July 28, 2008

Ralph Wardlaw (1779–1853): Atonement not Commercial

There is a great deal too much, it is to be feared, in the conceptions of many regarding the atonement, of the principles of commutative or commercial justice,--of the literal notion of debt and its payment. It is a grievous mistake. That sins are called debts, is true. But they are debts, rather in a figurative than in a literal and proper sense. We owe obedience to God; and all our failure to render that due obedience, may be regarded as an accumulation of unpaid debt. But it is debt of which, when once contracted, the payment is impossible. Even the sinless perfection of obedience for the future cannot cancel it; any more than a man can discharge the bond for his past debts by punctual payments in time to come. We can never pay up obedience which we have failed to render, as a debtor may pay up principal and interest of what he owes, and defy thereafter demand or prosecution.--And, as we owe obedience, we owe satisfaction for disobedience. That satisfaction we can never render. It can, in our case, consist in nothing else save the endurance of the punishment, which, in consequence of our failing in what was due from us to God, has become due from God to us. "The wages of sin"--that which we have earned,--that which is, in justice, our due,—"is death."—Let it be remembered, that there is a material difference between the cancelling of a debt on payment of it by a surety, and the forgiveness of sin on account of a propitiation. The forgiveness of sin is simply the free remission of its punishment. The sinner who is pardoned, does not cease to be guilty, and to deserve the penalty. A debt of property may be paid by another; a debt of obedience never can. It is, in its very nature, intransferable. The sinner, in himself considered, can never cease to be guilty. A sinful creature may become a sinless creature. There may be an entire change in his nature. But a guilty creature can never become an innocent creature. That which has been done can never be undone; and that which has been deserved by the doing of it, can never cease to be deserved. No substitution, no atonement, can in this respect, alter the nature of things.--In these and other respects, the parallel between debtor, creditor, and surety in pecuniary transactions, and the sinner, the lawgiver, and the mediatorial substitute in the scheme of redemption, has by many been pressed too closely, to the injury of truth.—The atonement of Christ, then, we are satisfied, out not to be considered as at all proceeding on the principles of commutative or commercial justice; inasmuch as the payment of debt, according to this description of justice, strictly and properly cancels claim, and leaves no room for the exercise of grace.
Ralph Wardlaw, Discourses on the Nature and Extent of the Atonement of Christ (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1844), 58–59.

Considering the Severity of God

NKJ Romans 11:22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.

I have written a number of posts on the subject of hell for the following reasons:

1) Since I have posted alot on the goodness and love of God revealed to all in the gospel call, I do not want any of my readers to neglect the biblical teaching regarding his "severity." The biblical teaching on that subject teaches us about essential qualities of God as well. He is perfectly just, holy and immutable, to name a few. These properties are also worthy of our constant meditation.

2) Earlier this year I listened to Dr. Albert Mohler and Dr. Richard Land (2) discussing "The Disappearance of Hell from Modern Theology." I was not impressed. Why? I am weary of hearing conservative evangelicals merely talking about the disappearance of hell while not also expounding on the subject as Jonathan Edwards did (i.e., really doing something about it). Quite frankly, I think some contemporary evangelical scholars (not necessarily Mohler and Land) are afraid to expound on it. One may run the risk of sounding like a kooky Fred Phelps sort of fundamentalist if they talk about it, and one who wants to seem intellectual cannot run that risk. One will not be as highly esteemed in academic circles if one says the sort of things Jonathan Edwards said on the subject of hell. In other words, when it comes to the doctrine of hell, some evangelical scholars are more concerned about seeming erudite than in being biblically faithful. What contemporary evangelical academician today is talking about sinners "grinding" or "gnashing their teeth" in hell, or commenting on the meaning of "their worm shall not die"? They wouldn't dare to even speak that way, much less expound on it. It's too embarrassing for one seeking intellectual status among the elite as they try to distance themselves from fundamentalist imbalances (possibly their former mentality). This is one of the reasons why there is a disappearance of the doctrine of hell, even among genuine bible scholars. They are gripped by the fear of man, and thus lack the courage of someone like Edwards.

Try blogging something in depth on the doctrine of hell and the psychology of those experiencing it as Edwards did. Does it make you timid? Does it make you even slightly embarrassed? Does it make you feel like some government official may censor your blog if you mention how they will experience the hottest hell if they do not repent? That doesn't mean you have to talk about it with no sense of compassion, or in a way that does not exhibit the other qualities of God. It may just give you an idea of how much fear is a determining factor in the disappearance of hell in modern theology.

3) I am inclined to believe that our remaining sin principles war against notions of God's severity. It's easy for us to flatter ourselves into thinking that we were never in danger of going to hell, or to think that one of our loved ones is not in danger of hell (or already there). Our flesh tends to echo the words of the ancient serpent in Genesis, i.e., "you shall surely not die!" I speculate that Edwards may have taught on the subject of hell frequently because he noticed how much the flesh tends to resist it. After all, Satan's first lie to the human race was in the denial of ultimate punishment for sin as revealed in God's word. If Jesus frequently taught on hell and warned people against it, then why aren't we taking a hint from his emphasis? If it is true that more is required of those who are more highly privileged, then many Americans will experience the greater damnation. Why isn't the church talking about this? Why aren't Christian bloggers talking about this? I do not want it to be said about me that I did not sufficiently warn those that I love of coming judgment. After all, Paul pictures Christ's coming this way:

NKJ 2 Thessalonians 1:8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Where's THAT in our gospel presentations? God is just as sincere in his gospel warnings for the unbelieving as he is in his gospel promises of life for the believing. It will not do to just talk about the disappearance of hell. That's easy. What is difficult is to actually do something about it when your job or your intellectual reputation is at risk. How long will someone last in a seminary if they become an Edwardsian-like expounder of hell? That's what I wonder. Where are the church signs advertising sermons with the title, "Wicked Men Useful in Their Destruction Only"? Without that biblical courage, it's no wonder that we are not experiencing either revival or reformation. We have not sufficiently considered the "severity of God," hence the disappearance of hell.

July 26, 2008

Another Meditation on Heaven and Hell

Revelation 6:15-17 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

Notice the desire for death and invisibility in the finally impenitent. Those who will be finally damned will want nothing more than 1) what they vainly hope will bring cessation of consciousness or perception (a cry for death - "fall on us"), and 2) something that will block their awareness of God's wrathful presence ("hide us from the face of him"). This will be the exact opposite of what the saints will experience in heaven. They will 1) sing for joy as they willingly perceive God's nature as they never did before, and 2) they will feel an eternal embrace by the perpetual awareness of the presence of Immanuel.