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Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898) on Unlimited Expiation and Limited Redemption; And Related Issues

November 26, 2007

R.L. DABNEY

Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect alone:

1) But the arguments which we adduced on the affirmative side of the question demonstrate that Christ’s redeeming work was limited in intention to the elect. The Arminian dogma that He did the same redeeming work in every respect for all is preposterous and unscriptural. But at the same time, if the Calvinistic scheme be strained as high as some are inclined, a certain amount of justice will be found against them in the Arminian objections. Therefore, in mediis tutissime ibis . The well known Calvinistic formula, that “Christ died sufficiently for all, efficaciously for the Elect,” must be taken in a sense consistent with all the passages of Scripture which are cited above. Dabney, Lectures, 527.

The sufferings of Christ of equal value to all the guilt of the world:

1) Christ Suffered the
very Penalty.

The Reformed assert then, that Christ made penal satisfaction, by suffering the very penalty demanded by the law of sinners. In this sense, we say even idem fecit.

The identity we assert is, of course, not a numerical one, but a generic one. If we are asked, how this could be, when Christ was not holden forever of death, and experienced none of the remorse, wicked despair, and subjective pollution, attending a lost sinner’s second death? We reply: the same penalty, when poured out on Him, could not work all the detailed results, because of His divine nature and immutable holiness. A stick of wood, and an ingot of gold are subjected to the same fire. The wood is permanently consumed: the gold is only melted, because it is a precious metal, incapable of natural oxidation, and it is gathered, undiminished, from the ashes of the furnace. But the fire was the same! And then, the infinite dignity of Christ’s person gives to His temporal sufferings a moral value equal to the weight of all the guilt of the world.  Dabney, Lectures, 505.

Dabney and infinite and unlimited expiation with limited intention to apply:

1)

The Five Points of Calvinism:
Particular Redemption

Did Christ die for the elect only, or for all men?” The answer has been much prejudiced by ambiguous terms, such as “particular atonement,” “limited atonement,” or “general atonement,” “unlimited atonement,” “indefinite atonement.” What do they mean by atonement? The word (at-one-ment) is used but once in the New Testament (Rom. 5:11), and there it means expressly and exactly reconciliation. This is proved thus: the same Greek word in the next verse, carrying the very same meaning, is translated reconciliation. Now, people continually mix two ideas when they say atonement: One is, that of the expiation for guilt provided in Christ’s sacrifice. The other is, the individual reconciliation of a believer with his God, grounded on that sacrifice made by Christ once for all, but actually effectuated only when the sinner believes and by faith. The last is the true meaning of atonement, and in that sense every, atonement (at-one-ment), reconciliation, must be individual, particular, and limited to this sinner who now believes. There have already been just as many atonements as there are true believers in heaven and earth, each one individual.

But sacrifice, expiation, is one—the single, glorious, indivisible act of the divine Redeemer, infinite and inexhaustible in merit. Had there been but one sinner, Seth, elected of God, this whole divine sacrifice would have been needed to expiate his guilt. Had every sinner of Adam’s race been elected, the same one sacrifice would be sufficient for all. We must absolutely get rid of the mistake that expiation is an aggregate of gifts to be divided and distributed out, one piece to each receiver, like pieces of money out of a bag to a multitude of paupers. Were the crowd of paupers greater, the bottom of the bag would be reached before every pauper got his alms, and more money would have to be provided. I repeat, this notion is utterly false as applied to Christ’s expiation, because it is a divine act. It is indivisible, inexhaustible, sufficient in itself to cover the guilt of all the sins that will ever be committed on earth. This is the blessed sense in which the Apostle John says (1 Jn. 2:2): “Christ is the propitiation (the same word as expiation) for the sins of the whole world.”

But the question will be pressed, “Is Christ’s sacrifice limited by the purpose and design of the Trinity”? The best answer for Presbyterians to make is this: In the purpose and design of the Godhead, Christ’s sacrifice was intended to effect just the results, and all the results, which would be found flowing from it in the history of redemption. I say this is exactly the answer for us Presbyterians to make, because we believe in God’s universal predestination as certain and efficacious so that the whole final outcome of his plan must be the exact interpretation of what his plan was at first. And this statement the Arminian also is bound to adopt, unless he means to charge God with ignorance, weakness, or fickleness. Search and see.

Well, then, the realized results of Christ’s sacrifice are not one, but many and various:

1. It makes a display of God’s general benevolence and pity toward all lost sinners, to the glory of his infinite grace. For, blessed be his name, he says, “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth” (Ezek. 18:32).

2. Christ’s sacrifice has certainly purchased for the whole human race a merciful postponement of the doom incurred by our sins, including all the temporal blessings of our earthly life, all the gospel restraints upon human depravity, and the sincere offer of heaven to all. For, but for Christ, man’s doom would have followed instantly after his sin, as that of the fallen angels did.

3. Christ’s sacrifice, wilfully rejected by men, sets the stubbornness, wickedness, and guilt of their nature in a much stronger light, to the glory of God’s final justice.

4. Christ’s sacrifice has purchased and provided for the effectual calling of the elect, with all the graces which insure their faith, repentance, justification, perseverance, and glorification. Now, since the sacrifice actually results in all these different consequences, they are all included in Gods design. This view satisfies all those texts quoted against us.

