With the controversy concerning general atonement still swirling and not likely to be immediately settled—even in Reformed circles, it is worth our while to consider a few quotes from others of bygone years who wrote on this subject. These quotes are by no means intended to be a comprehensive survey of the views of others; they are merely a few interesting observations that came to my attention.
The first quote is of C.H. Spurgeon, an English theologian, well known even today for his gifts as a preacher.
The doctrine of redemption is one of the most important doctrines of the system of faith. A mistake on this point will inevitably lead to a mistake through the entire system of our belief.
There are different theories of redemption. All Christians hold that Christ died to redeem, but all Christians do not teach the same redemption. We differ as to the nature of atonement, and as to the design of redemption. For instance, the Arminian holds that Christ, when He died, did not die with an intent to save any particular person; and they teach that Christ’s death does not, in itself, secure, beyond doubt, the salvation of any man living. They believe that Christ died to make the salvation of all men possible, or that by the doing of something else any man who pleases may attain unto eternal life; consequently they are obliged to hold that if man’s will would not give way and voluntarily surrender to grace, then Christ’s atonement would be unavailing. They hold that there was no particularity and specialty in the death of Christ. Christ died, according to them, as much for Judas in hell as for Peter who mounted to heaven. They believe that for those who are consigned to eternal fire, there was as true and real a redemption made as for those who now stand before the throne of the Most High.
Now we believe no such thing. We hold that Christ, when He died had an object in view and that object will most assuredly and beyond a doubt, be accomplished. We measure the design of Christ’s death by the effect of it. If anyone asks us: What did Christ design to do by His death? we answer that question by asking him another: What has Christ done? or: What will Christ do by His death? For we declare that the measure of the effect of Christ’s love is the measure of the design of it. We cannot so belie our reason as to think that the intention of Almighty God could be frustrated, or that the design of so great a thing as the atonement can by any way whatever be missed. We hold—we are not afraid to say what we believe—that Christ came into this world with the intention of saving a multitude which no man can number,” and we believe that as the result of this, every person for whom He died must, beyond the shadow of doubt, be cleansed from sin, and stand washed in blood before the Father’s throne. We do not believe that Christ made any effectual atonement for those who are for ever damned; we dare not think that the blood of Christ was ever shed with the intention of saving those whom God foreknew never could be saved, and some of whom were even in hell when Christ, according to some men’s accounts, died to save them.
Jesus Christ came into the world “to give His life a ransom for many.” The greatness of Christ’s redemption may be measured by the extent of the design of it. He gave His life “a ransom for many.” We are often told (i.e., those of us who are commonly nicknamed Calvinists. and we are not very much ashamed of that; we think that Calvin, after all, knew more about the Gospel than almost any man who has ever lived. uninspired) that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Our reply to this is that, on the other hand our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say: Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it: Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say: “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question: Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer: “No.” They are obliged to admit this if they are consistent. They say: “No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if—” and then follow certain conditions of salvation. We say, then, we will just go back to the old statement—Christ did not die so as beyond a doubt to secure the salvation of anybody, did He? You must say, “No”; you are obliged to say so, for you believe that even after a man has been pardoned, he may yet fall from grace and perish. NOW, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you! YOU say that Christ did not die so as to infallibly secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say: “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any impossibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.
When you hear anyone laughing or jeering at a limited atonement, you may tell him this: General atonement is like a great wide bridge with only half an arch; it does not go across the stream, it only professes to go half way; it does not secure the salvation of anybody. Now, I had rather put my foot upon a bridge as narrow as Hungerford, which went all the way across, than on a bridge that was as wide as the world, if it did not go all the way across the stream. I am told that it is my duty to say that all men have been redeemed, and I am told that there is Scripture warrant for it— “Who gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.” Now, that looks like a very great argument indeed on the other side of the question, for instance: “The whole World is gone after Him.” Did all the world go after Christ? “Then went out all Judea, and were baptized of Him in Jordan.” Was all Judea or all Jerusalem, baptized in Jordan? “Ye are of God, little children,” and “The whole world lieth in the wicked one.” Does “the whole world” there mean everybody? If so, how was it, then, that there were some who were “of God?” The words “world” and “all” are used in some seven or eight senses in Scripture, and it is very rarely that “all” means all persons, taken
individually. The words are generally used to signify that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts – some Jews, some Gentiles, some rich, some poor, and has not restricted His redemption to either Jew or Gentile.
The following quotes are from John Calvin’s Treatise, “The Eternal Predestination of God.” This pamphlet is included in the book Calvin’s Calvinism.
