Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bahnsen: The Atonement Must be Limited in Extent

If it be said that before creation the Father singled out in election those whom He destined to save and that the Spirit's activity of bringing men to repentance and faith is operative (to that extent) only in the lives of God's elect and yet that Christ offered up His life for the purpose of saving every single individual, then the unity of the Trinity has been forsaken. For in such a case Christ clearly sets out to accomplish what God the Father and Spirit do not intend to do; Christ here would be out of harmony with the will and purpose of the other two persons of the Trinity. Hence anyone who expounds "four-point Calvinism" has inadvertently destroyed the doctrine of the Trinity (by dissolving its unity) and is logically committed to a polytheistic position.

It should also be noted that the doctrine of particular redemption is necessary to the orthodox view of Christ's substitutionary atonement; the only alternatives to it are universal salvation or salvation by works (both are unbiblical). If Christ atoned for the sins of all men then all men will be saved, for a righteous God cannot condemn a man twice; if the man's sins have been atoned, he cannot be sent to Hell on the basis of them. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that Christ through his sacrifice made a full and actual (no potential) redemption; "who gave himself to us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a peculiar (chosen) people" (Titus 2:14); "he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21; "he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking ... his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12).

It is clear that Christ presented an actual and not potential redemption on the cross; the gospel is good news, not good advice, it tells us what has been accomplished, not what might come about. Upon the cross Christ cried out "It is finished"; nothing was left to be done, for full atonement had been made. Hence, if Christ (as it is suggested) died for every man, all men shall be saved without exception; yet scripture clearly does not teach universal salvation. And if (contrary to scripture) it is responded that Christ's redemption is only potential, to be made actual when the sinner believes, then salvation is said to depend finally on something the sinner does. And that is tantamount to salvation by works (as well as being based on an erroneous view of Christ's atonement.

... Particular redemption is the only triune, monotheistic, substitutionary, personal, effectual, and biblical (hence, orthodox) doctrine of Christ's atonement; all else (including fundamentalism's redemption for every individual) are doctrines pleasing to men but unsatisfactory in their Theology, anthropology, and soteriology. Sola Scriptura! (Greg Bahnsen, Limited Atonement)

The Bible knows no other kind of atonement but a sutstitutionary atonement; it is a ransom payment in exchange for the sinner’s life and freedom. Christ was delivered for our offenses (Rom. 4:25) and gave Himself for our sins (Gal. 1:4); that means that He died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6) – those who are in bondage to sin (John 8:34) and dead in trespasses (Eph. 2:1). Christ gave Himself in order to redeem us from this iniquity and purify us unto good works (Titus 2:14). He went to the cross as a lamb without blemish (I Pet. 1:18-19), being the substitutionary sacrifice in the place of sinners (Eph. 5:2). As our passover sacrifice (I Cor. 5:7), Christ redeemed us by His blood (I Pet. 1:19). Apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission (Heb. 9:22), and thus Christ entered the holy place and through His blood “obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). By this redemption, He secured forgiveness for our sin (Col. 1:14), freedom from the power of Satanic bondage (Heb. 2:14-15), and newness of life (Rom. 6:4). The Savior has paid the price which actually obtains our full redemption; how great a salvation! Anything less than this would not be biblical atonement.

With this background in mind, it should be evident that if the atonement is universal, then every single man is in fact redeemed. None can be lost. Jesus, knowing His own, laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:14-15), and thereby gives them eternal life so that they shall never perish or be snatched from His hand (John 10:27-29). Those for whom Christ died are actually redeemed, not just potentially redeemed; eternal life has been secured for the objects of Christ’s atoning love. Thus if Christ laid down His life for every single individual, then every person shall be eternally saved – nothing being able to snatch them from Christ’s hand. Of course, that means that even the man who dies cursing God is saved; his response to the gospel call was not really needed in order for him to escape God’s wrath. Since the atonement is substitutionary and secures its effect, then even the unbeliever for whom Christ (allegedly) died would have to be saved – or else injustice is attributed to God for double indemnity (taking penal recourse for a man’s sins twice), but if unbelievers shall be saved, there is no need to evangelize them at all! Only the doctrine of particular atonement requires the proclaiming of the good news, for that doctrine teaches that only believers shall be saved (John 3:36). The extent of the atonement is restricted to those who will have saving faith in Christ, those to whom He gives eternal life, those whom He calls His “sheep.” Proclamation is God’s appointed way of gathering in all His elect, all those for whom Christ gave His life as a substitutionary ransom. However, if the atonement applies to every man, then proclamation is not required; since even unbelievers are under the Passover blood of Christ, God will pass over them in judgment even though they have heard and rejected, or never heard at all, the gospel message.

… If Christ’s atonement does not bring one completely to salvation, then it must be completed by man. The ground of one’s salvation is not restricted to Christ’s gracious work but now must encompass the contribution of the sinner – namely, his own work of faith. Here, faith is included in the basis for salvation rather than being seen as the instrument of God’s saving grace, but making man’s activity a contribution to his salvation is bad news. First, it undermines the wholly gracious nature of salvation. It turns faith into a work accomplished by man in order to make up what is lacking in Christ’s atonement. Instead the Bible presents faith (as every other blessing) as a result of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension; it is, not man’s work, the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). The universalist says that the cross plus your faith save you; the particularist says that the work of Christ on the cross results in your saving faith. It makes all the difference in the world whether man’s faith is added to the atonement or flows from the atonement; it is just the difference between grace and self-salvation. Secondly, a universal atonement is bad news because it would prevent all men from being saved – since no man can bring himself to faith (John 3:3, 19 with I Cor. 1:18, 2:14). If you call men to finish their salvation by actualizing Christ’s potential atonement by their own faith, you ask them to do what they are unable to do; thus the atonement ends up applying to nobody. A universal atonement either deprives us of gracious salvation or makes salvation impossible; we no longer see “the praise of the glory of His grace wherein He has made us accepted in the beloved, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:6-7). (Greg Bahnsen, Limited Atonement)

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