Feedback: Arminians Limit the Power of the Atonement

This week’s feedback comes in response to the post If Christ Died For All, And All Are Not Saved, Did Christ Die In Vain?  This week’s chosen respondent raises the old accusation that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement.

Question: “See this is why I could never be Armenian.  At least us Calvinists beleive that Christ actually did something on the cross.  We say the atonement was of infinite value and powerful beyond limitations, but the extent of the atonement is limited for the elect.  We say Christ actually secured our salvation at the cross.  You Armenians believe that Christ only makes men ‘savable’ whatever that means.  You believe that Christ died for the whole world, but the whole world isn’t saved.  It you who limits the atonement, you limit it’s power…Why do you say the power is a “non issue”, when you clearly limit the power?”

Answer: Thanks for taking the time to write in.  The accusation that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement is certainly not a new one.  From my experience, it is one of the most common objections to Arminianism, as far as debates about the extent of the atonement go.  Sometimes, those of us within the Arminian (or at least ‘non-Calvinist’) camp ‘shoot ourselves in the foot’ by not defining our beliefs and our use of terms as well as we should, which serves to feed the conception, or more correctly misconception, that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement.

From the outset, I want to make it clear that Calvinists such as yourself are not wrong to charge Arminianism with limiting the atonement in some measure.  In fact, Calvinists are quite right to point out that Arminianism limits the atonement as certainly (but not necessarily in the same way) as does the Calvinist.  I realise that not all Arminians would agree with me on this point.  Notable Arminian Roger Olson, for example, expressly denies that Arminianism limits the atonement in any way.  I have no objection to a Calvinist claiming that Arminianism in some measure limits the atonement.  Indeed, unless we are going to embrace Universalism (the belief that all will be saved), I believe that we must accept at least some measure of limitation.  

What I object to is the assertion that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement. 

I believe that there are two main reasons for the assertion that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement.  The first being an apparent flaw within the Calvinistic view of the atonement whereby they make the atonement and its application the same thing, and the second being a misconception of true Arminian beliefs, and thus a faulty idea of what the logical conclusion of Arminian beliefs are (as stated above, this is sometimes our own fault for not articulating our beliefs and use of terms as well as we should).  For the sake of providing a response to your actual question, my focus will be mainly on correcting the misconception of Arminian beliefs, rather than attempting a full-scale refutation of the Calvinistic view.

First of all, what do Arminians mean when they say that they believe in ‘universal atonement’, ‘unlimited atonement’, or ‘atonement for all’?  Those terms, taken at face-value, may lead many to conclude that Arminians believe in Universalism, the belief that all people will eventually be saved.  This is most certainly not what Arminians mean, however, when they use terms such as above.  What we actually mean, and this is why we should be more careful with our use of terms, is ‘universal provision’, or ‘unlimited provision’.  

Provision and Application

When we use the word provision, we are implicitly making a distinction between the universal provision of the atonement and the individual application of the atonement.  In other words, provision has been made for the whole world through Christ’s death, but the benefits of Christ’s death (specifically salvation) are not received by an individual until such time as they apply the blood.  

We believe that there are good Scriptural precedents for making the distinction between the provision and the application of the atonement.  Five examples shall suffice.  The first three examples are Old Testament types of Christ (later confirmed in the New Testament), the fourth example is how the Apostle Paul describes God as Saviour, and the fifth is how Paul describes a couple of other believers.

The Passover Lamb

The blood of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:6, 21) was provided for all of Israel (Ex. 12:3), without a hint of it being only for an ‘elect’ group within Israel.  But the fact that the blood of the Passover lamb was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The blood became effectual only after it was applied to the door posts (Ex. 12:7, 22); the blood itself didn’t save anyone.  Any Israelite who failed to apply the lamb’s blood to their doorpost would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the lamb. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

That the Passover Lamb was for all of Israel speaks of provision; that the Passover Lamb saved only those that applied the blood to their doorpost speaks of application.

The Passover Lamb is confirmed in the New Testament as being a legitimate type of Christ, for the Apostle Paul refers to Christ as “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7).

The Serpent in the Wilderness

Because the people of Israel became impatient and complained against God and Moses (Num. 21:4-5), God sent fiery serpents among the people, and the serpents bit the people, so that many people died (Num. 21:6).  When the people acknowledged their sin, they asked Moses to pray to God for them (Num. 21:7). God answered Moses’ prayer, saying,

“‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’  So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Num. 21:8-9)

The bronze serpent was a provision for “everyone” and “anyone”. But the fact that the bronze serpent was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The bronze serpent became effectual only after someone looked at it by faith. The serpent itself didn’t save anyone. Anyone who refused to look by faith at the serpent would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the bronze serpent, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the bronze serpent, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the serpent.  The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

That the serpent was for “everyone” and “anyone” speaks of provision; that it healed only those who looked to it in faith speaks of application.

The serpent in the wilderness is confirmed as a legitimate type of Christ by Jesus Christ Himself, when He drew an explicit comparison between the serpent in the wilderness and His own death (Jn. 3:14).

The Cities of Refuge

The cities of refuge were a provision for the manslayer (Num. 35:9-15). Furthermore, it was a provision for any manslayer – the people of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner (Num. 35:15).  But the fact that the cities of refuge were provided for any manslayer did not automatically guarantee that any manslayer would benefit from them.  The city of refuge was only effective as long as the manslayer entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35:26-28).  Any manslayer who refused to either enter in (in the first place), or remain in, the cities of refuge would thus fail to receive any benefit from said cities, in spite of the fact that they could have, as provision was made for them.

It is obvious that even if a manslayer did fail in receiving benefit from the provision of the cities of refuge, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the cities. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

That the cities were for any manslayer speaks of provision; that they protected only those who entered and remained within the boundaries speaks of application.

The author to the Hebrews makes reference to the fact that we have fled to Jesus for refuge (6:18).  Even the hyper-Calvinist John Gill explicitly declared 1) that the cities of refuge were each types of Christ, and 2) that Hebrews 6:18 is referring to this fact.

The Saviour of All People, Especially of Those Who Believe

Paul writes that God is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10).  That God is the Saviour of all people speaks of provision; that God is the Saviour especially of believers speaks of application.

In Christ Before Paul

Paul writes that Andronicus and Junia, his kinsmen and fellow prisoners, “were in Christ before me [Paul]” (Rom. 16:7).  The fact that someone can be “in Christ” before someone else implies that there is a difference between the atonement itself, and the application of that atonement.  

If not, and the atonement and its application are the same thing, then we would have to believe that the elect were actually literally saved at the moment of Christ’s death, a belief which entails the elect being saved, and thus “in Christ”, all at the same time.  This would also entail the elect being born saved, and thus never being “dead in trespasses and sins”, nor “children of wrath” (Cf. Eph. 2:1-3), and therefore, being saved before ever having exercised faith. 

The distinction between the provision and the application of the atonement is therefore deducible from Paul’s description of Andronicus and Junia as being “in Christ” before him.  

As the above examples show, there is indeed a distinction between the atonement and the application of the atonement.  In other words, the atonement is provisional in nature, until such time as it is applied.

Unless the Calvinist is going to affirm that the elect were born saved, then in principle, he must affirm a provisional aspect of the atonement, in some measure at least.