But the great question lies here: Did the Lord by His eternal counsel ordain salvation for all men? It is quite manifest that all men without difference or distinction, are outwardly called or invited to repentance and faith. It is equally evident that the same Mediator is set forth before all, as He who alone can reconcile them to the Father. But it is as fully well known that none of these things can be understood or perceived but by faith, in fulfillment of the apostle Paul’s declaration that “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” then what can it be to others but the “savor of death unto death?” as the same apostle elsewhere powerfully expresses himself.
Meantime, this blind instructor (Pighius) never thinks of the fact that Israel (the “open-eyed” one, according to his lucid interpretation) was made “open-eyed” by the peculiar grace of God, for he had been chosen of God even in the womb of his mother. Nor do any others ever possess “eyes” to see God, or His truth, but those whose minds God Himself enlightens by His Spirit. And those only are deemed worthy the light of His Spirit whom He adopted for Himself even while still in their blindness, and whom He makes His children. After this, Pighius, like a wild beast escaped from his cage, rushes forth, bounding over all fences in his way, uttering such sentiments as these: “The mercy of God is extended to every one, for God wishes all men to be saved; and for that end He stands and knocks at the door of our heart, desiring to enter. Therefore, those were elected before the foundation of the world, by whom He foreknew He should be received. But God hardens no one, excepting by His forbearance, in the same manner as too fond parents ruin their children by excessive indulgence.” Just as if anyone by such puerile dreams as these, could escape the force of all those things which the apostle plainly declares in direct contradiction to such sentiments! And just as if it were nothing to his readers, when Paul positively asserts that, out of the twins, while they were yet in the womb of their mother, the one was chosen and the other rejected! and that, too, without any respect to the works of either, present or future (of the former of which there could be none), but solely by the good pleasure of God that calleth! As if it were nothing, when the apostle testifies that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy,” who hardened whom He will, and hath mercy on whom He will; . . .
So-called Calvinists, both here in this country and the Netherlands, would do well to re-read their Calvin.
It is perhaps time to catch up on some of the more important news items of the summer months. With particular concern for the news of the Church world, we call attention to the following:
1) Pope John XXIII has died and Pope Paul VI has been elected to take his place. The fact that only four ballots were cast by the cardinals to elect him speaks of a surprising unanimity of opinion among the highest clergy of Roman Catholicism. This is especially surprising in the light of the fact that Pope Paul favors, for the most part, the policies of his predecessor. Paul has already gone on record in favor of more vernacular in the mass, the continuance of the Vatican Council, closer relationships with Protestants, and perhaps even continued efforts to improve relations with Russia. In spite of the fact that many higher clergy within the Romish Church opposed these policies, it seems that Paul was elected without too much difficulty. We can therefore expect increasingly strong movements to bring all Protestants within the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church.
2) The Supreme Court continued its battle to eliminate prayers and Bible reading from the public schools. In connection with two other cases the Court declared that any form of religious exercise was forbidden by the Constitution if it was practiced in the public school system; for it necessarily denied atheists and Unitarians the free exercise of their religious belief and imposed upon them religions contrary to their own. The effect of all this is to give legal status and constitutional sanction to the false religions of secularism and atheism under the guise of introducing into the schools strict neutrality. But there is no neutrality. “Who is not for me, is against me” Jesus says. The surprising part of it is that, while the decision of last year on the same matter raised a tremendous hue and cry and even prompted several congressmen to introduce bills for a constitutional amendment, these recent decisions went by with very little comment and a negligible amount of criticism. How soon people become accustomed to false religion. No doubt because they have no faith to begin with.
3) The battle for equal rights for Negroes has made the front pages of the nation’s press all summer long. From the point of view of this column, its interest is primarily in the fact that the churches are becoming more deeply involved all the time. Associations of Churches (the National Council of Churches, e.g.) have passed resolutions placing themselves squarely on the side of the Negro; ministers and ecclesiastical assemblies have devoted more and more time to issuing admonitions intended to assist the Negros in their struggle; various assorted clerics have taken part in demonstrations, freedom rides, sit-ins and other activities devised to force the nation to accept this minority race. As prominent a man as Eugene Carson Blake (an official in the Presbyterian Church and a leader in the recent “Pike-Blake merger talks”) found himself in jail briefly for his part in demonstrations.
Apart from the still unanswered questions of the problems of segregation and integration in the light of Scripture, it should go without argument that the Church (at least officially) should not engage in these unecclesiastical matters; their sole calling is to preach the gospel. This is most emphatically true when the battle for negro rights has entered the streets and is being fought with the weapons of violence, force, coercion and downright rebellion. But the churches of America that have lost the gospel have nothing else to do it seems.