Nathaniel Stephens (1606?-1678) on the Death of Christ

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in For Whom did Christ Die?


As for the secret will of God in the decree of non-election, though they do believe according to the Scriptures that there are a great multitude of men that the Lord does intent to pass by, yet if you come to the singulars, neither you nor any man living can show who are they are in special. If you shall say that such and such a one is a notorious evil-doer, and therefore a reprobate. Ananias, thought but little better of Paul, “Lord, I have heard of this man how much evil he has done.” But the answer was, “go thy way I have made him a chosen vessel unto me,” Act. 9:14. If such a one has continued many years under the means of grace, and does yet stand out in impenitency and hardness of heart: this is no infallible argument of non-election, for many men come unto the vineyard at all hours. So far forth as men live wickedly we may preach hypothetically and conditionally, according to the revealed will of God, that their courses are damnable, and as long as they so continue they are in the way to damnation: yet we cannot absolutely pronounce concerning the persons themselves, it belongs only to God to judge of their final and eternal condition. And for that place which you alleged, that “God swears that he desires not the death of him that dies,” I pray you now tell us the particular man in our method and way of teaching that is not a capable hearer of this doctrine. Whatsoever God does intent in his secret decrees concerning the eternal state of men what is that to us? We must make the tenders, proposals, and offers of grace according to the terms set down in the Gospel. Indeed, as men do submit to the promise and do take Christ for their Head, so God does bring about that which he has determined in his secret will. And, therefore, when you speak concerning this sort of people, “that they should not believe his revealed will at all, if they hold his secret will to be the superior;” what good reason can you show for that? for though the secret will of God touching the salvation of his elect be the superior, yet all the tenders of grace, all faith in the promises are but the ordinary way to bring us to salvation. Here is no contrariety of will against will, but an excellent subordination. Because the Lord had many people in the city of Corinth that did belong to him in the determination of his secret will, therefore the apostle had a command to preach the Gospel in that city, and he did continue there the space of a year and six months, Acts 18, ver. 10, 11. But if it be further objected, “how can you pray for the salvation of all, seeing that the Lord does determine to pass by a great number of men?” I answer, though it be so, we are to do the duty. Paul did know that a greater part of the Jews should be hardened, and that a remnant only should be saved; yet for all this he did preach the Gospel and use all means that he might save some of them, Rom. 11:7-10. Augustine, one of the greatest asserts of the prerogative of free grace, in his book de correptione & gratia, has these words,

We not knowing who belong to the number of the predestinate, and who not, ought so be to moved with the affection of charity that we should will all men to be saved. And so far as it does appertain to us who are not able to distinguish the predestinate from them who are not predestinate, for this very thing because we ought to will all men to be saved, we must medicinally use sharp proof to all men so saved from perishing.

Dr. Twisse also has these words, “moreover of those who are not alive, though the greater part of them should be reprobated, seeing this is not known to us, there is nothing does hinder but that we make supplications for all,” Vindic. Grat. lib. 2. Crimin. 4. Sect. 9. Page 91. Many more testimonies I might bring of that kind of people as you call them who maintain the secret will of God to be the more prevailing, yet in order to understand they show that we are to look only unto that which is revealed. They do with one heart and with one mouth that you must begin at the lower end of the ladder before you can come to the top. As for the secret and revealed will of God, though this seem to us to be contradictory, there is no contradiction. The river that in appearance seems to go another way, if you follow it by divers mazes and turnings I will bring you to the sea at least. But if you further urge, how can the sending of Christ into the world to due for the lost sons of men stand with the decree of election, where some only are chosen to salvation? Answ. This point is solidly handled by Dr. Davenant, in his answer to that book that bears the title God’s Love to Mankind; and in another treatise of the death of Christ. The scope and tenor of the whole discourse is to show that the non-elect may be partakers of many fruits of the death of Christ, though they are not partakers of that grace which will certainly and infallibly bring them to salvation; and so he does concord the general atonement made with the peculiar decree of elect. But because this point is exceedingly controverted in these times, and is as it were the very rock of offense, I will particularly show how far I can go along with you. First, I do agree that by his death the Son has removed the bar out of the way that hinders the salvation of man. For God having once made a Law, “in the day thou eat thereof thou shalt die death,” according to the rigor of the covenant of works and the strictness of divine justice there was possibility of mans’ salvation. But the Lord Christ having once satisfied the justice of God and removed the bar, there is now a possibility for all the lost sons of men to be saved, they are brought into a savable condition, notwithstanding all the strict demands of satisfaction according to the first covenant. And this I take to take to be the natural sense of that place which you and others stand so much upon,

…who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time. 1 Tim. 2:4-6.

The scope of which words is briefly this, that seeing the Lord Jesus Christ did give himself as a ransom for all men, there is a possibility of salvation for all upon terms of repentance and faith. Secondly, I do agree with you, that by the death of Christ the Lord does show patience and long-suffering to the rebellious to invite them to repentance, Rom. 2:4. And though since the fall of man the thoughts of his heart were all evil from his childhood; yet respect being had of the Mediator’s blood, typed in the sacrifice of Noah, the promise to the whole world was that “the Lord would no more curse the ground for mans’ sake, but seed time and harvest, winter and summer, day and night should continue to the world’s end.” Thirdly, I do also agree with you in this, that the Lord Jesus by the shedding of his blood has not only procured a possibility for the lost sons of men, but also at seasons he does give them some portions of spirit, enabling them to judge themselves. And for temporary believers they go so far in the participation of the fruits of the death of the Son, as “to state the good Word of God and the powers if the life to come,” Heb. 6:5. These are the general fruits of the death of Christ; and in this sense we may say , “that he tasted death for every man.” In what sense then does Christ die for the elect only? He did shed his blood not only to obtain a possibility for them, but that they may be certainly and infallibly brought to glory. Hence is it that he speaks concerning his sheep (for whom he died I a special manner). My Father that gave them me is greater than all, and none can take them out of my Father’s hands,” Joh. 10:29. And in another place, “who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? it is God that justifies, who is he that condemned? it is Christ that died,” Rom. 8:33. The death of Christ for the elect is not only to obtain salvation upon terms of repentance and faith, or other general fruits of his death, but it is certainly and infallibly to bring them to salvation. In relation to this peculiar love, the apostle says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Rom. 8:35. And our Savior, John 10:28, “I will give them eternal life, and that they shall never perish, neither shall any man be able to take them out of my hand.” He speaks these things of his sheep, for whom he had laid down his life in the special sense mentioned before. Having thus cleared all our objections in this chapter, we proceed the next.

Nathaniel Stephens, Vindiciæ Fundamenti: or a Threefold Defence of the Doctrine of Original Sin (London: Printed by T.R. and E.M. for Edmund Paxton in Paul’s Chain, right over against the Castle-Tavern, near Doctros Commons, 1658), 69-72. [Some reformatting, some spelling modernized; and underlining mine.]

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