Provision and Intention

Following on from the distinction between the provision of the atonement and an individual’s application of the atonement, it is helpful to recognise the distinction between the provision and intention of the atonement.  As the application of the atonement refers to a human action, namely, an individual’s application of Christ’s blood by looking to Him in faith, the intention of the atonement refers to a Divine action, namely, who God actually intends to save.

When we speak of God’s intentions, two fundamental questions need to be asked:

1) Why did Christ shed His blood in the first place?

2) Who does God intend to save?

At the risk of oversimplification, I believe a very basic answer to the first question would be that Christ shed His blood as a means of providing the redemption of those whom God has intended to save. This then raises the second question, Who does God actually intend to save?  It is my position that even though He desires that all would come to faith and repentance, God has only ever intended to save those who believe (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21, Gal. 3:22, 1 Tim. 4:10). As Richard Baxter said, “it was never the intent of his mind, to pardon and save any that would not by faith and repentance be converted”.

Once again, referring back to the aforementioned Old Testament foreshadows of Christ is helpful.

Just as God intended the blood of the Passover Lamb to be effectual only for those who applied it to their doorposts (Ex. 12), so He intends the blood of Christ (our Passover Lamb, 1 Cor. 5:7) to be effectual only for those who apply the blood.

Just as God intended the serpent in the wilderness, lifted up, to be effectual for those who looked to it in faith (Num. 21), so Christ (our Serpent in the wilderness, Jn. 3:14), lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who look to Him in faith.

Just as God intended the cities of refuge to be effectual only for those entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35), so Christ (our City to whom we have fled for refuge, Heb. 6:18) was only ever intended to be effectual for those who enter into union with, and remain in union with, Him.

Christ’s blood accomplishes exactly what God intended: it saves those who by faith and repentance believe the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21).  Therefore, to say that Arminians limit the power of the atonement is just plain nonsense.  The fact that Christ’s blood does not save every single person without exception, in spite of the fact that provision has been made for every single person, says nothing about the power of the atonement, for 1) God has never intended to save anyone who would not by faith and repentance believe the Gospel, and 2) the atonement accomplishes exactly what God intended, namely, the salvation of those who believe.  

To say that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement amounts to nothing more than saying that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement to being able to achieve exactly what God has intended it to achieve, which is a redundant criticism.  If the atonement accomplishes exactly what God intended, then its power cannot reasonably be said to have been limited in any meaningful sense of the word.

Best regards,

Arminian

10 More Questions for Calvinists

10 More Questions for Calvinists

1. If it is true that before a person can respond to God, God must irresistibly cause that person’s regeneration, why is God long-suffering, not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9)?  What’s He waiting for?  Is God long-suffering with Himself, as He waits for Himself to irresistibly and unfailingly bend the human will to faith and conversion? Isn’t it incoherent to believe that God would actively withhold the grace that man needs in order to respond the Gospel, while at the same time be long-suffering toward mankind, not willing that any should perish?  As an aside, the verse in question states that God is long-suffering “to us-ward”.  Doesn’t this imply that salvation is tied at least in some measure to our response?

2. Is there any discernible difference between God “powerfully and unfailingly bend[ing] the human will to faith and conversion”, as the Canons of Dort teach, and God forcing someone to be saved?

3. Is Calvinism essential for salvation?  Does one need to believe Calvinism in order to be saved?  If not, was Spurgeon wrong when he said that “Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else”?  Was Engelsma wrong when he said that “Calvinism is the Gospel.  Its outstanding doctrines are simply the truths that make up the Gospel.  Departure from Calvinism, therefore, is apostasy from the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ”?

4. Is there anything that the reprobate can do to avoid eternal punishment?  If not, would it be accurate to say that the reprobate do not have a Saviour to save them from their sins?  Would it be accurate to say that Christ did nothing to save the reprobate? Would it be accurate to say that the Gospel is for the elect alone, and that the reprobate therefore have no Gospel to believe, even if they could believe?  Further, would it be just to condemn them for rejecting the Saviour, when they had no Saviour to save them from their sins?

5. If Christ did nothing to save the reprobate, are the reprobate to be commended for their unbelief?  For example, if a reprobate flat-out denies that Christ died for him, isn’t he simply believing the truth that Christ’s death was not for him?  Suppose that the reprobate were to say, “I don’t believe that Christ did anything to save me.”  If Christ did not die for the reprobate who said this, then what he said is accurate, and should he not be commended for his unbelief, insofar as what he believes is the truth?

6. Regarding Jesus’ dealing with the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23), is the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace compatible with Jesus’ statement that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (v.25)?  If Irresistible Grace is true, isn’t it just as true that man’s will would immediately and unfailingly be bent to faith and conversion upon hearing God’s effectual call?  Why would it be harder for a rich person to be saved by God’s unfailingly irresistible calling than what it would be for any other sinner?  Doesn’t this imply that salvation is tied at least in some measure to our response?

7. God specifically states that “he himself tempts no one” (James. 1:13).  If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass to such a meticulous extent that “the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless insofar as he permits, no, unless insofar as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service”, as Calvin said, isn’t it incoherent to believe that He has causally determined and decreed absolutely everything to that extent, yet somehow does not cause temptation? As an aside, does the fact that temptation occurs without God causing it mean that the temptation is not under God’s sovereign rule?

8. If regeneration precedes faith, is faith necessary for salvation?  Even Calvinist Charles Spurgeon argued that once a man is regenerate, he is saved, and that it is therefore “unnecessary”, “ridiculous”, and “absurd” to preach Christ to him and bid him to believe in order to be saved.  Assuming that a regenerate man is a saved man, and vice versa, doesn’t this “axiom of Reformed Theology”, as R.C. Sproul put it, undermine the necessity of faith?  Further, is there any discernible difference between saying ‘regeneration precedes faith’, and ‘salvation precedes faith’?

9. Is belief in the doctrine of Limited Atonement more of a deduction from the T, U, I, and P of the TULIP, rather than a clear truth of Scriptural revelation?  Is Limited Atonement embraced because of clear Scriptural reasons, or is it embraced because the logic of the Calvinistic worldview requires it and the thought that the Scriptures allow it?

10. If God wanted to convey in the Scriptures the idea that Christ died for the elect and no one else, is there anything He could have done to make the message clearer, and if so, what?  Conversely, if God wanted to convey the idea that Christ died provisionally for the whole world, is there anything He could have done to make the message clearer, and if so, what?

Related: 10 Questions for Calvinists

Feedback: If Christ Died For All, And All Are Not Saved, Did Christ Die In Vain?

This week’s feedback raises the old accusation that Arminianism pictures God as “weak and helpless”, and having died in vain for those who ultimately perish:

Question: “The problem with Arminianism is that it paints Jesus as a weak and helpless Savior, trying and yet failing to save everyone.  If Christ died for all, but all people aren’t saved, then at least some of Christ’s blood was wasted.  If any of Christ’s blood was wasted, then He died in vain and is a failure as a Savior.  The theology of Arminians make Christ less than God.”

Answer: This is by no means a new criticism.  Personally, I’ve never found this claim to be particularly strong or convincing.  When dealing with issues such as these, I’ve found it helpful to refer to what I see as God’s intentions in the atonement.  These can be expressed in two inter-related questions:

1) Why did Christ shed His blood in the first place?

2) Who does God intend to save?

