February 22, 2006
Dr. James White has recently extended an invitation to debate Dr. Ergun Caner on Calvinism. I would definitely like to hear this debate. While at Criswell College, I took a class with Dr. Caner on Baptist history and theology. I was very disappointed by his inaccurate teaching and misrepresentations of both Calvinism and Roman Catholicism. I, a staunch advocate of the 5 Solas of the Reformation, found myself having to defend Roman Catholicism against constant misrepresentations. I completely reject official Roman Catholic teaching (I am an ex-Roman Catholic) in many areas, and yet I was grieved by Dr. Caner's many straw men. Needless to say, he does the same thing with Calvinism. I've heard these things during an entire semester. One student told me that he wanted to bring a little strawman to class and raise it up each time this sort of argument occurred, but he didn't ;-) I did it instead! Just kidding!
Dr. Caner is obviously a very passionate man with deep convictions. He's a former muslim, so I can't help but sympathize with his reactions against their idolatrous and anti-biblical beliefs. I am inclined to think that Dr. Caner is reacting against Islamic fatalism and anti-semitism in his adherence to Arminianism (he doesn't like what seems to be the fatalistic implications of Calvinism) and classical dispensationalism (he doesn't like the so called "replacement" theology of some Calvininsts). He also greatly sympathizes with what the so called "ana" baptists had to suffer from the Reformers. I don't mention these things to suggest that he doesn't have biblical concerns. He definitely has legitimate biblical concerns, but I still think the above issues are factors in his thinking, from my perspective.
Overall, I don't think Dr. Caner will move toward a Calvinistic soteriology as a result of debates, particulary in a debate with a very high Calvinist like James White. These men are polar opposites. Nevertheless, I think White will do a far better job in a debate on the specific issue of election. If they do debate the issue, I hope the format allows for good back and forth questioning. If they do not engage one another in a thorough cross-examination period, Caner will be allowed to continually misrepresent historic Calvinism on election. A "debate" that is really a side-by-side sermon comparison will profit no one.
Posted by Tony Byrne at 2/22/2006 02:33:00 PM
February 21, 2006
In Michael Haykin's excellent audio lecture on Tertullian and Constantine, he provides an interesting quote by Basil of Caesarea.
Haykin writes (click here for his written notes):
"The incredible turn of events that accompanied the reign of Constantine, the way in which almost overnight Christians went from being a persecuted minority to being the power-brokers in the new order, all but seduced some believers into thinking that the state and the church could work together to establish the kingdom of God. A major figure who articulated this view was Eusebius of Caesarea.
On July 25, 336, the year before Constantine’s death, Eusebius was asked to preach at the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Constantine’s accession to power. The main theme of his sermon is that the empire of Constantine is a visible image of the heavenly kingdom, "the manifestation on earth of that ideal monarchy which exists in the heavenly realm." Eusebius went on to affirm that Constantine governs it in accordance with the divine archetype, ever keeping his eyes on heaven to find the pattern for his government. In other words, what Eusebius enunciated here is a sacralization of the state.
It was an idea that bore bitter fruit seventy-five years or so later when the western portion of this Chr istian Roman Empire fell before the onslaught of various Germanic tribes and the question was raised of why God would allow his "holy state" to suffer in this way. This sacralization of the state thus contributed in no small way to the tears of Jerome. It was left to Augustine to argue at length in his monumental City of God (413-426) that no earthly kingdom can be identified with the kingdom of God and that no earthly kingdom, even a Christian state, is essential to the outworking of God’s purposes in history.
A related question is what happens if the Emperor or ruler happens to disagree with your theological views? If the state is vital to the advance of the kingdom of God, then religious nonconformity runs the risk of persecution. As Basil of Caesarea (c.330-379), later wrote:When he [i.e. the Devil] saw that by the persecution of our enemies the Church was increasing and thriving the more, [he] changed his plan. He no longer makes war openly, but places hidden snares for us, concealing his treachery by the means of the name which his followers bear, in order that we may endure the same sufferings as our fathers, and yet not seem to suffer for Christ, since our persecutors have the name of Christian.
The stage is set for the Mediæval era when the church would regularly use the arm of the state to enforce "orthodoxy."
February 18, 2006
In Book II, chapter 2 of The Call of All Nations, Prosper (a defender of Augustinianism) says the following with respect to God’s will that all men be saved:
“We must not profane with our human dialectics the texts quoted from the divine scriptures to explain what grace is; that would be to drag so many clear and concordant statements into the uncertainty of a misleading interpretation. In the same way, no argumentation to the contrary must defile what we find in the same body of Scripture about the salvation of all men. Rather, the more difficult is its understanding the more praiseworthy will the faith be that believes. That assent is indeed very strong whose motive is derived from authority as a sufficient proof of truth, even though the why of things remain hidden.
Let us, then, carefully examine the behest which our Lord makes to the preachers of the gospel. According to Matthew, He says: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. According to Mark, He speaks thus to the same Apostles: Go ye into the world and preach the gospel to every creature, and he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned.
Does this command make a difference between any peoples or any individuals? No, He welcomed no one for his merits, singled out no one for his birth, made no distinction with anyone because of his social state. The gospel of the Cross of Christ was extended to all men without exception. And that no one should consider the ministry of the preachers as but a merely human enterprise, He said, Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. That is, when you will go like sheep in the midst of wolves, do not be afraid on account of your weakness; have confidence in my power, for I shall not forsake you in this great mission till the end of the world. Not that you will have nothing to suffer; but what is much greater, I shall give you strength that you may not be overcome by any cruelty of savage tyrants. For you will preach with my power; and through me it will come about that from among your opponents and persecutors sons of Abraham will be raised up from the very stones.”
St. Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations (Newman Press, 1952), 90-91.
In the above quote, I wanted to provide the context in which he uses the expression “all men without exception.” What does this phrase mean in the context? Consider the possible senses of all men without exception:
1) All human beings that will ever exist.
2) All human beings now existing on earth.
3) All human beings now existing on earth that hear the external call of the gospel.
