* It is needless to remark, that Edwards does not concede that the mere atonement itself gives any and every man a claim upon God for the benefits of the atonement,–as is sometimes argued by the advocates of universal salvation. God is under no obligation to make an atonement for the sin of the world; and, after he has made one, he is at perfect liberty to apply it to whom he pleases, or not to apply it at all. The atonement is his, and not man’s, and he may do what he will with his own. Hence, according to Edwards, two distinct acts of sovereignty on the part of God are necessary in order to a soul’s salvation. The providing of an atonement in the first place, is a sovereign act; and then the application, or giving over, of the atonement, when provided, to any particular elected sinner, is a second act of sovereignty. The sufferings and death of Christ constitute the atonement; and even if not a single soul should appropriate it by the act of faith, it would be the same expiatory oblation still, though unapplied. Hence, the second of these sovereign acts is as necessary as the first, in order to salvation. But when both of these acts of sovereignty have taken place,–when the atonement has been made, and has actually been given over to and accepted by an individual,–then, says Edwards, it is a matter of strict justice that the penal claims of the law be not exacted from the believer, because this would be to exact them twice; once from Christ, and once from one to whom, by the supposition, Christ’s satisfaction has actually been made over by a sovereign act of God. For God to do this, would be to pour contempt upon his own atonement. It would be a confession that his own provision is insufficient to satisfy the claims of law, and needs to be supplemented by an additional infliction upon the believer. It would be an acknowledgment that the atonement, when it comes to be actually tested in an individual instance, fails to satisfy the claims of justice, and therefore is an entire failure. The sum of money which was given to the poor debtor, with the expectation that it was large enough completely to liquidate his debt, is found to fall short, and leaves him still in the debtor’s prison, from which he cannot come out  “until he has paid the uttermost farthing.”

That this is a correct representation of the views of Edwards is evident from the following answer which he gives to the question: What does God’s sovereignty in the salvation of man imply?–”God’s sovereignty in the salvation of men implies that God can either bestow salvation on any of the children of men, or refuse it, without any prejudice to the glory of any of his attributes, except where he has been pleased to declare that he will or will not bestow it. It cannot be said absolutely, as the case now stands, that God can, without any prejudice to the honor of any of his attributes, bestow salvation on any of the children of men, or refuse it, because concerning some, God has been pleased to declare either that he will or that he will not bestow salvation on them; and thus to bind himself by his own promise. And concerning some he has been pleased to declare that he never will bestow salvation upon them; viz., those who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. Hence, as the case now stands, he is obliged; he cannot bestow salvation in one case, or refuse it in the other, without prejudice to the honor of his truth. But God exercised his sovereignty in making these declarations. God was not obliged to promise that he would save all who believe in Christ; nor was he obliged to declare that he who committed the gin against the Holy Ghost should never be forgiven. But it pleased him so to declare.” Edwards’s Works, IV. 530. N. Y. Ed.

William G.T. Shedd,  “The Atonement, A Satisfaction for the Ethical Nature of Both God and Man,” in Discourses and Essays, (Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1862), 321 and 322. [Italics original and underlining mine.]  [This essay was originally published in Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1859.]

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