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Styles on Commensurate (aka Commercial) Atonement

July 17, 2007

I have included the headers and sub-headers from the previous pages so that readers can id the general matter Styles is speaking to.




Christ’s sufferings proportionate to His people’s guilt, the ground if the sufficiency of His work.

We believe that as the death of the Lord Jesus was penal (that is to say inflicted on Him in punishment for the sins of His people,) His vicarious agonies were proportioned to their guilt, and died to save His own. that He suffered at the hands of impartial Justice what they Truth, wisdom, justice, power and love in their own persons must otherwise have endured in the place of endless woe, and that thus the measure of His rendered His oblation gloriously sufficient for great ends contemplated in the covenant of grace.


ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 10, Some erroneous views of the Atonement.


We differ from those who hold that “the dignity of Christ’s person,” and the “agony which He endured,” “determines the merit of His work” No Scripture that we are aware of is adduced in favour of this assertion. It will therefore suffice to state that it has been duly considered and rejected by those whom we regard as authorities-who hold that the efficacy of the atonement lies in our Lord’s having so suffered, in His precious and inexplicable complexity, for the sins of His elect, as to satisfy divine justice on their behalf. Its worth lies neither in the glory of His person nor the circumstances of HIS passion, separately considered; but in His having suffered as the God-man, under the Divine wrath justly excited by the sins of His people. “The merits of Christ,” says William Palmer, consist in the worth of His person drawn out in acts of obedience unto death, which He rendered as a public person to the Law.” The glory of the Lord’s person indeed characterized His atoning work Had He not been the infinite God, not one sinner would have been saved by His sufferings. This we concede. But “the essence of the atonement,” again says William Palmer, “must not be confounded with tho Divinity of Him who made it; for then the slightest pang would have sufficed, and a plenary punishment been avoided.”

We differ from those who deny that the sufferings of Christ were equivalent to the punishment due to the sins of the elect. No Scripture is, again, adduced to refute what has been esteemed a fundamental truth. It suffices, therefore, to state that John Stevens expresses his belief that “Christ’s sufferings were according to the number of His people” in a work which has been universally accepted in the denomination. I t has been asked, ” whether the Lord Jesus could have suffered more,” and this, not particularly wise, question has been supposed to contain an argument as cogent as if it were the statement of a revealed fact. John Stevens has, however, shown that it is propounded in ignorance of the distinction that should be drawn between the act of dying and the sufferings that may attend a dying hour. Not from His death alone, but from His dying under such unique and momentous circumstances the merits of Christ’s oblation arose. It is certain that His sufferings resulted from the sins of the elect, and we as a Denomination hold that they were a legal equivalent to what the church must, but for Him, have suffered in Hell for ever

We differ from those who hold that the value of the atonement is infinite, although its benefits are confined to his elect. While it is conceded by those to whom we refer, that the influence of Christ’s death extends only to those whose Head He is, it is insisted that we should discriminate between this, and its worth. Its worth is infinite; its influence restricted. This is the distinction between the intrinsic and extrinsic value of the atonement. “The indwelling Godhead of Emmanuel” we are told, “imprinted its own infinity upon the value of His oblation”; hence its intrinsic infinitude. Divine appointment restricts its actual efficacy; hence its extrinsic limitatedness. Pedantic phraseology, however, in our judgment only tends to obscure the simplicity of divine truth, and we object to the employment of words that poor and plain men cannot understand. With William Palmer, we deem this distinction “indefensible.” We believe the design, the worth and the application of the atonement to be co-extensive, regarding it, as in all respects, commensurate with the claims of justice on those for whom it was intended.