But we cannot admit that Christ died as fully and in the same sense for Judas as he did for Saul of Tarsus. Here we are bound to assert that, while the expiation is infinite, redemption is particular. The irrefragable grounds on which we prove that the redemption is particular are these: From the doctrines of unconditional election, and the covenant of grace. (The argument is one, for the covenant of grace is but one aspect of election.) The Scriptures tell us that those who are to be saved in Christ are a number definitely elected and given to him from eternity to be redeemed by his mediation. How can anything be plainer from this than that there was a purpose in God’s expiation, as to them, other than that it was as to the rest of mankind? (See the Scriptures regarding the immutability of God’s purposes—Isa. 46:10; 2 Tim. 2:19.)

If God ever intended to save any soul in Christ (and he has a definite intention to save or not to save toward souls), that soul will certainly be saved (Jn. 10:27-28; 6:37-40). Hence, all whom God ever intended to save in Christ will be saved. But some souls will never be saved; therefore some souls God never intended to be saved by Christ’s atonement. The strength of this argument can scarcely be overrated. Here it is seen that a limit as to the intention of the expiation must be asserted to rescue God’s power, purpose, and wisdom. The same fact is proved by this, that Christ’s intercession is limited (see Jn. 17:9, 20). We know that Christ’s intercession is always prevalent (Rom. 8:34; Jn. 11:42). If he interceded for all, all would be saved. But all will not be saved. Hence, there are some for whom be does not plead the merit of his expiation. But he is the “same yesterday and to-day and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Hence, there were some for whom, when be made expiation, he did not intend to plead it. Some sinners (i. e., elect) receive from God gifts of conviction, regeneration, faith, persuading and enabling them to embrace Christ, and thus make his expiation effectual to themselves, while other sinners do not, But these graces are a part of the purchased redemption, and bestowed through Christ. Hence his redemption was intended to effect some as it did not others (see above.)

Experience proves the same. A large part of the human race were already in hell before the expiation was made. Another large part never hear of it. But “faith cometh by hearing” (Rom. 10:17), and faith is the condition of its application. Since their condition is determined intentionally by God’s providence, it could not be his intention that the expiation should avail for them equally with those who hear and believe. This view is destructive, particularly of the Arminian scheme.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). But the greater includes the less, whence it follows, that if God the Father and Christ cherished for a given soul the definite electing love which was strong enough to pay the sacrifice of Calvary, it is not credible that this love would then refuse the less costly gifts of effectual calling and sustaining grace. This is the very argument of Romans 5:10 and 8:31-39. This inference would not be conclusive. if drawn merely from the benevolence of God’s nature, sometimes called in Scripture “his love,” but in every case of his definite, electing love it is demonstrative.

Hence, it is absolutely impossible for us to retain the dogma that Christ in design died equally for all. We are compelled to hold that he died for Peter and Paul in some sense in which he did not for Judas. No consistent mind can hold the Calvinistic creed as to man’s total depravity toward God, his inability of will, God’s decree, God’s immutable attributes of sovereignty and omnipotence over free agents, omniscience and wisdom, and stops short of this conclusion. So much every intelligent opponent admits, and in disputing particular redemption, to this extent at least, he always attacks these connected truths as falling along with the other.

In a word, Christ’s work for the elect does not merely put them in a salvable state, but purchases for them a complete and assured salvation. To him who knows the depravity and bondage of his own heart, any less redemption than this would bring no comfort. R.L. Dabney The Five Points of Calvinism (Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publications, 1895), 60-66.

2)

THE ATONEMENT.

The third point objected to is our brief statement of the doctrine of the atonement. And this has been assailed most vehemently of all. Say your memorialists, “We understand the report as representing Christ to be the substitute of all mankind alike.” … “Thus, according to the Confession, the decree of election would seem to have, in the order of thought, preceded in the divine mind the redemption wrought out by the Saviour. But the report appears to us to teach, according to the New School view of the subject, that first, the redemption was decreed for all men alike, and then God elected some of these as the redeemed ones to be saved.”

The illustration of these criticisms is, we believe, best to be found in the periodicals which have sustained them. In showing how unfounded they are, I would premise by saying that there is among Calvinists, among ourselves, a slight difference in the arrangement of some details concerning the atonement and its application; yet both classes have always recognized each other as holding the essentials of the doctrine of particular redemption. Thus your memorialists adjust those details in such an order as to represent a sequence of thought in the divine mind itself in forming the decree, and in this sequence place the predestination of the elect first, and the purpose to send Christ to redeem them second. Others, as Amyraut, with whom possibly a few of our brethren still hold, suppose such a sequence only in an inverted order: first, the purpose to send Christ to die for man, and then out of the race to sovereignly elect some, to whom this universal provision should be applied in effectual calling. Now to us it is perfectly clear that the Confession commits itself to neither of these schemes, for the reason that, whatever be their correctness or incorrectness, they contain refinements which go beyond the word of God. I have been taught to think, along with Dr. Baxter, upon this subject of a sequence between the parts of the divine decree, that the human reason can go no farther than this: its infirmity constrains it to think of that vast plan in parts, which in the infinite mind of God has no parts, but is one, eternal, single, all-embracing purpose. So, in our minds, the apprehension of one part must follow after that of another part. But with God it cannot be so; for that which is one and eternal must be absolutely contemporaneous. If, then, we impute our sequences to God, we plunge into error. The most we can comprehend is that God, in entertaining from eternity one part of this contemporaneous purpose, has regard to a state of facts as to that part destined by him to result from his same purpose as to other parts of his moral government. I presume to go no farther. And this view I am pleased to find sanctioned by the powerful support of Principal Hill, when he says: “Hence it may be observed how idly they are employed who presume to settle the order of the divine decree, and how insignificant are the controversies upon this subject which in the days of our fathers divided those who were agreed as to the general principles of Calvinism.”