I believe a very simplified answer to the first question would be that Christ shed His blood as a means of providing the redemption of those whom God has intended to save. This then raises the second question, to which I would reply that even though He desires that all would come to faith and repentance, God has only ever intended to save those who believe (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21, Gal. 3:22, 1 Tim. 4:10). Does Christ’s blood accomplish the salvation of those who believe? If so (and I believe that it does), then the blood is not wasted, insofar as it accomplishes exactly what it set out to achieve: the salvation of those who believe.

A look at three Old Testament foreshadows of Jesus Christ is helpful:

Just as the blood of the Passover Lamb was intended to be effectual only for those who applied it to their doorposts (Ex. 12), so the blood of Christ (our Passover Lamb, 1 Cor. 5:7) was intended to be effectual only for those who apply the blood.

Just as the serpent in the wilderness, lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who looked to it in faith (Num. 21), so Christ (our Serpent in the wilderness, Jn. 3:14), lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who look to Him in faith.

Just as the cities of refuge were intended to be effectual only for those entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35), so Christ (our City to whom we have fled for refuge, Heb. 6:18) was only ever intended to be effectual for those who enter into union with, and remain in union with, Him.

Christ’s blood accomplishes exactly what God intended: it saves those who by faith and repentance believe the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21).

Another point worth making is that it’s not as if part of Christ’s blood saves one person, and another part of the blood saves another person. Christ’s blood, in its entirety, saves every person who repents and believes the Gospel. The same blood that saved the Apostles is exactly the same blood that saves you and me. The same blood that saves one repentant sinner is exactly the same blood that is sufficient to save billions upon billions of repentant sinners, and then some more. This same blood is available to anybody who will turn to Christ. If anyone does not look in faith to Christ and in so doing be saved, it is that they have wasted the opportunity for salvation. It is not as if Christ’s blood was wasted, for if just one person was to be saved, the same amount of blood would have to have been shed as it would for the entire world to be saved.

The claims that Arminianism “paints Jesus as a weak and helpless Savior” and that Arminians “make Christ less than God” are unfounded, as they rest on the claim that “If Christ died for all, but all people aren’t saved, then at least some of Christ’s blood was wasted” which is shown to be an unconvincing accusation against Arminian theology.

One final point I’d like to make is that the claim that Christ’s blood is wasted if all are not saved can actually be applied (though just as unconvincingly) to the Calvinistic scheme. Most Calvinists that I’ve come into contact with will typically make reference to the ‘sufficiency/efficiency’ distinction, namely, the claim that Christ’s blood is sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect.  So in your Calvinist scheme, the blood of Christ is sufficient to save all, and yet it does not save all. This means that the original claim that Christ’s blood was wasted may just as easily be applied to your own Calvinistic worldview.  Now, the way you Calvinists get around the apparent problem is, admittedly, quite easy and persuasive.  That is, by showing that the intention of Christ’s death was to save only the elect (on the Calvinist view), the problem disappears (i.e., the blood accomplishes exactly what was intended).  As the problem is so easily resolved, it would be silly for an Arminian to charge Calvinism with entailing the conclusion that some of Christ’s blood was wasted.

And the fact that the claim is so easily resolved is precisely the reason that I brought it up in the first place, as this is the same type of reasoning that we Arminians use to resolve the apparent problem.  Just as a Calvinist appealing to the scope/intention of the atonement as he sees it resolves the problem for his worldview, so we Arminians appealing to the scope/intention of the atonement as we see it resolves the issue for our worldview.1  The fact that the same charge can be brought against Arminianism and Calvinism alike, and that it can be so easily resolved, is indicative of two things: 1) the charge that any of Christ’s blood was wasted is such a weak argument that it should not be used by either Calvinists or Arminians, and 2) Calvinists and Arminians alike should have no problems in principle with the other’s explanation, as both explanations (similar in principle, yet still different) are perfectly consistent with their respective worldviews.

Best regards,

Arminian

Note

1 From my perspective, Calvinists and Arminians alike limit the atonement in some way. In my personal experience, Calvinists have typically claimed that they limit the scope of the atonement, while we Arminians limit the power or efficacy of the atonement.  Now, I don’t presume to speak for all Arminians, but I personally reject that distinction.  My view is that Calvinists and Arminians both limit the scope of the atonement.  The power of the atonement is a non-issue; the real issue is differing views on the scope of the atonement, Calvinism limiting the scope of the provision and intended benefit to only those whom God unconditionally elected before the foundation of the world, and the Arminian limiting the scope of the intended benefit to those who believe.

10 Questions for Calvinists

10 Questions for Calvinists

1. Can God genuinely desire the salvation of those whom He, from eternity, unconditionally determined not to save, and is, in the words of Calvin, “pleased to exclude” and “doom to destruction”?  Or in the case of those who eschew the more passive doctrine of preterition and opt for the more active doctrine of reprobation, I ask: can God genuinely desire the salvation of those whom He has specifically created for the express purpose of destroying, who are, to quote Calvin, “doomed from the womb to certain death, whereby God is glorified by their destruction”?

2. If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass, isn’t it incoherent to think that our prayers influence God’s answers to our prayers?  Further, wouldn’t prayer be like someone putting on a sock puppet, and then having the sock puppet ask him to do something?  And to extend the analogy even further, wouldn’t God’s answer/s to prayer be like someone answering a request that he had his own sock puppet ask himself?

3. Regarding the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-18), is the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace compatible with Satan actively stealing away the Word of God (the ‘seed’) from people to prevent them from believing (Luke 8:12)?  In other words, wouldn’t it be pointless for Satan to steal the Word from people, when these very people whom he is attempting to prevent believing cannot believe anyway, due to Total Depravity, and indeed, cannot believe until after they are already regenerated?

4. Regarding Luke 22:14-23, is the Calvinistic doctrine of Limited Atonement compatible with the fact that Judas Iscariot – who would have been better off had he never been born (Mark 14:21), and whom Jesus called a ‘devil’ (John 6:70) – was among those for whom Jesus Christ said He gave His body and shed His blood?  If so, wouldn’t that mean that Judas Iscariot is among the elect?

5. God specifically states that there were sins that He “did not command or decree” (Jer. 19:5).  Indeed, these sins did not even “come into my [God’s] mind” (Jer. 19:5; cf. Jer. 7:30-31; 32:35).  If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass, isn’t it incoherent to believe that He has causally determined and decreed sins that He did not command or decree, indeed, sins that did not even come into His mind to command or decree?  Further, does the fact that these sins occurred without God first decreeing them mean that the sins were not under God’s sovereign rule?

6. In 1 Samuel 23, David learned that Saul was plotting harm against him (vv. 7-9), and so inquired of God as to 1) whether the people of Keilah would surrender him into Saul’s hand, and 2) whether Saul would indeed come to Keilah.  Regarding both inquiries, God answered in the affirmative: Saul would come to Keilah, and the people of Keilah would surrender David into Saul’s hand (vv. 10-12).  David and his men swiftly fled from Keilah (v. 13), and even though Saul sought David every day, God would not surrender David into his hand (v. 14).  According to this passage, it would appear that God had foreknowledge of events that, in fact, never came to pass.  Doesn’t this passage contradict the Calvinistic tenet that God can foreknow the future only if He has already causally determined said future?  On the Calvinist view, if the above-stated events never came to pass, then surely God did not foreordain (or even permit) them to come to pass, so how then could God have foreknowledge of events that never came to pass?

