Alvah Hovey (1820-1903) on the Death of Christ

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in For Whom did Christ Die?


1) Still another question must be briefly considered in this connection: For whom did Christ make his life a propitiatory offering? F or all mankind, or for all the elect ? Or did he suffer, with different ends in view, for the elect, and for all men?1 Turning to the Word of God for light, we learn that Christ died,–

I. To effect the salvation of all the elect. His suffering was to be specially rewarded by their eternal purity, love, blessedness, and homage (John x. 11, 15, 26-28; xi. 52; Eph. v. 25; John xvii. 19; Rom. viii. 32 ; John vi. 39, 40; xvii. 2; Eph. I. 4; I Tim. iv. 10).

Hence (I) God purposed from the first to save certain persons of our race. (2) These persons were given to Christ, in a special sense, to be his flock; and (3) he had their actual salvation particularly in view when he laid down his life.

II. To remove every objective hindrance to the salvation of mankind in general. In other words, to provide for their pardon on condition of faith (I John ii. 2; I Tim. ii. 1-6; Heb. ii. 9; 2 Cor. v. 15, 19, 20; 2 Pet. ii. I; John iii. 16, 17).

Notes. I John ii. 2 (cf. iv. 14; 1 Tim. iv. 10; and John I. 29; vi. 51): hilasmos, propitiation, refers to Christ as himself the atoning sacrifice for sin. The phrase, “for the whole world,” is equivalent to “for the sins of the whole world”; and the expression, "whole world," must here signify all mankind; (1) because kosmos used of men, naturally includes all, unless its meaning is in some way restricted; (2) because, hemeteron and kosmos re here contrasted,–the one referring to Christians, and the other to all men; (3) because the adjective holou is manifestly emphatic.

Heb. ii. 9: pantos must here signify everyone of our race, or every believer of our race. The former is the natural meaning, and should therefore be preferred. 2 Peter ii. I (cf. Luke vii. 30; xix. 44 ; Acts xiii. 46; 2 Cor. ii. 15). For the meaning of agorazo with a personal object, see 1 Cor. vi. 20; vii. 23 ; Rev. v. 9 ; xiv. 3, 4. The participle with its object is prefixed to despoten, in order to emphasize their guilt; and it shows that Christ purchased by his blood some who will deny him and perish. And, if he purchased some of this class, he did all, according to the obvious sense of the other passages cited by us.

2 Cor. v. 15 (c.f. v. 20, 21; and Rom. v. 18, 19): If we have rightly explained this verse in speaking of the atonement, the word panton evidently signifies all mankind. Besides, verses 20 and 21 are understood by the best interpreters as an epitome of Paul’s preaching to a promiscuous assembly; and, if so, he was wont to exhort men indiscriminately to be reconciled to God, affirming virtually that there was no obstacle to this out of their own hearts, since God had made the sinless Christ to be sin for them.

Matt. xxiii. 37 (cf. Rom. x. 2 I ; Rev. xxii. 17; Ezek. xviii. 32) It is plain, we think, from the language of Jesus, that the people of Jerusalem did not perish for want of a Saviour.Compare John Howe, “The Redeemer’s Tears wept over Lost Souls.” But, if Christ was ready to save them, he must be equally ready to save all who perish.

These and similar portions of the Word of God indicate, not merely that the atonement is sufficient for all men, but also that it has been made so intentionally; that God designed, by means of the atonement, to make provision for the pardon of all men,–to give them all a fresh probation and offer of life, by the economy of grace, as well as to lead some to repentance by the renewing power of his Spirit. Any other view of these passages seems to me unnatural, and therefore erroneous.

If there were explicit statements in the Word of God, to the effect that Christ suffered for the elect only,– that he did not suffer for those who will be finally lost,–it would certainly be necessary for us to look for a different explanation of these passages; but we are not aware of any such statements, and therefore abide by their obvious import.