Now we suppose that the Westminster divines were guided by precisely the same wise view in passing over in silence, as they certainly do, the question between supra- and infra-lapsarians. And I regard the slight difference between your memorialists and the Westminster divines in precisely. the same light. In stating that common basis of Calvinism, touching this doctrine of the atonement, upon which we should invite our brethren of the United Synod to meet us, was it proper to demand of them the admission of refined details, not agreed on among ourselves, not demanded by the Scriptures, nor by the Confession? To do so would have been preposterous and positively unjust. The aim of your committee, then, was to state, after the example of the Confession, those features of the doctrine which distinguish Calvinists hereupon from Arminians and the New England school, and to introduce sentences which should clearly and beyond a peradventure cut up by the root all the notions which reduce the atonement to a didactic display, a moral drama, an exemplary incident, or a governmental expedient. Hence, we either say, or expressly imply, that Christ was our substitute; that his sufferings were truly vicarious; that they were properly penal; that they were a true satisfaction to justice; that they were necessary to make pardon possible, consistently with the perfections of God. Is not this right?

But it is objected that the report suggests error concerning the application and extent of the atonement. On this subject there are two aspects which Calvinists have always distinguished. One regards the nature of the atonement; the other its design; and we all hold that, in its intrinsic nature, the atonement is infinite. This is the consequence of the infinite dignity of the Mediatorial Person. Its value is, intrinsically, as sufficient for the sins of all men as of one. Its limitation to the elect is not to be sought, then, in it nature, but in its design; and this design, as to its actual application to them, is nothing else than the decree. It is not something else, different and separate, but the decree itself. Now the section of our report under remark, in its first sentences, speaks of the nature of the atonement, and in its last of its application. In its first sentences it uses general terms, “man’s guilt,” “our sins,” etc., for it is speaking only of the nature of Christ’s atoning work, which has no limits.’ And in speaking thus, I claim that the report does but imitate the Scriptures–”God so loved the world,” etc.; “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world,” etc.–and the Confession itself. Why, then, should it be charged with error for using the same sort of language which the Bible itself does in this connection? But when the report proceeds to speak of the application of redemption, it declares, as I assert, in exact accordance with the spirit of our standards, that God applies it to all the elect, and to no others; and that this application is itself through the purchase of Jesus Christ. We do not invent a statement to establish a supralapsarian order of sequence between the purpose to save the elect and to send Christ to die; but neither, I does the Confession. It merely declares that redemption is applied through this work of Christ precisely to those to whom it was God’s eternal purpose to apply it; and that is, his elect. The report speaks the same thing.

Moreover, the committee used the word redemption, as they believe, in strict accordance with Calvinistic ‘usage, in a sense distinct from the word atonement. Redemption means, not only a provision of a vicarious penalty to satisfy for guilt, but in addition all the gracious gifts, of active obedience to be imputed, of effectual calling, of sanctification, and of glorification, which make up a completed salvation. All this is designed, purchased, and bestowed for the elect in and through Christ. And in this view they may quote, among many Calvinistic authorities, this of old Willison, Catechism, Ques.: “How doth Christ redeem his people from their bondage?” Ans. “Partly by price, or purchase; partly by power, or conquest.”

In a word, the committee intended to express summarily that sound, but not ultra, view of the atonement held by Calvinists, and expressed in the ancient formula, “Christ died sufficiently for the race, efficaciously for the elect.”

But the member from New Orleans, Dr. Palmer, insists that the report is, to say the least, “not happily worded,” in that its phraseology leaves a loop-hole for the lubricity of the new theology. Well, Mr. Moderator, I presume that the committee would at any time have partly assented to this judgment; for you will bear us witness that our estimate of our labors has been modest. We did not claim that our phraseology was absolutely the best, but only that it would do. We admitted that language is an instrument so flexible that an indefinite improvement may be made in the verbal dress of any thoughts by continued care and criticism. But, sir, the course of this discussion inclines me to place a more self-applauding estimate upon our humble labors; and I must profess that I think our doctrinal statements are rather happily worded on this point. I have been convinced of this by the very objections of the critics.