Does Prosper use the expression “all men without exception” in either the first or second sense above? Of course not. He knows that all men do not hear the external gospel call. Prosper, who lived in the 5th century, knew that there were nations who were not aware of gospel truth. Given Prosper’s citation of scripture concerning the indescriminate gospel call, he obviously means sense #3 above. He’s saying that “all men without exception” who hear the external call of the gospel are commanded to believe it, no matter their social status, their genealogy (“birth”) or merits. God makes “no distinction” in the indescriminate gospel call.
Once Prosper’s sense of all men without exception is understood contextually, one can see that all without exception includes the sense or idea of all without distinction. All without exception is not antithetical to all without distinction.
However, what do most High Calvinists mean when they put “all without exception” in antithesis to “all without distinction”? What they have in mind is all of the elect, whether Jew or gentile. “All without distinction” really means “some of all without distinction,” i.e. the elect. One can also distinguish between the elect as elect (not yet believing) and the elect as believing. High Calvinists are not always clear on what sense of “elect” they have in mind, and that causes equivocation fallacies in many of their arguments. Does “all without distinction” mean all of the elect, whether born or not yet born? Or does it mean all of the elect, whether believing or not yet believing? Or does it mean all of the elect that are believing? Some of them are reluctant to answer this question, even though they want to associate the “all without exception” position as meaning all humanity that will ever exist, whether born or not yet born.
The common either/or dilemma put to us by them is the following:
1) Either “all without exception” in the sense of all humans that will ever exist
2) “All without distinction,” in the sense of all the elect from the nations
Is this a fair either/or dilemma? Or are there other real alternatives left out? Should the automatic jump from the sense of “all without distinction” to the sense of “all the elect without distinction” go unquestioned? Is it fair to associate the “all without exception” position with sense #1 rather than with sense #2 or #3? If so, then why not associate the “all without distinction” position with all the elect who will ever exist? Why is more care taken among the High Calvinists to make “all without distinction” mean all the elect presently existing on earth? Or all the elect presently living on earth who believe? They are not so careful to accurately represent their opponents position as they are with their own. This allows their false either/or dilemma to appear more plausible.
I would argue that all without exception may include all without distinction in scripture, if properly (or Prosperly) understood. All without exception may have a narrower connotation than sense #1 or sense #2 in some passages of scripture, but it doesn’t follow that it therefore must have an "all the elect without distinction" sense. Sense #3 is perfectly compatible with some usages of the word "all" in certain contexts. "All" may mean all human beings presently alive at any given point in time who hear the gospel call, without distinction between rich and poor, young and old, male or female, Jew or gentile, or elect and non-elect. When all has this usage, all without exception includes all without distinction.
February 16, 2006
If you want a useful dictionary that explains technical theological and exegetical terms, I would highly recommend the Student's Dictionary for Biblical and Theological Studies by F. B. Huey and Bruce Corley. If I was a seminary professor, I would make sure that every student had this book in their possession. I would encourage them to carry it with them to every class. Whenever I come across a technical grammatical term in exegetical works that I don't understand, this is the first book I open.
Amazon has these comments about the book:
Nearly 1,300 entries are included in this dictionary, ranging from grammatical terms to theological jargon. The resource is succinct and cross-referenced and covers the entire field of Old and New Testament studies.
From the Back Cover
This dictionary contains nearly thirteen hundred entries, covering the whole field of Old and New Testament studies. The entries range from technical grammatical terms to obscure theological jargon and are often terms that are difficult to find in other dictionaries. Wherever possible, cross reference, is made to related or equivalent terms. The majority of entries include a brief description of explanation of the term and an example from the Old and/or New Testament. Hebrew and Greek words are transliterated so that the dictionary can be used easily by students at any level, whether they have studied the languages or not. The New International Version is used for all biblical quotations.
Posted by Tony Byrne at 2/16/2006 08:34:00 AM
February 15, 2006
I posted this recently on a discussion board, so I may as well put it here. I was arguing that God himself is preaching, appealing and offering the gospel through us to all that hear.
A Petrine Argument:
God is, in a sense, preaching through us when we preach in real holiness and truth, i.e. when we are consistent with his word. Just as Jesus suffered through his church when Saul persecuted her (Acts 9:4), so Jesus is preaching through his church (in the Spirit) when she faithfully offers the gospel terms to lost humanity.
I would argue that the pre-incarnate Christ was preaching through Noah when Noah preached to the perishing sinners in his day, according to 1 Peter 3:19. Just as he was in the prophets when they were searching the scriptures, he was also in Noah when he preached repentance.
NKJ 1 Peter 1:10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
NKJ 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
NKJ 2 Peter 2:5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;
Here's how I combine these passages. Noah was warning people and preaching repentance (even as we do, but we have more information about Christ). He was calling upon his generation to believe God's revealed word. When these people were alive on earth, they were disobeying the exhortations of Noah and the Spirit of Christ who was in him at (just as he was in all the prophets) making the appeal. Now, these same spirits are in a prison of sorts awaiting final judgment. Note: The timing of Christ's preaching was in the days of Noah and through Noah, not during some intermediate state between his death and resurrection.
God was in the prophets and Apostles in a special way when they spoke the word of God, but it is still true that the Spirit of Christ appeals to lost humanity through us, even as he did through them.
A Few Concluding Comments:
There are different ways that one can argue that God is preaching through us and offering the gospel indescriminately to all who hear, but I thought I would bring up these controversial passages to make the connection.
If one rejects this reasoning, then 2 Cor. 5:20 should be sufficient:
NRS 2 Corinthians 5:20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
p.s. If you want good commentaries that interpret 1 Peter 3:18 in the way I did, see Wayne Grudem's 1 Peter commentary in the Tyndale series, and check Curtis Vaughn's Bible Study Commentary on 1 Peter (Zondervan).