At this point it may be proper to notice the relation of the propitiatory death of Christ to children who die in infancy. So far as now appears, such children are put in no practical relation to the atonement, unless it be by the secret and renewing work of the Spirit. Assuming, as we must, that this life is the only period of grace for mankind as sinners, and that the death of Christ was in some way for all our race, it follows that dying infants are regenerated by the Holy Spirit given by Christ. Says Henry Wallace, “Infancy is but a period in every human life; and the moral constitution of the race embraces the whole life of every member of it. Our relation to Adam is not restricted to adult life, but to all periods. Nor does this doctrine suppose or imply that children dying in infancy necessarily die under the guilt of Adam’s first sin; for there is a second Adam revealed from heaven, whose redemption, by a representative constitution also, embraces all periods of life, from unconscious infancy to old age.”–(“Representative Responsibility," p. 801.)

The same inference may be made from the language of Scripture concerning the love and mercy of God. Judgment is his “strange work.” How much reliance is to be placed on a general statement of this kind, in judging of a particular case like the one in question, may be doubtful; but it surely has some bearing on it, and should therefore be mentioned.

And a similar inference may be drawn from the want of anxiety in respect to those who die in infancy, which seems to characterize the good of every age and nation. David was not apparently concerned about the spiritual condition of the infant for whose life he had so earnestly prayed in vain. Alvah Hovey, A Manual of Christian Systematic and Christian Ethics (Boston: [Henry A. Young] 1877), 228-230. [Greek transliterated; footnote value and content original.]


1Jenkyn (I. W.) “The Extent of the Atonement&quot”; Barnes (A.) “The Atonement in its Relations to Law and Moral Government&quot”; Griffin (E. D.) “An Humble Attempt to reconcile the Differences of Christians respecting the Extent of the Atonement”; Park (E. A.) “Atonement: Discourses and Treatises,” giving for the most part what is sometimes called the New England Theory of the Atonement. The writers, besides Dr. Park, are Jona. Edwards, the younger, J. Smalley, J. Maxcy, N. Emmons, E. D. Griffin, C. Burge, and W. R. Weeks.



We have spoken more than once of the “manward or moral” influence of the Atonement, as if these two adjectives were nearly equivalent, at least for the purposes of the present discussion. In one respect, however, this is by no means the case. For, as the phrase is commonly used, the moral influence of the Atonement is limited to those who have some knowledge of Christ’s death, such knowledge being the only channel by which, in the form of moral influence, his love and compassion are brought to bear upon their spiritual state. But the manward influence of the Atonement is far more extensive. It comprises ‘all the good which reaches men in any way as the fruit of the Saviour’s death. And this good includes the renovating and sanctifying work of the Spirit, without which the moral power of the Redeemer’s suffering would fail of bringing a single soul to God. It also includes the salvation of all the elect who, dying in infancy, are regenerated by the simple action of the Holy Spirit, without a knowledge of Christian truth. And it probably includes all the blessings which the non-elect enjoy on earth. The relation of the Atonement to man is therefore far more extensive than its moral influence.

But this wider reach or relation can be ascribed to its manward efficacy only on the ground of its Godward efficacy. For if it has no influence on the mind or government of God, it cannot condition the work of his Spirit; and then, what remains but simply the moral influence of Christ’s life moving men to repentance? An influence which is restricted, by the nature of the case, to those who have the Gospel! An influence which does not touch those who die in infancy, nor those who may have believed ill God, without a knowledge of Christ and him crucified! How many there have been of the latter class we know not; but if any of the ancient Israelites were led to faith in God, by the concurrent action of his Spirit on their hearts, of the Mosaic law convicting them of sin, and of the Levitical sacrifices teaching them God’s mercy, their salvation, according to this view, was due in no respect to the death of Christ; for the story of his dying love was-unknown to them, and could not, therefore, in the way of moral influence, lead them to God. His name is not the name, his work is not the work, by which they were saved. But we have shown that the Atonement has a most important effect on the divine mind and government,–a Godward influence of the highest moment,–and it is therefore logical as well as scriptural to trace all the good which men have in this life to the work of Christ. Especially must we trace to that work the agency of the Holy Spirit in forming the heart anew and preparing it for holy action. Hence the manward efficacy of the Atonement is far more extensive than its direct moral influence; and it is so, because the Atonement has also a Godward power and working.