One of these was that the phrase, Christ bore his sufferings “as the penalty” of guilt, was loose and incorrect, because it suggested, by the little word as, not only a substitution of one person for another–Christ for the sinner–but of one penalty for another; whereas, it was urged, we should have taught that Christ suffered the identical penalty due the sinner. Thus, they complained, the deceitful errorist was enabled to cheat us honest folk by talking about a penal satisfaction for sin, when, after all, he only meant a loose sort of quasi satisfaction. Now I have been made very happy to find that our much abused little “as” expresses so much truth and so accurately. For the substitution, not only of one person for another, but of one penalty for another, in the atoning transaction called by theologians satisfaction, is the very thing asserted by the standard authors. It is obvious that if one person is substituted for another, then the penalty substituted cannot be identical with that in the room of which it came, in the sense of a numerical identity, however absolutely conformed it might be in a generic identity. And this distinction the acute Whately points out, in the introduction to his Logic, if I remember aright, in connection with this very subject. But farther, these divines all assert most emphatically, that in a case of penal satisfaction there is not an absolute generic identity between the penalty due and the penalty substituted. Turrettin,Rill, Dr. John H. Rice, I find saying, with entire unanimity, that satisfaction is where something else, not exactly the debt due, but a moral equivalent, is accepted as sufficient by the injured party. According to those acute critics, the Southern Presbyterian and Southern Presbyterian Review, little “as” suggested this idea. But this, say these great masters, is just the idea of Christ’s satisfaction. Is not this rather happy?

Again: we had defended ourselves against the complaint by pleading that the phrase, bore these sufferings “as the penalty” of guilt, was so natural, so common, and so fairly understood in the orthodox sense. Now all this is substantiated by the fact that the member from New Orleans, even in the midst of a passage objecting to it, could not help using the very phrase. In the Southern Presbyterian Review, p. 298, he complains that our “slippery opponents,” while pretending to use many words that sound orthodox, will not say that “the sufferings of Christ were inflicted as the penalty threatened to the transgressor,” etc. This, then, is what he would have them say, in order to be indisputably orthodox. But this is just what our committee asks them to say.

On the other hand, the Southern Presbyterian says this is not enough; nor that they shall say Christ’s sufferings were vicarious, or that they were substitutionary, or that they were a satisfaction for guilt, because they may say all these in a loose sense. No; he will not be entirely pleased unless they say in express words, without the “as,” that Christ “bore the penalty” of guilt. Well, we thought that this was lifting the standard pretty high, when we remembered that good old Dr. Alexander was accustomed to say, that he who admitted the atonement to be vicarious, was substantially sound on that point. But we looked a few lines downward, and perceived that our report, in the article on justification, also used those very words, and said expressly, without the “as,” that Christ “bore the penalty” of guilt. Thus, our paper has been so happy as to satisfy both these most lynx-eyed sentinels of orthodoxy exactly, even in demands which are, in appearance, contradictory. The difference between themselves they must settle.

Once more, I am led to believe that our effort to make a brief statement of the substance of this doctrine is rather happy, by noting a remarkable conformity between its structure and the Canons of the great Synod of Dort, on the atonement, and the article in which the National French Synod at Alençon caused Amyraut and Testard to recant their rash speculations, and the Heidelberg Catechism, and indeed the standards of the Reformers generally. The Heidelberg Catechism, the symbol of the German Reformed Church, which our own Assembly embraced as the very pink of orthodoxy, uses language which goes farther than our report. So that, while we have stated the doctrine in accordance with the belief of the purest Reformed churches, we have been even more guarded than some of them. Thus, Ques. 37 : “What dost thou believe when thou sayest, ‘He suffered ?’” (in the creed). Ans. “That he bore in his body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the universal human race, during the whole period of his life which he passed in the earth, but especially in its end; so that by his passion, as the sole propitiatory sacrifice, he might deliver our body and soul from eternal damnation, and purchase for us the grace of God, righteousness and eternal life.”

R.L. Dabney, ‘Speech on the Fusion of the United Synod,” in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, 2:305-310.

3) But there are others of these passages, to which I think, the candid mind will admit, this sort of explanation is inapplicable. In John 3:16, make “the world” which Christ loved, to mean “the elect world,” and we reach the absurdity that some of the elect may not believe, and perish. In 2 Cor. 5:15, if we make the all for whom Christ died, mean only the all who live unto Him—i. e., the elect it would seem to be implied that of those elect for whom Christ died, only a part will live to Christ. In 1 John 2:2, it is at least doubtful whether the express phrase, “whole world,” can be restrained to the world of elect as including other than Jews. For it is indisputable, that the Apostle extends the propitiation of Christ beyond those whom he speaks of as “we,” in verse first. The interpretation described obviously proceeds on the assumption that these are only Jewish believers. Can this be substantiated? Is this catholic epistle addressed only to Jews? This is more than doubtful. It would seem then, that the Apostle’s scope is to console and encourage sinning believers with the thought that since Christ made expiation for every man, there is no danger that He will not be found a propitiation for them who, having already believed, now sincerely turn to him from recent sins. Dabney, Lectures, 525.

4) The difficulty which besets this solemn subject is no doubt in part overwhelming and insurmountable for finite minds. Indeed, it is the same difficulty which besets the relation of God’s election to man’s free agency, tend not a new one, reappearing in a new phase; for redemption is limited precisely by the decree, and by nothing else. Lectures, 527.

5) This seems, then, to be the candid conclusion, that there is no passage the Bible which asserts an intention to apply redemption to any others than the elect, on the part of God and Christ, but that there are passages which imply that Christ died for all sinners in some sense, as Dr. Ch. Hodge has so expressly admitted. Certainly the expiation made by Christ is so related to all, irrespective of election, that God can sincerely invite all to enjoy its benefits, that every soul in the world who desires salvation is warranted to appropriate it, and that even a Judas, had he come in earnest, would not have been cast out. Dabney, Lectures, 527.

