In his book, The Plan of Salvation, Warfield lays out the following:

We will ask, however, an American divine to explain to us the sacerdotal system as it has come to be taught in the Protestant Episcopal Churches.60 "Man," we read in Dr. A. G. Mortimer’s "Catholic Faith and Practice," "having fallen before God’s loving purpose could be fulfilled, he must be redeemed, bought back from his bondage, delivered from his sin, reunited once more to God, so that the Divine Life might flow again in his weakened nature" (p. 65). "By his life and death Christ made satisfaction for the sins of all men, that is, sufficient for all mankind, for through the Atonement sufficient grace is given to every soul for its salvation; but grace, though sufficient, if neglected, becomes of no avail" (p. 82).[footnote 61] The Incarnation and the Atonement affected humanity as a race only [footnote 62]. Some means, therefore, was needed to transmit the priceless gifts which flowed from them to the individuals of which the race was comprised, not only at the time when our Lord was on earth, but to the end of the world. For this need, therefore, our Lord founded the Church" (p. 84).1

The above is not all that interesting to me, what is interesting is Warfield’s footnote 62 on page, 109, which reads:

Query: Is there any such thing as the "race" apart from the individuals which constitute the race? How could the Incarnation and Atonement affect the "race" and leave the individuals which constitute the race untouched?

Warfield was part of the empiricist-common sense realist school or tradition of Princeton. For him, a universal so defined as a mere abstraction is useless as it contains no meaningful content. What is also interesting is that the sentiment of Warfield’s opponent is the very sort of sentiment a lot of modern 5-Point calvinists invoke when they transmute the meaning of John’s “kosmos” (John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2) into something like species or humanity or some cognate.2

Turning now to Turretin. Turretin in his discussion of 1 Timothy 2:4 says this:

XXXV. Although we say that the word "all" is to be referred to classes of individuals, not to the individuals of classes, it does not follow that prayers ought to be conceived for classes only, or for ideas, but not for individuals. Singular must be distinguished from individuals.3 The will of God is not indeed terminated on the classes, but on the singulars collected from them, and ought not therefore to be carried further to individuals. Thus when we say that we must pray for any people, we do not wish to pray for states and conditions of men, but for the undivided singulars in each class; not definitely for individuals, but indefinitely for any people; not so much positively (as if we should include all and particular persons in our prayers) as negatively (because we exclude no one precisely from our prayers).4

Much of modern populist or talk-back Calvinism is rather superficial in the way it pulls disparate ideas together and tramples its way through the biblical texts. Many modern Calvinists play fast and loose with terms like ‘world’ and ‘all men’ as meaning some sort of abstraction. As if God either loves an abstraction, or to use Turretin’s language, as if God’s love terminates upon an abstraction. Or that God desires the salvation of “kinds or classes of men” in abstraction.

In some ways, it becomes a contest between Plato versus Aristotle, and Platonism versus Aristotelianism. The former supporting the use of abstracted kinds and races, the latter arguing or classes, proper, as collections of particulars.

For all their problems, classic limited atonement polemicists such as John Owen or Francis Turretin always distributed such terms as “world” and “all men” into their collective singular components, namely the elect. They understood that the category “class” does not exist as an abstraction, but as the total aggregation of the particulars within that class. Hence for Owen, John’s “world” denotes the elect of the world, and Paul’s “all men” phrases, likewise, refer to the elect of all kinds and classes of men, that is, some men (namely elect men) of all kinds.

The point of this essay is to address a specific exegetical methodology. No interpreter of the text of Scripture should end his exegesis with an abstraction. The interpreter, in these instances, must accept that in John’s use of “world” or Paul’s use of “all men,” the given writer either means “some men of all kinds,” i.e., “the elect of all kinds,” or “all men of all kinds.” Once this is understood, the proper point of engagement becomes: Which option best fits the biblical data? Of course I would argue that given the standard rules of hermeneutics, the latter is the best and most natural fit, while the former is strained, artificial and, more often than not, simply engages in the fallacy of petitio principii.


1BB Warfield, The Plan of salvation, p., 63. [inserts mine and underlining mine.]

2It was Warfield’s empiricism that caused him to to interpret John’s kosmos as the eschatological world of the redeemed. He has to say that because of his empiricist presuppositions. It would have been better had he stayed with C. Hodge, Dabney and Shedd’s take on ‘world’ (all of whom were also empiricists).

3Turetin’s comment there is extremely important. “Individuals” for Calvin and for Turretin, refers not to singulars, simply considered, but to specific persons, to the exclusion of others. When Calvin, for example, speaks of “individuals” he addressing the idea of “this person, but not that person.” A lot of modern Calvin historiography (Paul Helm, Roger Nicole, Jonathan Rainbow, et al) fall into the trap of wrongly reading Calvin’s use of the word “individuals” as denoting “singulars” per se, and so attempt to read Calvin’s phrase, God desires the salvation of classes, not individuals” as affirming that God desires the salvation of an abstraction such as, ‘kinds of men’ or something like that.

4Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 4:409-410.

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