The above distinction we moreover hold to be human, needless, unscriptural, and misleading. It does not simplify the presentation of the gospel to sinners. It affords no ,comfort to anxious inquirers sighing under the burden of deplored sin; to whom infinite generalities bring no relief. Their question invariably is, not “has an atonement of unlimited value been provided?” but ” Did Christ die for ME?” It magnifies neither the justice, nor the wisdom, nor the love of God, and introduces confusion into the beautifully harmonious, and coherent scheme of Divine salvation. On the other hand the doctrine of a just and sufficient atonement is, in all ways, adapted to the wants of sinners, while it reflects transcendent glory upon the God of all grace. The assertion that they only can preach to sinners who are prepared to proclaim that the Atonement is a “bottomless abyss” is disproved by the fact that the gospel is never so presented in the Inspired volume.

The assertion that an infinite atonement was needful, because sin is an infinite evil, is also untenable. Sin may be infinite in the language of hyperbole, when terms are not employed in their full and literal acceptation. Sin may be called infinite, relatively, for it is the rebellion of the soul against the infinite God. But sin personally considered is the act of finite creatures who cannot possibly give rise to what is infinite.

On examination it will be seen that the root of all objections to an atonement, limited both in design and efficacy, lies in dislike to the sovereignty of God. In determining the extent of His salvation He pleased Himself alone. The right to do this, proud reason invariably denies Him. Hence the many attacks upon the revelation of plans and proceedings, in all of which He claims and exercises His royal prerogative.

Our views accord with the Scriptures which invariably represent the satisfaction of Jesus, as the result of His sufferings as a complex person, when enduring the punishment adjudicated by equity to the sins that had been transferred to Him. It is granted that the complexity of Emmanuel invested Him with an infinite capacity for suffering, but where is it asserted that He suffered to the extent of that capacity?

All passages which refer to the cause of His sufferings, explicitly state that these had definite relation to accurately considered sins. “With His stripes,” i.e., with stripes inflicted on Him, one by one, till the required number was reached, we are healed.” ”The Lord hath laid on Him,” not the iniquity, or sin as sin, but, as in the margin, “the iniquities of us all.” “For the transgressions of my people was He smitten.” “The chastisement of our peace,” i.e., such punishment as must be endured to ensure our peace, ” was upon Him.” He was delivered for our offenses.” “He died for our sins.” “He suffered for us in the flesh.” He “the just ” one, died, INSTEAD of the “unjust ones.” “He gave Himself for out sins.” The wrath of God excited by our sins therefore caused His suffering, and to exhaust that measured wrath He suffered.

Now we must surely “believe in equity in relation to the atonement.”–John Hazelton. We cannot but hold that impartial justice regulated every blow of the divine hand which fell upon the spotless Surety. Since, therefore, His sufferings were commensurate with the penal deserts of those whom He represented, His sufferings were limited. We hence conclude that the Expiation which was the out-come of those sufferings was correspondingly limited. Cause regulates effect. In this case the cause of the suffering was the sins of a numbered company (Isa. liii. 6, margin; Rom. iv. 25; 1 Cor. xv. 3; 1 Pet. iii. 18; Rev. vii. 9); when made to meet upon their responsible and competent Surety. The effect, therefore, must correspond there-with, and the a “value,” “worth,” “efficacy,” “efficiency,” “preciousness,” or “sufficiency” (for the terms are employed with little apparent discrimination) of the Atonement, must be limited to those for whom it was made.

The above view is currently styled the Commercial View of the Atonement, though “the doctrine of a Commensurate Atonement” might be happier. It is opposed by Fullerites, “who base the extent of the Atonement on the glory and dignity of the Divine, Nature of Jesus, contending that is sacrifice was (on this account) of “infinite worth,” enough to have been the means of saving ten thousand worlds.”–DR.- STOCK.

Somewhat similar is the view of O. W. Shepherd.–“It was the dignity of Christ’s person which determined the merit of His work.” “The excellency of the Divine nature is communicated to the work done by Him in the human nature. His obedience is thereby Divine, and therefore of infinite efficacy.” “If one sinner only was to have been saved, He could not have done less; had there been a million times as many, He could not have done more.”

