Taking on a Pyro Blogger
One of the Pyro bloggers has given what he believes is an unanswerable objection to those who believe that limited atonement (as most commonly held) removes all grounds for assurance. His answer is part of a series of quick answers: short verbal jabs, intended to "checkmate" the theological opponent in fifty words or less. His stated goal in these short posts is to require his opponent to think, while not wasting too much time actually engaging with the theological opponent. "The response," says Phillips, "is meant to be that sort of a verbal sharp stick." I mean to take on one of his recent "gotchas."
I must, of course, devote more than fifty words to answering his objection. It takes less time to throw mud against a wall than to clean it off. But the subject deserves some thought; and though Phillips apparently thinks he has the answer, I hope to show that he has both understated the problem and completely missed the answer.
Can we know that Christ died for us?
In a recent entry, Phillips has given an answer to the complaint that an atonement that is in no way universal gives no ground for assurance or a free gospel call. Phillips gives his "verbal sharp stick" answer this way:
if you do believe He equally atoned for the sins of Judas, the Beast, Peter and you, you don't have any assurance that your sins won't send you to Hell. Poor trade-off, that.
So Phillips's answer -- if I may be permitted to shorten it even further -- amounts to this: "Same to you, Buddy." More seriously, Phillips is really saying that assurance that the atonement is for me (because it is for all) comes at the cost of assurance that the atonement will actually save me. Assurance of universal scope comes at the cost of assurance of efficacy.
How can we have assurance?
The first question we might ask is, "assurance of what?" When he says "assurance," the modern evangelical believer generally means assurance of salvation. And that assurance of salvation is generally equated with belief in the promises of God. God has promised salvation to those who believe in Him, and this promise is the grounds for assurance. "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it."
Calvin distinguishes between "faith" and "hope." Faith is certain knowledge of the benevolence or mercy of God, founded on the free promise in Christ, and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Hope, on the other hand, is the assurance that springs from faith.
Wherever this living faith exists, it must have the hope of eternal life as its inseparable companion, or rather must of itself beget and manifest it; where it is wanting, however clearly and elegantly we may discourse of faith, it is certain we have it not.
So while not equating assurance with faith, Calvin says that assurance is always produced by it. This is so much the case that where there is no assurance, there is no faith.
So as the first step in our argument, which I will pursue in subsequent posts, we must first see that assurance is a necessary result of true faith.
Thus, faith believes that God is true; hope expects that in due season he will manifest his truth. Faith believes that he is our Father; hope expects that he will always act the part of a Father towards us. Faith believes that eternal life has been given to us; hope expects that it will one day be revealed. Faith is the foundation on which hope rests; hope nourishes and sustains faith. For as no man can expect any thing from God without previously believing his promises, so, on the other hand, the weakness of our faith, which might grow weary and fall away, must be supported and cherished by patient hope and expectation. For this reason Paul justly says, “We are saved by hope,” (Rom. 8:24).
I will continue to develop this argument in part 2, coming soon.