It doesn't mean that your theology is wrong on that basis. If you want to smear my theological position as less than Calvinistic, then say the same thing about Calvin, Bullinger, Musculus, Vermigli, John Bunyan, John Howe, James Ussher, John Davenant, Jonathan Edwards, R. L. Dabney, Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd etc. etc." As I said before, the moderate position has been eclipsed, and therefore neglected.

I'm also posting quotes from men like the above so that their arguments and exegetical insight can be explored as much as possible. For example, one can see how Bunayn treats various passages of the bible from the above quotation, and also see that he's reacting to higher forms of "Calvinism" in his own day. He was a faithful guardian of the gospel and we can learn from him.

David Ponter said...

I found a score of quotations from Bunyan. Feel free to post them here. I can send you the collated file Ive made.

If Bunyan was a baptist, its clear he was not a particar baptist, as much as its clear he was not an Arminian.


Jon Unyan said...

Hi Tony,

Those were my words, I just thought of that verse in Hebrews when I read your Bunyan post and that was my commentary (I didn't make that clear). It was late and my communication skills spiral downward after 11:00pm :-) Anyway, I've been revisiting this issue in-depth again and prayerfully considering what the Bible teaches about the subject. When I interacted with you about this stuff a while back I was wrestling with the material and discovered that I was perhaps making some verses fit into my "high" Calvinist theological system rather than embracing the plain teaching of the text. There are some issues I still have to study more so I'm not settled on everything, but you have been a great help. I picked up Davenant's commentary on Colossians, Dabney's Sys Thlgy, and Shedd's Dogmatic Theology and they have been eye-opening (Spring also has some stuff on commercialism and Christ's expiation in "The Attraction of the Cross"). I think some of the high Calvinists that give you so much flack should really study some of these writers (and many others) before they launch into the full-blown counter attack (I know, I know, I'm guilty). Honestly, I don't think many of them have really given a careful reading to Calvin himself.

In your reading who among the Puritans held the views of John Howe? Is it your understanding that there was a fair amount of disagreement among them about this issue?

Thanks, brother...

Jon Unyan said...


The Particular Baptist designation doesn't necessarily mean you're a high Calvinist, does it?

--Jon Unyan

YnottonY said...

Jon said:

"The Particular Baptist designation doesn't necessarily mean you're a high Calvinist, does it?"

I wouldn't say so. Perhaps David meant to say STRICT particular (high Calvinism) Baptist, as it's usually thought. Robert Oliver has this comment in his History of the English Calvinistic Baptists:

"Daniel Turner may have shared a love of liberty with John Ryland, but there were significant differences between the two men. In a letter written in 1782, Turner revealed that he did not subscribe to the doctrine of Particular Redemption. He wrote,

'I am one who with the good Mr Polhill, Mr How (Tony: He's referring to John Howe), Dr Watts and many others hold the doctrine of Particular Election and general Redemption as it may be called.'

These were unusual sentiments for a Particular Baptist minister in the 1780s."

Robert W. Oliver, History of the English Calvinistic Baptists (Banner of Truth, 2006), p. 62.

Oliver is still willing to call Turner a "Particular Baptist minister." I would say that it's the case that he didn't subscribe to a STRICT Particular Redemption, as some understood it.

p.s. Jon: I will get to your other comments and email as soon as possible.

David Ponter said...

Normally the term was Strict and Particular Baptists. The strict was for closed communion and the particular was for limited atonement. I dont know any one of the leading lights of that movement whol held to a dual-aspect of the atonement.

Bunyan clearly was not of the normal particular line. Let cite this for you:

Second. A surety must consent to the terms of the agreement, or covenant; and so did Christ. Now that which he did engage should be done for sinners, according to the terms of the covenant; it was this–1. That there should be a complete satisfaction given to God for the sins of the world; for that was one great thing that was agreed upon when the covenant was made (Heb 10: 5, 17). Bunyan, Doctrine of Law and Grace, in The Works of John Bunyan, (Banner of Truth), vol 1, p., 526.

David: Bunyan like all the others we are looking at can easily speak of Christ bearing the sins of the believers, of the church, purchasing the church, etc etc. But he can also speak of Christ bearing the sins of the world.

The dual aspect position has clearly been the majority expression among Augustinians, but not among calvinists. But among calvinists, its had as supporters some of the heaviest thinkers.

Btw, Tony, that McCrie was a marrow supporter as I recall. A lot of the Marrow men denied the conditionalism of Protestant Scholasticism and so it impacted their constructions of Federalism. Boston represented the more conservative wing of the Marrow movement, Wardlaw was more radical, positing a dual-aspect. Wardlaw is on my reading list... some day...

Take care,

YnottonY said...

Hi Jon,

I am glad that you’ve sought to humbly, prayerfully and diligently study these subjects. One could wish that more people would approach these matters in the way that you have. I pray that God will illuminate your understanding and give you further discernment so that you may be built up in the faith, and help many others to the same effect.

The books you’ve purchased should be a great help in this regard, even though some of them label their categories differently. You may also want to bookmark Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology, if you have not already done so.

Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology

Also, I am sure you would benefit from some of the discussions that take place on the Calvin and Calvinism list, so be sure to join us there. Regular participation on the list will help refine one’s Calvinism, I believe. I agree with you that many of those hostile to my position need to more carefully study Calvin himself. One can not only engage in eisegesis when it comes to scripture, but also in the case of Calvin. We are often accused of reading him out of context, unfortunately. The high Calvinistic presuppositions are very powerful and can easily blind one to Calvin’s classical view of Christ’s death. I myself did not come to embrace my current views without some conceptual difficulties.

By the way, John Howe was himself a Puritan and held this view. I am told that he was esteemed just as highly as Owen in his own day, so what we’re finding in him is quite groundbreaking. R. L. Dabney was clearly influenced by Howe. Edward Polhill was another Puritan who held this view. You can buy his Works by Soli Deo Gloria Publications. Incidently, pay attention to the publishers of the books that I am quoting from. They are Calvinistic publications. One wonders if Don Kistler realizes what he’s doing in republishing some of these works. He’s inadvertently exposing modern readers to a significantly different, but classically Calvinistic paradigm. James Ussher was also influential. He impacted John Davenant and John Preston to hold a more classical model. Anyway, just take a look at some of the names of the men I am posting on my blog. Me, David and others from the Calvin and Calvinism list are investigating some of these older writings in order to discover the various perspectives. Many of the men are transitional figures. There’s something of a mix or blend of the classical view with the post-Reformational Scholastic perspective, so it can get confusing.