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[The Problem:]

But the difficulties which beset the subject are great, and unless you differ from me, you will feel that the manner in which they are dealt with by some Calvinistic writers, is unsatisfactory. The objections are of two classes. From the universal offer of atonement through Christ, and from Scripture. The fact that God makes this offer literally universal, cannot be doubted, nor must we venture to insinuate that He is not sincere therein. (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16, 17). The usual answer given by Calvinists of the rigid school to this objection is that God may sincerely offer this salvation to every creature, because, although not designed for all, it is in its nature sufficient for, and adapted to all. They say that since Christ’s sacrifice is of infinite value, and as adequate for covering all the sins of every sinner in the universe, as of one; and since Christ bears the common nature of all sinners, and God’s revealed, and not His secret, decretive, will is the proper rule of man’s conduct, this satisfaction may be candidly offered to all. Arminians rejoin, that this implies an adoption of their conception of the nature of the atonement, as a general satisfaction for human guilt as a mass and whole; that the punishment of gospel hardened sinners for unbelief (which we admit will occur), would be unjust on our scheme, since by it they would be punished for not believing what would not be true, if they had believed it; and that since, on our scheme the believing of a non elect sinner is not naturally, but only morally impossible, it is a supposible case for argument’s sake, and this case supposed, God could not be sincere, unless such a sinner should be saved in Christ, supposing He came. The honest mind will feel these objections to be attended with real difficulty. Thus, in defining the nature of Christ vicarious work, Calvinists assert a proper substitution and imputation of individuals’ sins. On the strict view, the sins of the non elect were never imputed to Christ. The fact, then, that an infinite satisfaction was made for imputed guilt does not seem to be a sufficient ground for offering the benefits thereof to those whose sins were never imputed.

The student should understand fully the ingenious pertinacity with which this line of objection is urged, and reinforced; from the command which makes it all sinners duty to believe on Christ for their own salvation; from the alleged impossibility of their reaching any appropriating faith by the Calvinistic view, and from the various warnings of Scripture, which clearly contemplate the possible destruction of one for whom Christ died. Our opponents proceed thus. God commands every man to believe on Christ. But since only an appropriating faith saves, and since God of course calls for a saving faith, and not the faith of Devils. God commands every man to appropriate Christ by his faith. But the man for whom Christ did not die has no right to appropriate Him. it would be erroneous presumption, and not faith. Again, both Roman Catholics and Arminians object that the strict Calvinistic scheme would make it necessary for a man’s mind to pass through and accept a paralogism, in order to believe unto salvation. This point may be found stated with the utmost adroitness, in the works of Bellamy, (loco citato ). He argues, if I know that Christ died only for the elect, then I must know whether I am elect, in order to be sure that He died for me. But God’s election is secret, and it is mere fanaticism to pretend that I know my own election by direct revelation. My name is nowhere set down specifically in the Bible. That book directs me to find out my election a posteriori by finding in my own graces the results of the secret decree towards me. Thus I am shut up to this sophism, in order to obey God’s command to believe. I must assume, in advance of proof, that I am elected in order to attain through faith the Christian traits, by which alone I can infer that I am elected. The third argument is that founded on the warnings against apostasy. In Rom. 14:15, for instance, the Apostle cautions strong Christians “not to destroy, with their meat, those for whom Christ died.” Hebrews 10:29, the apostate “counts the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing.” 2 Peter 2:1, heretics “even deny the Lord that bought them.” Here, it is urged, Calvinists must either hold that some of the elect perish, or that Christ died for others than the elect. Lectures, 523-524.


[The Solution:]

This seems, then, to be the candid conclusion, that there is no passage the Bible which asserts an intention to apply redemption to any others than the elect, on the part of God and Christ, but that there are passages which imply that Christ died for all sinners in some sense, as Dr. Ch. Hodge has so expressly admitted. Certainly the expiation made by Christ is so related to all, irrespective of election, that God can sincerely invite all to enjoy its benefits, that every soul in the world who desires salvation is warranted to appropriate it, and that even a Judas, had he come in earnest, would not have been cast out.

But the arguments which we adduced on the affirmative side of the question demonstrate that Christ’s redeeming work was limited in intention to the elect. The Arminian dogma that He did the same redeeming work in every respect for all is preposterous and unscriptural. But at the same time, if the Calvinistic scheme be strained as high as some are inclined, a certain amount of justice will be found against them in the Arminian objections. Therefore, in mediis tutissime ibis. The well known Calvinistic formula, that “Christ died sufficiently for all, efficaciously for the Elect,” must be taken in a sense consistent with all the passages of Scripture which are cited above.

8. The Relation of Limited Redemption To the Universal Call.

I will endeavor to contribute what I can to the adjustment of this intricate subject in the form of a series of remarks.

