Nathaniel Holmes (1599-1678) on the Death of Christ

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in For Whom did Christ Die?



Of the proportion between Election and Redemption.

For further clearing of what has been said, this question would be followed whether election and redemption are not somehow opposite? for election is expressed but of some, redemption is offered to all. To which we answer, though we touch on it afore. That though redemption itself, be in the first act larger than election: viz., in Christ dying in the common nature of man, not in that of angels, and thereby brings human nature near to salvation, than the common nature of angels, so that man’s nature in general, is saveable, where the wicked angels are not (“For verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham, Heb. 2:10, which is but the renewing of that covenant with Adam, Gen. 3:15). For otherwise men under the gospel, could not be justly damned for unbelief, but would be threatened for not believing a lie, namely that Christ died for them, when as in no sort he did. But this distinction of Christ’s dying for the common nature, solves that difficulty, shows what interest all men haver in Christ’s redemption, and the fault of them to whom it is made known, not in claiming it and closing with it. I say, though, in this first act, redemption seems of greater latitude than election, yet in the last and ultimate act they are equal; which is the last act is to make particular persons (that are only saveable in the common nature) to be actually saved in their particular persons, which is done by Christ’s special act of Mediatorship, viz., Intercession, John 17:20, “I pray for them which shall believe on me,” whereas the other saveability is done by Christ’s common act of mediatorship of making atonement by death. So that evenly to an hair2 those only that are elected, are effectually redeemed. For though in God’s election there be no necessary compulsion, yet there is in it a necessity of infallibility, of infallibility else God should not know what would befall his own purpose. Yet not compulsion, and, therefore, we must not charge upon election which belongs not to it. As that non-election does effect and force us out of salvation. We must not confound God’s decree, and the execution of his decree, or cut off the rest of the links of God’s predestination, namely, vocation, justification, conformation to Christ, &c., Rom. 8, from the first act of election choosing of some, and so on the contrary. For non-election cannot damn us, unless we refuse vocation, &c.3

And as thus, election and redemption in themselves, in the thing, are of equal latitude,4 so also in the promulugation or offer of the doctrine of the gospel. The gospel holding out election indefinitely (though determinated with God). “The Lord knows them that are his,” 2 Tim. 2:19. And that “THEM” to be a great many, defines not to us how many, of the Jews, 140000 (a certain number for an uncertain), but all the Jews and Gentiles, “a great multitude which no man could number,” Rev. 7:4,9. And redemption indefinitely that Christ “died for ungodly, for sinners,” “for enemies.” For men void of grace, ordinary sinners, and extraordinary, that had opposed him, Rom. 5.

So that as redemption under an indefinite notion is offered to all, so election is held forth under the same notion to all, especially to whom to whom the doctrine of these does come. So that as faith must look to the indefinite promise of redemption, so love must look to the indefinite expression of God’s election.5 Men must throw themselves down under the indefinite expression of election, lie under its beams of the doctrine thereof, to see if it beget a loving opinion in them, that God is willing to save sinners (and so them) having purposed it from all eternity, and throw themselves under the powerful sound of the promises of redemption, to wait till they work a believing persuasion, that God has actually redeemed them, therefore, thoughts of election, if right thoughts, do not beat a soul off from redemption, but makes way, and puts him on, believing the foundation of all. And whoever has the first, has the last, or has the last, has the first. And though neither of them are absolutely of all, yet their indefinite doctrine and tender should in our eye that live under the gospel, seem more wishly to look towards, and intend us (unless we refuse) and to conceive more rationally, that the non-elect, and non-redeemed are those to whom the gospel are never came, or was by them never entertained. For God has not expressly excluded, nor does he utterly cast thee off, till thou cast him off, 2 Chron. 36:15,16, “The mocked the messengers of God, and despised his word, till the wrath of the Lord came upon them, and there was no remedy.” Prov. 29:1, “He that being often reproved hardens his neck, shall come to destruction without remedy.” And in the New Testament only for the sin of refusing Christ all along is damnation pronounced, unpardonableness pronounced. Thou O man demure6 about God’s decree and reprobation, but who gave thee leave to meddle with the secret things of God, here his revealed things which he says belong to thee. God does not actually cast thee off beyond all remedy, till thou actually cast off him, and so casts thee off, not for original sin, but actual sin, and that too not for every actual sin, but for those that cast off the remedy, namely the word of Christ, and Christ the word…. Nathanael Homes, "Christ’s offering himself to all Sinners, and Answering all their Objection," in The Works of Dr. Nathanael Homes (London: Printed for the Author, 1651), 7-8. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; italics original; bracketed material unless otherwise noted; marginal comment cited as a footnote; footnotes mine, and underlining mine.


