October 4, 2008

Wardlaw on the Extent of the Atonement

He writes:
"By pleading for the universality of the atonement, we are neither, on the one hand, obliged to grant the universality of pardon and salvation, nor, on the other hand, to deny sovereign electing grace. We can, with perfect consistency, disown the one, and embrace the other.—If the atonement and the remission of sins were necessarily coincident in their extent,—so that atoned or expiated sin must necessarily be pardoned and cancelled sin;—it surely is a remarkable fact, that the same terms of universality are not used alike with regard to both. The force of the following questions ought, I think, to be acknowledged. It will be by every candid mind.—"If, after all, it be true, that by such expressions as these,—'the world,' 'the whole world,' 'all men,' 'every man,'—God means only the elect, how comes it to pass that equally extensive terms" (that is, with those used respecting atonement) "are not employed in speaking of election and justification? If these two and the atonement be really co-extensive, how do we never read that God elected 'the world,' and 'the whole world,' and 'all men,' and 'every man,'—and justified 'the world,' and 'the whole world,' and 'all men,' and 'every man?' Limitarians allow that the one might be said as well as the other:—and how comes it to pass, then, that it is never said?—Not only must this be accounted for, but on the face of the case there appears so plain and palpable a difference between the extent of atonement and the extent of election and justification, and the sudden identification of these is so preposterous, that, unless a solid and decisive demonstration be given of their co-extensiveness, the system of limitation falls to the ground, and the universal atonement comes to be received as a matter of course. There is so vast a difference between the language that describes atonement, and that which describes election and justification, in point of extent; and the general easy unstrained meaning of Scripture teaches so plainly the unlimited propitiation by Christ's blood, that it can never be displaced except by solid and irrefragable proof of direct limitation."*—I confess myself unable to see any possibility of satisfactorily answering such questions as are thus put, on the ground of atonement and justification being necessarily co-extensive.—But by admitting the universality of the atonement, and the sovereign restriction of justification to them who believe, and who are the objects of God's gracious choice,—the difference in the language on the one subject and on the other is at once accounted for. It is precisely what we perceive it must have been, supposing it to have been constructed on this principle. Is not this, then, the truth?—The more restricted terms which are used in regard to actual forgiveness, or justification, are in correspondence with the restrictive character of God's electing love, and of his published determination to justify sinners only through faith. There is a limited purpose to save. The atonement is the ground on which this purpose to save rests. But the purpose to save on the ground of the atonement does not, and cannot, enter into the essence of the atonement itself. The purpose, and that on which the purpose rests, can, in no respect, be the same thing. But still, there existed in the divine mind, both in providing and in making the atonement, this sovereign purpose to save,—this sovereign purpose that, while made for mankind,—made for the indefinite design of glorifying God in the forgiveness of sin and the acceptance and salvation of sinners,—it should take actual effect in the salvation of some, while others remained inexcusably guilty in their rejection of it. And surely the existence of such a purpose gives quite a sufficiency of peculiarity to those texts which use the terms of limitation,—without supposing limitation in the atonement itself; a supposition which gives rise to superlative difficulty, and to every kind of unnaturalness and straining, in the interpretation of those other passages in which the terms are universal, and in which they cannot be understood otherwise than in their universal sense, without rendering them, especially in some of their occurrences, self-contradictory."

*Difficulties connected with the doctrine of a limited atonement.--By Robert Morison, &c.

or in my edition:

Ralph Wardlaw, Discourses on the Nature and Extent of the Atonement (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1844), 225-228.

For a similar argument, see this post by Edward Polhill.

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