Thursday, February 3, 2011

Limited Atonement 4

Yesterday we tackled the question of expiation and we saw that Scripture uniformly asserts that Christ's death was expiatory, that is, it actually removed the sin and guilt of those for whom it was offered. Today we will address two more questions directly related to the previous ones. Namely:

8. Does propitiation mean that Christ really removes God's anger against sin, or merely make it possible?
9. Is faith a gift of God or is it a self-generated act?

Our answers to these two important questions weigh in heavily in how we answer the issue of the extent of the atonement. For, if Christ's death really removed God's wrath against the sins of all men without exception, then we must inquire about those who perish. In other words, If faith is a gift from God, why hasn't He given it to everyone? If faith is a self-generated act, and not a gift from God, what need have we of grace, mercy or atonement at all?

Let's address the first question.
8. Does propitiation mean that Christ really removes God's anger against sin, or merely make it possible?
Holy Scripture refers to Christ three times as a propitiation. The references are as follows:
Romans 3:25a (Christ Jesus), whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
1 John 2:2a He is the propitiation for our sins
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

The force of the Greek word, hilastherion, refers to the idea of an atoning sacrifice which pays for the guilt of the sin committed, thus removing the just wrath of God against the guilty sinner. If Christ by His death propitiated God and removed His wrath against our sins by satisfying what His justice demanded, - and this extends to all men without exception, and not to the elect alone, then we have a problem. What, in Heaven's name, is any sinner in Hell being punished for? Why is God still wrathful against their sins? If Christ's sacrifice isn't enough to remove His anger, what is? Here we see why Reformed Christians have always asserted that Arminianism is really nothing more that Save Yourself Pelagianism. If really doesn't matter where in the transaction you insert the necessity for human action. Once you put human works into the equation, man is his own savior. Period!

This leads us to the next question, which we have in fact actually address in part in a previous post.

9. Is faith a gift of God or is it a self-generated act?
The Arminian affirms, without flinching, and with a straight face I might add, that faith is a self-generated act. He reasons that if God were to grant anyone faith, then on the principle of fair play, He must grant it to everyone.

The Calvinist position here is quite simple. Charles Hodge says that Calvinism is merely the acknowledgment that God is sovereign in the realm of salvation in the same way that He is in the realm of creation. When we observe, under God's sovereign rule, that some men are born in possession of sight and others are born blind; that some men are born with full intellectual faculties and others are born mentally handicapped; that some men are born free and others born slaves; that some men are born in free nations and others are born under oppressive totalitarianism - in short, when we see God acting like God, disposing of His creatures as He see fit, why should we kick against the goads when we see God acting as sovereign King over men's salvation as well?

Two days ago we cited a lengthy portion of Ephesians 2. Saving this observation till now, I abstained from pointing out that verse 8 tells us that faith is not of our own doing, but it is actually a gift from God. If faith were a work, then salvation would be by works, the very thing Paul denies repeatedly. Philippians 1:29 tells us that it has been granted to us to believe. 2 Thessalonians 3:2 bluntly informs us, "Not all men have faith." And contrary to popular belief, Romans 12:3 does not say that all men have a measure of faith. The wording is "THE measure of faith," which plainly refers to the content of Christian doctrine, not saving faith.

Now let's pause a second and ask ourselves the following: If faith is a gift which not all men are given, what does Christ's death mean for these ungifted people? The answer is obvious: Nothing! That is because Christ's atonement was not for them. Those for who Christ died are given faith, by God as a gift.

John Owen argues this in a way which is absolutely inescapable. He asked the Arminian, "For whose sins did Christ die?" The Arminian answers, "For all the sins of all men." To this Owen replies, "Then why are not all men saved?" The Arminian says, "Because of their unbelief." And here Owen has them over a barrel. He asks, "Is this unbelief a sin or not?" If it is not a sin, then it should be no hindrance to any man's salvation. If it is a sin, it is still no hindrance because, on Arminian premises, Christ died for all sins. If He did die for all sins, then this sin of unbelief is already atoned for. So why should it be a damning sin more than any other sin? This is a dilemma from which the Arminian can never, ever escape.

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