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Unlimited Atonement at the Westminster Assembly?

September 3, 2007

I have a confession to make; my study of the history of the Westminster has been pretty weak. I am thoroughly enjoying “The History and Theology of Calvinism” by Curt Daniel.

You can download it in PDF or download his 75 series lecture in mp3. It is interesting to read on page 75 of the PDF version that 1/3 of the delegates were unlimited atonement or a “duel” approach. He also states that there were not any Arminians at the assembly. Here is an exact quote from Dr. Daniel:

“This was not quite the same when it came to church government. For example, about ¾ of

the divines were Infralapsarian, ¼ Supralapsarian. About2/3 were for limited atonement, 1/3 for

either universal atonement or a ‘dual’ approach. The standards are not strong on these. Yet,

about ¾ were Presbyterian, the other ¼ being Anglican and Independent- yet the standards are

quite explicitly Presbyterian.”

With today’s theological climate, where many claim unlimited expiation is nothing but Arminianism, Daniel’s provides a breath of fresh air. I wonder how many Calvinists will fall out of their seats when they read that there were “unlimited atonement heretics” at Westminster.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Flynn permalink
    September 5, 2007 9:17 am

    So Josh, the big question then, should we read the WCF documents as precluding the classic idea of a two-fold aspect of the atonement? How does that impact our understanding of the WCF in the light of auhorial intent?

    As an aside, the more and more we research this, the more it is evident that the strict view of the atonement did not gain the majority opinion in England in the period leading up to the close of the 17thC.

  2. kymanika permalink
    September 5, 2007 12:25 pm

    Id say it should lead us back to broadening our view of orthodoxy on the atonement.

    It shows you can be true to the WCF from any of the three ideas on the atonement.

    It should show that unlimited expiation and/or duel intention are not Arminian, nor are they a so called
    4-Pt Calvinism.

    So it seems that atonement and church government, while issues to debate, where not issues of division.

  3. Flynn permalink
    September 5, 2007 1:42 pm

    G’day Josh,

    I saw that Donald had published something on old John Brown (of Wamphray).

    There are two classic comments in the WCF which seemingly preclude the classic view:

    As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

    I think it was Mitchell in the 19thC who asked the question, should the connectors there be “effectually called, or justified, or adopted, or sanctified…” or should they be “effectually called and justified and adopted, and sanctified…”

    I think the context indicates the latter. And what would that then mean if the connector is “or” in the light of Paul’s words here: “the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises…” Romans 9:4

    So even if the connector was “or” one could not take it to the exclusion of any other form of adoption. If one takes the connectors as and, no problem at all, for anyone.

    So that leaves the only other tricky comment in the WCF, which Donald links to: VIII. To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by His Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by His word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by His almighty power and wisdom, in such manner, and ways, as are most consonant to His wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.

    That is a little tricky, because it does seem to be meant to be read in the light of art 5: V. The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, has fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for those whom the Father has given unto Him.

    And further, Baxter reports that he was told by a WCF divine that 8:8 was never meant to preclude his own position. Some of this can be checked out in Mitchell and Struthers’ introduction to the minutes of the WCF, pp., 1vii-lx. Later I will try and track down the citation to Ussher Mitchell references. I do tend to see 8:8 as continuing on from 8:5, and read it as Baxter did, as well as others who must have read it in that light, like Howe, Bates, Marshall, Seaman, and others of this school.

  4. Flynn permalink
    September 5, 2007 2:03 pm

    of course the LBC has no problem here:
    8:8: To all those for whom Christ hat obtained eternal redemption, He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them; uniting them to Himself by His Spirit, revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mystery of salvation, persuading them to believe and obey, governing their hearts by His Word and Spirit, and overcoming all their enemies By His mighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to His wonderful and unsearchable dispensation; and all of free and absolute grace, without any condition forseen in them to procure it.

  5. Flynn permalink
    September 5, 2007 3:30 pm

    I scoped out the reference from Mitchell-Struthers to Ussher and his letter to Spanheim, its all in Latin boo hiss…


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