Archive for the ‘Limited Atonement’ Category

Does Particular Redemption destroy the Well Meant Gospel Offer?

October 18, 2008

As I’ve mentioned before John Murray is one of my favourite theologians.  His positions on the free offer of the gospel, the fourth commandment and worship need to be heard and recovered by reformed and evangelical churches today. 

Recently while looking through some old Banner of Truth magazines I came across an article by him where he notes, “It is sometimes objected that the doctrine of limited atonement makes the preaching of a full and free salvation impossible.”  Murray does not give this objection much weight stating that it is “wholly untrue.”  What follows are his more detailed thoughts on the matter:

“The salvation accomplished by the death of Christ is infinitely sufficient and universally suitable, and it may be said that its infinite sufficiency and perfect suitability grounds a bona fide offer of salvation to all without distinction.  The doctrine of limited atonement any more than the doctrine of sovereign election does not raise a fence around the offer of the gospel.  The overture of the gospel offering peace and salvation through Jesus Christ is to all without distinction, though it is truly from the heart of sovereign election and limited atonement that this stream of grace universally proffered flows.  If we may change the figure, it is upon the crest of the wave of divine sovereignty and of limited atonement that the full and free offer of the gospel breaks upon our shores.  The offer of salvation to all is bona fide.  All that is proclaimed is absolutely true.  Every sinner believing will infallibly be saved, for the veracity and purpose of God cannot be violated.

The criticism that the doctrine of limited atonement prevents the free offer of the gospel rests upon a profound misapprehension as to what the warrant for preaching the gospel and even of the primary act of faith itself really is.  The warrant is not that Christ died for all men but the universal invitation, demand and promise of the gospel united with the perfect sufficiency and suitability of Christ as Saviour and Redeemer.  What the ambassador of the gospel demands in Christ’s name is that the lost and helpless sinner commit himself to that all-sufficient Saviour with the plea that in thus receiving and resting upon Christ alone for salvation he will certainly be saved … the primary act of faith is self-committal to the all-sufficient and suitable Saviour, and the only warrant for that trust is the indiscriminate, full and free offer of grace and salvation in Christ Jesus.”

So is anyone still prepared to claim John Murray was a quasi-Arminian because of his excellent report on the free offer of the gospel?

(All quotations from The Banner of Truth, 211 (April 1981), 5)

Weekly Update 31 – James Durham on “Particular Redemption”

December 1, 2007

One of Durham’s largest essays in his commentary on Revelation is entitled, “Concerning the extent of the merit of Christ’s death, or, if it may be accounted a satisfaction for all men” (Revelation, Old Paths, 2000, 378-412).  Some of the following is fairly heavy going but hopefully worth it.

In this essay Durham advocates the position that the sufferings of Christ are “not intended by Christ, nor accepted of by God as a price and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and for procuring of Redemption to them but only for some peculiarly chosen of God, and by his decree of Election separated from others” (p378).  He engages those whom he feels deny this position, while at the same time holding to a predestinarian system of theology i.e. not Arminians.  He names John Cameron, Richard Baxter, John Daillie and William Twisse as his opponents.  Twisse is a fascinating character who often is lauded by certain extreme predestinarians (usually opposed to the free offer) for having written a treatise, The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessells of Mercy, consistent with His Absolute Hatred or Reprobation of the Vessells of Wrath(Oxford: Printed by L.L. and H.H. Printers to the University for Tho. Robinson, 1653) and for advocating a supralapsarian ordering of the decrees.  It is one of the grand ironies of this whole debate that Twisse seems to have actually held some form of universal redemption (even if conditional).  Twisse was prolocuter (chairman) of the Westminster Assembly until he stepped down on grounds of ill health in 1645 – the WCoF was not approved by the Scottish Church until 1647.