Looking, then, at the extent of the Atonement as related to men, we may say, in the first place, that it was intended to secure the salvation of all the elect. For while it removed an obstacle, in the divine mind, to their forgiveness upon repentance, it also procured for them the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts that repentance. The whole economy of grace rests manifestly on the vicarious death of Christ, and therefore all divine influences, whether directly or indirectly from the Spirit, are results of that death. But these influences are such as will bring all the elect into spiritual union with Christ, and, by keeping alive their faith in him, preserve them to eternal glory. For the language of Bernard is not too strong:

Believers are in Christ, so as to be partakers in all that he does, and has, and is. They died with him, and rose with him, and live with him, and in him are seated in heavenly places. When the eye of God looks on them, they are found in Christ, and there is no condemnation to them that are in him, and they are righteous in his righteousness, and loved with the love which rests on him, and are sons of God in his sonship, and heirs with him of his inheritance, and are soon to be glorified with him in his glory. And this standing which they have in Christ, and the present and future portion which it secures, are contemplated in eternal counsels, and predestined before the foundation of the world.

In further support of our statement it may be remarked, that the fact of personal election proves that Christ suffered on the cross to ensure the salvation of all the elect; the fact that God made choice, from the beginning, of the persons who were to have eternal life through the death of his Son, is evidence enough that he had special regard to their life in the gift of that Son. The two go together. For the ends to be reached by the use of certain means Will assuredly be kept in view by him who uses intelligently the given means. And, therefore, as believers were “predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,”1 their salvation must have been sought, as a definite and glorious end, in making the Atonement. In harmony with this view, the apostle speaks of the saints as those “who were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world,”2 and as those who were “called according to the purpose and grace of God, which was given them in Christ Jesus before the world began,”3 passages which teach us that the election of grace, and the grace which follows election, are connected, in the mind of God, with Christ and him crucified, as their procuring cause, or essential condition. The electing grace of God has its ground in the redeeming work of Christ,–and the former could never have been exercised without the latter. But there are even clearer expressions of this truth in the Word of God. For, according to the fourth Gospel, Christ represents himself more than once as the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep; and the sheep he characterizes as those who hear his voice and follow him, to whom he gives eternal life, and whom none can pluck out of his hand. And just before he sought retirement in the garden for his great agony, he said of his disciples: “I pray for them. I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast gIven me; for they are thine. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.4 1 It is natural to suppose that in suffering, as well as in prayer, he had a peculiar regard for his own, for the sheep whom he laid down his life to save. Moreover, the evangelist informs us that Jesus died, not for the “nation only, put also to gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad;” and Paul declares that “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” But it is needless to mnltiply citations. For it is plain that God purposed from the first to save certaip. persons of our race; that these persons were given to Christ in a special sense, to be his flock, and that he had particularly in view their actual salvation when he laid down his life. Thus far, at least, it would seem as if there coqld be no question as to the sense of Scripture.

But this is not all. We are taught by the Word of God to say, in the second place, that the Atonement was meant by its Author to be a provision for the salvation of every man who would repent. In other words, it put out of the way every obstacle to universal pardon, except that of unbelief. And in this sense Christ died for all; not only was his expiatory suffering a sufficient reason for the pardon of all mankind, in case of repentance, but it was meant to be this. Such we suppose to be the teaching of Scripture; and that teaching must be accepted as final. But as some, whom we love in the Gospel, do not find this doctrine in the Sacred Record, it may be well to look at a few passages thought to contain it.

One of them reads thus: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will bring in privily destructive factions, even denying the Lord who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”5 This language certainly appears to teach that some of those whom Christ bought with his own blood will finally perish. But Mr. Symington believes that a different view of it is tenable. The apostle, he says,

argues against them on their own principles, and shows that their conduct was heinous and dangerous in the extreme. And in so doing he only follows the example of the Saviour himself, who confuted the Pharisees, who professed to be righteous and were not, on their own acknowledged principles: “I say unto you that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one’ sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.” Are we to conclude, from this, that there were any such just persons who needed no repentance? Surely not.