6) Now Christ is a true substitute. His sufferings were penal and vicarious, and made a true satisfaction for all those who actually embrace them by faith. But the conception charged on us seems to be, as though Christ’s expiation were a web of the garment of righteousness to be cut into definite pieces and distributed out, so much to each person of the elect, whence, of course, it must have a definite aggregate length, and had God seen fit to add any to the number of elect, He must have had an additional extent of web woven. This is all incorrect. Satisfaction was Christ’s indivisible act, and inseparable vicarious merit, infinite in moral value, the whole in its unity and completeness, imputed to every believing elect man, without numerical division, subtraction or exhaustion. Had there been but one elect man, his vicarious satisfaction had been just what it is in its essential nature. Had God elected all sinners, there would have been no necessity to make Christ’s atoning sufferings essentially different. Remember, the limitation is precisely in the decree, and no where else. It seems plain that the vagueness and ambiguity of the modern term “atonement,” has very much complicated the debate. This word, not classical in the Reformed theology, is used sometimes for satisfaction for guilt, sometimes for the reconciliation ensuing thereon; until men on both sides of the debate have forgotten the distinction. The one is cause, the other effect. The only New Testament sense the word atonement has is that of katallage, reconciliation. But expiation is another idea. Katallage is personal. Exhilasmos is impersonal. Katallage is multiplied, being repeated as often as a sinner comes to the expiatory blood. exhilasmos is single, unique, complete; and, in itself considered, has no more relation to one man’s sins than another. As it is applied in effectual calling, it becomes personal, and receives a limitation. But in itself, limitation is irrelevant to it. Hence, when men use the word atonement, as they so often do, in the sense of expiation, the phrases, “limited atonement,” “particular atonement,” have no meaning. Redemption is limited, i.e., to true believers, and is particular. Expiation is not limited. Dabney, Lectures, 528.

Sins of the world:

1) Christ as a Priest,
must be divine.
2d. None but a properly divine being could undertake Christ’s priestly work. Had he been the noblest creature in heaven, his life and powers would have been the property of God, our offended Judge ; and our Advocate could not have claimed, as He does, John x: 18, that He had exousia to lay down His life and to take it again. Then: unless above law. He could have no imputable, active obedience. Third: unless sustained by omnipotence, unless sustained by inward omnipotence. He could never have endured the wrath of the Almighty for the sins of the world; it would have sunk Him into perdition. Fourth: had there not been a divine nature to reflect an infinite dignity upon His person, His suffering the curse of sin for a few years, would not have been a satisfaction sufficient to propitiate God for the sins of a world. After the sacrifice, comes intercession. His petitioners and their wants are so numerous, that unless He were endowed with sleepless attention, an omnipotence which can never tire, an infinite understanding, omnipresence, and exhaustless kindness, He could not wisely and graciously attend to so many and multifarious calls. Here we see how worthless are Popish intercessors, who are only creatures. Lectures, Dabney, Lectures, 200-201.

2) Christ’s work is shown to be properly vicarious, from His personal innocence. This argument has been anticipated. We shall, therefore, only tarry to clear it from the Pelagian evasion, and to carry it further. Pelagians, seeing that Christ, an innocent being, must have suffered vicarious punishment, if He suffered any punishment, deny that the providential evils of life are penal at all, and assert that they are only natural, so that Adam would have borne them in Paradise; the innocent Christ bore them as a natural matter of course. But what is the course of nature, except the will of God? Reason says that if God is good and just, He will only impose suffering where there is guilt. And this is the scriptural account, “death by sin.”Further, Christ suffered far otherwise than is natural to good men. We do not allude so much to the peculiar severity of that combination of poverty, malice, treachery, destitution, slander, reproach and murder, visited on Christ; but to the sense of spiritual death, the horror, the fear, the pressure of God’s wrath and desertion, and the satanic buffeting let loose against Him, (Luke 22:53; Matt. 26:38; 27:46). See how manfully Christ approaches His martyrdom, and how sadly He sinks under it when it comes! Had He borne nothing more than natural evil, He would have been inferior to other merely human heroes, and instead of recognizing the exclamation of Rousseau as just. “Socrates died like a philosopher; but Jesus Christ as a God,” we must give the palm of superior fortitude to the Grecian sage. Christ’s crushing agonies must be accounted for by His bearing the wrath of God for the sins of the world. Lectures, Dabney, Lectures, 511.

3) If one were sick and full of anguish with a mortal disease, and an entire stranger were to come to him and profess the purpose of kindly healing, every man must say that the proposal is every way right and good. To test the character of this stranger, it would only remain to see whether his secret intention and his ability corresponded with his profession. So let us now consider that Redeemer whom this book proposes to us as the physician of our soul’s malady. Time forbids my staying to argue the constitution of his person, as God in man, and thus able for his undertaking; or to unfold the perfect adaptation of the offices he assumes to bear, as our prophet, priest, and king, to our necessities; or to dwell upon his miracles and predictions as divine sanctions of his claims. Moreover, I promised that I would not go outside of those materials of proof which the plain reader can find in his English Bible. All that I claim on the above points is, that the reader’s common sense must approve the fitness of the character and function which Jews Christ seem: to assume for the redeeming work which he professes to understand. If there can be a real salvation for sinners, it must be by atonement and new birth. And these must be wrought by one who has more than human power, to renew us, and more than human independence and worth, to pay his life for a world of sinners. Now, such do we find Christ’s claims in this book. He is here said to be both Son of man and Son of God, in one to have given this life for the sins of the world; and to exercise a divine power in baptizing the hearts of sinners with the Holy Ghost. The question is, are these wondrous claims true? I offer you, in proof, the lovely and perfect character of Jesus as painted by the evangelists. We read these four histories, and we find there described a being who, from his cradle to his cross, was never guilty of a fault, or even a foible. He is represented to us as having displayed every virtue of the perfect man, along with the majesty and might of deity. Robert Dabney, “The Bible Its Own Witness,” in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 1:123-124.