7. The Apostle Paul states that “those who are perishing… refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thes. 2:10; emphasis added).  Even the Hyper-Calvinist John Gill said of this passage, “the reason therefore of these men’s perishing is not the decree of God, nor even want of the means of grace, the revelation of the Gospel, but their rejection and contempt of it” (emphasis added).  Isn’t the obvious implication that those who are perishing, in spite of the fact that they do ultimately perish, had a legitimate chance of being saved?

8. In the Bible, Christians are described as having “died to sin”(Rom. 6:2; cf. Rom. 6:7, 8, 11; 7:4-6; Gal 2:19; Col. 2:20; 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:11).  Before conversion, the unregenerate are obviously described as being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; cf. Col. 2:13). Calvinists (eg., Boice and Ryken) describe the spiritually dead as having “all the passive properties belonging to a corpse” in that “like a spiritual corpse, he is unable to make a single move toward God, think a right thought about God, or even respond to God”.  If being dead in sin entails not being able to make a single move toward God or even respond to God, does being dead to sin entail not being able to make a single move toward sin or even respond to sin?

9. Regarding the Apostle Paul’s warning to be sober-minded, watchful, and to resist the devil (1 Pet. 5:8-9), is the Calvinistic doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (which entails ‘inevitable perseverance’, ‘once saved, always saved’, and if anyone apostatizes, they were ‘never saved to begin with’) compatible with Satan actively prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8-9)?  In other words, wouldn’t it be pointless for Satan to seek to devour people whose salvation cannot possibly be put in jeopardy?  And even if he actually does successfully ‘devour’ someone, wouldn’t that be sure proof that the person was never saved to begin with, and thus render the act of ‘devouring’ futile?

10. John Calvin taught what is known as ‘evanescent grace’ (Institutes, 3.2.11).  Calvin thus taught that God bestows grace on the reprobate (or non-elect) and implants faith in them that is “so similar to the elect” that sometimes, there is virtually “no difference” between the elect and the non-elect.  Calvin further taught that, “In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end”.  In other words, true saving faith only proves to be truly saving if it perseveres to the very end. In light of this, is it possible for a Calvinist to have true assurance of salvation?  Doesn’t this doctrine actually undermine the Biblical markers for assurance?  How can someone know that his present faith is genuine, if genuine faith only proves to be genuine if it perseveres to the very end?  How can a person be sure that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is not an “inferior operation of the Spirit” which “afterwards proves evanescent,” the “better to convict them, and leave them without excuse”? Can a person even have assurance by producing fruit, considering that Calvin taught that the reprobate, through evanescent grace, “may for several years… produce fruit”?

Cheung: There is No Sincere Offer of the Gospel

“The doctrine in question has been called “the free offer,” “the well-meant offer,” and “the sincere offer” of the gospel.  It is a false teaching that makes God into a schizophrenic fool. It is unbiblical and irrational, and it must be opposed.

We do not know beforehand who are numbered among the elect and who are numbered among the non-elect, and Scripture commands us to preach to every person.  Therefore, we must not try to decide who are the elect and the non-elect, and then preach the gospel only to those whom we consider the elect.  We must preach the gospel to all men.

That said, it is wrong to preach the gospel as if there is a chance for the non-elect to obtain faith and be saved, as if God is sincerely telling them that he desires their salvation and that they could be saved (Luke 10:21; John 6:65).  We do not know the content of God’s decree in election in terms of who are the elect and who are the non-elect, and so we must not act as if we know, but it does not follow that we should speak as if he has not made such a decree when we preach the gospel.

In our preaching, we must make it clear that God commands every person, whether elect or non-elect, to believe the gospel, thus testifying to every person’s obligation to believe – those who do will be saved, and those who do not will be damned.  However, we must not present this as a “sincere offer” of salvation from God even to the non-elect.

Faith is God’s sovereign gift, and God has decided to withhold it from the non-elect, but instead he chooses to harden them; therefore, to offer salvation to the non-elect as if God desires them to be saved and as if it is possible for them to be saved would be to lie to them in God’s name. There is no offer of salvation to the non-elect, but only a command that they can never obey, and God will punish them with hellfire.

This does not prevent us from preaching the gospel to all men, since it is not our duty or right to pick out the elect and preach only to them, or to pick out the non-elect and exclude them.  The point is that we must not present the gospel as a sincere offer to all, as if God’s “desire” can differ from his decree, as if God could or would decree against his “desire,” and as if it is possible for even the non-elect to be saved.

God loves the elect and desires (and thus has decreed) their salvation; he hates the reprobates and desires (and thus has decreed) their damnation (Romans 9:13).  The preaching of the gospel must be consistent with this.  So we must present the gospel as a serious command to all, as if it is required of all to believe (Acts 17:30), and as if God intends to summon the elect and harden the non-elect by the same preaching of the gospel (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

Thus we must preach the gospel to all men for at least three reasons: 1. God commands us to preach the gospel to all people, 2. We do not know and should not consider beforehand who are the elect and who are the reprobates, and 3. The purpose of preaching the gospel is not only to summon the elect to faith, but also to harden the reprobates in their unbelief.

Although the topic might not always come up, it is not wrong to announce that God desires to save only the elect and has chosen only them for salvation, and that he will grant faith only to them, so that only they can believe.  And it is not wrong to announce that God desires to damn the reprobates and has chosen them for damnation, and that he will not only withhold faith from them, but that he will also harden their minds against the gospel, making it impossible for them to believe.

Just as we cannot determine beforehand who are the elect and who are the reprobates when we preach the gospel, our hearers must not try to determine for themselves whether they are among the elect or the reprobates, and then make that the basis as to whether they should call on God for salvation.  When one hears the gospel, he should not say, “God saves only the elect, and I am probably among the reprobates, so it is pointless for me to seek God.”  In fact, if one stubbornly thinks this way even when given a clear explanation of the gospel, this is an indication that he is indeed one of the reprobates, and God has chosen to establish this person in his damnation by means of this persistent deception.

Rather than concealing God’s decree from our hearers, we should explain the truths concerning sin and grace, and concerning election and reprobation.  More than that, we should present to them the whole system of biblical doctrines, as clearly and fully as possible (Acts 17:23-31; Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 14:27-33).  Then, we must admonish them to seek God for salvation through Jesus Christ.

Since it is impossible for people to truly seek God unless his power is already at work in their hearts, those who sincerely call out to God to save them by Jesus Christ are among the elect, and God has already started his work of conversion in them.  Those who insincerely or superficially obey, and who after a while fall away, or those who refuse to come at all, are among the non-elect, whose minds God has hardened even more by the preaching of the gospel (2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8).

Therefore, in rejecting the so-called “sincere offer” of the gospel, the preaching of the gospel is not diminished or rendered narrow and selective.  Instead, our doctrine is a consistent and necessary application of Scripture concerning the sovereignty of God, election and reprobation, and the preaching of the gospel.  It is a biblical and coherent view that values the preaching of the gospel, and indeed the propagation of the whole system of biblical doctrines, to all men everywhere.  Moreover, it acknowledges what Scripture teaches about the purpose and the effect of the preaching of the gospel, that is, to summon the elect and to harden the reprobates.

