September 1, 2014

B. H. Carroll (1843–1914) on "Christ's Atonement and Paul's Prayer"

Before taking up this part of the exposition I will answer a question arising from the discussion in the previous chapter, viz.: "Did Christ expiate the sins of all men, or the sins of the elect only, and does not universal expiation demand universal salvation?" This question belongs to the department of systematic theology. Without desire to intrude into that department, yet as biblical theology cannot be altogether separated from the teaching of the English Bible, I submit a reply for the benefit of those who may never study systematic theology. It is every way a difficult question, and calls out in its answer all the theories of the atonement advocated in the Christian ages. In general terms it is the old question – is the atonement general or limited? Perhaps no man has ever given a precise answer satisfactory to his own mind even, and it is certain no one has ever satisfied all others.

It must be sufficient for present purposes to deal with the question briefly, relegating to systematic theology the critical and extended reply derived from a comparison of all the prominent theories of the atonement in the light of the Scriptures. The following passages of Scripture doubtless suggest the question: Hebrews 2:9, "Jesus hath been made a little lower than the angels . . . that by the grace of God he should taste death for every man." There must be some real sense, some gracious sense, in which he tasted death for every man. 1 Timothy 4:9-10: "Faithful is the saying and worthy of all acceptation. For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe." Here again it is evident that God in some real sense is the Saviour of all men, but not in the special sense in which he is the Saviour of believers. A more pertinent passage is 1 John 2:2, "And he [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world."

The first question is answered here if anywhere. The question is, "Did Christ expiate the sins of all men?" And this passage says, "He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world." Further on in the letter (4:14) John says, "And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world," this language doubtless referring back to John 1:29, "On the morrow he [John the Baptist] seeth Jesus coming unto him, and sayeth, Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!" Here "Lamb of God," the vicarious sacrifice and "taketh away the sin" must refer to the expiation in some real sense. Moreover, it accords with "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life," and quadrates particularly with the sincerity of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16, and the intense earnestness with which the apostles pressed home upon every heart the duty and privilege of all men to accept the salvation offered.

The case of Paul is much in point, because of the use of the very word in question, 2 Corinthians 5:1-20, "But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God." This particular passage is the more pertinent and important since it discriminates so clearly between the two reconciliations, to wit: (1) God was reconciled to us through the expiation of Christ, satisfying the claims of justice and placating the wrath of the law on account of sin. (2) Our reconciliation to God through acceptance of Christ tendered in the ministry of the word.

Here it is evident that expiation becomes effective to us through faith in Christ. And it is perfectly clear from many scriptures that no matter in what sense expiation was effective toward God for all men, it cannot result in universal salvation, since "he that believeth not, shall be damned." The second question is answered, to wit: No matter in what sense expiation was for all men Godward, it can avail to usward by faith alone. The question of universal salvation is not therefore bound up with reconciliation Godward, whatever its extent, but with the ministry of reconciliation and our acceptance or rejection of the tendered mercy. Speculate theorize, philosophize as we may on the extent of the atonement Godward, we are shut up peremptorily by the Scriptures to the conclusion that "he that believeth not, shall be damned."

It is the opinion of the author that universal or limited salvation is not connected with the atonement Godward, but with the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, the question is not, "Unto how many was God reconciled through Christ?" but, How many of us are reconciled to God through faith in Christ?

It seems to the author that the crux of the whole matter lies in three thoughts: (1) That in the final judgment the supreme test for men and angels is the question, "What was your attitude toward Christ, either in himself, his people, or his cause?" See particularly Matthew 25:31-46, where this principle is applied to all men. And see  1 Corinthians 6:3, where the test is implied toward angels, else saints could not judge them. Again, this decisive principle of the final judgment is expressly taught in Matthew 12:41-42 in the reference to the men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba, and yet again in our Lord's denunciation of the Galilean cities, (Matt. 11:21-24). (2) The second thought lies in our Lord's teaching that only one sin is an eternal sin, having never forgiveness in either world (Mark 3:2-30); Matthew 12:31-32, showing that condemnation comes from action in the Spirit's realm of application. See the culmination of unpardonable sin in "doing despite to the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:26-29). (3) The effect of the death on the cross conferred on the Messiah, i.e., not the Son of God in eternity, but the Son of God by procreation, born of the virgin Mary, the sovereignty.[sic] of the universe. See Philippians. 2:5-11.