February 14, 2006
6 A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. 7 A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.
"And when a fool, by his foolish speaking, has run himself into a premunire, and thinks to bring himself off by justifying or excusing what he has said, his defence proves his offence, and his lips are still the snare of his soul, entangling him yet more and more. However, when men by their evil words shall be condemned at God's bar their mouths will be their destruction, and it will be such an aggravation of their ruin as will not admit one drop of water, one drop of comfort, to cool their tongue, which is their snare and will be their tormentor."
February 13, 2006
Since I just left this quote in the comment section on another blog, I will go ahead and post it here as well. John Frame, in his book The Doctrine of God, says this regarding "middle knowledge":
"Today it is popular among philosophers to use the concept of divine "middle knowledge" (knowledge of what will happen granted any possible set of conditions) in order to reconcile divine sovereignty with indeterminst human freedom. Helm points out quite rightly that if people have such indeterminist freedom, God cannot have "middle knowledge" of what they will do granted previous conditions. For the conditions, on this view, never determine human free actions. Thus indeterminism excludes divine middle knowledge. Helm is absolutely right here, and I can't understand why so many sophisticated philosophers have failed to see this point." (TDOG, page 778)
sola Scriptura: Scripture alone; the watchword of the Reformation in its establishment of the basis for a renewed and reformed statement of Christian doctrine. We find the concept of sola Scriptura, Scripture alone as the primary and absolute norm of doctrine, at the foundation of the early Protestant attempts at theological system in the form of exegetical loci communes, or common places. In the orthodox or scholastic codification of Lutheran and Reformed doctrine, the sola Scriptura of the Reformers was elaborated as a separate doctrinal locus placed at the beginning of theological system and determinative of its contents. Scripture was identified as the principium cognoscendi, the principle of knowing or cognitive foundation of theology, and described doctrinally in terms of its authority, clarity, and sufficiency in all matters of faith and morals. Finally, it ought to be noted that sola Scriptura was never meant as a denial of the usefulness of the Christian tradition as a subordinate norm in theology. The views of the Reformers developed out of a debate in the late medieval theology over the relation of Scripture and tradition, one party viewing the two as coequal norms, the other party viewing Scripture as the absolute and therefore prior norm, but allowing tradition a derivative but important secondary role in doctrinal statement. The Reformers and the Protestant orthodox held the latter view, on the assumption that tradition was a useful guide, that the trinitarian and christological statements of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon were expressions of biblical truth, and that the great teachers of the church provided valuable instruction in theology that always needed to be evaluated in the light of Scripture. We encounter, particularly in the scholastic era of Protestantism, a profound interest in the patristic period and a critical, but often substantive, use of ideas and patterns enunciated by the medieval doctors.
Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1985), 284.
"Now I am ready to profess, and that, I suppose, as out of the mouth of all our Divines, that every one who hears the Gospel (without distinction between Elect and Reprobate) is bound to believe that Christ died for him, so far as to procure both the pardon of his sins, and the salvation of his soul, in case he believe and repent."
William Twisse, The Riches of God's Love unto the Vessels of Mercy, consistent with his absolute hatred or reprobation of the Vessels of Wrath (Oxford, 1653), Vol. 1, page 154.
I managed to find the page in Twisse’s work above that both Bellamy and Douty reference. Douty gets his Twisse information from Bellamy, and Bellamy doesn’t site the page reference for the Twisse quotes.
Here's how some of the quotes appear in Bellamy:
*I am ready to profess," says the famous Dr. Twisse, " and that, I suppose, as out of the mouths of all our divines, that every one who hears the gospel, (without distinction between elect or reprobate,) is bound to believe that Christ died for him, so far as to procure both the pardon of his sins and the salvation of his soul, in case he believes and repents." Again, "As Peter could not have been saved, unless he had believed and repented, so Judas might have been saved, if he had done so." Again, "John iii.16, gives a fair light of exposition to those places where Christ is said to have died for the sins of the world; yea, of the whole world, to wit, in this manner; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." - Dr. Twisse, on "The Riches of God's Love to the Vessels of Mercy," etc.
The above is quoted from page 294 in:
The Works of Joseph Bellamy
In Two Volumes
Garland Publishing, Inc.
New York & London
It's from Bellamy's work "True Religion Delineated, in Two Discources," in Section V "Showing a Door of Mercy is Opened By Jesus Christ for a Guilty World."
J. I. Packer has this comment on page 204 in his work on Baxter:
"Baxter now remembered that Twisse, his oracle, had himself asserted that Christ had died for all in such a sense that salvation could be offered to all without exception, on condition of faith (though, plainly, he had failed to integrate this idea with the rest of his soteriology), #103 and, reviewing the case, was converted to a belief in universal redemption."
footnote # 103 reads: In Universal Redemption, 287 f., Baxter quotes a passage that shows Twisse "industriously explaining" John 3:16, in proof of his claim that Twisse taught this doctrine.
“The discovery that the views he had so zealously canvassed really subverted the gospel marked Baxter for life. He had burned his theological fingers, and he never forgot it. In 1653, he put on paper the following solemn warning:
All young Students that will deign to take advice from so mean a man as I, as ever you would preserve your graces…preserve your Judgments; and as ever you would maintain the Doctrine of Christ, take heed of the Errors of the Antinomians…That Christ’s satisfaction is ours…before the Application; and that…we are actually Pardoned, Justified, Reconciled and Adopted by it before we were born, much more before we believe…That pardon of sin is nothing but Velle non Punire: That Justification by Faith is nothing but Justification in foro conscientiae, or the sense of that in our hearts, which was really ours from eternity…That Justifying faith is the feeling or apprehension of God’s eternal love, Remission and Adoption. I say, take heed of these master-Points of Antinomianism. And as ever you would avoid these, take heed how you receive them on the reputation and plausible words of any Writer: and especially of Dr. Twiss, who is full of such passages…For you know, if you receive these, then you must receive the rest, if you discern the concatenation. For if all your sins were pardoned as soon as Christ died, then what need you pray for pardon, or Repent or Believe…for pardon? Then God loved you as well when you were his enemies, as since; and then how can you be restrained from sin?…I speak…mainly for God’s glory and Truth, and for the love of souls. I take my self the rather bound to it, because I was once drawn my self to some of these opinions by the mere high estimation of Mr. Pemble and Dr. Twisse.
