In my previous blog post (entitled Did Christ's Sacrifice Actually Save?) about Roger Nicole's 1984 article, I began to treat his fifth argument in rebuttal to the myriad of universalistic (or at least universal sounding) statements produced by moderate Calvinists from Calvin's corpus. Nicole's fifth argument amounts to this: since impetration and application cannot be separated, Calvin's universalistic language must teach either universal salvation or not teach universalism at all. Since Calvin cannot be fairly seen to teach universal salvation, his universalistic statements must not really be universalistic. The choice, Nicole says, is "between universal salvation and definite atonement." Since all agree that Calvin did not teach universal salvation, he must have taught definite atonement. Or so Nicole's argument would urge.
In my previous article, I opined that Nicole has committed a black-or-white fallacy in limiting our options to universal salvation and definite atonement. I used Calvin's theology of the Lord's Supper to show that there must be some tertium quid in Calvin's theology between these two positions.
The black-or-white fallacy relates to Nicole's insistence that the choices are universal salvation and definite atonement. But Nicole has committed another fallacy as well: he has begged the question. (David pointed out this fallacy in a comment to my previous post.)
Begging the Question
For an argument to have any epistemological or dialectical force, it must start from premisses already known or believed by its audience, and proceed to a conclusion not known or believed. This, of course, rules out the worst cases of Begging the Question, when the conclusion is the very same proposition as the premiss, since one cannot both believe and not believe the same thing. A viciously circular argument is one with a conclusion based ultimately upon that conclusion itself, and such arguments can never advance our knowledge.
The question that Nicole has "begged," is whether impetration and application always go together. First, we need to understand what we mean by impetration. I found this quote from John Owen on the Puritan Board about impetration:
For by impetration we mean the meritorious purchase of all good things made by Christ for us with and of his Father; and by application, the actual enjoyment of those good things upon our believing; -- as, if a man pay a price for the redeeming of captives, the paying of the price supplieth the room of the impetration of which we speak; and the freeing of the captives is as the application of it.
Owen, Works Volume X, pg. 223 - Banner of Truth edition. Help to understand the use of 'impetration.'
Using this definition, impetration refers to Christ's work on behalf of men such that we could say that he "paid the price," or "redeemed" them. If that is Nicole's meaning when he says that impetration and application always go together, then has he not asserted the very question that is in dispute? If impetration and application always go together, then of course atonement is limited to the elect.
But the moderate Calvinist (and most other Christians) would deny that impetration and application always go together.
What is the evidence?
Having said that Nicole's argument is circular, we haven't said that his argument is actually unsound. Many perfectly good arguments are circular in form. And Nicole's argument is valid. But though it may be valid, it may still be unsound. A valid argument can give untrue results if one of the premises is untrue.
The premise I question, of course, is that impetration and application always go together. Do they? And how has Nicole established that they do?
First, in Nicole's article, he merely asserts that they always go together. That impetration and application always go together may be a commonly accepted principle in reformed theology, but it is certainly not commonly accepted in Christianity at large.
And whether this principle is accepted in Christian or reformed theology is really irrelevant. What is important for our discussion is whether impetration and application always go together in Calvin's theology. Nicole's article produces no evidence to establish this point.
The evidence to the contrary
One can see evidence contradicting Nicole's assertion in the header of this blog. It's an excerpt from Calvin's commentary to Romans 5:18:
...for though Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered through God's benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.
The plain import of Calvin's language here shows that impetration (defined as Owen defined it above) and application cannot possibly be such that they always go together in Calvin's theology. In this commentary Calvin clearly distinguishes between those for whom Christ suffered and those who will enjoy the benefits offered to them. Having established that impetration and application do not always go together in Calvin's theology, Nicole's argument fails to prove that Calvin's universalistic statements should be taken in any way other than sensible hermeneutics would require.