I hold James P. Boyce to be the greatest all-around Baptist ever produced by the South. While in his Systematic Theology he teaches that expiation of the sins of all men must mean universal salvation, yet before he closes his discussion he uses these remarkable words, which I cite:
(1) While for the elect he made an actual atonement, by which they are actually reconciled to God, and because of which are made the subjects of the special divine grace by which they became believers in Christ, and are justified through him.

(2) Christ at the same time and in the same work, wrought out a means of reconciliation for all men, which removed every legal obstacle to their salvation, upon their acceptance of the same conditions upon which the salvation is given to the elect. Abstract of Theology, revised by F. H. Kerfoot, p. 296.

(3) On page 297 he says,
The atoning work of Christ was not sufficient for the salvation of man. That work was only Godward, and only removed all the obstacles in the way of God's pardon of the sinner. But the sinner is also at enmity with God, and must be brought to accept salvation, and must learn to love and serve God. It is the special work of the Holy Spirit to bring this about. The first step here is to make known to man the gospel, which contains the glad tidings of salvation, under such influences as ought to lead to its acceptance.

For the purpose of comment I mark these paragraphs (1), (2), and (3). It seems difficult to reconcile (1) with (3) but (2) and (3) are in perfect harmony. In (1) he says that "for the elect he made actual atonement" . . . "they were actually reconciled to God." But in (3) he says that "the atoning work was not sufficient for the salvation of man, that work was only Godward, and only removed all the obstacles in the way of God's pardon for the sinner." This language applies of course to the elect. But in (2) he says, "Christ wrought out a means of reconciliation for all men which removed every legal obstacle to their salvation." Then for the elect the atonement "was not sufficient for the salvation of man" and "only removed all the obstacles in the way of God's pardon for the sinner," and if for the nonelect the atonement wrought out a means of reconciliation," "removing every legal obstacle to their salvation," what is the difference Godward? What is the difference so far as Christ's work is concerned? Does not the difference come in the Spirit's work in connection with the application of the atonement and the ministry of reconciliation? Do election and foreordination become operative toward atonement or toward acceptance of the atonement? These questions are submitted for consideration in the realm of the study of systematic theology. The author does not dogmatize on them. While he has only a very moderate respect for philosophy in any of its departments as taught in the schools, and prefers rather to accept every word of God without speculation, and believes it true and harmonious in all its parts, whether or not he is able to philosophically explain it, yet he submits merely for consideration along with other human philosophizing on the atonement the philosophy of Dr. Wm. C. Buck on this matter. It is found in his book, The Philosophy of Religion. On the question of general or limited atonement he takes this position, as I recall it: Jesus Christ through his death repurchased or bought back the whole lost human race, including the earth, man's habitat. The whole of it and all its peoples passed thereby under his sovereignty. What debt they once owed to the law they now owe to him, the surety who paid the debt. From his mediatorial throne he offers to forgive this debt now due him to all who will accept him. But all alike reject him. The Father, through the Spirit, graciously inclines some to accept him. Thus those really saved are saved according to the election and foreordination of God, not operative in the atonement which was general, but in the Spirit's application which was special. Those thus saved were originally promised by the Father to the Son. He dies for the whole world as the expression of the Father's universal love. He died for the elect, his church, as his promised reward.

Dr. Buck illustrates, so far as such an illustration can serve, by supposing a raid by Algerian pirates on a Spanish village, leading a multitude into captivity in Moorish North Africa. A philanthropist, touched by their piteous condition, ransoms all of them by one price, and now, owning them all, offers remission of the debt and free passage back to native Spain to all who will accept. Some prefer bondage and remain, others accept joyfully and go back home. Of course this illustration takes no account of the Father's work or the Spirit's work, touching only the question of ransom for all, the passing of the debt over to the surety, his sovereignty, in its remission and their acceptance or rejection.

Let us do with this or any other philosophy what we will, but let us not hesitate to accept all that the Scriptures teach on this matter. When we read John 10:14-16; 11:26-29; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:28-29; Ephesians 5:25-32, let us not abate one jot of their clear teaching of Christ's death for the elect and their certain salvation. And when we read John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2; Ezekiel 33: 11; Matthew 28:19; 1 Timothy 2:4, let us beware lest our theory, or philosophy, of the atonement constrain us to question God's sincerity, and disobey his commands. There are many true things in and out of the Bible beyond our satisfactory explanation. Let faith apprehend even where the finite mind cannot comprehend.
B. H. Carroll, "Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews," in An Interpretation of the English Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978 reprint of Nashville: Broadman Press, 1948), 86–92.

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