Baxter had himself “discerned the concatenation,” and he wrote with feeling. He felt he had had a narrow escape.”
J. I. Packer, The Redemption & Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Regent Publishing, 2003), p. 205.
This book by Packer is well worth getting!
February 12, 2006
I have received your letter. I am glad to hear that your Calvinistic patient is now frequenting Internet discussion boards and chat rooms to learn about Calvinism. We want him to learn theology through the most incompetent would-be "teachers" who are not given to studying primary sources. I hear that he is already engaging in debate in these forums. Encourage this practice among the immature and theologically ignorant. One of our major goals is to create verbal littering, especially among the Christians. Make sure they ignore passages like James 1:19 and James 3:1.
Also, make sure that he is more excited about his "Calvinism" than his conversion. We shall use this later in order to make him elevate the TULIP doctrines to an essential status. After he gives his typical conversion testimony to Calvinism to other Calvinists in chat rooms and expresses how he has been abased, make sure that he behaves arrogantly toward the non-Calvinists who enter the room. Encourage group-think among the Calvinists so that they feel like they are in an elite club of true intellectuals. We want them to behave like a cult group where people must conform to certain speculative and secondary doctrines (particularly those which we secretly introduce) or be cast out of the group. With regard to those who do not conform, make sure the true members of the club hurl names at them that function as Shibboleths.
Now, I wish to address your questions about particular false dilemmas to put in the mind of your patient. Remember what I said about his reasoning processes. Even though he now believes different theological propositions, we want him to reason about them the same way that he did when he was not a Calvinist. If he formerly thought that God must love everyone equally, now make him think that God must only love the elect in order to be consistent. It’s the same sort of rationalism that we so admire. As I said, flatter him about being logically consistent. If he formerly thought that God’s preceptive or revealed will was the only real will, now make him think that the secret or decretal will is the only real will. If he formerly thought that God equally wills the salvation of human beings, now make him think that God only wills the salvation of the elect. If he formerly thought that responsibility presupposed all senses of ability (constitutional as well as moral), now make him think that humanity has no ability in any sense (not even constitutional ability). If he formerly thought that Christ died to save all humanity with the same intent, now make him think that Christ only intended to die for the elect alone (this dilemma is related those I mentioned above regarding God’s love and will). If he formerly thought that the gospel was an offer, now make him think that it’s only a bare command and not an offer, particularly a sincere or well-meant sort of offer.
See how this works? His way of thinking will still be as rationalistic (not rational) as it formerly was. These "Arminian" thinking patterns will cause his new found Calvinism to becomes hyper-Calvinism. When this happens, he will not realize how Arminian his "Calvinism" really is! He won’t even be able to detect the correct reasoning patterns in Calvin and his ilk. Your patient will stamp his own presuppositions on Calvin (if he ever reads him first hand – Satan forbid!) and other writings like a template. Whenever he reads, all of his reasoning will be top down and/or deductive. He'll assume the validity of his system and read through it's grid, then he will call his interpretations "contextual." As he reads and reflects, he will only reaffirm his biases and prejudices. Do not allow your patient to become epistemologically self-aware and self-suspicious. Make sure that he’s always asking the wrong questions and only seeing problems outside of himself.
Your ill-meaning uncle,
February 9, 2006
If some of you have not yet read C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, then you need to. Lewis imagines and writes about spiritual warfare and demonic strategies by considering how one senior demon (Screwtape) trains a less experienced demon (Wormwood) on how to decieve and harm his human "patient." I have decided to attempt to write several of my own Scewtape letters in order to illustrate things I have said on my blog. Here's the first one:
I am very disturbed to hear that you have allowed your patient to become a Calvinist, but we shall try to make the most of it. Even if his beliefs have changed, do not allow his reasoning patterns to change. We can use his new found beliefs to bring about bad results even as his old ones did, so long as he reasons about things the same way. If he has wrecked his life by steering it too far to the left, make sure he overreacts now by steering it too far the the right. Touch the sensitive bruises in his memory so that he continually recoils into imbalanced thinking. Continually pest his imagination with the pervasive Arminianism we have cultivated in his society. Keep his eyes focused on that error alone so that he thinks he's safe and "discerning." Meanwhile, we shall attack him from the other side without notice. Our goal is worldwide blasphemy against our enemy's name, and there are many ways we can get this result...the end justifies the means. Even though our father detests Calvinism, we shall try to use it to our advantage just as we have in the past.
Flatter your patient into pride by suggesting that he's growing into great humility through his Calvinism. If he increases his theological studies, make sure he acquires books that are preoccupied with refuting "the other error," rather than allowing him to read in areas in which we now plan to attack by stealth. Make sure he spends more time reading these books than his bible. Plant false dilemmas in his mind, and then flatter the patient with thoughts of his own logical consistency.
I must attend to other affairs for now (encouraging responses to Danish cartoons), so more on this later.
February 7, 2006
"The criterion of true beauty is, that it increases on examination; if false, that it lessens. - There is therefore, something in true beauty that corresponds with right reason and is not the mere creation of fancy." Greville (The New Dictionary of Thoughts, 42.)
Every true Christian cannot help but be in awe of the beauty of Christ day after day. A right study of theology leads one into an ever increasing discernment of the true beauty of Christ. When he is seen as he is, the mind is continually captivated and convinced that he is the way, the truth and the life. The seeming beauty of things contrary to him lessens.
NKJ 1 Peter 1:8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
Posted by Tony Byrne at 2/07/2006 08:53:00 AM
"Let not the names of men draw thee one way or the other; nor make thee partial in searching for truth; dislike the men for their unsound doctrine; but call not doctrine unsound, because it is theirs; nor sound, because of the repute of the writer." - Richard Baxter, 1649
February 6, 2006
Awile back, I posted some exclusive material by James Ussher on the atonement. It cannot be found anywhere else on the internet. I just finished typing the following material from volume 12 of his works. It's his reply to some who took exception to his first letter. Norman Douty, in his book Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? (page 144), has this interesting comment about James Ussher:
"Richard Baxter, reporting a personal interview with Ussher, says that he "declared his judgment for that doctrine of Universal Redemption which I asserted, and gloried that he was the man who brought Bishop Davenant and Dr. Preston to it."