On the contrary, the view of John Stevens is, that “the demands, of impartial Justice (which Jesus met) were greater than if only one sinner had been ordained to salvation, and must have been proportioned to the number of those appointed to obtain salvation (by His sufferings.”)–“HELP FOR THE TRUE DISCIPLES,” page 180.

John Hazelton also speaks thus :–“It is said that ‘you should not take a commercial view of the Atonement.’ But ‘Ye are bought with a price.’ What is a commercial view of the Atonement. if it does not appear here? My friends, it is wicked, and altogether of the devil, to talk in this manner of the Atonement of Christ,” namely to deny the doctrine enforced above.–Sermons, Vol. i. page 4. See TRACTS ON THE ATONEMENT by W. Palmer.

While, however, we endeavor to assign to the Atonement its scriptural proportions, we are careful to avoid ascribing limits to the Holy One of Israel. “Infinity should be connected with all His attributes.” –(John Hazelton), but we distinguish between His attributes and His actions. His glory is infinite, but its displays are limited. His wisdom is infinite, but its manifestations are limited. His power is infinite, but its operations are limited. His love is infinite, but its objects are limited. It should, however, be remembered that those limitations have been determined by the Lord Himself. How superlatively glorious, therefore, the proportions and results of the, Atonement will finally prove to be, none can conceive. This we are assured, that they will be worthy of the infinitely blessed God.

William Jeyes Styles, A Manual of Faith and Practice, Designed for Young and Enquiring Christians, (London: Printed by J. Briscoe, Banner Street, Finsbury, E.C., 1897), 43, 44, 45, 46-49.

1) This is a gem from Styles. This is the end result of Gillite Hypercalvinism; the end-game. Thankfully, I think this junk has been well and truly discarded even by 20thC hypercalvinists. In the 19thC a number of Welsh Baptists, as well as English Baptists were pushing this idea. John Dagg one of the Southern Baptist fathers also pressed this in his Manual of Theology. As I read Styles here, I can see a few things which are interesting historically.

2) Styles, and his sources there all believed that they were espousing a penal substitution. And in so doing, were quite happy to also designate it–as a badge of honour–as a commercial atonement. His preferred term is commensurate. This idea is that had more been elected, more sin would have been imputed to Christ, and so Christ would have suffered more. This surely must cause some of us to check our thinking here. Have we also unconsciously converted penal categories into commercial categories? Recall I posted Charles Hodge on the true nature of biblical redemption, as deliverance, not as literal purchase.

I have seen a lot of people reason exactly the same as one of the above sources has. It is a sort of fundy-literalist reading of Scripture.

3) The sources of these whacky ideas are from folk like Crisp, who taught a form of literal transactionalism, according to the secondary sources I have read on him. Our sin is literally imputed (ie transferred) to Christ, said Crisp.

But also, this whacky “commensurate” idea sees sins, as a plural number as being imputed to Christ. So it is actually possible here that more sin could have been imputed. This surely has its origins in the 17thC Reformed idea of limited imputation of sin, as opposed to the earlier 16thC Augustinian-Calvinian idea of all sin as imputed to Christ, the sins of the whole world, or all the sins of the world (cf., the Second Helvetic Confession etc).

4) Some of the arguments are just absurd. The “slightest pang” would have sufficed? Come on. What this person forgets is the OT idea of lex talionis.

5) Here is the example of the lapsarian-Federalist teleology too: “great ends contemplated in the covenant of grace.” This is that monist teleology again. The final action is the first in intent. With this tho, is added the fallacious idea, that a limited result entails a co-extensive limited intent. I may be charged with pressing Styles too much here, reading in to him, but I think I am justified given his nonsense that Christ suffered so much for so much sin.

Anyway, the whole here is so gross that I will leave it at this. I am just glad that this repulsive doctrine has been widely discarded even by today’s hypers, that I am aware of.

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