After yesterday's post on the doctrine of Limited Atonement, I wish to call upon the witness of history to show that this was not an inovation of the Reformers. What flollows is the reslut of countless hours of study and research.
Polycarp’s protégé, the great Irenaeus of Lyons says, “And when the prophet says: In the humiliation his judgment was taken away, he signifies the appearance of His humiliation: according to the form of the abasement was the taking away of judgment. And the taking away of judgment is for some unto salvation, and to some unto the torments of perdition. For there is a taking away for a person, and also from a person.” 1
The master apologist Justin, in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew says, “But now, by means of the contents of those Scriptures esteemed holy and prophetic amongst you, I attempt to prove all [that I have adduced], in the hope that some one of you may be found to be of that remnant which has been left by the grace of the Lord of Sabaoth for the eternal salvation.” 2
Also applicable is this remark by Tertullian, “for selection implies rejection.” 3 Tertullian goes on to say, “For He who once for all appointed an eternal judgment at the world's close, does not precipitate the separation, which is essential to judgment, before the end. Meanwhile He deals with all sorts of men alike, so that all together share His favors and reproofs. His will is, that outcasts and elect should have adversities and prosperities in common, that we should have all the same experience of His goodness and severity.” 4 Notice how Tertullian deals with the issue of “common grace.” There are benefits experienced by the non-elect due to Christ’s death, but salvation is not one of them, as indeed he says here: “Accordingly the true God bestows His blessings alike on wicked men and on His own elect; upon which account He has appointed an eternal judgment…” 5
These further two quotes by Tertullian bear directly upon the Divine choosing and rejecting of some for salvation: “A preference for the one is not possible without slighting the other, and no choice can be made without a rejection. He who selects some one out of many, has already slighted the other which he does not select.” 6 “These were the ingenious arts of ‘spiritual wickednesses,’ wherewith we also, my brethren, may fairly expect to have ‘to wrestle,’ as necessary for faith, that the elect may be made manifest, (and) that the reprobate may be discovered.” 7
Another writer says, “The Almighty Christ descends to His elect…” 8
“He could bear Judas even to the last with a long patience - could take meat with His enemy - could know the household foe, and not openly point him out, nor refuse the kiss of the traitor.”Note that Cyprian explains how Jesus bore with Judas even though He was fully aware of what he would do at “the last.” 9
“Without the Spirit it is not possible to behold the Word of God, nor without the Son can any draw near to the Father: for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and the knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit; and, according to the good pleasure of the Father, the Son ministers and dispenses the Spirit to whomsoever the Father wills and as He wills.” 10 This remark can equally refer to Election and Depravity, but it is noteworthy that Irenaeus limits the recipients of salvation to those who the Father wills to save.
Similarly, Basil the Great, understands salvation to be limited as well. He says: “I exhort you, therefore, not to faint in your afflictions, but to be revived by God’s love, and to add daily to your zeal, knowing that in you ought to be preserved that remnant of true religion which the Lord will find when He cometh on the earth. Even if bishops are driven from their Churches, be not dismayed. If traitors have arisen from among the very clergy themselves, let not this undermine your confidence in God…Remember that it is not the multitude who are being saved, but the elect of God. 11
Consider the confession of the holy Church of Smyrna, shortly after the commendation given to it by the Holy Spirit in Rev. 2:9 upon the martyrdom of their beloved bishop Polycarp: 12 “Neither can we ever forsake Christ, him who suffered for the salvation of the world of them that are saved, nor worship any other.” [It is an extract from a letter of the church of Smyrna to the churches of Pontus, giving an account of the martyrdom of Polycarp.]
Ignatius, as he was traveling to Rome from Antioch to be cast to beasts for the testimony of Jesus, says: “This is the way leading to the Father, this the rock, the fold, the key; he is the shepherd, the sacrifice; the door of knowledge, by which entered Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the whole company of prophets, and the pillars of the world, the apostles, and the spouse of Christ; for whom, instead of a dowry, he poured out his own blood, that he might redeem her.” 13
Surely Christ gives a dowry for no one but his bride.
Even earlier, possibly while St. John was still living, Clement, “whose name is in the book of life,” 14, with the whole church at Rome in his days, in his epistle to the church of Corinth writes:“For the love which he had unto us, he gave his blood for us, according to his purpose, and his flesh for our flesh, and his life for our lives.” 15 Here we have a testimony from the earliest days of Christianity, wherein we are told: a. The cause of Christ’s death, viz., his love to us. b. Its object — us, or believers. c. The manner how he redeemed us: by substitution.
Citing again from Cyprian, the holy, learned and famous martyr (ci.250 A.D.) we note that he speaks of Christ’s death thus, “He bare all us, who bare our sins;” 16 that is, he sustained their persons on the cross for whom he died.
In another place he says, “This grace hath Christ communicated, subduing death in the trophy of his cross, redeeming believers with the price of his blood.” 17
Lest doubt pervade concerning the use of the word “all,” see how the great teacher of the East speaks.“Wonder not if the whole world be redeemed; for he was not a mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God that died. If, then, through the eating of the tree” (forbidden) “they were cast out of paradise, certainly now by the tree” (or cross) “of Jesus shall not believers more easily enter into paradise?” 18
Others use the word “all” in the same limited sense. Athanasius says, “He is the life of all, and as a sheep he delivered his body a price for the souls of all, that they might be saved.” 19 All in both places can be none but the elect.
The same could be said of Augustine’s mentor, Ambrose, who writes, “If thou believe not, Christ did not descend for thee, he did not suffer for thee.” 20
In another place he writes, “The people of God hath its own fullness. In the elect and foreknown, distinguished from the generality of all, there is accounted a certain special universality; so that the whole world seems to be delivered from the whole world, and all men to be taken out of all men.” 21 – In which place he proceeds to declare the reasons why, in this business, “all” and “the world” are so often used for “some of all sorts.”
1. Irenaeus, The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching
2. Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho
3. Tertullian, Apology
4. Tertullian, ibid.
5. Tertullian, ad Scapula
6. Tertullian, ad Nationes, Bk. 1, Ch. 10
7. Tertullian, Prescription Against the Heretics 39
9. Cyprian, On The Good of Patience
10. Irenaeus, The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching
11. Basil, Letter CCLVII
12. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. Bk. 4, Ch. 15
13. Ignatius, Ep. Phil. 9
14. Philippians 4:3
15. 1 Clement, Ch. XLIX
16. Cyprian, Epist. 62, to Cæcilius
17. Cyprian, to Demetrian
18. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 13
19. Athanasius, The Incarnation of The Word
20. Ambrose, de Vocat. Gen. Bk 1 Ch. 3
21. Ambrose, de Fide ad Gratianum