If you wish to print both of these letters out, then go here:
Here is the second letter:
ARCHBISHOP OF ARMAGH
AGAINST HIS AFORESAID LETTER.
ARCHBISHOP OF ARMAGH
AGAINST HIS AFORESAID LETTER.
I cannot sufficiently wonder, why such exceptions should be taken against a letter of mine, which without my privity came to so many men's hands, as if thereby I had confirmed Papism, Arminianism, and I know not what error of Mr. Culverwell's, which (as you write) is, and hath been, opposed by many, yea, all good men. The papist (saith one) doth distinguish a mediator of redemption and intercession; and Bellarmine (saith another) divides the satisfaction and application of Christ. To which, what other answer should I make but this? To hold that Christ is the only mediator of redemption, but that the saints are also mediators of intercession, that Christ by his merits hath made satisfaction to his father in gross, and the pope by his indulgence, and his priests by their oblations in the mass do make a particular application to particular persons. To join thus partners with Christ in this manner in the office of mediation is popery indeed; but he who, attributing the entire work of the mediation unto Christ alone, doth yet distinguish the act of redemption from the act of intercession, the satisfaction made by him unto God, from the application thereof communicated unto men, is as far from popery, as he that thinks otherwise is from the grounds of the catechism; for that Christ hath so died for all men (as they lay down in the conference of Hague) "ut reconciliationem cum Deo, et peccatorum remissionem singulis impetraverit," I hold to be untrue, being well assured, that our Savior hath obtained at the hands of his father reconciliation, and forgiveness of sins, not for the reprobate, but elect only, and not for them neither, before they be truly regenerated, and implanted into himself; for election being nothing else but the purpose of God, resting in his own mind, makes no kind of alteration in the party elected, but only the execution of that decree and purpose, which in such as have the use of reason is done by an effectual calling, in all by spiritual regeneration, which is the new birth, without which no man can see the kingdom of God.
That impetration, whereof the Arminians speak, I hold to be a fruit, not of his satisfaction, but intercession; and seeing I have learned from Christ's own mouth, "I pray not for the reprobate world:" I must needs esteem it a great folly to imagine that he hath impetrated reconciliation and remission of sins for that world. I agree therefore thus far with Mr. Aimes in his dispute against Grevinchovius, that application and impetration, in this matter we have in hand, are of equal extent; and, that forgiveness of sins is not by our Savior impetrated for any unto whom the merit of his death is not applied in particular. If in seeking to make straight that which was crooked in the Arminian opinion, he hath bended it too far the contrary way, and inclined too much unto the other extremity, it is a thing which, in the heat of disputation, hath befallen many worthy men before him; and, if I be not deceived, gave the first occasion to this present controversy. But I see no reason why I should be tied to follow him in every step, wherein he treadeth: and so much for Mr. Aimes.
The main error of the Arminians and of the patrons of universal grace is this, that God offereth unto every man those means that are necessary unto salvation, both sufficiently and effectually; and, that it resteth in the free will of every one to receive, or reject the same; for the proof thereof they allege, as their predecessors, the Semipelagians, did before them, that received axiom of Christ's dying for all men, which being rightly understood, makes nothing for their purpose. Some of their opposites (subject to oversights as well as others) more forward herein than circumspect, have answered this objection, not by expounding (as was fit) but by flat denying that famous axiom: affirming peremptorily, that Christ died only for the elect, and for others nullo modo: whereby they gave the adverse party advantage to drive them unto this extreme absurdity, viz. that seeing Christ in no wise died for any, but for the elect, and all men were bound to believe that Christ died for themselves, and that upon pain of damnation for the contrary infidelity; therefore all men were bound to believe that they themselves were elected, although in truth the matter were nothing so:
Non tali auxilio nec defensoribus istis
Neither is there hope that the Arminians will be drawn to acknowledge the error of their position, as long as they are persuaded the contrary opinion cannot be maintained without admitting that an untruth must be believed, even by the commandment of him that is God of truth, and by the direction of that word, which is the word of truth.
Endeavouring therefore to make one truth stand by another, and to ward off the blow given by the Arminians in such sort that it should neither bring hurt to the truth, nor give advantage to error, admit I failed of mine intent, I ought to be accounted rather an oppugner than anywise an abettor of their fancies. That for the Arminians. Now for Mr. Culverwell, that which I have heard him charged withal, is the former extremity, which in my letter I did condemn, viz. That Christ in such sort did die for all men, that by his death he made an actual reconcilement between God and man; and, that the especial reason why all men reap not the fruit of this reconcilation, is the want of that faith, whereby they ought to have believed that God in this sort did love them. How justly he hath been charged with this error, himself can best tell; but if ever he held it, I do not doubt, but he was driven thereunto by the absurdities, which he discerned in the other extremity; for what would not a man fly unto rather than yield, that Christ in no manner of ways died for any reprobate, and non but the elect had any kind of title to him, and yet so many thousand reprobates should be bound in conscience to believe that he died for them, and tied to accept him for their redeemer and Saviour; yea, and should be condemned to everlasting torments for want of such a faith (if we may call that faith, which is not grounded upon the word of truth) whereby they should have believed that which in itself was most untrue, and laid hold of that in which they had no kind of interest; if they who dealt with Mr. Culverwell laboured to drive out sone absurdity by bringing in another, or went about to stop one hole by making two, I should the less wonder at that you write, that though he hath been dealt withal by many brethren, and for many years, yet he could not be drawn from his error. But those stumbling blocks being removed, and the plain word of truth laid open, by which faith is to be begotten, I dare boldly say he doth not hold that extremity wherewith he is charged, but followeth that safe and middle course, which I laid down; for after he had well weighed what I had written, he heartily thanked the Lord and me, for so good a resolution of this question, which for his part he wholly approved, not seeing how it could be gainsayed. And so much likewise for Mr. Culverwell.