Very well, so far as the language of Christ is concerned. But the language of Peter is no parallel to that of Jesus; for the latter had taught expressly that the Pharisees were not righteous, but, on the contrary, were self-righteous, hypocritical, oppressive, and offensive to God. No one, therefore, could for a moment suppose that he meant to call them truly righteous. But Peter has nowhere said, distinctly and repeatedly, that the non-elect were not bought with the blood of Christ. This makes all the difference in the world between the language of Christ and that of Peter, and destroys the force of Mr. Symington’s argument from the former to the latter. We come back, then, to the obvious meaning of the apostle’s testimony, and conclude that some for whom Christ shed his blood upon the cross will perish at last. And if he died for some who will perish, it may safely be inferred that he died for all. Nor can it be said that his intention was in part defeated; for his atoning death was not, strictly speaking, meant to effect the salvation of all, but to remove any obstacle existing outside of their own hearts to their salvation; and this was fully accomplished. Thus, while Christ became, by his vicarious snffering, the Saviour of all men, he became in a still more eminent sense the Saviour of them that believe.

But the fact which is fairly implied in the words of P.eter seems to be directly affirmed by the Apostle John: “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesns Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world."6 Here the sins of believers are contrasted with those of the world; and the propitiatory death of Christ is said to have respect, not to the former only, but also to the latter. Moreover, as the word propitiation refers to the sacrificial death of Christ, it is distinguishable from redemption, since it does not imply an actual deliverance from wrath. For when the Jewish high priest, on the great day of Atonement, made reconciliation for all the people, a way was opened for them to come before God with acceptance; but if they refused to do this and despised his service, his indignation still burned against them. The same is true of Christ. He was set forth as a propitiation, to exhibit the righteousness of God, in order that God might be just while justifying the believer in Jesus. And even if the word “Advocate" has reference to believers only, the word “propitiation" may well have a wider reference; for the apostle’s thought may be thus expressed:

My little children, I write these things to you, that ye may not sin. But I do not forget what I have just said, that no one of us has avoided every sin. Yet the Christian, who has fallen into sin, need not despair of pardon; for though, as transgressors, we cannot come ourselves before a holy God, we have an advocate with him, even Jesus Christ who is righteous, and who evermore intercedes for us. And this he can do with far greater effect than the Jewish high priest, who entered the holy of holies with another’s blood, for he comes with his own blood, an ample basis for his plea in our behalf, since it was offered by him as a suitable expiation for our sins, and indeed not for ours only, but for the sins of all mankind, our own included.

This view of the apostle’s thought is favored by the word “whole,” prefixed to “world,”–the “whole world,” meaning all mankind, without exception.

Moreover, the doctrine of Paul agrees with that of Peter and John. For he speaks of the Saviour as One “who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time;”7 and we infer, from the context, that he means all men, and not all the elect. For in the verse which begins the paragraph containing the words quoted by us, the apostle exhorts that prayer be made for “all men”; an expression which we dare not restrict to all classes of men, that is, to the elect from all nations and orders of men, but must take in its largest sense, as signifying all mankind, without exception. Nor do we find any objection to this view in the reason which is given for such prayer, namely, that it is acceptable to God, “who desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth;” for, by the order of the Greek words, we know that the stress falls, not upon “desires,” nor upon “be saved,” but upon “all men.” Paul asserts that we should pray for all men, not because God greatly desires their salvation, but because God desires that all men should be saved. Of course there is a difference between desire and purpose. And if anyone is in doubt whether God can be truly said to desire, in any sense, the salvation of all mankind, let him ponder his words by Ezekiel: “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; but turn ye and live;” and the no less ‘weighty exclamation of Christ: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem; that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Without appealing to other passages in the Sacred Record, we feel ourselves authorized to say, that the vicarious suffering of Christ was intended to be an ample basis or reason for the pardon of all mankind, should they believe in Jesus. It is such a basis, not simply because it must be so, on account of the infinite dignity and worth of the Sufferer, but also because it was the eternal desire and purpose of God to remove from every sinner’s path the only obstacle to his salvation, except his own impenitence and unbelief. In so far the Atonement was designed for all men, and may be preached with absolute sincerity to them, as a full and perfect ground of acceptance, if they will believe. Alvah Hovey, God With Us: Or, The Person and Work of Christ (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1872), 166-177.[Some reformatting; footnote values modified; footnote content original; and, underlining mine.]


1Eph. i. 2.


31 Tim. I. 9.

4John xvii. 9, 20.

52 Peter ii, 1.

6John ii, 2.

71 Tim. ii. 6.

Credit to Emerson for the find.

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