April 10, 2007

Ralph Wardlaw (1779–1853) on Sufficiency, Equivalentism and Commercialism

I have stated the general principle of atonement, as being a vindicatory manifestation of the righteousness of God, in order to the free and honourable exercise of his mercy.—In this view, I have no hesitation whatever in holding forth the atonement which has actually been made, and which is revealed in the gospel, as of unlimited sufficiency for all, and as bringing salvation near to all, presenting its blessings for their immediate acceptance. All may not be included in the secret purpose of God as to its ultimate efficaciousness. That is another matter. With such secret purposes we have nothing whatever to do, in addressing to sinners the calls and invitations of the gospel. The atonement is for all in its unbounded sufficiency, and in the unrestricted universality of the invitations and offers which, on the ground of this sufficiency, the message of mercy addresses to every sinner on the face of the earth to whose ear it comes. Such is my impression of its sufficiency, that were all the guilt of all the millions of mankind that have ever lived concentrated in my own person, I should see no reason, relying on that blood which "cleanseth from all sin," to indulge despair.—I profess myself decidedly hostile to every limitation of the atonement in this view—that is, either with regard to its sufficiency for all, or with regard to the warrant which all have, on the ground of it, to look for forgiveness and salvation.—I have ever entertained an irreconcilable aversion to the views of those expositors, who speak of the atonement as being for the elect in such a sense, as to have been an exact equivalent for the punishment due to the sins of the chosen number, and no more; so that if more had been to be saved, more must have been suffered by the Substitute, and if fewer, less. My objections to this view of the doctrine are such as these:

1. It appears to me utterly irreconcilable with any correct and consistent views of the infinite worth of the Redeemer's sacrifice.—The union of the Divine and human natures imparted to it this infinite worth; infinite, because divine. But every system which proceeds upon the principle of its rising or falling in its amount of value, according as the substitute suffers for more or for fewer—for a larger or a smaller aggregate guilt—is altogether at variance with this.—That cannot be unlimited in value, which is capable of increase or diminution.

2. If this pitiful process of commercial reckoning were admitted,—then the perdition or eternal sufferings of all mankind would have been a greater manifestation of the divine righteousness and abhorrence of sin, than the sufferings of the Son of God. For, it is evident, more would have been endured: and if the display of justice is to be calculated upon this principle,—to be estimated by the amount of actual suffering,—how can the inference be evaded? It will not repel it to remind me that Jesus was a divine person. It is most true. But it is also true, that if this consideration is taken into the account, it makes the value of his sacrifice unlimited, and therefore proves too much for the hypothesis of exact equivalent; a hypothesis, of which the principle is, a limited amount of suffering for a limited amount of sin; so that, in truth, the only intelligible use of the connection of the divine nature with the human, must have been, to enable the human to sustain the allotted quantum of suffering.

3. The hypothesis renders the salvation of any besides the elect a natural impossibility. We are accustomed to say, and we say truly and scripturally, to sinners of mankind, that if they are not saved, the fault is entirely their own, lying solely in their own unwillingness to have the salvation offered them, or to accept it on the terms on which it is presented. But on the supposition of limitation in the atonement, this is not the case. There is, indeed, indisposition on their part; and it is their sin. But if the atonement be limited in its sufficiency, it is, in the nature of the thing, absurd and contradictory so much as to imagine any, beyond the number to the amount of whose sins it is restricted, deriving any benefit from it. To call on any others to believe in Christ for salvation, is to call them, in as far as they are concerned, to believe in a non-entity. There would be nothing in the Saviour for them. They are excluded by the limitation of the remedy. For them to seek salvation would be to seek an impossibility. Were they ever so desirous of it, they could not obtain it; for the impossibility would, in this case, arise, not from their own impotence,—(their moral impotence, which is the same thing as their proud and unholy aversion, and constitutes their guilt,)—but from the very nature and constitution of the plan of redemption. If the atonement made has been equivalent to only a limited amount of sin, and if atonement be necessary to forgiveness,—then beyond the limited amount, no sin can possibly be forgiven. There is no provision for it.