Now for Mr. Stock's public opposition in the pulpit, I can hardly be induced to believe that he aimed at me therein; if he did, I must needs say he was deceived, when he reckoned me amongst those good men, who make the universality of all the elect, and all men to be one. Indeed I wrote but even now, that God did execute his decree of election in all by spiritual generation: but if any shall say, that by all thereby I should understand the universality of all and every one in the world, and not the universality of all the elect alone, he should greatly wrong my meaning, for I am of no other mind than Prosper was: "Habet populus Dei plenitudinem suam, et quamvis magna pars hominum salvantis gratiam aut repellat aut negligat, in electis tamen et præscitis atque ab omni generalitate discretis, specialis quædam censetur universitas, ut de toto mundo, totus mundus liberatus, et de omnibus hominibus, omnes homines videantur assumpti." That Christ died for his apostles, for his sheep, for his friends, for his Church, may make peradventure against those, who make all men to have a share alike in the death of our Saviour: but I profess myself to hold fully with him, who said: "Etsi Christus pro omnibus mortuus est, tamen specialiter pro nobis passus est, quia pro Ecclesia passus est." Yea, and in my former writing I did directly conclude, that as in one respect Christ might have been said to die for all, so in another respect truly said not to have died for all; and my belief is, that the principal end of the Lord's death, was, "that he might gather together in one the children of God scattered abroad," and, that for their sakes he did specially sanctify himself, that they "also might be sanctified through the truth." And therefore it may be well concluded, that Christ in a special manner died for these; but to infer from hence, that in no manner of respect he died for any others, is but a very weak collection, especially the respect by me expressed being so reasonable, that no sober mind advisedly considering thereof can justly make question of it, viz. That the Lamb of God offering himself a sacrifice for the sins of the world, intending by giving satisfaction to God's justice to make the nature of man which he assumed, a fit subject for mercy, and to prepare a sovereign medicine that should not only be a sufficient cure for the sins of the whole world, but also should be laid open to all, and denied to none, that indeed do take the benefit thereof: for he is much deceived that thinks a preaching of a bare sufficiency is able to yield sufficient ground of comfort to a distressed soul, without giving a further way to it, and opening a further passage.
To bring news to a bankrupt that the king of Spain hath treasure enough to pay a thousand times more than he owes, may be true, but yields but cold comfort to him the miserable debtor: sufficiency indeed is requisite, but it is the word of promise that gives comfort.
If here exception be taken, that I make the whole nature of man fit for mercy, when it is as unfit a subject for grace as may be.
I answer, That here two impediments do occur, which give a stop unto the peace, which is to be made betwixt God and man. The one respects God the party offended, whose justice hath been in such sort violated by his base vassals, that it were unfit for his glorious majesty to put up such an injury without good satisfaction. The other respects man the party offending, whose blindness, stupidity, and hardness of heart is such, that he is neither sensible of his own wretchedness, nor God's goodness, that when God offers to be reconciled unto him, there must be much entreaty to persuade him to be reconciled to God. In regard of the latter I acknowledge with the apostle, "That the natural man receives not the things of the spirit, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he, because spiritually discerned." And this impediment is not taken away by Christ's satisfaction (which is a work of his priestly function) but by the enlightening of the mind, and softening the heart of the sinner, which are effects issuing from the execution of the prophetical, and kingly office of our Redeemer. When therefore I say, that by Christ's satisfaction to his Father he made the nature of man a fit subject for mercy, I mean thereby, that the former impediment arising on God's part is taken away, that if it were not for the other (for the having whereof we can blame none but ourselves, and in the not removing whereof we cannot say God hath done us any wrong) there were no let, but all men might be saved; and if it pleased God to extend his mercy unto all, as he keeps his freedom therein, in having compassion on whom he will have mercy, and leaving others in blindness, natural hardness of their own heart, yet the worth of Christ's satisfaction is so great, that his justice therein should be looser.
But if this justice (you will say) be satisfied, how comes it to pass that God exacts payment again from any? I answer, We must take heed we stretch not our similitudes beyond their just extent, lest at last we drive the matter too far, and be forced to say (as some have done) that we cannot see how satisfaction and forgiveness stand together, and so by denying Christ's satisfaction be injurious to God's justice, or by denying remission of sins become injurious to God's mercy. We are therefore to understand, that the end of the satisfaction of God's justice is to make way for God's free liberty in shewing mercy, that so mercy and justice meeting, and embracing one another, God may be just, and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus. Now the general satisfaction of Christ, which was the first act of his priestly office, prepares the way for God's mercy, by making the sins of all mankind pardonable, the interposition of any bar from God's justice notwithstanding, and so puts the sons of men only in a possibility of being justified, a thing denied to the nature of fallen angels, which the Son was not pleased to assume; but the special application of this satisfaction vouchsafed by Christ unto those persons only whom his father hath given him out of the world, which is an appendent, or appertaineth to the second act of his priesthood, viz. his intercession, produceth this potentia in actum, that is, procureth an actual discharge from God's anger; and maketh justification, which before was a part of our possibility, to be a part of our present possession.
If it be said: It is a great derogation to the dignity of Christ's death to make the sins of mankind only pardonable, and brings in a bare possibility of justification.