4) Now, we find every condition which was lacking to the human substitute beautifully fulfilled in the case of Christ. He was innocent, owing for himself no debt of guilt. He gave his own free consent, a consent which his Godhead and autocracy of his own being entitled him to give or to withhold. (See John x. 17, 18.) He could not be holden by death; but, after paying the penal debt of the world, he resumed a life more glorious, happy, and beneficent than before. Dabney, Christ our Penal Substitute, 24.

5) But if the great truth be posited that a just ground was laid by Christ’s voluntary substitution under the guilt of a world for these penal sufferings, and that by them God’s purity, adorable justice, and infinite love for the unworthy are gloriously manifested together, then all these moral and didactic effects of Christ’s sacrifice most truly result. Dabney, Christ our Penal Substitute, 66-67.

6) Christ’s death is a proper ransom, because the very price is mentioned. In Bible times the person ransomed was either a criminal or a military captive, by the rules of ancient war legally bound to slavery. The ransom price was a sum of money or other valuables, paid to the master in satisfaction for his claim of service from the captive. This is the sense in which Christ’s righteousness is our ransom.

It has been shown in a previous chapter at what deadly price our opponents seek to escape the patent argument, that if Christ did not suffer for imputed guilt, since he was himself perfectly righteous, he must have been punished for no guilt at all. But this argument should be carried further. Even if we granted that the natural ills of life and bodily death are not necessarily penal, but come to all alike in the course of events, the peculiar features of Christ’s death would be unexplained. He suffers what no other good man sharing the regular course of nature ever experienced, the spiritual miseries of Divine desertion, of Satanic buffetings, let loose against him, and of all the horrors of apprehended wrath which could be felt without personal remorse. (Luke xxii. 53; Matt. xxvi. 38, and xxvii. 46.) See how manfully Christ approaches his martyrdom, and how sadly he sinks under it when it comes. Had he borne nothing more than natural evil, he would have been inferior to the merely human heroes; and instead of recognizing the exclamation of Rousseau as just, “Socrates died like a philosopher, but Jesus Christ as a God,” we must give the palm of superior fortitude to the Grecian sage. Christ’s crushing agonies must be accounted for by his bearing the wrath of God for the sins of the world. Dabney, Christ our Penal Substitute, 92-93.

7) Methodist Articles of Religion” (1784) are the responsible creed of the vast Wesleyan bodies of Britain and America. Many of these propositions are adopted verbatim from the “Thirty-nine Articles.” This is true of Article II. which contains an identical assertion, in the same words, of the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitution. The Catechism of the “Evangelical Union” teaches these doctrinal views, in which all the churches concur which are represented in the “Evangelical Alliance.” This document omits the peculiar, distinctive doctrines in which these churches differ from each other. It was the work of Dr. Philip Schaff, D.D., LL. D., 1862, Lesson XXVIII., Question 4: “What did he (Christ) suffer there? ” “He suffered unutterable pains in body and soul, and bore the guilt of the whole world.”

Such is the tremendous array of the most responsible and deliberate testimonies of all the churches of Christendom, save one little exception, the Socinian, in support of our doctrine concerning the penal substitution of Christ… Dabney, Christ our Penal Substitute, 104.

Lamb of God references within Christ our Penal Substitute:

1) The rite of bloody sacrifice, unquestionably ordained for man, the sinner, by God, proves the same truth. Until the Lamb of God came and took away the guilt of the world, God’s requirement of bloody sacrifice was invariable. Dabney, Christ our Penal Substitute, 53.

2) We find our first argument in the meaning of the Old Testament sacrifices. These were first instituted by God in the family of Adam, before the gate of the lost Eden. They were continued by God’s authority under every dispensation until the resurrection of Christ. Moses gave perfect regularity and definiteness to the ordinances of bloody sacrifice in the Pentateuch, which he did by divine appointment. Ancient believers knew that “the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sin” by any virtue of its own. What, then, did the sacrifices mean? They were emblems and types, teaching to men’s bodily senses this great theological truth, that “without shedding of blood is no remission,” and its consequence, that remission is provided for through a substitute of divine appointment; for fallen man is “a prisoner of hope,” not of despair. Next, the antitype to this ever-repeated emblem is Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” (John i. 29; 1 Cor. xv. 3; 2 Cor. v. 21; Heb. viii. 3; ix. 11 — 14.) Now let us add the indisputable fact that these bloody sacrifices were intended by God to symbolize the substitution of an innocent victim in place of the guilty offerer; the transfer of his guilt to the substitute; satisfaction for it by the vicarious death, and the consequent forgiveness of the sinner. (Lev. i. 4; xiv. 21; xvii. 11, ed passim.) Dabney, Christ our Penal Substitute, 88-9.