Until men come to Christ by faith, they have not actually any saving benefit by Christ’s death. Where is stated and discussed the Question about Universal Redemption, of the true intent and extent thereof.

To further clear our in-being in Christ, this Question must be handled. Two extremes of Opinions there are about the extent and intent of Christ’s death and satisfaction, that widen the difference. Which we shall now speak to (as God shall assist) for the clearing of the point in hand; and I shall not be wholly singular, but keep company with some late learned. The one extreme of opinion extends and violently stretches the death and satisfaction of Christ so much too far, as that it thinks that thereby God for his part is actually reconciled to all men, and doth really discharge every man dying7 from all his sins, and that before faith comes. Only they confess, that they for their parts perceive not that benefit by it, whilst they have no faith to believe, that God doth so love them. Now from this extreme Opinion it would follow, that God should be actually reconciled to man before he did put on Christ; And that God should forgive a man’s sins (which is justification) before he believed. Whereas the very elect themselves before their effectual calling are said to be “a people not beloved,” Rom. 9:25. And whilst they are “without Christ to be without hope”; as we heard afore out of Eph. 2:12.

The other extreme opinion contracts the riches of Christ’s satisfaction into too narrow a compass, as if none had any interest any way therein, but such as were elected from the foundation of the world, though by the Gospel everyone be charged to receive the same. Now from this extreme it would follow, that a man under the Gospel should be bound in conscience to believe that which is untrue, and charged to take and receive that with which he has nothing to do, namely, to believe, and take Christ as dying for him, when as Christ did not die for him; nor did he belong to Christ in that respect, according to their Opinion.

Some to take away this difficulty answer thus, “That it follows only from this Argument, that some under the Gospel are bound to believe an impossible thing.” Answ. This solves not the knot. For, 1. I ask, will God condemn a soul for not believing that which is impossible to be had? 2. Why, say I, is it impossible for them to have Christ, but because as these men say, Christ never Intended, or extended his death so far?

Others answer to this difficulty thus. That they under the Gospel that shall never have Christ, are not bound by the voice of the Gospel to believe that Christ died for them; nor are they condemned for not believing that Christ died for them.

Answ. The contrary seems to be evident, John 3:16, “God so loved the WORLD, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes IN HIM should not perish.” Greek, “INTO HIM.” And v. 18, “He that believes on him, Gr. INTO HIM, is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed IN” (Gr. “INTO”) “the name of the only begotten Son of God.” See how God, 1. propounds his Son more generally, as sent to the WORLD, and as it is in v. 17, “He sent not his Son into the WORLD to condemn the world, but that the WORLD might be saved.” Then, 2, requires men particularly to believe IN or INTO his Son: as “HE that believes in him,” &c. Therefore to avoid both these rocks, the word of truth, by which faith is begotten, Eph. 1:13, must be sought into, to find a middle way, wherein to go safely and not to split against either of the said two rocks of absurdities.

For the better and readier finding out this middle and safer way, we must be careful in the business of our redemption, clearly to distinguish between the satisfaction of Christ, absolutely considered, and the application of the same relatively to men in particular. The differences as, 1. That satisfaction absolutely considered, was once, and at once done for All; but the application of it to man, is still in doing. 2. Satisfaction absolutely considered, brings with it sufficiency to discharge all men’s whole debt; The application of it adds unto it efficiency to make it effectual. 3. The satisfaction of Christ makes the sins of mankind only pardonable, fit for pardon, else God’s Justice could not put up the wrong done to him by sin. The particular application makes the sins of those to whom it is applied to be pardoned, actually and solemnly to be acquitted by pardon. So that in sum thus. Though all sins of all men are mortal in regard of the stipend due to them by the Law; yet all do not actually bring forth eternal death; because the gracious promise of the Gospel holding forth Christ, inhibits, supersedes, and stays the execution. So that all the sins of mankind are become venial in respect of the price paid by Christ unto his Father; so that in showing mercy to all, if such were his pleasure, his Justice should be no loser. But all do not obtain actual remission of sin, because most offenders do not take out, nor plead their pardon, as they ought to do, Ezek., 36, “For all this will I be sought unto.” And Isa. 55, “Call upon the Lord while he is near”: and then it follows, “He will abundantly pardon.” lain If Christ had not assumed our nature, and therein made satisfaction for the injury offered by us to God, God would not have come to a treaty of peace with us, (as it is said, Isa. 1, “Come now let us reason together,”) no more then with the fallen Angels, whose nature his Son Christ did not assume, Heb. 2. and so were finally rejected. But this, “way being made through the flesh of Christ,” (as the Apostle speaks, Heb. 10:20.) God holds out unto men the golden Sceptre of his Gospel; and thereby not only signifies his pleasure of admitting them tin to his presence; and accepting their submission (which is a wonderful grace, and favour) but also sends an embassage unto them, entreating them that they would be reconciled unto him, 2 Cor. 5:20.

