Thursday, February 4, 2010

R. Scott Clark: Limited Atonement (excerpts)

The doctrine of definite atonement holds that Christ has saved a great multitude. This is the teaching of several places in Scripture (Heb 12:22-23; Jude 1:14; Rev 7:9-10). It is not that we expect only a few to be redeemed, but rather we simply reject the teaching that Jesus has either redeemed everyone who ever lived or that he has only made it possible for everyone to be saved. In fact, the doctrine of definite atonement is not narrow at all since we hold that Scripture teaches that every single person whom Jesus intended to redeem he has redeemed.

... We also reject the moral government theory of the atonement that Jesus died primarily as an example. To be sure Jesus did set an example (1 Pet 2:21) but Scripture makes clear that the work of Christ was much more than that. He was our substitute, as 1 Peter 3:18 says explicitly, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous".

... A robust doctrine of sin is essential to understanding the doctrine of the atonement. To the degree one tends to downplay the nature or effects of sin (original or actual) then to that degree one also tends to downplay the need for a substitutionary Savior.

... Thus choice which the Christian faces then is not between a "limited" and "unlimited" atonement, but between a "definite" or "indefinite" or between a "person" or an "impersonal" atonement. It is the Reformed contention that God's Word teaches that Christ died for persons, his sheep, those whom he loved, from all eternity. It is our view that Jesus did not die to make salvation available or merely possible, but that when he said "It is finished" (John 19:30) he was declaring that, as the once for all sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:27), he had completed the work which his Father gave him to do (John 6:57; 10:17-18).

... Since in Adam we have all sinned we must make satisfaction to that justice either by ourselves or by another. We, however, cannot make satisfaction by ourselves since we sin daily and thus daily increase our guilt.

Romans 5.12-21 also makes it clear that Adam's sin is also our sin, that is it has been imputed (credited) to everyone who has ever lived. We are biologically connected to Adam, but Scripture is much more concerned about our legal union with him and its consequences, chiefly, death.

... Scripture consistently makes God the moral standard against which all moral acts and claims are measured. The law is an expression of God's nature and so sin is an offense against God personally. God does not clear the guilty.

... Thus there must be a satisfaction for that sin. Since the earliest recorded moments of human history after the fall, man has known that there must be a substitute, a just representative to take the place of sinners. Righteous Abel (Gen 4:4; Matt 23:35) brought a living offering, a blood offering. Hebrews 12:4 teaches that Abel brought a better sacrifice than Cain. Why was Abel's better? Is there something inherently better in a blood offering than in a grain offering? One would think not, but Hebrews goes on to say that "God spoke well of his offerings." Abel's offering was superior because it was a blood offering, because the blood testified our need of a Savior, of the principle of justice, "eye for eye" (Ex 21:24) hence Hebrews 12:24 teaches that Abel's bloody sacrifice was a pointed picture, shadow or type of the better, perfect blood offering to come, that of the Lamb of God himself, Jesus.

... One of the reasons that there is confusion about the extent of the atonement is that Christians do not always understand well what it is that Christ came to do.

... Why is God "faithful" and "just" when he forgives us? Because Jesus Christ the righteous has paid the penalty for his people, he has turned away God's wrath for his people and therefore they may enter boldly into the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 10:19). We are not able to stand before God because he averts his eyes or overlooks our sins, but rather, because Jesus Christ has paid the debt in full and satisfied God's righteousness.

... The Apostle Paul teaches precisely the same thing in Romans 3:25,26:

God presented Him (Jesus) as the place of propitiation, through faith in His blood, for of a demonstration of His Righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins committed beforehand in the forbearance of God, for a demonstration of His righteousness now in this season in order that He might be just--righteous, and the one--declaring righteous--the one (having) faith in Jesus (my translation).

... Underlying much of our discussion thus far has been the assumption that Jesus came intentionally to redeem his people. That is, it was never his intention to propitiate the wrath of God for everyone who ever lived. Rather it was his intention to redeem all of his people completely.

