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Dabney: walking the path between two extremes

November 28, 2007

Coming to Dabney’s summary conclusion:

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.

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. Lectures, 527.

David: There are some really interesting statements in these two paragraphs. Dabney was a profound thinker on the expiation and his insights are way ahead of his time. His amazing ability to penetrate logical fallacies and expose them is incredible.

Let’s deal with the first paragraph there. He cites C Hodge now as saying that the expiation, when viewed apart from election, is related to all. Now, in case one may jump ahead. He is not saying that it is related to all in this way: that God can sincerely invite all… etc etc. What he is saying is that the expiation is related to all in such a way that all can be invited. The possibility that all can be sincerely invited is the fruit or the result of an underlying universality of the expiation. Dabney has not yet developed this universality in detail: he is about it. He has hinted at it when he said 2 pages earlier that:

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 (p., 525).

Another question is: “What exactly is he referring to in C Hodge?” There are a couple of possibilities which I have found. This one seems the most likely.

Charles Hodge:

The final test of any theory is its agreeing or disagreeing with the facts to be explained. The difficulty with all the Anti-Augustinian views as to the design of Christ’s death, is that while they are consistent with more or less of the Scriptural facts connected with the subject, they are utterly irreconcilable with others not less clearly revealed and equally important. They are consistent, for example, with the fact that the work of Christ lays the foundation for the offer of the gospel to all men, with the fact that men are justly condemned for the rejection of that offer; and with the fact that the Scriptures frequently assert that the work of Christ had reference to all men. All these facts can be accounted for on the assumption, that the great design of Christ’s death was to make the salvation of all men possible, and that it had equal reference to every member of our race. Systematic Theology,  2:553.   

Now here comes the fun. So many today are just reactionaries. For example, on Contend Earnestly the label of hypothetical universalism or hypothetical atonement has been tabled. The phrase is either so poorly defined or not defined or inaccurately defined.  One really bad definition of hypothetical universalism I saw here, where the commenter said that it meant that Christ made salvation for all men possible, but actual for none [my paraphrase]. If that’s the definition, then the label is useless.  If we deny that Christ’s death is related to all in such a way that the salvation of all men is now possible, we are out of the best of the best tradition within classic Calvinism. Of course, as an aside, in terms of the schemes of some ultra-Calvinists, it is not true that the salvation of all men, in this world, is possible. This is something Dabney himself was aware of.   

Also, Dabney is able to conceptualize the extent of the expiation apart from the decree to apply it. This is very powerful of Dabney. Such a concept is impossible in classic Owenic structures. The expiation, in and of itself, is as limited and delimited as is the decree and by the decree. What is more, he believes C Hodge is able equally conceptualize the expiation as universal, apart from the decree of election, as well.

With regard to the second paragraph, we have some interesting comments too. Clearly we all hear reject the Arminian idea that Christ died for no one especially, for no one with the direct special intention to save infallibly. Most of would agree that Christ died to infallibly save and redeem those whom the Father had given him by way of unconditional election and the plan of salvation. But then we come to this interesting sentence:

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. Lectures, 527.

Recall that for William Cunningham, as read by Dabney, disconnects the sufficiency of Christ’s expiation from the Gospel offer thereof (Lectures, p., 529). That is partly what Dabney has in mind here. We can add, too, that Dabney is aware of the revision of the formula, sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.  This formula is something I have been coming back to again and again in my posts here. For the ultra-Calvinists, the expiation of Christ is not actually sufficient for all men, it is only hypothetically sufficient for all men. Had God elected more, and/or had Christ represented for more men, then the expiation of Christ, would have been sufficient for these too. Note the use of the English contrary-fact-subjunctive. The sufficiency of the expiation, for men like Owen, is simply the intrinsic internal infinite ability of the expiation to save any possible man (possible as in one whom God could have chosen to elect). But given that we live in his actual world, of actual men, it’s another story.

Back to Dabney, here again we see his repeating the point that if the ultra-Calvinists are right, then certain Arminian objections are, indeed, valid and sound (c.f., Lectures, p., 523). The solution is the middle ground of the true and original doctrine of Christ’s expiation as being actually sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect.

What is really cool is that now, finally, Dabney is about to supply his own contribution to this debate, and walk a path between the Arminians on the one hand, and the ultra-Calvinists (Cunningham, Turretin and Beza, et al) on the other hand.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Reid permalink
    November 28, 2007 7:57 pm

    Obviously, this is a great place for Dabney to by. But for me, the more I work through all of this, they still do not go far enough. I’ve yet to see one adequately (for instance) deal with Luke 7:30 “but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)” To reject God’s purpose for them, is to say God purposed something for them which they did not enter into. In this case, repentance for sin and baptism toward the coming Christ. This has direct implications on intentionality. I don’t think we understand that yet. Not like Calvin. So he Can emphasize that God takes no pleasure in the wicked – but truly does desire their salvation – yet within the mystery – not effecting it beyond the price paid and the external call.

  2. Flynn permalink
    November 29, 2007 1:36 am

    Hey Reid,

    You are right. What happened was that the will of God, already bifurcated into the secret and revealed, was further stripped back to decretive v preceptive. So the latter is mostly just barely pre- or post-scriptive. All divine volition and intentionality was located in the decretive will. John Howe clearly saw the problem and tried to recover the right, and the freedom to speak of the revealed will as an active principle in some sense. Dabney followed him, as did Edwards, C Hodge and others. Yet it took Murray to really bring back to the baseline again in an exegetically self-conscious manner. But even today, there is something absent in the mainstream (even John Murray wing) that disallows folk from speaking of the revealed will as a volition that induces God to act and to do, yet which does not lead to an infallible result. The cause of this really comes back to the Aristotelian idea of God as impassible prime mover.

