Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nicole on Calvin's "wasted blood" passages

Roger Nicole's fourth rebuttal to the moderate Calvinists treats Calvin's "wasted blood" passages. This is an important point, which Nicole skims over. There are many such passages in Calvin's corpus, and there ought to be some thought given to the answer. Nicole hasn't done it.

Cause to pause and ponder

Nicole refers to four scripture passages as giving the advocate of definite atonement "reason to pause and ponder:" Romans 14:15, 1Corinthians 8:11, Hebrews 10:29, and 2Peter 2:1. Here's what Calvin said on Romans 14:15:

The next thing is, — that when the weak conscience is wounded, the price of Christ’s blood is wasted; for the most abject brother has been redeemed by the blood of Christ: it is then a heinous crime to destroy him by gratifying the stomach; and we must be basely given up to our own lusts, if we prefer meat, a worthless thing, to Christ.

Calvin, Comm. Romans 14:15, emphasis added.

Nicole replies to the scripture problem, but ignores Calvin:

To this we reply that in the context of the problem of weaker brothers, Paul affirms that they will not perish but God will make them to stand (Rom 14:4). Thus Paul’s statements do not so much represent an expression of doubt as to God’s perseverance with his own for whom Christ died, as a castigation of the selfishness of so-called “strong” Christians who would give priority to their own exercise of Christian liberty over the spiritual eternal interests of their weaker brothers.

Nicole, at 214.

That's all Nicole says on the Romans passage. The reader will notice that Nicole's short paragraph does nothing to analyze Calvin's use of the phrase "the price of Christ's blood is wasted." Whatever Nicole may think of the scripture in question, he ought to be analyzing Calvin's language, since Calvin's language is the subject of his article.

Regarding Hebrews 10 and 2 Peter, Nicole admits that the passages relate to those who will ultimately be lost, and gives a brief argument for the language being seen as not supporting universal atonement.

The solution may be found in viewing the description of Hebrews and 2 Peter as expressing what the apostates at one time professed to have rather than what they had in fact.

This is in any case what Calvin has opted for, as is apparent when he calls the offenders of Heb 10:29 "hypocrites...usurping a place among the faithful."

* * *

Calvin's silence on the relationship of these four texts [Romans 14:15, 1 Corinthians 8:11, Hebrews 10:29, and 2 Peter 2:1 - slc] to the extent of the atonement should not, in all fairness, be construed as an endorsement of universal atonement, not any more than his silence in his commentaries on the relation of these texts to the doctrine of perseverance provides a substantial basis for affirming that Calvin did not believe in perseverance. Other passages prove beyond dispute that he did believe in it!

Again, Nicole focuses mostly on an analysis of the scripture, and mostly avoids analyzing Calvin. Here are relevant statements from Calvin's commentaries on the passages in question:

There is, however, still greater force in what follows — that even those that are ignorant or weak have been redeemed with the blood of Christ; for nothing were more unseemly than this, that while Christ did not hesitate to die, in order that the weak might not perish, we, on the other hand, reckon as nothing the salvation of those who have been redeemed with so great a price. A memorable saying, by which we are taught how precious the salvation of our brethren ought to be in our esteem, and not merely that of all, but of each individual in particular, inasmuch as the blood of Christ was poured out for each individual!

12. When ye sin so against the brethren, etc. For if the soul of every one that is weak is the price of Christ’s blood, that man who, for the sake of a very small portion of meat, hurries back again to death the brother who has been redeemed by Christ, shows how contemptible the blood of Christ is in his view. Hence contempt of this kind is an open insult to Christ.

Calvin, Comm. 1 Corinthians 8: 11, 12.

The blood of the covenant, etc. He enhances ingratitude by a comparison with the benefits. It is the greatest indignity to count the blood of Christ unholy, by which our holiness is effected; this is done by those who depart from the faith. For our faith looks not on the naked doctrine, but on the blood by which our salvation has been ratified. He calls it the blood of the covenant, because then only were the promises made sure to us when this pledge was added. But he points out the manner of this confirmation by saying that we are sanctified; for the blood shed would avail us nothing, except we were sprinkled with it by the Holy Spirit; and hence come our expiation and sanctification. The apostle at the same time alludes to the ancient rite of sprinkling, which availed not to real sanctification, but was only its shadow or image.

Calvin, Comm. Hebrews 10:29. Emphasis added.

Even denying the Lord that bought them. Though Christ may be denied in various ways, yet Peter, as I think, refers here to what is expressed by Jude, that is, when the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness; for Christ redeemed us, that he might have a people separated from all the pollutions of the world, and devoted to holiness and innocency. They, then, who throw off the bridle, and give themselves up to all kinds of licentiousness, are not unjustly said to deny Christ by whom they have been redeemed. Hence, that the doctrine of the gospel may remain whole and complete among us, let this be fixed in our minds, that we have been redeemed by Christ, that he may be the Lord of our life and of our death, and that our main object ought to be, to live to him and to die to him. He then says, that their swift destruction was at hand, lest others should be ensnared by them.

Calvin, Comm. 2Peter 2:1. Emphasis added.

Nicole glosses over these comments without giving us much analysis. But consider the import of the argument. Strict limited atonement insists that all for whom Christ died are certain of eternal salvation. The shedding of Christ's blood must be efficacious, the argument goes, for all for whom it is offered. Contrast that with Calvin's statements: Christ's blood "wasted," (Rom. 14:15); brothers who have been redeemed being hurried back to death (1Cor. 8:12); Christ's blood availing nothing apart from application (Hebrews 10:29); and apostates denying Christ by whom they have been redeemed (2Pet. 2:1). In at least the Hebrews passage, Nicole admits that we are speaking of those who will ultimately be lost. Nicole has failed to give a cogent analysis or argument for understanding Calvin's language in a way that is consistent with strict limited atonement.

It would be well to note here the distinction that Calvin made in the Hebrews passage between the shedding of Christ's blood for men and the application of it to them. This distinction helps us in analyzing Calvin's thinking on the subject of the atonement.

Calvin's MANY references to "wasted blood," "redemption voided," and "redeemed souls perishing"

It is also important to note here that Nicole has barely scratched the surface of the problem. There are many statements of this type throughout Calvin's corpus. I encourage my readers to look at the Calvin and Calvinism blog (scroll down to the section under Part II., entitled "Redeemed Souls Perishing and Redemption Voided." There are fifty-four(!) quotations from Calvin's sermons, Commentaries, and Tracts that indicate that Calvin thought that Christ died for some whose souls will be eternally lost.

Finally, it is shocking to hear Nicole say that Calvin was "silent" on the question of the extent of the atonement in these passages. In these passages Calvin did not treat the "extent of the atonement" in a discourse, but he certainly was not silent. And when considering the mountain of evidence in favor of universal atonement in Calvin's corpus, it is negligent (at best) to say that Calvin was silent on the subject.

1 comment:

David said...

Hey Steve,

You mention that Nicole, at times, resorts to his own personal analysis and understanding of Scripture rather than analyzing the text of Calvin. I noticed that myself when I was reviewing his article for my Baxter paper. Somehow, Nicole just assumes that what he believes must have been exactly what Calvin believes, and so the answer Nicole would give to a problem, must have been the answer Calvin would have.

Part of that comes back to the false assumption that penal satisfaction necessarily entails limited satisfaction. You will see this in Nicole and Helm, when they try to create this sort of "tendentious" or entailment argument. It never occurs to them that the case could have been otherwise for Calvin.

Take care,