Hence is inferred against the first extremity of opinion (of which see before) that by virtue of Christ’s satisfaction in our nature, God is made appeaseable unto our nature; but is not actually appeased towards any man’s person, until he has received his Son, and put on him the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hence also is inferred against the second extremity of opinion (of which afore) that all may be said to have a common interest in the merits of Christ: howsoever all do not enjoy the benefit thereof, because they do not take it. The well-spring of life is set open to all, freely, Rev. 22:17. “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” But many fetch not, having nothing to draw with, and the Well is deep. Faith is the only vessel whereby we are to draw all virtue from Christ; and that is to be fetched from “he hearing of the word of truth, the Gospel of our salvation,” Eph. 1:13. Rom. 10. which holds forth this bottom for everyone to build his faith upon, thus.

What Christ hath provided for me, and the Gospel offers me, that I ought with all thankfulness to accept, and apply to my comfort. But Christ by his death, and obedience, has provided a sufficient remedy for the taking away of sin, and the Gospel offers it. Therefore I ought to accept it, and apply it to the comfort of mine own soul.

Now many hearing this Gospel of salvation, do either not regard it, or not believe it; or if in a sort believe it, that is the truth of it, yet embrace it not; but are so wedded to their sins, that they have no desire to be divorced from them: and therefore neglect the taking to themselves, and applying to their own souls this gracious offer made unto them.

Notwithstanding which neglect of their parts, we may truly say, [That good things were provided for them on Christ’s part,] and that a “rich price was put into the hand of a fool, howsoever he had no heart to use it,” Prov. 17:16. Our Saviour by that which he performed on his part has procured a Jubilee for all the sons of Adam, Luke 4: 18, 19. And the Gospel is the trumpet whereby he doth proclaim “liberty to the Captives, and preaches the acceptable year of the Lord.” If (as Lev. 25:24. Exod. 21:5. Deut. 15:16.), for all this some are so well pleased with their captivity, that they desire no deliverance; this derogates nothing from the generality of the freedom annexed unto that YEAR. If one say to his sin, or love of the world, his old Master, I love thee, I will not depart from thee, I will not go out free, then he shall be (as the servants so saying in the aforesaid texts) bored in the ear for a slave; and serve for ever. But that slavish disposition of his, makes the extent of the privilege of that year not a whit the straighter; because he was included within the general grant as well as others, howsoever he was not disposed to take the benefit of it. The King of heaven (says our Saviour, Mat. 22:2.) “is like unto a certain King that made a marriage, that is, a marriage-feast,” as the Syriac משתותא signifies) “for his Son, and sent forth his Servants to those that were bidden to that marriage feast with this message,” [“Behold I have prepared my dinner, my oxen, and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready, come to the wedding,” v. 4.] But if we look to the event, “They which were bidden made light of the invitation, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise,” v. 5. yet this neglect of theirs does nothing [to]8 falsify the word of the King, which we have in v. 4. namely, “That the dinner was prepared, and those unworthy guests were bidden thereunto.” For (says the Apostle,) Rom 3:4. “What if some did not believe? shall their unbelief disannul the faith and truth of God? God forbid. Yea let God be true, and every man a liar, as it is written, That thou may be justified in thy sayings, and overcome when thou judges.” Just as the Lord speaks by the Prophet, (Ezek. 18: 29, 30.), “Let not the house of Israel say, the way of the Lord is not equal.” “For when he comes to judge them every one according to his ways,” Ezek. 33: 20, the inequality of the way will be found on their sides, not on his, “Oh house of Israel, are not my ways equal; or are not your ways unequal, says the Lord.” So in that Ezek. 18. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” Psal. 145:17. “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth.” Psal. 25:10. When we were in our sins, it was his infinite mercy, that any remedy should be provided, for our recovery. And when the medicine is prepared, we are never the nigher [nearer]9 to actual salvation, unless he be pleased out of his free mercy to apply the same unto us; that for the whole praise of our redemption from the beginning to the end, may be entirely attributed to the riches of his mercy, and nothing may be left to sinful flesh wherein to glory. The freeing of the people of the Jews from the captivity of Babylon, (Isa. 45.1, &c.) was a type of Christ’s great deliverance of us wrought by him. Cyrus King of Persia (who was Christus Domini, the Christ, or the anointed of God, and herein but a type or shadow of him that is Christus Dominus, Christ the Lord, the author of our redemption), publishes his general proclamation in this manner, [“Who is there among you of all the people? the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up,” 1 Chron. 25:33]. Now it is true that they alone did follow this calling, “whose spirit God had moved to go up,” Ezra 1.5. But could they therefore, that remained still behind in Babylon (1 Chron. 4:23.) justly plead that the Kings Grant was not large enough? or that they were excluded from going up, by any clause contained therein? Just so the matter of our redemption purchased by our Saviour Christ, lies open to all, all are invited to it, none that has mind to accept it, is excluded from it. The beautiful feet of them that bring glad tidings of the Gospel of peace, do bring good news of great joy into every house wherein they tread, (Luke 1:79. Luke 10:5. Rom. 10:15.) The first part of their message being this, “Peace be to this house.” But unless God be pleased out of the abundance of his mercy to guide our feet into the way of peace, the rebellion of our nature is such, and so great, we run headlong into the “ways of destruction and misery, and the ways of peace we do not know,” Rom. 3: 16, 17. “They have not all obeyed the Gospel,” said the Apostle, Rom. 10:16. All are not apt to entertain the message of peace. And therefore though God’s Ambassadors make a true tender thereof to all to whom they are sent, yet the peace rested only upon the “sons of peace.” But if they meet with such as will not listen to this motion, their peace doth return again unto themselves, Luke 10:n 6. The proclamation of the Gospel, Rev. 22:17, runs thus: “Let him that is athirst come.” For him this peace especially is provided, because none but he will take the pains to come. But lest we should think this did any way abridge the largeness of that offer, a Quicunque vult is added in these words, “And whosoever will, let him come and take of the waters of life freely.” Yet withal, we must hold this, “That it is God that works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure,” Phil. 2:13. And though the call be never so loud, and so large, “yet no man can come effectually, except God the Father draw him”: as it is, John 6:44. For the universality of the satisfaction, nothing derogates from the necessity of God’s special grace in the application of it. Neither doth this specialty of grace in the application any whit abrogate the generality of the satisfaction.