Expiation purchases saving and common graces:

1) There is no safer clue for the student through this perplexed subject, than, to take this proposition; which, to every Calvinist, is nearly as indisputable as a truism; Christ’s design in His vicarious work was to effectuate exactly what it does effectuate, and all that it effectuates, in its subsequent proclamation. This is but saying that Christ’s purpose is unchangeable and omnipotent. Now, what does it actually effectuate? “We know only in part,” but so much is certain.

(a.) The purchase of the full and assured redemption of all the elect, or of all believers.

(b.) A reprieve of doom for every sinner of Adam’s race who does not die at his birth (For these we believe it has purchased heaven). And this reprieve gains for all, many substantial, though temporal benefits, such as unbelievers, of all men, will be the last to account no benefits. Among these are postponement of death and perdition, secular well being, and the bounties of life.

(c.) A manifestation of God’s mercy to many of the non elect, to all those, namely, who live under the Gospel, in sincere offers of a salvation on terms of faith. And a sincere offer is a real and not a delusive benefaction; because it is only the recipients contumacy which disappoints it.

(d.) A justly enhanced condemnation of those who reject the Gospel, and thereby a clearer display of God’s righteousness and reasonableness in condemning, to all the worlds.

(e.) A disclosure of the infinite tenderness and glory of God’s compassion, with purity, truth and justice, to all rational creatures.

Had there been no mediation of Christ, we have not a particle of reason to suppose that the doom of our sinning race would have been delayed one hour longer than that of the fallen angels. Hence, it follows, that it is Christ who procures for non elect sinners all that they temporarily enjoy, which is more than their personal deserts, including the sincere offer of mercy. In view of this fact, the scorn which Dr. William Cunningham heaps on the distinction of a special, and general design in Christ’s satisfaction, is thoroughly shortsighted. All wise beings (unless God be the exception), at times frame their plans so as to secure a combination of results from the same means. This is the very way they display their ability and wisdom. Why should God be supposed incapable of this wise and fruitful acting? I repeat, the design of Christ’s sacrifice must have been to effectuate just what it does effectuate. And we see, that, along with the actual redemption of the elect, it works out several other subordinate ends. There is then a sense, in which Christ “died for” all those ends, and for the persons affected by them.

2) Let us begin by laying down a simple basis, which all Calvinists will and must accept. The sacrifice of Christ was designed by the Trinity to effect precisely what it does effect—all this, and no more. If God regulates all his works by his decree, and is sovereign and omnipotent in them all, then the historical unfolding of his providence must be the exact exposition of his purpose. What, then, are the results which Scripture shows to be effected by Christ’s sacrifice? 1. The manifestation of God’s supreme glory, and especially that of his love (Luke 2:14; Eph. 2:10-11). 2. To ransom, effectually call, and glorify an elect people infallibly given to Christ (John 17:6-11). 3. To procure for the whole race a temporal suspension of doom, with earthly mercies, so as to manifest the placability and infinite compassion of God towards all sinners, leave those who are finally impenitent under the Gospel without excuse, and establish an everlasting concrete proof of the deadly malignity of sin in that it infallibly rejects not only duty and obligation, but the most tender and sincere mercy, wherever it is not conquered by efficacious grace (Rom. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:15). Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, 1:310.

Dabney on Ps 81:13, Eze 18:32 and Luke 19:41, and the “rigid school” of interpretation:

1) This view has a great advantage in that it reveals and enables us to receive those precious declarations of Scripture which declare the compassion of God towards even lost sinners. The glory of these representations is that they show us God’s benevolence as an infinite attribute, like all His other perfection’s. Even where it is rationally restrained, it exists. The fact that there is a lost order of angels, and that there are persons in our guilty race, who are objects of God’s decree of preterition, does not arise from any stint or failure of this infinite benevolence. It is as infinite, viewed as it qualifies God’s nature only as though He had given expression to it in the salvation of all the devils and lost men. We can now receive, without any abatement, such blessed declarations as Ps. 81:13; Ezek. 18:32; Luke 19:41, 42. We have no occasion for such questionable, and even perilous exegesis, as even Calvin and Turrettin feel themselves constrained to apply to the last. Afraid lest God’s principle of compassion (not purpose of rescue), towards sinners non elect, should find any expression, and thus mar the symmetry of their logic, they say that it was not Messiah the God man and Mediator, who wept over reprobate Jerusalem; but only the humanity of Jesus, our pattern. I ask. Is it competent to a mere humanity to say, “How often would I have gathered your children?” And to pronounce a final doom, “Your house is left unto you desolate?” The Calvinist should have paused, when he found himself wresting these Scriptures from the same point of view adopted by the ultra Arminian. But this is not the first time we have seen “extremes meet.” Dabney, Lectures, 532. [Editorial note: Dabney is clearly wrong in his ascription of this twisted view to Calvin.]