The biblical doctrine is straightforward.  There is no “sincere offer.”  God commands men everywhere to repent – the ones chosen for salvation will obey and be saved, but the ones chosen for damnation will disobey and be damned.  By God’s active decree and control, the reprobates are already sinful and prepared for hell, and their rejection of the gospel increases that guilt, and this is what God wants to happen”

– Vincent Cheung, The Author of Sin, pp. 30-32, 38

But see The Universal Call of the Gospel Requires Universal Provision/Unlimited Atonement

Feedback: If Christ Died For Those Who Ultimately Perish, Do Unbelievers Receive Any Benefit From the Atonement?

This week’s feedback:

Question: ‘If Christ died for those who ultimately perish, as Arminians believe, do unbelievers receive any benefit from His death?’

Answer: Quite simply, no.  But such does not militate against the Arminian view of the atonement at all, for the fact that those who ultimately perish do not receive any benefit is not because their (potential) salvation was not provided for by Christ’s death, but is because of their own rejection of said provision.  When we look to three Old Testament foreshadows of Christ, this truth is plainly seen:

The Passover Lamb

The blood of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:6, 21) was provided for all of Israel (Ex. 12:3), without a hint of it being only for an ‘elect’ group within Israel.  But the fact that the blood of the Passover lamb was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The blood became effectual only after it was applied to the door posts (Ex. 12:7, 22); the blood itself didn’t save anyone.  Any Israelite who failed to apply the lamb’s blood to their doorpost would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the lamb. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

The Serpent in the Wilderness

Because the people of Israel became impatient and complained against God and Moses (Num. 21:4-5), God sent fiery serpents among the people, and the serpents bit the people, so that many people died (Num. 21:6).  When the people acknowledged their sin, they asked Moses to pray to God for them (Num. 21:7). God answered Moses’ prayer, saying,

“‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’  So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Num. 21:8-9)

The bronze serpent was a provision for “everyone” and “anyone”. But the fact that the bronze serpent was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The bronze serpent became effectual only after someone looked at it by faith. The serpent itself didn’t save anyone. Anyone who refused to look by faith at the serpent would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the bronze serpent, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the bronze serpent, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the serpent.  The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

The Cities of Refuge

The cities of refuge were a provision for the manslayer (Num. 35:9-15). Furthermore, it was a provision for any manslayer – the people of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner (Num. 35:15).  But the fact that the cities of refuge were provided for any manslayer did not automatically guarantee that any manslayer would benefit from them.  The city of refuge was only effective as long as the manslayer entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35:26-28).  Any manslayer who refused to either enter in (in the first place), or remain in, the cities of refuge would thus fail to receive any benefit from said cities, in spite of the fact that they could have, as provision was made for them.

It is obvious that even if a manslayer did fail in receiving benefit from the provision of the cities of refuge, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the cities. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

Jesus Christ

And so it is with Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), our Serpent in the Wilderness (John 3:14), our City to whom we have fled for refuge (Heb. 6:18). Christ was provided for the whole world (Isa. 53:6, cf. Acts 8:30-35; Jn. 1:7-9; Jn. 3:16-17; Jn. 4:42; Jn. 6:33, 51; Jn. 12:32, 47; Rom. 3:23-24; Rom. 5:6, 15; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11; Heb. 2:9; Heb. 10:10; 1 Jn. 2:2; 1 Jn. 4:14, etc.).  

But the fact that Christ was provided for all does not automatically guarantee that all will be saved. The blood of Christ our Passover Lamb becomes effectual only after it is applied; our Serpent in the wilderness becomes effectual only after we look to Him in faith; our City of Refuge becomes effectual only after we enter into union with, and remain in union with, Him.  Christ’s death itself doesn’t save anyone. And anyone who refuses to apply the blood of Christ, anyone who refuses to look to Him in faith, anyone who refuses to enter into union with Him or remain in union with Him will receive no benefit from His death, in spite of the fact that they could have, as provision was made for them.

The refusal to accept a provision, and thus, any benefit that would have otherwise been obtained, does not militate against the quality of, or the scope of, the provision itself.  So we see that even though those for whom Christ died may yet ultimately perish, and thus, receive no benefit from His death, there is no reason to believe that because such is reality, the atonement must be for the elect and the elect alone.

God’s Love For A Sinning World, By Charles Finney

God’s Love For A Sinning World

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” — John 3:16.

Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. Nothing else can cost so much. Pardoned or unpardoned, its cost is infinitely great. Pardoned, the cost falls chiefly on the great atoning Substitute; unpardoned, it must fall on the head of the guilty sinner.

The existence of sin is a fact everywhere experienced — everywhere observed. There is sin in our race everywhere and in awful aggravation.

Sin is the violation of an infinitely important law — a law designed and adapted to secure the highest good of the universe. Obedience to this law is naturally essential to the good of creatures. Without obedience there could be no blessedness even in heaven.

As sin is a violation of a most important law, it cannot be treated lightly. No government can afford to treat disobedience as a trifle, inasmuch as everything — the entire welfare of the government and of all the governed — turns upon obedience. Just in proportion to the value of the interests at stake is the necessity of guarding law and of punishing disobedience.

The law of God must not be dishonoured by anything He shall do. It has been dishonoured by the disobedience of man; hence, the more need that God should stand by it, to retrieve its honour. The utmost dishonour is done to law by disowning, disobeying, and despising it. All this, sinning man has done. Hence, this law being not only good, but intrinsically necessary to the happiness of the governed, it becomes of all things most necessary that the law-giver should vindicate his law. He must by all means do it.

Hence, sin has involved God’s government in a vast expense. Either the law must be executed at the expense of the well-being of the whole race, or God must submit to suffer the worst results of disrespect to His law — results which in some form must involve a vast expense.

Take for example any human government. Suppose the righteous and necessary laws which it imposes are disowned and dishonoured. In such a case the violated law must be honoured by the execution of its penalty, or something else not less expensive, and probably much more so, must be endured. Transgression must cost happiness, somewhere, and in vast amount.

In the case of God’s government it has been deemed advisable to provide a substitute — one that should answer the purpose of saving the sinner, and yet of honouring the law. This being determined on, the next great question was — How shall the expense be met?

The Bible informs us how the question was in fact decided. By a voluntary conscription — shall I call it — or donation? Call it as we may, it was a voluntary offering. Who shall head the subscription? Who shall begin where so much is to be raised? Who will make the first sacrifice? Who will take the first step in a project so vast? The Bible informs us. It began with the Infinite Father. He made the first great donation. He gave His only begotten Son — this to begin with — and having given Him first, He freely gives all else that the exigencies of the case can require. First, He gave His Son to make the atonement due to law; then gave and sent His Holy Spirit to take charge of this work. The Son on His part consented to stand as the representative of sinners, that He might honour the law, by suffering in their stead. He poured out His blood, made a whole life of suffering a free donation on the altar — withheld not His face from spitting, nor His back from stripes — shrunk not from the utmost contumely that wicked men could heap on Him. So the Holy Ghost also devotes Himself to most self-denying efforts unceasingly, to accomplish the great object.

It would have been a very short method to have turned over His hand upon the wicked of our race, and sent them all down quick to hell, as once He did when certain angels “kept not their first estate.” Rebellion broke out in heaven. Not long did God bear it, around His lofty throne. But in the case of man He changed His course — did not send them all to hell, but devised a vast scheme of measures, involving most amazing self-denials and self-sacrifices, to gain men’s souls back to obedience and heaven.