I answer, it is a most unchristian imagination to suppose the merit of Christ's death, being particularly applied to the soul of a sinner, produceth no further effect than this. St. Paul teacheth us that we be not only justifiable, but "justified by his blood," yet not simply as offered on the cross, but "through faith in his blood," that is, through his blood applied by faith. "The blood of Jesus Christ his son," saith St. John, "cleanseth us from all sins;" yet cleanse it doth not by being prepared, but by being applied: prepared it was when he poured it out once upon the cross, applied it is when he washeth us from our sins therein. It is one thing therefore to speak of Christ's satisfaction, in the general absolutely considered; and another thing, as it is applied to every one in particular. The consideration of things as they are in their causes, is one thing; and as they have an actual existence, is another thing. Things as they are in their causes are no otherwise considerable, but as they have a possibility to be. The application of the agent to the patient, with all circumstances necessarily required, is it that gives to the thing an actual being. That disease is curable for which a sovereign medicine may be found, but cured it is not till the medicine be applied to the patient; and if it so fall out, that, the medicine being not applied, the party miscarries, we say, he was lost, not because his sickness was incurable, but because there wanted a care to apply that to him that might have helped him.
All Adam's sons have taken a mortal sickness from their father, which, if it be not remedied, will, without fail, bring them to the second death: no medicine under heaven can heal this disease, but only a potion confected of the blood of the Lamb of God, who came "to take away the sins of the world;" which, as Prosper truly notes, "habet quidem in se ut omnibus prosit, sed si non bibitur non medetur." The virture thereof is such, that if all did take it, all without doubt should be recovered, but without taking it there is no recovery; in the former respect it may be truly said, that no man's state is so desperate, but by this means it is recoverable, (and this is the first comfortable news that the Gospel brings to the distressed soul) but here it resteth not, nor feedeth a man with such a possibility, that he should say in his heart, "Who shall ascend into heaven to bring Christ from above?" but it brings the word of comfort nigh unto him, even to his mouth and heart, and presents him with the medicine at hand, and desireth him to take it; which being done accordingly, the cure is actually performed.
Matt Slick says this on the subject of limited atonement:
Limited Atonement:Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all. Jesus only bore the sins of the elect. Support for this position is drawn from such scriptures as Matt. 26:28 where Jesus died for ‘many'; John 10:11, 15 which say that Jesus died for the sheep (not the goats, per Matt. 25:32-33); John 17:9 where Jesus in prayer interceded for the ones given Him, not those of the entire world; Acts 20:28 and Eph. 5:25-27 which state that the Church was purchased by Christ, not all people; and Isaiah 53:12 which is a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion where he would bore the sins of many (not all).
First, notice how the statement begins with a strictly limited statement. It is said that Jesus dies "only" for the elect. There’s an implicit dilemma set up from the beginning. Either Jesus dies ONLY for the elect, or he dies for everyone equally. This is a false either/or dilemma. The classical Calvinistic position that Jesus dies for all but especially for the elect, another version of limited atonement, is not even considered.
Secondly, Matt contradicts his first statement by then asserting that Jesus’ sacrifice was "sufficient for all." One might ask what this means. Is he merely commenting on the infinite worth of Christ’s person? Or is he saying there is something really available to all men on condition of faith? If he is just expounding on the infinite worth of Christ’s person by saying his death is "sufficient for all," then he is asserting something that is no more significant for non-elect human beings than is true for demons. If, however, he’s asserting that Christ’s death is really applicable to all in this world on condition of faith, then one might ask if he intended it to be sufficient for all on condition of faith. If Jesus did intend for his death to be sufficient for all, then the first proposition is false. He didn’t die "only" for the elect. One could maintain that he intended to suffer sufficiently for all as the basis for the indescriminate offer, but he suffers especially for the elect, because the Godhead intends on applying the eternal benefits of Christ’s death to the elect alone by means of the Holy Spirit’s faith producing work in regeneration. This is the classical Calvinistic position not considered in Matt's false dilemma.
Thirdly, can Matt possibly say that Christ’s death is sufficient for all in this world? Or would he have to say, with John Owen and the other strict advocates, that his death "could have been" sufficient for all had God so intended? Can he only assert a kind of hypothetical sufficiency in the sense that in another logically possible world God could have given Christ to bear the guilt of people? It seems to me that he can’t say that Christ’s death is sufficient for all in this actual world, for he argues that Christ only bears the guilt of the sin of the elect in the death he dies. Further, if Christ’s death is not really sufficient for all in this actual world, what does that say about the sincerity of God when he offers Christ to all in the external gospel call? Is he holding out an empty plate to the non-elect when he invites them to come to eat at the gospel feast? Wouldn’t such an idea be a cause for thinking God is insincere and hypocritical in the gospel call? This is no small charge.
Fourthly, Matt Slick cites several texts to support his statements about "Limited Atonement" (which really means "Strictly Limited Atonement"). The texts referenced are Matt. 26:28, John 10:11, 15 (associated with Matt. 25:32-33), John 17:9, Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25-27, and Isaiah 53:12. I have dealt with the John 17:9 passage elsewhere, so it needs no comment here. In the case of every one of the other passages, negative inferences are made. Since Christ said he dies for "many," it’s inferred that he didn’t die for all. Since it’s said that Jesus dies for his sheep, it’s inferred that he didn’t die for the goats. Since Paul asserts that Christ died for the church, it’s inferred that he didn’t die for all people. The same inference made from Matt. 26:28 concerning the "many" is also made with the "many" in Is. 53:12. There are at least 5 negative inference fallacies that are made. What do I mean by a negative inference fallacy? D. A. Carson says this about the particular fallacy:
"It does not necessarily follow that a proposition is true, a negative inference from that proposition is also true. The negative inference may be true; but this cannot be assumed, and in any case is never true because it is a negative inference." D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 115.
Or, as another writer puts it:
"Simply put, the negative inference fallacy says if a proposition is true, it does not follow that a negative inference from that proposition is also true. It may or may not be true, but if it is true, it is not so by inference from the original proposition. In conditional format, (3) "If A, then B," does not imply the negation, "If not A, then not B." For example, "if a man is a resident of Oregon, then he is a resident of the United States," does not imply "if a man is not a resident of Oregon, then he is not a resident of the United States."
Most interpreters do not have difficulty with the simple conditional. Inferring "if not A, then not B" from "if A, then B" would be too blatant an error. However, when multiple conditions exist (If A and B, then C), then the situation becomes somewhat more treacherous, and the tendency to infer the negation (If not both A and B, then not C) increases significantly."