And therefore when men urge that argument out of John 17:9. Christ “PRAYED not for the world,” therefore he PAID not for the world; there are many considerable things may be replied unto.

For the consequence may be excepted against upon many good reasons. For though Christ did not pray for the world, yet he might pay for the world. Because this paying is a more general or common act, of satisfaction; his praying a more special and choice act of intercession: so that though both acts agree in this, that they be acts of Christ’s Priesthood, yet in other respects are widely distinguishable. 1. Paying, that is, giving satisfaction, does properly give content to God’s Justice (as hath been shown) Praying, that is, intercession, doth solicit God’s mercy. 2. This paying satisfaction contains a preparation of the plaster of potion necessary for man’s salvation; But praying by way of intercession, is the means of application of that remedy to the malady. 3. The paying satisfaction belongs to the common nature of mankind which Christ assumes: when as praying intercession is a special privilege vouchsafed to such particular persons only as the Father hath given to his Son Christ.

And therefore I think we may safely conclude from all these premises, That the Lamb of God offering up himself (clothed with human nature) a sacrifice for the sins of the world, intended by giving satisfaction sufficiently to God’s Justice, to make the nature of man (which he assumed) saveable, a fit subject for mercy, and to prepare a sovereign medicine for the sins of the whole world, which should be denied to none that mind to take the benefit thereof; howsoever he intended not, by applying this all-sufficient sacrifice, or satisfaction to every one in particular, to make it effectual unto the salvation of all, or to procure thereby, at the hands of the Father, actual pardon for the sins of the whole world. He applies this only effectually to them who making claim to the satisfaction, by promise, suing for the spirit and faith upon other promises, in prayer waiting for a gracious return until they have it. So that in one respect Christ may be said to die for all; and in another respect, not to die for all. Yet so as in respect of his merit, he may be accounted a kind of universal cause of the restoring of our nature, as Adam was the depraving of it. So that, to conclude, as far as I can discern, one did curiously hit the nail on the head, when he determined this matter on this wise:

The death of Christ is as it were a certain universal cause of salvation; as the sin of the first man was as it were a universal cause of damnation. But an universal cause must be applied to everyone in special, that he may partake of the effect of the universal cause. The effect of the sin of the first man came upon every man by the original of corrupt flesh; and the effect of Christ’s death reaches to every one (whom it reaches) by spiritual regeneration, by which, man is after a sort conjoined and incorporated to Christ.10

So he. We will only add this. That as the sin of Adam was an universal cause of eternal death unto mankind in general; but not to every particular man, unless original corruption were derived to him, as Christ’s human nature in the very conception was exempted. So the satisfaction of Christ’s death is for all mankind, but is not effectual to any particular man but to him to whom Christ’s grace is derived.