For whom was this great donation made? “God so loved the world,” meaning the whole race of men. By the “world” in this connection cannot be meant any particular part only, but the whole race. Not only the Bible, but the nature of the case, shows that the atonement must have been made for the whole world. For plainly if it had not been made for the entire race, no man of the race could ever know that it was made for himself, and therefore not a man could believe on Christ in the sense of receiving by faith the blessings of the atonement. There being an utter uncertainty as to the persons embraced in the limited provisions which we now suppose to be made, the entire donation must fail through the impossibility of rational faith for its reception. Suppose a will is made by a rich man bequeathing certain property to certain unknown persons, described only by the name of “the elect.” They are not described otherwise than by this term, and all agree that although the maker of the will had the individuals definitely in his mind, yet that he left no description of them, which either the persons themselves, the courts, nor any living mortal can understand. Now such a will is of necessity altogether null and void. No living man can claim under such a will, and none the better though these elect were described as residents of Oberlin. Since it does not embrace all the residents of Oberlin, and does not define which of them, all is lost. All having an equal claim and none any definite claim, none can inherit. If the atonement were made in this way, no living man would have any valid reason for believing himself one of the elect, prior to his reception of the Gospel. Hence he would have no authority to believe and receive its blessings by faith. In fact, the atonement must be wholly void — on this supposition — unless a special revelation is made to the persons for whom it is intended.

As the case is, however, the very fact that a man belongs to the race of Adam — the fact that he is human, born of woman, is all-sufficient. It brings him within the pale. He is one of the world for whom God gave His Son, that whosoever would believe in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.

The subjective motive in the mind of God for this great gift was love, love to the world. God so loved the world that He gave His Son to die for it. God loved the universe also but this gift of His Son sprang from love to our world. True, in this great act He took pains to provide for the interests of the universe. He was careful to do nothing that could in the least let down the sacredness of His law. Most carefully did He intend to guard against misapprehension as to His regard for His law and for the high interests of obedience and happiness in His moral universe. He meant once for all to preclude the danger lest any moral agent should be tempted to undervalue the moral law.

Yet farther, it was not only from love to souls, but from respect to the spirit of the law of His own eternal reason, that He gave up His Son to die. In this the purpose to give up His Son originated. The law of His own reason must be honoured and held sacred. He may do nothing inconsistent with its spirit. He must do everything possible to prevent the commission of sin and to secure the confidence and love of His subjects. So sacred did He hold these great objects that He would baptize His Son in His own blood, sooner than peril the good of the universe. Beyond a question it was love and regard for the highest good of the universe that led Him to sacrifice His own beloved Son.

Let us next consider attentively the nature of this love. The text lays special stress on this — God so loved — His love was of such a nature, so wonderful and so peculiar in its character, that it led Him to give up His only Son to die. More is evidently implied in this expression than simply its greatness. It is most peculiar in its character. Unless we understand this, we shall be in danger of falling into the strange mistake of the Universalists, who are forever talking about God’s love for sinners, but whose notions of the nature of this love never lead to repentance or to holiness. They seem to think of this love as simply good nature, and conceive of God only as a very good-natured being, whom nobody need to fear. Such notions have not the least influence towards holiness, but the very opposite. It is only when we come to understand what this love is in its nature that we feel its moral power promoting holiness.

It may be reasonably asked, If God so loved the world with a love characterized by greatness, and by greatness only, why did He not save all the world without sacrificing His Son? This question suffices to show us that there is deep meaning in this word so, and should put us upon a careful study of this meaning.

1. This love in its nature is not complacency — a delight in the character of the race. This could not be, for there was nothing amiable in their character. For God to have loved such a race complacently would have been infinitely disgraceful to Himself.

2. It was not a mere emotion or feeling. It was not a blind impulse, though many seem to suppose it was. It seems to be often supposed that God acted as men do when they are borne away by strong emotion. But there could be no virtue in this. A man might give away all he is worth under such a blind impulse of feeling, and be none the more virtuous. But in saying this we do not exclude all emotion from the love of benevolence, nor from God’s love for a lost world. He had emotion, but not emotion only. Indeed, the Bible everywhere teaches us that God’s love for man, lost in his sins, was paternal — the love of a father for his offspring — in this case, for a rebellious, froward, prodigal offspring. In this love there must of course blend the deepest compassion.

3. On the part of Christ, considered as Mediator, this love was fraternal. “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” In one point of view, He is acting for brethren, and in another for children. The Father gave Him up for this work and of course sympathizes in the love appropriate to its relations.

4. This love must be altogether disinterested, for He had nothing to hope or to fear — no profit to make out of His children if they should be saved. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive of God as being selfish, since His love embraces all creatures and all interests according to their real value. No doubt He took delight in saving our race — why should He not? It is a great salvation in every sense, and greatly does it swell the bliss of heaven — greatly will it affect the glory and the blessedness of the Infinite God. He will eternally respect Himself for love so disinterested. He knows also that all His Holy creatures will eternally respect Him for this work and for the love that gave it birth. But let it also be said, He knew they would not respect Him for this great work unless they should see that He did it for the good of sinners.

5. This love was zealous — not that cold-hearted state of mind which some suppose — not an abstraction, but a love deep, zealous, earnest, burning in His soul as a fire that nothing can quench.

6. The sacrifice was a most self-denying one. Did it cost the Father nothing to give up His own beloved Son to suffer, and to die such a death? If this be not self-denial, what can be? Thus to give up His Son to so much suffering — is not this the noblest self-denial? The universe never could have the idea of great self-denial but for such an exemplification.

7. This love was particular because it was universal; and also universal because it was particular. God loved each sinner in particular, and therefore loved all. Because He loved all impartially, with no respect of persons, therefore He loved each in particular.

8. This was a most patient love. How rare to find a parent so loving his child as never to be impatient. Let me go round and ask, how many of you, parents, can say that you love all your children so well, and with so much love, and with love so wisely controlling, that you have never felt impatient towards any of them — so that you can take them in your arms under the greatest provocations and love them down, love them out of their sins, love them into repentance and into a filial spirit? Of which of your children can you say, Thank God, I never fretted against that child — of which, if you were to meet him in heaven, could you say, I never caused that child to fret? Often have I heard parents say, I love my children, but oh, how my patience fails me! And, after the dear ones are dead, you may hear their bitter moans, Oh, my soul, how could I have caused my child so much stumbling and so much sin!

But God never frets — is never impatient. His love is so deep and so great that He is always patient.

Sometimes, when parents have unfortunate children — poor objects of compassion — they can bear with anything from them; but when they are very wicked, they seem to feel that they are quite excusable for being impatient. In God’s case, these are not unfortunate children, but are intensely wicked — intelligently wicked. But oh, His amazing patience — so set upon their good, so desirous of their highest welfare, that however they abuse Him, He sets Himself to bless them still, and weep them down, and melt them into penitence and love, by the death of His Son in their stead!

9. This is a jealous love, not in a bad sense, but in a good sense — in the sense of being exceedingly careful lest anything should occur to injure those He loves. Just as husband and wife who truly love each other are jealous with ever wakeful jealousy over each other’s welfare, seeking always to do all they can to promote each other’s true interests.

This donation is already made — made in good faith — not only promised, but actually made. The promise, given long before, has been fulfilled. The Son has come, has died, has made the ransom and lives to offer it — a prepared salvation to all who will embrace it.