So, one cannot necessarily conclude from the bare positive statements about Christ dying for the "many," the "church," and the "sheep" that he therefore did not die for others in some sense. In fact, if one wants to assert that Christ’s death is really sufficient and applicable to all, then it follows that he died for all in some sense. The bogus nature of the negative inferences become even more apparent when put in contrast to the statements of scripture that imply that Christ did die for all, such as John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, 2 Pet. 2:1 etc. The negative inference fallacies are indicative of a mind overreacting against Arminians who seek to negate a Calvinistic understanding of unconditional election by the universal passages. The strictly limited view and the completely unlimited view are both false. Christ did die for all, but not in the same sense or with the same intent. The dilemma that posits either 1) Christ dying only for the elect alone or 2) for all with equal intent is a false.
The true and biblical position is that Christ intended to suffer sufficiently for all, but especially for the elect. The special intent issues in an efficacious application in the case of the elect alone through the instrumental cause of faith granted by the Holy Spirit. The High Calvinist strict reaction is totally unnecessary for maintaining a true sovereign grace viewpoint with respect to Christ’s death. If they would return to the paradigm in Calvin (which he got from scripture), they would see the balance. Until they do so, they will only encourage non-Calvinists to remain imbalanced and reactionary themselves. The non-Calvinists are without excuse for their errors, but let us who are Calvinistic not exaggerate our case beyond what scripture and sound reasoning warrants. Remember, Arminianism was birthed in reaction to the high supralapsarian Calvinism of Beza. James Ussher has a relavent comment to the point. He says, "Neither is there hope that the Arminians will be drawn to acknowledge the error of their position, as long as they are persuaded the contrary opinion cannot be maintained without admitting that an untruth must be believed, even by the commandment of him that is God of truth, and by the direction of that word, which is the word of truth."
February 2, 2006
I was recently asked the following question by a hyper-Calvinist (an "OutsideTheCamp" type) on a discussion board:
"Tony, do you know the difference between necessary fruit of salvation and a condition for salvation?"
My reply was the following:
"Salvation" can be an ambiguous word. Do you mean salvation in the sense of conversion/justification? If so, then of course I know the difference between justification (our being declared righteous for Christ's sake) and sanctification (the good works or evangelical obedience that follows).
Are you aware that the term "condition" can also be ambiguous? Are you aware that theologians have made a difference between instrumental and meritorious conditions? What the scriptures (as well as Calvinistic/Reformed theology) teach is that we are not justified on the basis of our own merits or good works. In that sense, our justification is not conditional. However, the scriptures plainly teach that we believe unto justification. Belief/trust/faith is that necessary prerequisite without which we cannot be justified. Faith preceeds justification, and faith is our act and responsibility. Even though faith is our act and responsibility, it does not qualify as the meritorious grounds by which God declares us just in his sight. Christ alone is the meritorious cause of our justification. Faith is that instrumental act (the prerequisite) by which we are joined to him who is our righteousness. In that sense, justification is conditional. We believe unto justification.
II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. WCF CHAPTER XI. Of Justification.
John Flavel expounds on the issue of conditionality in his reply to Baptistic Hyper-Calvinists here:
"(1.) What we mean by a condition in the gospel-covenant. By a condition of the covenant, we do not mean in the strictest rigid sense of the word, such a restipulation to God from man of perfect obedience in his own person, at all times, so as the least failure therein forfeits all the mercies of the covenant; that is rather the condition of Adam's covenant of works, than of the evangelical covenant: nor do we assert any meritorious condition, that in the nature of an impulsive cause shall bring man into the covenant and its privileges, or continue him in when brought in. This we renounce as well as you: but our question is about such a condition as is neither in the nature of an act perfect in every degree, nor meritorious in the least of the benefit conferred, nor yet done in our own strength. But plainly and briefly, our question is, Whether there be not something as an act required of us in point of duty, to a blessing consequent by virtue of a promise? Such a thing, whatever it be, hath the nature of a condition, inasmuch as it is antecedent to the benefit of the promise; and the mercy or benefit granted, is suspended until it be performed. The question is not, whether there be any intrinsical worth or value in the thing so required, to oblige the disposer to make or perform the grant or promise, but merely that it be antecedent to the enjoyment of the benefit; and that the disposer of the benefit do suspend the benefit until it be performed? Thus an act or duty of ours, which has nothing at all of merit in it, or answerable value to the benefit it relates to, may be in a proper sense a condition of the said benefit. "For what is a condition in the true notion of it, but (1) the suspension of a grant until something future be done?" "Or, (2) as others to the same purpose, The adding of words to a grant, for the future, of a suspending quality, according to which the disposer will have the benefit he disposeth to be regulated?" This properly is a condition, though there be nothing of equivalent value or merit in the thing required."
Moving on, I suspect that you are thinking of the term "salvation" in the sense of mere regeneration. That's a subtle mistake. The bible never uses the term "salvation" to refer to MERE regeneration or the initial impartation of spiritual life to a sinner alone considered. The term "salvation" properly refers to conversion/justification and what follows. When we are justified by Christ alone through the instrumentality of faith alone on the principle of grace alone, then we are called saved. Also, there's a sense in which we are being saved (sanctification) and will be saved (glorification). The biblical order looks something like this:
Regeneration or the initial quickening of the soul ---> Faith/repentance into Christ with the result that we are justified (salvation begun)---> Sanctification (salvation in process)---> Glorification (salvation completed).
Regeneration preceeds faith logically, but not necessarily chronologically. As soon as a soul is regenerated, it perceives the significance of Christ's work in truth and clings to him in faith. There's no chronological gap. Regeneration has causal priority similar to how the flipping of the switch causes a light to go on, but they occur simultaneously. But, regeneration ALONE is never called "salvation" in the bible unless it is connected with faith and repentance into Christ, i.e. when we are converted and justified.
Subtle errors can occur when people employ the vague term "salvation" to smuggle in false theological assumptions. We are not saved when don't exist, nor are we saved prior to justification. We are saved when we believe in Christ.