Monday, June 08, 2009

Did Christ's Sacrifice Actually Save?

That's the way the question is put by most advocates of limited atonement. I clearly remember hearing Greg Bahnsen (on tape) say that very thing. Christ's sacrifice actually saves. This is in contrast to the Arminian position (and other non-Calvinistic positions) that says that Christ's sacrifice only potentially saves: it merely makes salvation possible.

Roger Nicole's Fifth argument against the moderate Calvinists

As you may remember, last time I gave Nicole's response to the myriad of quotations that can be produced from Calvin's works that seem to say that Christ died for the whole world, for every sinner, for all sin, and such like. Nicole has five arguments in response to the moderate Calvinists, who point to those many quotations from Calvin. (If you want to review Nicole's first four arguments, go to John Calvin's many statements on the scope of the atonement. This article is about Nicole's fifth argument, which relates to the question of actual v. merely potential salvation provided by Christ's sacrifice.

In response to the dozens of quotes from Calvin that have a universalistic import, Nicole makes this argument (the fifth of five):

Finally in the context of many of the above quotations expressions are used that connote the actual application or attainment of salvation, not merely an impetration that would still await appropriation: “our sins are forgiven” or “wiped away,” God is “satisfied” or “appeased,” “we are justified,” “we are exempt from condemnation,” “we may partake of the Lord’s Table,” we are “saved,” “delivered,” “restored to life,” “reconciled.” In this respect, as in so many others, Calvin’s language parallels very closely the usage of Scripture. (See for instance Rom 5:18; 8:32 ; 1 Cor 15:22; 2 Cor 5:14; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2). Neither the Scripture nor Calvin can be fairly interpreted to teach universal salvation, but the passages advanced as supporting universal atonement simply do not stop there. It is of course legitimate to distinguish, as Calvin clearly does, between impetration and application, but it is improper to separate these, since they always go together. The choice, therefore, is not between universal atonement and definite atonement as properly representative of Calvin’s theology, but rather between universal salvation and definite atonement.

Nicole, at 218.

Nicole's fundamental error

Nicole's logical fallacy is called the "black or white fallacy," or "false dilemma." Nicole would have us believe that all the possibilities for interpreting Calvin can be fairly grouped into one of two positions: universal salvation or definite atonement. And when Greg Bahnsen asserted limited atonement as affirming the principal that Christ's death actually saves, he committed the same fallacy.

For example, let's take Nicole's view of Calvin's commentary on Mark 14:24 (cited in footnote 93 of Nicole's article). First here is the quote from Calvin:

Which is shed for many. By the word many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke — Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated.

Calvin, Comm. Mark 14:24. Emphasis added.

Calvin said that Christ's blood was shed not for a part of the world only, but for the whole human race. Nicole would point out that Calvin goes on to say that the words for you are directly related to the disciples, and Calvin applies this language to every believer. And Nicole would buttress his point by reminding us that Calvin is speaking of the institution of the Lord's Supper here, which is, of course, only for believers.

Well, yes and no. First, though, we must remember the logical problem: just because Calvin (and Christ) says that Christ's blood was shed for believers does not mean that Christ's blood was not shed for unbelievers. If the Lord's Supper is given as a comfort to believing souls does not mean that it is not given for the salvation of unbelieving souls.

Those of you who have read this blog for any length of time will remember that this is precisely the point I made in my article about Calvin's dispute with Heshusius.

[W]e maintain, that in the Supper Christ holds forth his body to reprobates as well as to believers...."

Calvin, Theological Treatises.

In Calvin's theology of the Lord's Supper, he plainly asserts that Christ is offered to believer and unbeliever alike in the Supper. Indeed, Calvin goes so far as to say that Christ's body and blood are offered to all in the Supper. Nicole hasn't seen this point, and so his thinking on Calvin's comment to Mark 14:24 is colored by a false bias. He has improperly excluded one of the possibilities for interpreting Calvin.

If I might be so bold as to offer my view of Calvin's theology on this point, I would put it this way: Christ's sacrifice was made for all; and in the Lord's Supper the benefits of that sacrifice are offered to all. Those benefits of the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood offered to us in the Supper can be appropriated only by faith, and the comfort of that universal expiation is realized only by the believer's applying to himself the universal promise. Those who impiously reject Christ offered to us in the Supper cannot be saved, and those who partake of the Supper improperly (not discerning the Lord's body) eat and drink damnation to themselves.

This view both accepts universal expiation and rejects universal salvation. So Nicole can't be right in reducing the possibilities for interpreting Calvin to universal salvation or particular redemption.

More on this point next time.


Steve said...

How do you like that for an update, Josh? :-)

David said...

Hey Steve,

You say:

"It is of course legitimate to distinguish, as Calvin clearly does, between impetration and application, but it is improper to separate these, since they always go together."

I think that is more fundamental than the either-or fallacy. That is Nicole retrojecting his own assumptions back into Calvin: which he does time and time and time again.

But how does he know that?

Take Musculus as a counter-example:

"M. [Musculus] Moreover it is the office of a Mediator not only to pray but also to offer. And he offered himself upon the Cross for all men. For (as says Paul) Christ died for all men. Finally Saint John says that he is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. How then says he that he prays not for the world seeing he died for all men, and was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world? C. [Calvin] this may be briefly answered, that these prayers which seem to be made for all men are notwithstanding restrained to the Elect of God." Augustine Marlorate (1506-1562) on the Death of Christ

Christ dies for all men, but does not pray for all men.

Thats the very separation of the impetration-application that Nicole says is impossible for the Reformed.

Over and over Nicole inserts his own assumptions into Calvin.


Steve said...

Yes, you're right. I haven't done with Nicole on this point. The biggest problem I see is that he simply begs the question, as you have pointed out. But there is also the practical question of reading what Calvin actually wrote and interpreting it in a half-way normal way ... which Nicole often fails to do.

I want to get to both items, but I couldn't resist starting with the questions on the Eucharist. Calvin's theology of the Lord's Supper simply excludes the possibility of limited atonement in the way it's taught ... and Nicole hasn't a clue on that score.

a helmet said...

The post is entitled "Did Christ's Sactifice Actually Save?"

The notion that Christ's death actually erased sins has some bizarre ramifications. If all the elect's sins have long ago been done away with, why are they still born as sinners? Wouldn't nowaday's elect have to be born as saints? And if the sins of a 21th century shoplifter had already been deleted before they are even committed, wouldn't the sins be necessitated? I mean, does it make sense to think that sins are actually erased before they are done? And if sins were actually forgiven on the cross, why is there a need for intercession? There's no meaningful place for the act of intercession in the Limited Atonement view, because if all sins have been done away with, what do the words of John

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”


“But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”

mean to us? These words that we are forgiven by intercession in the presence would be meaningless, wouldn't they?

And if sins were actually erased on the cross, why does Paul say:

"If Christ has not risen, then your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15,17)?

There'd be no forgiveness without the resurrection. Why? Because Christ always lives to intercede for the elect. Remission of sins is by Christ's life not by his death. Thus, there was no actual remission of sins on the cross, but a provisional for all those who would approach the high priest through faith. Forgiveness is by intercession and intercession is the work of the living high priest.

-a helmet

Steve said...

Yes, helmet, those are excellent points. I particularly like the last one about Christ's intercession as a living high priest. Thanks for the excellent comment.


Josh said...

Fine update, brother!

Steve said...

:-) @ Josh

ForAllTruth said...
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