The Son of God died not to appease vengeance, as some seem to understand it, but under the demands of law. The law had been dishonoured by its violation. Hence, Christ undertook to honour it by giving up to its demands His suffering life and atoning death. It was not to appease a vindictive spirit in God, but to secure the highest good of the universe in a dispensation of mercy.

Since this atonement has been made, all men in the race have a right to it. It is open to every one who will embrace it. Though Jesus still remains the Father’s Son, yet by gracious right He belongs in an important sense to the race — to everyone; so that every sinner has an interest in His blood if he will only come humbly forward and claim it. God sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world — of whomsoever would believe and accept this great salvation.

God gives His Spirit to apply this salvation to men. He comes to each man’s door and knocks, to gain admittance, if He can, and show each sinner that he may now have salvation. Oh, what a labour of love is this!

This salvation must be received, if at all, by faith. This is the only possible way. God’s government over sinners is moral, not physical, because the sinner is himself a moral and not a physical agent. Therefore, God can influence us in no way unless we will give Him our confidence. He never can save us by merely taking us away to some place called heaven — as if change of place would change the voluntary heart. There can, therefore, be no possible way to be saved but by simple faith.

Now do not mistake and suppose that embracing the Gospel is simply to believe these historical facts without truly receiving Christ as your Saviour. If this had been the scheme, then Christ had need only to come down and die; then go back to heaven and quietly wait to see who would believe the facts. But how different is the real case! Now Christ comes down to fill the soul with His own life and love. Penitent sinners hear and believe the truth concerning Jesus, and then receive Christ into the soul to live and reign there supreme and for ever. On this point many mistake, saying, If I believe the facts as matters of history it is enough. No! No! This is not it by any means. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” The atonement was indeed made to provide the way so that Jesus could come down to human hearts and draw them into union and sympathy with Himself — so that God could let down the arms of His love and embrace sinners — so that law and government should not be dishonoured by such tokens of friendship shown by God toward sinners. But the atonement will by no means save sinners only as it prepares the way for them to come into sympathy and fellowship of heart with God.

Now Jesus comes to each sinner’s door and knocks. Hark! what’s that? what’s that? Why this knocking? Why did He not go away and stay in heaven if that were the system, till men should simply believe the historical facts and be baptized, as some suppose, for salvation. But now, see how He comes down — tells the sinner what He has done — reveals all His love — tells him how holy and sacred it is, so sacred that He can by no means act without reference to the holiness of His law and the purity of His government. Thus impressing on the heart the most deep and enlarged ideas of His holiness and purity, He enforces the need of deep repentance and the sacred duty of renouncing all sin.

REMARKS.

1. The Bible teaches that sinners may forfeit their birthright and put themselves beyond the reach of mercy. It is not long since I made some remark to you on the manifest necessity that God should guard Himself against the abuses of His love. The circumstances are such as create the greatest danger of such abuse, and, therefore, He must make sinners know that they may not abuse His love, and cannot do it with impunity.

2. Under the Gospel, sinners are in circumstances of the greatest possible responsibility. They are in the utmost danger of trampling down beneath their feet the very Son of God. Come, they say, let us kill Him and the inheritance shall be ours. When God sends forth, last of all, His own beloved Son, what do they do? Add to all their other sins and rebellions the highest insult to this glorious Son! Suppose something analogous to this were done under a human government. A case of rebellion occurs in some of the provinces. The king sends his own son, not with an army, to cut them down quick in their rebellion, but all gently, meekly, patiently, he goes among them, explaining the laws of the kingdom and exhorting them to obedience. What do they do in the case? With one consent they combine to seize him and put him to death!

But you deny the application of this, and ask me, Who murdered the Son of God? Were they not Jews? Aye, and have you, sinners, had no part in this murder? Has not your treatment of Jesus Christ shown that you are most fully in sympathy with the ancient Jews in their murder of the Son of God? If you had been there, would any one have shouted louder than you, Away with Him — crucify Him, crucify Him? Have you not always said, Depart from us — for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways?

3. It was said of Christ that, Though rich He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich. How strikingly true is this? Our redemption cost Christ His life; it found Him rich, but made Him poor; it found us infinitely poor, but made us rich even to all the wealth of heaven. But of these riches none can partake till they shall each for himself accept them in the legitimate way. They must be received on the terms proposed, or the offer passes utterly away, and you are left poorer even than if no such treasures had ever been laid at your feet.

Many persons seem entirely to misconceive this case. They seem not to believe what God says, but keep saying, If, if, if there only were any salvation for me — if there were only an atonement provided for the pardon of my sins. This was one of the last things that was cleared up in my mind before I fully committed my soul to trust God. I had been studying the atonement; I saw its philosophical bearings — saw what it demanded of the sinner; but it irritated me, and I said — If I should become a Christian, how could I know what God would do with me? Under this irritation I said foolish and bitter things against Christ — till my own soul was horrified at its own wickedness, and I said — I will make all this up with Christ if the thing is possible.

In this way many advance upon the encouragements of the Gospel as if it were only a peradventure, an experiment. They take each forward step most carefully, with fear and trembling, as if there were the utmost doubt whether there could be any mercy for them. So with myself. I was on my way to my office, when the question came before my mind — What are you waiting for? You need not get up such an ado. All is done already. You have only to consent to the proposition — give your heart right up to it at once — this is all. Just so it is. All Christians and sinners ought to understand that the whole plan is complete — that the whole of Christ — His character, His work, His atoning death, and His ever-living intercession — belong to each and every man, and need only to be accepted. There is a full ocean of it. There it is. You may just as well take it as not. It is as if you stood on the shore of an ocean of soft, pure water, famishing with thirst; you are welcome to drink, and you need not fear lest you exhaust that ocean, or starve anybody else by drinking yourself. You need not feel that you are not made free to that ocean of waters; you are invited and pressed to drink — yea to drink abundantly! This ocean supplies all your need. You do not need to have in yourself the attributes of Jesus Christ, for His attributes become practically yours for all possible use. As saith the Scripture — He is of God made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. What do you need? Wisdom? Here it is. Righteousness? Here it is. Sanctification? Here you have it. All is in Christ. Can you possibly think of any one thing needful for your moral purity, or your usefulness which is not here in Christ? Nothing. All is provided here. Therefore you need not say, I will go and pray and try, as the hymn,

“I’ll go to Jesus tho’ my sin

Hath like a mountain rose,

Perhaps He will admit my plea;

Perhaps will hear my prayer.”

There is no need of any perhaps. The doors are always open. Like the doors of Broadway Tabernacle in New York, made to swing open and fasten themselves open, so that they could not swing back and shut down upon the crowds of people thronging to pass through. When they were to be made, I went myself to the workmen and told them by all means to fix them so that they must swing open and fasten themselves in that position.

So the door of salvation is open always — fastened open, and no man can shut it — not the Pope, even, nor the devil, nor any angel from heaven or from hell. There it stands, all swung back and the passage wide open for every sinner of our race to enter if he will.

Again, sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. Are you well aware, O sinner, what a price has been paid for you that you may be redeemed and made an heir of God and of heaven? O what an expensive business for you to indulge in sin.