Dabney on Luke 19:41-42:

1) The yet more explicit passage in Luke 19:41-42, has given our extremists still more trouble. We are there told that Christ wept over the very men whose doom of reprobation he then pronounced. Again, the question is raised by them, If Christ felt this tender compassion for them, why did he not exert his omnipotence for their effectual calling? And their best answer seems to be, That here it was not the divine nature in Jesus that wept, but the humanity only. Now, it will readily be conceded that the divine nature was incapable of the pain of sympathetic passion, and of the agitation of grief; but we are loath to believe that this precious incident is no manifestation of the passionless, unchangeable, yet infinitely benevolent pity of the divine nature. For, first, it would impress the common Christian mind with a most painful feeling to be thus seemingly taught that holy humanity is more generous and tender than God. The humble and simple reader of the gospels had been taught by them that there was no excellence in the humanity which was not the effect and effluence of the corresponding ineffable perfection in the divinity. Second, when we hear our Lord speaking of gathering Jerusalem’s children as a hen gathereth a chicken under her wings, and then announcing the final doom of the rejected, we seem to hear the divine nature in him, at least as much as the human. And third, such interpretations, implying some degree of dissent between the two natures, are perilous, in that they obscure that vital truth, Christ the manifestation to us of the divine nature. “He is the image of the invisible God;” “He is the brightness of his glory, and express image of his substance;” “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father, and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3; John 14:9.) It is our happiness to believe that when we see Jesus weeping over lost Jerusalem, we “have seen the Father;” we have received an insight into the divine benevolence and pity. And therefore this wondrous incident has been so dear to the hearts of God’s people in all ages. The Church has justly condemned Monothelism more than a thousand years ago. Yet, while we are none of us Monothelites, we cannot admit any defect of concert and symphony between the will of the perfect humanity and that of the divinity. It is, indeed, in this harmony of will that the hypostatic union most essentially effectuates itself, “yet without conversion, composition, or confusion.” For it is in the will of a rational essence that its unity consummates itself, as the combination and resultant of its prevalent states of intelligence and of activity. The’ divine and human will was, so to speak, the very meeting-place at which the personal unity of the two complete natures was effected in the God-man. Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, 1:308-309. [Editorial note: For Dabney, the “extremists,” and the like, are the Supralapsarians and the absolute particularists such as Turretin and Cunningham.]

Dabney on the negative inference fallacy:

1) In proof of the general correctness of this theory of the extent of the Atonement, we should attach but partial force to some of the arguments advanced by Symington and others, or even by Turrettin, e.g., That Christ says, He died “for His sheep,” for “His Church,” for “His friends,” is not of itself conclusive. The proof of a proposition does not disprove its converse. All the force which we could properly attach to this class of passages is the probability arising from the frequent and emphatic repetition of this affirmative statement as to a definite object. Dabney, Lectures, 521.

Dabney against double jeopardy and double payment:

2) Nor would we attach any force to the argument, that if Christ made penal satisfaction for the sins of all, justice would forbid any to be punished. To urge this argument surrenders virtually the very ground on which the first Socinian objection was refuted, and is incompatible with the facts that God chastises justified believers, and holds elect unbelievers subject to wrath till they believe. Christ’s satisfaction is not a pecuniary equivalent, but only such a one as enables the Father, consistently with His attributes, to pardon, if in His mercy He sees fit. The whole avails of the satisfaction to a given man is suspended on His belief. There would be no injustice to the man, if he remaining an unbeliever, his guilt were punished twice over, first in his Savior, and then in Him. See Hodge on Atonement, page 369. Dabney, Lectures, 521.

[to be continued.]

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2007 9:32 am

    Did not Cunningham believe in general atonement too? How did he square that with his Supralapsarian view?

    LPC

  2. Flynn permalink
    November 27, 2007 9:44 am

    Hey there,

    No, Cunningham went as high up as he could in a few respects. He never denied the free offer or that God desires that all men be saved by will revealed, but on the relationship between the offer and the expiation he made even a more radical break than Owen did. Owen grounded the offer in the [hypothetical] sufficiency, Cunningham tried to ground the “sincerity” of the offer in the bare command of God, itself.

    Thanks
    David

  3. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    February 4, 2008 1:10 pm

    I have updated the Dabney file. See the new entry under header ‘sins of the world’ #2.

    David

  4. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    April 9, 2008 7:10 am

    I have updated the Dabney file. See entry #2 under the sub-header: Dabney and infinite and unlimited expiation with limited intention to apply.

    To be clear, for Dabney (like Shedd and C Hodge) there is no limitation in the nature of the expiation itself. This is contra John Owen, and his school, who posit an actual limitation in the very nature of the atonement. Recall, for Owen and others, it is wrong to say ‘the atonement is unlimited but limited in its application.’ Yet this is exactly what Dabney wants to say, with the added: ‘limited by design in its application.’ What is more, when Dabney speaks of the nature of the atonement, it is unlimited in this way: it was made for every man, and respects the sin and sins of every man, indeed, it judicially respects the sins of the whole world. For this reason, can Dabney say that Christ paid the penal debt of the whole world.

    From this, Dabney (again exactly like Shedd and C Hodge) the is no ipso facto application of the expiation to all for whom it is made. The expiation sustains the grounds on which pardon may be given to any and all men, but upon the condition of faith. Dabney does speak of Christ purchasing effectually and infallibly salvation for the elect, but the causality here is not via an ipso facto means. Rather, for Dabney, it seems to me, the Person of Christ, through his expiatory work, infallibly secures salvation of the elect. For Owen and others, its the work considered purely in and of itself, in abstraction from the person, which ipso facto purchases faith, grace, and the whole of salvation for all whom it is made.

    David

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