(1). The Difficulty the Same As In the Decree, To Be Resolved In the Same Way.

The difficulty which besets this solemn subject is no doubt in part overwhelming and insurmountable for finite minds. Indeed, it is the same difficulty which besets the relation of God’s election to man’s free agency, tend not a new one, reappearing in a new phase; for redemption is limited precisely by the decree, and by nothing else. We shall approximate a solution as nearly as is perhaps practicable for man, by considering the same truths to which we resort in the seeming paradox arising from election. There are in the Bible two classes of truths: those which are the practical rule of exertion for man in his own free agency, and those which are the recondite and non practical explanations of God’s action towards us—e. g., in John 5:40 is the one; in John 6:44 is the other; In John 1:36 is one; in 2 Thess. 2:13 is the other; In Rev. 22:17 is one; In Rom. 9:16 is the other. These classes of truths, when drawn face to face, often seem paradoxical, but when we remember that God’s sovereignty is no revealed rule for our action, and that our inability to do our duty without sovereign grace arises only from our voluntary depravity, we see that there is no real collision.

(2). Christ’s Satisfaction Not Commercial.

Now Christ is a true substitute. His sufferings were penal and vicarious, and made a true satisfaction for all those who actually embrace them by faith. But the conception charged on us seems to be, as though Christ’s expiation were a web of the garment of righteousness to be cut into definite pieces and distributed out, so much to each person of the elect, whence, of course, it must have a definite aggregate length, and had God seen fit to add any to the number of elect, He must have had an additional extent of web woven. This is all incorrect. Satisfaction was Christ’s indivisible act, and inseparable vicarious merit, infinite in moral value, the whole in its unity and completeness, imputed to every believing elect man, without numerical division, subtraction or exhaustion. Had there been but one elect man, his vicarious satisfaction had been just what it is in its essential nature. Had God elected all sinners, there would have been no necessity to make Christ’s atoning sufferings essentially different. Remember, the limitation is precisely in the decree, and no where else. It seems plain that the vagueness and ambiguity of the modern term “atonement,” has very much complicated the debate. This word, not classical in the Reformed theology, is used sometimes for satisfaction for guilt, sometimes for the reconciliation ensuing thereon; until men on both sides of the debate have forgotten the distinction. The one is cause, the other effect. The only New Testament sense the word atonement has is that of katallagh, reconciliation. But expiation is another idea. Katallagh is personal. Exilasmos is impersonal. Katallagh is multiplied, being repeated as often as a sinner comes to the expiatory blood: exilasmos is single, unique, complete; and, in itself considered, has no more relation to one man’s sins than another. As it is applied in effectual calling, it becomes personal, and receives a limitation. But in itself, limitation is irrelevant to it. Hence, when men use the word atonement, as they so often do, in the sense of expiation, the phrases, “limited atonement,” “particular atonement,” have no meaning. Redemption is limited, i. e., to true believers, and is particular. Expiation is not limited. Dabney, Lectures, 527-528.  [Italics original; bracketed inserts mine; and underlining mine.]

[Notes:  In terms of structure, Dabney in these pages lays out three basic lines of thought against particular redemption. These can be summed up as A) the Arminian argument (p., 523); B) the argument from Bellamy (p., 523-525); and C) Arguments based on the seeming universality of various Scripture verses (p., 524-525).  On page 525, Dabney notes that he shall answer these objections in reverse order.  Thus, he responds to the counter-argument from Scriptures (p., 525-526), to Bellamy (p., 526), and to the Arminian (p., 527-528). After this, Dabney proceeds to further establish the truth of the free offer by way of his discussion of God’s complex volitional motives. It his setting out of the “Arminian” objection, and his answer to that which is of interest here.  To that end, the reader should keep the following points in mind: 1), Dabney grants that a limited imputation of sin, even though infinite in value, is not a sufficient ground for the offer of the benefits of Christ’s satisfaction to those whose sins were never originally imputed to Christ. 2), in saying this, Dabney acknowledges some merit to the Arminian objection to the strict Calvinist conception of limited imputation. 3) He believed that unless one disagrees with Dabney, they too will see the force of the problematic between limited imputation of sin and the offer of salvation to those whose sins were never imputed to Christ. 4), his solution is to posit a universal expiation, which consists a universal and impersonal expiation for the sin of the race (p., 533), wherein the limitation lies not in within the nature of the expiation (as per the limited imputation view), but solely in the decree to apply it to the elect. 5) It is this latter application which Dabney identifies as limited redemption. Limited redemption for Dabney, only refers to the “limited” application of the redemption to believers; while the expiation is unlimited; 6) For Dabney, the language of  “limited expiation” or “limited atonement” has no meaning.]

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