    As an aside, in first generation Reformation thinking, also structured the will of God along antecedent and consequent lines was acceptable. This gridding does lend itself more to the idea of seeing the revealed (antecedent) as volitional and active, more so than even Calvin’s Revealed will language I think.

    Anyraut, says Armstrong, tried to re-estbablish the old forms by positing a will which is revealed, thus sharing aspects of the preceptive, and yet which is volition, thus sharing aspects with the decretive, yet which is not infallible. This is a return to the classic constructions of Calvin etc (remember, that by the 1640s the decretive-preceptive paradigm was dominant and seen as true orthodoxy). But by the 1640s any attempt to posit a velleity (Owen/Turretin) in the unmoved mover was anathema. Hypercalvinist constructs arose out of this Owen-Turretin phase, in that early Owen actually disconnected the relationship between the precept and what God wills behind the precept. Owen made popular the idea that God can command an action and yet we are not to presuppose that God wants or wills compliance to that command. Thus the foundation of Gillite hyperism was firmly laid. This idea was picked up by Hoeksema and Clark later. We come back to God merely informing sinners about facts, but not really calling (a precept as well as an invitation) them to come to Christ, thereby wanting or willing in any meaningful sense, that they actually do come to Christ.

    Take care,

  3. Reid permalink
    November 29, 2007 2:28 pm

    Thanks David – I really concur with your analysis. And it also reveals another part of the pavement we are really going to have to dig up before we’ll be able to restore the balance. I just know how my own thoughts often got stuck in these areas and I just could not let go. The effect this has on the prayer life, or any sense of urgency in mission is another sad by-product. Recently preaching on Luke 11 I was reminded of how Jesus – after healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and then so many others – the next morning is found out praying. And when the disciples tell him the people want him to stay – he says no. The urgency of needing to preach the Gospel in other places, rather than just stay there and heal is stunning. He didn’t throw evangelism to the wind of sovereignty. He made a hard, unpopular – potentially heartbreaking decision (heart breaking if he wouldn’t stay to heal YOUR sick little girl) because he could not delay the preaching of the message. He lived and ministered in a very real space/time context where what he did – when – mattered. And that gets lost in the sovereignty-against-all-else haze.

  4. Flynn permalink
    November 29, 2007 4:33 pm

    Hey Reid,

    On another subject, I recall once you distancing yourself from the idea of conditional election. Did you happen to see this:

    VII. Everie one ought stedfastlie to beleeve he is elect in Christ, yet we may be more assured by the feeling of our faith in Christ. Hence it is manifest, although no man in generall ought to exempt himself out of the number of the elect, sith the scripture doeth not so, but rather stedfastlie to trust that, when he is called to Christ, he is called according to the eternall decree and election of God. Yet, if any man will be more assured of his certaine election, he must run to his faith and the witnes of his conscience, whether he perceive that he truely beleeveth in Christ and whether he carrie a sincere love towards God and his neighbor. Yea, if he finde himself herein not altogether soundlie and thoroughlie setled, yet let him not desparre, but desire of God that he will helpe his unbeleefe, hoping that he may in time be better assured. Source: Girolamo Zanchi De religione christiana Fides – Confession of Christian Religion, Edited by Luca Baschera and Christian Moser, (London: Brill, 2007), 141-142.

    Also the Twisse comment in the same file. I am not trying to press you at all. My thought is that at the end of the day its not as if Amyraut invented the idea in some sort of deviant semi-Arminian plan to subvert Calvinism, as some might wish us to believe, but that when its correctly understood its harmless: and it fits in exactly with the sentiment of Luke 7:30.

    Kimedoncius references the idea as from Musculus as merely denoting that by the Gospel, in the revealed will, men are appointed to life, not to death.


  5. Reid permalink
    November 30, 2007 6:44 pm

    While I still struggle with the idea of conditional election, I could easily be persuaded to fully embrace a universal purposing. ALL were in Adam – elect and non-elect. As Bunyan points out, man is not condemned because he is not elect – but because he fell. Elect and non-elect share the fall. But both were created as MANKIND in Adam for one purpose, to display the glory of God. “Let us make MAN in our image” reads the text, not, let us make the ELECT in our image. All were created to reflect Him and glorify Him. This innate first purpose remains in all, binds all, all are thus called to be recovered from its being wrecked. So while I think of election in different terms, I am forced to re-think the role of mankind and view in whole terms – i.e. both elect and non-elect. Both were created for the same “purpose”. Both bear the image of God – which we are told we dare not diminish in our interactions (irrespective of election) we curse people who are made in the likeness of God – Jas. 3.9

    This unified purpose for mankind is completely overlooked, but its needs to resurface. In fact, it struggles to be resurfaced as though it bubbles up within us. As you know, I hold to believer’s baptism. But is there not a shadow of trying to recover this sense of divine purpose for our children in paedobaptism? I think there might be. Understandably so to my thinking. And while most Baptist have a woefully insufficient theology of children (one which often gets tossed in our faces – rightfully so) the answer to that is to restore the fact that although all men are born in sin, alienated from and in our carnal minds hostile to God – nevertheless we ALL (elect & non) have a primary Creator/Creature relationship which was NOT severed by the Fall. This should be our starting place, since it is the Bible’s starting place. And thus while we cannot know the secret purposes of God in His redemptive decrees in election – we can certainly and openly call all to be restored to their God, who made them to bear His image, Whose image is defaced in them and who PURPOSED for them to bear that image.

    Hope that isn’t just a blithering mess.

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