2. It is alleged against our view of the extent of the atonement that it supposes an unnecessary redundancy in the merits of Christ’s death.

If Christ’s death be, intrinsically considered, of value sufficient for all, and yet designed only for some, does not this suppose a superabundance of merit, which is available for no end whatever, and with regard to which the question may be asked “To what purpose is this waste?”

To this we reply, in the first place, that, even admitting the divine intention with respect to the atonement to be unlimited, the same difficulty meets us with regard to a restricted application. Whatever is the extent of destination, it is admitted that the actual efficiency is limited. Now, as in this case the degree of available merit exceeds the extent of actual good done, every one must perceive that there is as much room as in the other case for the question, “To what purpose is this waste?” The difficulty presses with as great force on the opinion of our opponents as on ours.

Again, it may be remarked, that it accords with the general procedure of God in other departments of his works, to confer his favors with a profusion which to many may seem redundant and unnecessary. For example, he causes his rain to fall on barren deserts, sterile rocks, and the watery deep, as well as on fertile hills and valleys. There are many fertile tracts of land which have never been cultivated; much spontaneous fruit grows in regions where there is not an inhabitant. And how many flowers expand their blossoms and diffuse their fragrance, in wilds where there is not a human being to admire their beauty or inhale their sweets. Are we at liberty to say that, in such cases, there is a wasteful exuberance of divine goodness or of providential care? No more can it be said that, in the case before us, there is an unnecessary redundance of merit. We must not, in the one case any more than in the other, presume to limit the Almighty, or to sit in judgment on the works of his hands; but firmly believe it will be seen in the end that he has done nothing in vain.

Moreover; let it be observed, that the objection proceeds on the mistaken supposition, that the atonement of Christ is an exact equivalent for the sins of men, and that, had the number to be saved been either more or less than they are, or had their sins been of greater or less amount, the sufferings of the Redeemer must have varied in proportion. Now, to this view of the subject there are insuperable objections. It is at variance with what we have before established, namely, the infinite intrinsic value of Christ’s atonement. It overlooks the grand design of the atonement, which was, not simply to secure a mere commutative satisfaction to the justice of God, but to glorify all the divine perfections, and to make an illustrious manifestation of the principles of his government before the whole universe of moral creatures. It leaves no room for such an unlimited offer of Christ in the Gospel, as to render those who reject him without excuse; for if the atonement of Christ bore an exact proportion, in point of worth, to the sins of those who are actually saved by it, then the salvation of any others was a natural impossibility, and no blame could attach to such for neglecting to embrace the proffered boon; indeed there would be no ground on which such an offer could be made. Nay, it would require us to believe, that a far greater display of the righteousness of God and his abhorrence at sin could have been made by the sufferings of men than by those of Christ; for, as, on the supposition in question, the number actually saved is limited, and the sufferings of Christ were an exact counterpart of the sufferings due to the sins of that limited number, it was only necessary that the whole human race should have suffered for their own sins, to secure an amount of suffering greatly superior to that of the Saviour of sinners. For these reasons, we reject the theory of atonement against which the objection is pointed, and hold by the view already explained, namely, that the sufferings of Christ are to be regarded in the light of a moral satisfaction to the law and justice of God, which would have been requisite had there been but one sinner to be saved, and had that sinner had but one sin, and which would have been adequate had the number to be saved been to any conceivable extent greater than it is. But to this view of the subject the objection does not apply, as the merit of the atonement is not greater than, according to this, is absolutely indispensable.

William Symington, On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ (New York: Robert Carter, 1847), 207-209. [Underlining mine.]

[Notes: 1) By the phrase “exact equivalency” Symington is referring to the idea that Christ suffered so much for so much sin, and Christ suffered for more sin and sinners, he would have suffered more. 2) Symington’s language of “exact equivalency” equals other language and phrases such as “strict equivalency” or of the preferred term in classical literature, “Idem”. 3) Generally speaking, the idea that Christ suffered so much for so much sin has always been associated with forms of Hypercalvinism (see for example the 19th century Hypercalvinist exponent, William Styles, and Owen Thomas’s excellent survey, The Atonement Controversy: In Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707-1841. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2002). 4) While it is good that Symington recongises that an exact equivalentist view of the satisfaction means that between the salvation of all men there exists a physical impossibility and that the sincerity of the free offer is voided, however, he, nonetheless, fails to realize that even on his terms of a limited imputation of sin to Christ (namely, only the sins of the elect to the exclusion of the sins of the non-elect) the problems of a natural impossiblity and of a voided sincere offer remain. If Christ did not sustain a penal and legal relationship with regard to the non-elect, then clearly no penal and legal provision has been obtained for them. Therefore, the satisfaction is not extrinsically sufficient, available, or adaptable to their penal and legal needs with respect to God’s legal demands upon them. The remain in the same state as if Christ has not died for anyone at all.]

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