I don’t want to post on all the details of Durham’s arguments so I’m just going to highlight a few of the more interesting and significant points he makes:

  1. The extent of the atonement is determined by the Covenant of Redemption (p378, 379).  The extent of the Covenant of Redemption is determined by a logically (not temporally) prior decree of election (p400).  The extent of the atonement is therefore particular not universal.
  2. Christ’s sacrifice “in respect of the person who died… may be and by Divines is said to be, of an infinite value” (p378).  But when we are speaking of the intent of Christ in laying down his life as a satisfaction that is where the Covenant of Redemption and particularity comes to the fore.
  3. Because of the Covenant of Redemption the atonement must secure its own application i.e. the salvation of those for whom it was offered.  That is, there was a bargain between the three Persons of the Godhead that a seed would be given to Christ on condition that he lay down his life for them – the Covenant of Redemption.  Now if Christ laid down his life as per the covenant for his sheep, and then they were not saved, the Covenant would have been broken by God.  Unthinkable! (p383).
  4. Durham believed that a universal redemption was pastorally harmful in that it “would weaken the redeemed’s consolation and enervat the grounds of their praise… to say that all are redeemed by Christ’s death, yet so, that the greater part of them shall never be justified… doth exceedingly weaken the redeemed’s consolation… [and is] derogatory to the solid consolation of the redeemed, whatever be pretended” (p384).
  5. Durham believed that a universal redemption, coupled with election did not solve any pastoral problems for “seeing the asserters of this conditional [universal] Redemption do admit of an absolute Election unto life as we do… then they will have the same cavils… to meet with: for, the connection betwixt Election, Faith, and Salvation is no less peremptor, (so that none can be believe and be saved but an Elect)…” (p408).
  6. A particular redemption does not cause any additional pastoral difficulties, even for the unsaved for, “this Doctrine of particular Redemption (to call it so) doth never make salvation impossible to any that will receive Christ and rest upon Him: but on the contrary, though it deny that all men are redeemed, or shall be saved,; yet it doth assert this Universal, that all whosoever shall believe, are redeemed and shall be saved…” (p386).
  7. Durham acknowledged that the common blessings that come on all men are consequences of Christ’s atonement and “largely speaking” are “contained in the Covenant of Redemption” (p392).  But “the proper fruit of Christ’s purchase… is saving mercies” (p391).  Durham is cautious and generally unwilling to speak of common mercies as a proper fruit of Christ’s death.  Why he takes this position is interesting.  Durham is attempting to guard against being forced to say that the proper fruit of Christ’s death is greater condemnation for the reprobate.  The reprobate enjoy common blessings and grace from God but ultimately they abuse these and receive greater condemnation than if they had never received these blessings.  Durham is anxious to argue that greater condemnation comes not “from the Gospels being revealed to such persons, but from their abusing and slighting of the same” (p392).  Durham does not want a fruit of Christ’s death to be greater condemnation, so we have to distinguish between the main intention of Christ’s death (redemption) and other consequences which are not proper fruits: “otherwise we might say, that the greater inexcusableness and condemnation of many Reprobates, are proper fruits of Christ’s purchase…” (p393).
  8. Christ’s satisfaction and intercession are of equal extent, and indeed “it is His satisfaction that regulateth (to speak so) his intercession” (p399).
  9. Durham argues that “world” in John 3:16 cannot be taken to mean “all men” (p405).   This was the standard Scottish view of the text at the time.  This is one of the few places I may not be on the same page as Durham – I’m more of a Marrowman myself.
  10. The free offer of the gospel is not endangered by a particular redemption for “neither doth this way [universal/conditional redemption] and the ground thereof give ministers any more solid ground to make the offer of the Gospel indefinitely in their public Preaching: for… we can assure hearers that whosoever believeth shall partake of life and of the benefits of Christ’s Redemption; and by virtue of the general Call and Warrant which we have in the Gospel, we may invite them to believe in Christ, [and] require faith of them…” (p409-10).

These then are some of the points Durham makes on the subject of particular redemption.  For me the two key points that emerge are:

  • The prominence of the idea of a Covenant of Redemption in Durham’s defence of particular redemption
  • The prominence of Pastoral concerns in Durham’s formulating of a particular redemption.  When Durham came to defend his doctrine of particular redemption he wasn’t simply engaging in ivory tower theology, rather he was defending a truth he believed helped him best in his Pastoral duties.