Upon all it follows, That though the fallen Angels have no encouragement at all to hearken to the Gospel, there being nothing at all for them: yet all men to whom the Gospel shall come, have much encouragement to hearken to it, in this, That Christ took upon him the common nature of mankind, made it savable, brought it nearer to salvation then the nature of lapsed Angels. And more particularly that it is said indefinitely, Christ died for sinners, for ungodly, for enemies. And yet more particularly in the Text; that him that comes to him, he will in no wise cast out. I say they have encouragement to attend to the Gospel, there to find an effectual testimony of Christ’s dying for them, by drawing them to believe it; and not to stand off, or fall on, upon notions of their own (of Christ dying FOR ALL, or if not for ALL, then NOT FOR ME) before we consult with the effectual voice of the word of the Gospel. It is not left with, or to, or in our wit and endeavours to dispute ourselves into Christ by Syllogisms, yea groundless Syllogisms, but we waiting on the Gospel; Christ effectually draws us, and takes us into himself. Sure enough Christ died for that soul that hangs upon this breast of the Gospel without separation, that Christ died for sinners." Nathanael Homes, "Christ’s offering himself to all Sinners, and Answering all their Objection," in The Works of Dr. Nathanael Homes (London: Printed for the Author, 1651), 12-16. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; italics original; bracketed material unless otherwise noted; marginal comment cited as a footnote; footnotes mine, and underlining mine.

Credit to Tony for the find.


1Holmes’ name was sometimes spelled Homes, as on the title page of this work. For our purposes here, I will refer to the normal spelling of his name, but for citation purposes adhere to the variant spelling on the title page.

2Here Holmes means something like, ‘to the exact number.’

3Holmes’ language may confuse those who do not properly understand the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. Preterition is the privative action of not electing. The determination to “damn” (i.e,., punish), otherwise known as Pre-damnation, on the other hand, is on account of sin. In preterition, God acts as King, in the second, God acts as Judge. In short, what Holmes is saying is that non-election does not damn you, your sin does.

4That is, in terms of the sinners perception of himself in relation to election: in that, no man, in life, must a priorily exclude himself or determine himself to be reprobate.

5What Holmes means here is that no man must exclude himself from election, unless he first excludes himself by his absolute rejection of Christ. No man is to think that any sin necessarily precludes him from the hope of salvation, if he but repent.

6The original word here is uncertain. I have opted for demure as the most probable reading.

7The original is unclear, but this seems to be to be the most probable reading of this word here.

8Bracketed insert mine.

9Bracketed insert mine.

10From the marginal note:

Mors Christi est quasi quaedam universalis causa salutis: sicut peccatum primi hominis fuit quasi universalis causa damnatio us. Oportet autem universalem causam applicari ad unumquemque specialiter, ut effectum universalis causae percipiat. Effectus igitur peccati primi hominis pervenit ad unumquemque per carnis originem; effectus autem mortis Christi pertingit ad unumquemque, per spiritualem regenerationem, per quam homo Christo quodammodo coniungitur &., incorporatur. [Cf., Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 4.55.29.

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2 comments so far

James Gray II

Hi, i’m not intending to nitpick or be overly critical, but there seems to be a lot of spelling mistakes in some of your posts. I thought I should let you know. I definitely can understand when one makes typographical errors; I work with large amounts of typographical content in my employment.

December 19th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Hey there,

Yeah I know. Part of the problem is that this is all mostly a one-man effort. This is not a commercial or paid site but purely voluntary on my part, and I am horrible at proof-reading my own stuff or stuff I transcribe. However, I always correct any typo someone points me to. I know its a problem, but for what I wanted to accomplish, it is a necessary evil. If you have a mind to, send an email to me any and every time you find a problem. I really dont mind and I wont feel insulted.

Update: for this Holmes piece above, here I am not to blame–probably not anyway–as this is taken from Tony’s site, and the spelling is original as per his transciption. I normally modernize the spelling, whereas Tony stays with the original.


December 19th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

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