... This Biblical particularism is perhaps no where so powerfully evident as in the Servant Song in Isa 52:13-53:12. Beginning in 52:13 God presents his "servant" (Ebed). His work benefit "many nations (52:15)." As the prophecy is progressively disclosed, the servant is "despised" and "we esteemed him not." The relations are now considered between "us" and the servant. Thus in 53:4 he took up "our" infirmities" and in v.5 he was "pierced for our transgressions." Thus the expression "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" has a definite context. The "all" here refers to those for whom the servant will suffer and die, but this is not everyone who ever lived. This is clear in v. 11 where the Servant is said to "justify many." Again in v. 12 the Servant "bore the sin of many." We know of course from the Gospels and from Acts 8:26-35 that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 8 is none other than Jesus Christ. Thus the Servant Jesus is said to have suffered and died the "many", i.e., his people, not for everyone who ever lived.

... As one can see, a problem arises in the interpretation of "world" in John's writings. What if neither Jesus, the speaker, John the writer nor the Holy Spirit who caused John to write meant to communicate "everyone who ever lived" but, something else? In fact, he did mean to communicate something else. Just as the opening clause is not about the quantity (if one can speak of such things) of God's love, so kosmos does not speak of the quantity of those for whom Jesus died, but the quality. Even though he used it 78 times in his writings, the Apostle John used the word kosmos consistently in this qualitative sense.

... In fact the word "all" is frequently used in a relative sense to describe a certain class or kind of person. In Titus 2:11, Paul says, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." Has saving grace actually appeared to everyone who ever lived? No. Therefore "all" (pas) here must be taken in some restricted sense. Paul simply means, "has become widely available." We could multiply examples. Does "all" in Titus 1:15 mean that "everything possible" is "pure"? No, rather "all things" (panta) means "everything of certain already proscribed set of things." In Matt 10:22 Jesus says that "all men shall hate you because of me." Did he mean to say, "everyone who ever lived"? No, this is an example of the sort of hyperbole which Jesus used frequently to make a point.

What of Hebrews 2:9, which clearly says that Jesus "suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." How will the Calvinist/particularist wriggle out of this noose? By reading v.9 in the context of v.10! The text continues to say, "In bringing many sons to glory..." so that the "everyone" of v.9 refers to the "many" of v.10, for whom Jesus did not just make salvation possible, but whom he "bringing" to glory.

The best illustration of this is perhaps a passage which some have seen as proof positive that Jesus must have intended to die as the substitute for everyone who ever lived, is a passage which many have taken to contradict the doctrine of definite atonement,1 Timothy 4:10. Scripture says in part, "we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior (soter) of all men, and especially of those who believe." At first blush it would seem that, if Hebrews 2:9 did not put and end to definite atonement, surely this passage must.

Recent research by Steve Baugh has shown, however, that, read in context, this passage is not concerned with the extent of the atonement. The key is Paul's use of Soter. Firstly, he notes, what does it mean to juxtapose "Savior" (one who saves eternally) of believers but especially of believers? Of course believers are saved, but if "all men" means everyone who ever lived, then, they are all saved and we should become absolute universalists, in which case it is not just Calvinists who must change their views, but also Arminians who must abandon their half-way position and become absolute universalists.

The answer is that, in this passage, soter does not mean "one who saves eternally" but rather means "benefactor." As Steve Baugh notes, in "Paul's day, soter was a common title or description of men, emperors and deities." In fact, there was a statue in Ephesus, where Paul ministered for a considerable period, dedicated to Julius Caesar, on which he was hailed as "the universal benefactor of human life." Paul's point, in the flow of his argument, is that, no, it is the ascended King Jesus, who rules at the right hand of the Father, who is the "benefactor of all men especially of those who believe." Taken in the sense of common grace, this passage is not about the extent of the atonement, universal or otherwise.

... If one accepts that Jesus died as a propitiatory substitute for all his people, there are really only two alternatives, definite atonement or absolute (total) universalism. Either he saved everyone who ever lived, or he saved all those whom he loved.

... Indeed, Calvinism and Arminianism agree that Christ did not actually redeem everyone who ever lived, thus the question is not even whether there is a "limit" to the extent of the atonement, but rather, what is the nature of the limit? Is limited by God's choice and design or by free human choices?

It is our contention that Scripture teaches that Jesus did not fail. Rather where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. As the Second Adam (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22, 44) Jesus actively obeyed God's perfect Law perfectly, and suffered all the wrath which was due to us, his people, for whom he died (Phil 2:5-11).

... In itself, Christ's death is not limited in its potential, rather it is definite in its intent and personal in its application.

(Excerpted from: R. Scott Clark, Limited Atonement)

1 comment:

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