And what an enormous tax the government of God has paid to redeem this province from its ruin! Talk about the poor tax of Great Britain and of all other nations superadded; all is nothing to the sin-tax of Jehovah’s government — that awful sin-tax! Think how much machinery is kept in motion to save sinners! The Son of God was sent down — angels are sent as ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation; missionaries are sent, Christians labour, and pray and weep in deep and anxious solicitude — all to seek and save the lost. What a wonderful-enormous tax is levied upon the benevolence of the universe to put away sin and to save the sinner! If the cost could be computed in solid gold what a world of it — a solid globe of itself! What an array of toil and cost, from angels, Jesus Christ, the Divine Spirit, and living men. Shame on sinners who hold on to sin despite of all these benevolent efforts to save them! who instead of being ashamed out of sin, will say — Let God pay off this tax; who cares! Let the missionaries labour, let pious women work their very fingers off to raise funds to keep all this human machinery in motion; no matter: what is all this to me? I have loved my pleasures and after them I will go! What an unfeeling heart is this!

Sinners can very well afford to make sacrifices to save their fellow sinners. Paul could for his fellow sinners. He felt that he had done his part toward making sinners, and now it became him to do his part also in converting them back to God. But see there — that young man thinks he cannot afford to be a minister, for he is afraid he shall not be well supported. Does he not owe something to the grace that saved his soul from hell? Has he not some sacrifices to make, since Jesus has made so many for him, and Christians too, in Christ before him — did they not pray and suffer and toil for his soul’s salvation? As to his danger of lacking bread in the Lord’s work, let him trust his Great Master. Yet let me also say that churches may be in great fault for not comfortably supporting their pastors. Let them know God will assuredly starve them if they starve their ministers. Their own souls and the souls of their children shall be barren as death if they avariciously starve those whom God in His providence sends to feed them with the bread of life.

How much it costs to rid society of certain forms of sin, as for example, slavery. How much has been expended already, and how much more yet remains to be expended ere this sore evil and curse and sin shall be rooted from our land! This is part of God’s great enterprise, and He will press it on to its completion. Yet at what an amazing cost! How many lives and how much agony to get rid of this one sin!

Woe to those who make capital out of the sins of men! Just think of the rumseller — tempting men while God is trying to dissuade them from rushing on in the ways of sin and death! Think of the guilt of those who thus set themselves in array against God! So Christ has to contend with rumsellers who are doing all they can to hinder His work.

Our subject strikingly illustrates the nature of sin as mere selfishness. It cares not how much sin costs Jesus Christ — how much it costs the Church, how much it taxes the benevolent sympathies and the self-sacrificing labours of all the good in earth or heaven; no matter; the sinner loves self-indulgence and will have it while he can. How many of you have cost your friends countless tears and trouble to get you back from your ways of sin? Are you not ashamed when so much has been done for you, that you cannot be persuaded to give up your sins and turn to God and holiness?

The whole effort on the part of God for man is one of suffering and self-denial. Beginning with the sacrifice of His own beloved Son, it is carried on with ever renewed sacrifices and toilsome labours — at great and wonderful expense. Just think how long a time these efforts have been protracted already — how many tears, poured out like water, it has cost — how much pain in many forms this enterprise has caused and cost — yea, that very sin which you roll as a sweet morsel under your tongue! God may well hate it when He sees how much it costs, and say — O do not that abominable thing that I hate!

Yet God is not unhappy in these self-denials. So great is His joy in the results, that He deems all the suffering but comparatively a trifle, even as earthly parents enjoy the efforts they make to bless their children. See them; they will almost work their very hands off; mothers sit up at night to ply their needle till they reel with fatigue and blindness; but if you were to see their toil, you would often see also their joy, so intensely do they love their children.

Such is the labour, the joy, and the self-denial of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, in their great work for human salvation. Often are they grieved that so many will refuse to be saved. Toiling on in a common sympathy, there is nothing, within reasonable limits, which they will not do or suffer to accomplish their great work. It is wonderful to think how all creation sympathizes, too, in this work and its necessary sufferings. Go back to the scene of Christ’s sufferings. Could the sun in the heavens look down unmoved on such a scene? O no, he could not even behold it — but veiled his face from the sight! All nature seemed to put on her robes of deepest mourning. The scene was too much for even inanimate nature to bear. The sun turned his back and could not look down on such a spectacle!

The subject illustrates forcibly the worth of the soul. Think you God would have done all this if He had had those low views on this subject which sinners usually have?

Martyrs and saints enjoy their sufferings — filling up in themselves what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ; not in the atonement proper, but in the subordinate parts of the work to be done. It is the nature of true religion to love self-denial.

The results will fully justify all the expense. God had well counted the cost before He began. Long time before He formed a moral universe He knew perfectly what it must cost Him to redeem sinners, and He knew that the result would amply justify all the cost. He knew that a wonder of mercy would be wrought — that the suffering demanded of Christ, great as it was, would be endured; and that results infinitely glorious would accrue therefrom. He looked down the track of time into the distant ages — where, as the cycles rolled along, there might be seen the joys of redeemed saints, who are singing their songs and striking their harps anew with the everlasting song, through the long long, LONG eternity of their blessedness; and was not this enough for the heart of infinite love to enjoy? And what do you think of it, Christian? Will you say now, I am ashamed to ask to be forgiven? How can I bear to receive such mercy! It is the price of blood, and how can I accept it? How can I make Jesus so much expense?

You are right in saying that you have cost Him great expense — but the expense has been cheerfully met — the pain has all been endured, and will not need to be endured again, and it will cost none the more if you accept than if you decline; and moreover still, let it be considered Jesus Christ has not acted unwisely; He did not pay too much for the soul’s redemption — not a pang more than the interests of God’s government demanded and the worth of the soul would justify.

O, when you come to see Him face to face, and tell Him what you think of it — when you are some thousands of years older than you are now, will you not adore that wisdom that manages this scheme, and the infinite love in which it had its birth? O what will you then say of that amazing condescension that brought down Jesus to your rescue! Say, Christian, have you not often poured out your soul before your Saviour in acknowledgment of what you have cost Him, and there seemed to be a kind of lifting up as if the very bottom of your soul were to rise, and you would pour out your whole heart. If anybody had seen you they would have wondered what had happened to you that had so melted your soul in gratitude and love.

Say now, sinners will you sell your birthright? How much will you take for it? How much will you take for your interest in Christ? For how much will you sell your soul? Sell your Christ! Of old they sold Him for thirty pieces of silver; and ever since, the heavens have been raining tears of blood on our guilty world. If you were to be asked by the devil to fix the sum for which you would sell your soul, what would be the price named? Lorenzo Dow once met a man as he was riding along a solitary road to fulfil an appointment, and said to him — Friend, have you ever prayed? No. How much will you take never to pray hereafter? One dollar. Dow paid it over, and rode on. The man put the money in his pocket, and passed on, thinking. The more he thought, the worse he felt. There, said he, I have sold my soul for one dollar! It must be that I have met the devil! Nobody else would tempt me so. With all my soul I must repent, or be damned forever!

How often have you bargained to sell your Saviour for less than thirty pieces of silver! Nay, for the merest trifle!

Finally, God wants volunteers to help on this great work. God has given Himself, and given His Son, and sent His Spirit; but more labourers still are needed; and what will you give? Paul said, I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Do you aspire to such an honour? What will you do — what will you suffer? Say not, I have nothing to give. You can give yourself — your eyes, your ears, your hands, your mind, your heart, all; and surely nothing you have is too sacred and too good to be devoted to such a work upon such a call! How many young men are ready to go? and how many young women? Whose heart leaps up, crying, Here am I! send me?