4. This being the case, it will be difficult, on such a hypothesis, to vindicate, in any way, the sincerity of those divine addresses by which sinners universally are called upon to believe and be saved. If there do not exist, in the atonement or propitiation made, what has appropriately been termed an objective sufficiency for all—there really exists no ground on which sinners in general can be invited to trust. Such invitation becomes no better than a tantalizing of perishing creatures, with the offer of what has no existence. There is nothing which it is, in the nature of the thing, possible for them to receive, unless a new atonement were to be made. There is no fund from which their debts can be paid. They are invited to a feast; but there is no provision made for them. They are called to the wells of salvation; but to them they are "wells without water." An all-sufficient Saviour, becomes, in addressing sinners indiscriminately, a designation destitute of truth, a mere "great swelling word of vanity."

5. The hypothesis, in the view which it gives of the substitution and work of Christ, takes nothing into the account but the desert of the sinner. It balances a certain proportion of deserved punishment on the part of the transgressor, by a corresponding proportion of vicarious suffering on the part of the atoning substitute,—a proportion, which increases or diminishes, according to the number of sinners, and consequently according to the number and magnitude of sins, for which the substitute endures it. It appears to be entirely forgotten, that there is another party,—a party, whose claims are infinitely superior in importance to any interests of the sinning creature;—it appears to be forgotten, that the glory of God, violated by transgression, requires to be secured, and vindicated, and displayed, irrespectively of the mere numerical amount of sinners and of sins;—that this was, in truth the great end of substitution and atonement;—and that the question is not one of commutative or commercial justice,—what measure of suffering must be undergone, as an equivalent for the measure of sin to be forgiven,—how many drops of expiatory blood for so many trespasses to be remitted;—that it has no such principle in it of wretched mercantile calculation; that the chief part of it is, what was necessary to give such a manifestation of the united glories of the truth and love, the righteousness and mercy, of Jehovah, as that the honour of his character and government might be fully secured in forgiving and saving sinners?

I might, perhaps, have added with truth, that regarding the atonement as proceeding on the principle of commutative or commercial justice, or of the strict and proper payment of debt, can hardly be considered as leaving room for the subsequent exercise of grace, whatever there might be in its original appointment; inasmuch as the payment of a debt by a surety leaves no more claim, on the part of the creditor, than if it had been discharged by the debtor himself. The parallel, indeed, between the relation of a debtor to his creditor and that of a sinner to God, has, in this respect as well as in some others, been pressed too closely.—Forgiveness, according to the uniform statements of the word of God, is connected with atonement. But atonement and grace are not, by any means, incompatible. Many things, indeed, have been said about it, which were they true, would go so far, whether those who say them to be sensible of it or not, to destroy the gracious nature of the pardon bestowed on account of it. I have no objections, for example, to the customary phrase of divine justice being satisfied by the atonement; but still, the phrase requires to be scripturally explained. I fear there are not a few who, when they use this phrase, have in their minds too much of the principle of that particular kind of justice to which I have just alluded;—who regard the justice of God in the light of a rigid and inexorable creditor, demanding to the uttermost farthing the payment of what is due him; and consider the atonement as, literally and strictly, such a payment of debt on our behalf. They are not aware that by such a representation they do, in a great measure, exclude grace. For, on the principles of commercial justice, although there may be grace on the part of the Surety who comes forward to pay the debt, grace proportioned to its amount,—yet on the part of the creditor to whom the payment is made, there is and can be none. The act of payment, by whomsoever made, whether by the debtor himself or by his surety, cancels the obligation, and puts an end to grace.
Ralph Wardlaw, "On the Extent of the Atonement, and Universal Pardon," in Two Essays: I. On the Assurance of Faith: II. On the Extent of the Atonement, and Universal Pardon (Glasgow: Blackie, Fullarton, & Co. and Wardlaw & Co.; A Fullarton & Co. and John Wardlaw, Edinburgh; W. F. Wakeman, Dublin; and Hamilton & Adams, London, 1830), 191–197.


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